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The fact that the whole Leeds fan-base has been united by the brilliantly impassioned words of Gary Neville illustrates how desperate the plight of European football became this week.
A fortnight ago we left the Etihad with an instinct that Manchester City didn’t take well to being humbled by lowly Leeds United, but we could never have predicted that it would be the catalyst for them creating their own league where they would never have to be inconvenienced with the spectre of on-pitch failure again.
The audacity of a resurgent Leeds United, an ambitious Aston Villa, a brilliantly managed Leicester City, a Champions League-bound West Ham United and an Everton with bold stadium plans have clearly overwhelmed the self-proclaimed “big six”. The timing of their plan combined with the turmoil of a global pandemic was not coincidental it was deeply cynical, and the clandestine plotting of fellow Premier League shareholders made it all the more seditious.
Whether the collective intent was a genuine move to breakaway or the act of playground bullies seeking negotiating leverage at European and domestic level by threatening to take their ball home is irrelevant. The result was a betrayal of every true football supporter. However, this astonishing ingordigiouness has been the unexpected catalyst of creating a furious unity across nations, leagues, players, owners and fans.
I was proud to see Leeds United and Liverpool supporters stand shoulder to shoulder in protest before a game which once again showed we are already in a Super League and making it all the more bizarre that, in the world envisioned Liverpool’s ownership, the same fixture would have been a meaningless dead rubber.
It was a disgrace that managers and players were left to defend the indefensible in front of the media while their owners cowered at home. Full credit to Leeds’ own James Milner for being the first of many players to speak out and to the supporters clubs and the trusts of the clubs involved who voiced their objections so passionately and unequivocally. These clubs are great institutions that we admire and have long aspired to compete against. The 14 “other” Premier League clubs want and need their brilliant teams and wonderful fans in our league but these teams and supporters deserve custodians who share the belief in the football pyramid and the abhorrence of the prospect of pulling up the drawbridge to create a sporting cartel. The Premier League and European qualification has never been a closed shop. It has had 49 members, 29 of which have played in Europe and 37 of which have played in League One, proving the dreams of every football fan in the country has the chance to be realised.
Hopefully the speed in which the initiative was quashed has helped everyone in the game to appreciate that while there will always be differing opinions on the validity of the pursuit of wealth within football, we are unified in our belief that this can never be done at the expense of the spirit of competition in sport, victory is nothing without the spectre of defeat. However, it would be naive to believe that the threat has been extinguished forever and we still face European qualification that will be partially based on historical performance as opposed to in season merit and a Premier League where some shareholders still want to abolish the enshrined democratic principle of “one club, one vote”. This week’s battle against elitism may have been won but the war needs to be relentlessly and vigorously fought.
In bigger footballing news our Under-23s secured the title and won promotion. Congratulations to the team, Adam Underwood, Mark Jackson and all their staff who are ensuring the culture of excellence is running all the way through Thorp Arch.
So the week ends with the big six only being able to get fatter by having to eat generous helpings of humble pie, our crest launch no longer being the biggest U-turn in English football history, football’s principles of competition, hope and merit being heroically and successfully defended by all those who love the game and Leeds United sides at all levels showing that we have the potential to be great again. What a time to be alive!
Marching on Together