Two events this week alluded to Hemingway’s bell.
In reality, these separate incidents, in different ways, suggest the death knell for the end of the amateur and meritocratic soul of European football.
Overly melodramatic for impact? I don’t think so.
Simply, we are witnessing the ruthless elimination, by stealth, of the financial and sporting uncertainty which has been at the core of Association Football, since it was invented in the 1870s, (a mere 100 years after America became a nation.) More from our American cousins later.
There is a case to argue that we are moving, nae, have moved, to the hated franchise commercial model.
Fans weren’t asked. Probably because we would never have agreed. Indeed, fans and their mega clubs are increasingly uncomfortable bedfellows. But the new reality is here, and most of us were asleep at the wheel. Shame on us.
This amateur sport, the most popular game in the world, grew its DNA and developed its soul from British clubs of deep working-class tradition, like Celtic and Arsenal. So, it is neatly appropriate that the clanging chimes of doom this week came from Parkhead and Highbury.
Yes, this writer still prefers Highbury, and all the Victorian and Georgian tradition of an Upton Park, Craven Cottage, Goodison.
And, I suspect, so do the fans, from the evidence of hilarious angst on exhibition each week around the exterior of the “Emirates” on Arsenal TV. How many West Ham lads would bite your hand off for their old place?
Yes, we all know about the sales pitch of “smart stadia”, Uber-connected with real-time personalized ads, merchandise offers, games, and content bombarding your phone. How about lifting your head and rounded shoulders, and watching the game? Or speaking to your son about the old heroes and what you saw at his age?
Champions League Change
There is more than a sense that things have now gone too far. They’ve messed around too much.
European football on reflection has not been too smart in the last 25 years. Yes, revenues have enjoyed a remarkable hockey stick growth, but, as Sir Alan Sugar pointed out, through the prune juice effect, those cash flows have been squandered to players and agents.
Our American friends considered us stupid. They, who invented sports marketing, were perplexed. “Not even salary caps? You sold your soul for that?”
So to Glasgow, at Celtic Park, where we witnessed the ultra Green Brigade at one of Europe’s most respected post-war clubs unfurl a simple banner.
Self-explanatory really, it lampoons the highest level competition in European football for both its name (half of the participants won’t actually be champions at all) and its tragic unfairness.
As we all know, over the last 20 years, the governing body in Europe, UEFA, has ushered clubs like Celtic, and leagues like Scotland, to the pathetic undercard of the sport, to make space for 20 guaranteed places from the continent’s big leagues.
History will show that UEFA, with sugary Swiss politeness, seduced low-quality blazers, with gift bags of Swatches and Lindt chocolate, to sell their soul, like Jonny Favorite in Angel Heart.
And for what?
One could argue that we shouldn’t be so harsh on our leaders and that UEFA was obliged to adapt, to pacify the big clubs, and prevent a rogue breakaway like Kerry Packer in cricket. (In football’s case, the role of the brash Australian was played by Italians close to Berlusconi, under the banner of Media Partners.)
And adapt UEFA did. GCSE level history, however, is unequivocal in teaching us this: appeasement never ever works. Give them an inch and you will concede a mile in the end. And concede they did.
Over the last generation, the pillage of the traditional game and the European Cup has been cheerled by Nyon. Because it was remarkably easy to give concessions when the price was paid by others, whilst you still enjoyed five-star expense accounts.
Small leagues? Who cares!!! Pass the Merlot, Michel.
The price has been paid instead by the glorious clubs of Europe, finding themselves now on the other side of the glass, peering in. Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Porto, Benfica, Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Anderlecht, Brugges, AEK, Panathinaikos, Galatasaray. Red Star Belgrade, Dukla Prague. You get the idea.
Two dozen top teams, who have contributed to the very fabric of the game, told to basically move along. Acquiesce.