Hello Darkness My Old Friend

The overnight news about the proposed football European Super League will have caused many a wry smile from cricket followers up and down the country. All the usual words and phrases are in there – “stakeholders” will be consulted, it’s about “partnerships”, a “sustainable commercial approach” and not forgetting “solidarity”. A copy and paste of corporate gaslighting and bullshit meaning little except for a power grab and a desire to enrich themselves yet further and remove the jeopardy that is the essence of sport.

Football is a vastly bigger and wealthier game than cricket, and as such the response is magnitudes higher, but the arguments are the same, the objections are the same, and the lack of any interest in what the little people think is just the same. We’ve been here time and again, and we will see the same degree of pretence that it’s for the good of “the game” (another reminder that those in power only mean the game as it pertains to them, not the game itself) and that it’s nothing other than trying to secure the financial stability of the sport.

Where football differs is that this has attracted the attention and the ire of the politicians, who never fail to sport a point of votes principle on which to opine. To that extent, football fans are luckier. When both the ICC and ECB, internationally and domestically decide to put aside matters of sporting integrity in favour of filthy lucre, there is a deafening silence from all but a very few. Cricket doesn’t particularly matter, and certainly doesn’t matter to enough. Football does.

But the same set of parameters apply – that sport is a means of generating money rather than the other way around, and it’s both reflective of the reality in which we live and also a governance question that has never been addressed. It has been said before that the most dangerous foe any sport can face is a man (always a man) in a suit saying “I can help”. Yet there’s also the endless hypocrisy about it all. Sky News has spent much of the morning decrying the greed involved and parading their new found commitment to tradition and sporting values over dollars and euros – a quite breathtaking demonstration of rank hypocrisy. Should it go ahead and Sky win the broadcast contract, expect a rapid reverse ferret from their news channel to promote it as the greatest sporting invention since the round ball. Likewise, while Gary Neville’s monologue about the tradition of the game is helpful for all those opposed to the Super League, he’s one of those who has benefitted heavily from the concentration of power and resources in the hands of the few. His part ownership of Salford City is the same in microcosm – invested money making a team competitive above the level it would otherwise be – not a thing wrong with that, except the selectivity involved in deciding what is morally acceptable and what isn’t.

Football and cricket are different in so many respects, not least that football clubs have always been rapaciously commercial for a century or more. A quick look at the origins of many of the leading clubs shows very little has changed – all of the so called “traditional” big teams have become that way due to heavy owner investment at different times in the past. Just like cricket, this is nothing more than the logical culmination of a direction of travel that has been in place for decades. Few of those furious today strongly objected to the abolition of gate sharing in the 1980s, nor when directors were first allowed to take money out of the clubs around the same time, let alone the creation of the Premier League which was also sold as being for general benefit rather than personal enrichment. Some greed is apparently fine, it’s only when it goes to the next level that it’s something to object to.

But this is a cricket blog, not a football one, so those arguments can be had elsewhere. The relevance to cricket is only in the parallels, in the way that the ECB have tried, with rather less competence, to move the sport into the same frame with the same kinds of outcomes. While sports are different, the determination to force them down the same path to maximise (in the short term, it should be noted) revenues and ameliorate the bank balances of those already in positions of power is entirely the same. Franchise football with no promotion and relegation removes the essence of any sporting system, namely that teams can rise or fall on their sporting merits (and financial management plays a major role in that). But it is anaethema to investors, who wish to see a return on their down payment with certainty, something that sport is inherently bad at – which is why we watch it.

The Hundred is the cricketing equivalent of the European Super League in these ways. Ignore for now the format – it’s always been the least of the objections anyway – a fixed number of teams able to compete each year with no danger of dropping out is precisely the golden goose for sporting investors. As long as the competition thrives, it’s a one way bet, an almost literal licence to print money. The difference is the serious doubt about the level of interest outside of a pandemic year where the public are desperate for anything to watch, which is why as well as a curse for the ECB’s finances, 2021 is also a golden opportunity to embed a structure that the supporters in general loathe. The IPL and the NFL are models for owners of sports franchises to wish to expand into other areas – irrespective of the latter having various safeguards built in to try to maintain a level playing field. Indeed, the IPL perhaps more so is the perfect template to follow, whereby sport as entertainment in the same way as WWE is the aim and the intention.

The European Super League faces a lot of hurdles to overcome – the hostility from football supporters matters far more than the hostility from cricket ones, because packed grounds are more essential to football than to domestic cricket which doesn’t have that tribal following to anything like the same extent. There will be those who suddenly discover it’s not such a bad thing after all when they realise there is scope for personal professional advancement, and that’s not in itself an unreasonable position to adopt because everyone needs to look out for themselves. But it doesn’t mean everyone else has to fall in line, nor that they have to accept the worldview espoused that is nothing other than self-interest on the part of those doing so – indeed all the Super League needs now is people to come out and say this new competition isn’t aimed at traditional supporters. Some of those who advocate exactly this for cricket have been quick to decry it happening in football – don’t think for a second it hasn’t been noticed.

39 thoughts on “Hello Darkness My Old Friend

  1. Northern Light Apr 19, 2021 / 12:17 pm

    Apparently the new world order in football already differentiates between “legacy supporters” and their future new customers.
    “Outside cricket” seems rather whimsical in comparison!

    Like

    • thelegglance Apr 19, 2021 / 12:22 pm

      If only there had been communities of cricket followers screaming that all of this was coming, across all sports…

      Like

    • Marek Apr 19, 2021 / 9:10 pm

      “Legacy supporters” is a totally repulsive phrase. It’s “fuck off” repurposed for people who are both way too spineless and way too dishonest to say that out loud.

      And we should–fuck off that is, those of us who are legacy supporters. We should fuck off away from the ESL and the Hundred–which, crucially, means having absolute discipline about boycotting the TV and Internet broadcasts of their events, which is where the real money lies now, in the same way that someone trying to give up alcohol or chocolate might: part of you might really want it, but you know that it’ll make the situation worse in the long run.

      And, if there is the option, we should fuck off TO any competitions hosted by legacy clubs, legacy leagues and legacy players–both virtually and physically as and when it’s allowed. We should deluge the live streams and grounds showing the Royal London, because the fact that it’s played by half a second team is less important than that it is played by a legacy team.

      And if enough of us do that with enough discipline and enough solidarity, then five years down the line things will be looking very grim (or, in the case of the Hundred, even grimmer than they do now). Because of course the real snake-oil sale here is that, to some extent in football and to an almost total extent in English cricket, there are no non-legacy supporters. They’re just a blue-sky idea magicked up by conceited, self-serving idiots like Sanjay Patel to try to give a ridiculous idea some semblance of appearing plausible. If they existed, they’d already be there.

      The ESL may have some chance of success because of the global reach of football and the brand value of the clubs involved, unless the authorities clamp down on it like a ton of bricks and are supported by the courts in doing so. The Hundred should have almost none–its demise is, or at least should be, an open door waiting to be pushed.

      Like

  2. nonoxcol Apr 19, 2021 / 12:33 pm

    That last sentence… the second cricket person I checked on Twitter was jackpot.

    (The first was Selvey… you know me!)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Mark Apr 19, 2021 / 12:53 pm

    I just find it all priceless. The timing is even funnier. In the midst of a global pandemic, in which many have died, lost their livelihoods, and many small business have been destroyed, where the so called fan has been shut out of the stadiums, the suits decide this is the time to gorge on more greed.

    You can write mountains on this, but it is the inevitable consequence of the break away thirty years ago to form the Premiership, and turn football in to a business model. Then, clubs like Notts Forrest, and Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday went along because they hoped to be carried to safety by the elite clubs. They may have thought they were part of the elite clubs. Where are they now? Those clubs in football are now the counties today in cricket who have sold out their souls for survival, and now find themselves in the shit. The fact the Premiership is now getting screwed over is funny to me. What goes around comes around.

    As Adam Smith warned….. “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices”

    The politicians can pontificate all they like, but it will be the customer who decides. The real question is…. do the other clubs left behind have the balls to throw the elite clubs out of the leagues? Because the elite will then create their own new leagues, and offer entry to a few obedient clubs who wish to join.

    The only option the paying fan has is to withhold payment. Cancel your subscription, don’t buy the tickets. If you do, then you are helping to facilitate the new order. My guess is football fans will do what they also do, which is moan and grumble and cough up. You get what you deserve.

    I also wonder if the owners of the big clubs have decided after the last year that the paying fan at the ground is not that important. It’s the tv customer that counts. They can even stage manage crowd nose through speakers. They have learnt to do without the attending g fan. All they want from you is your cash. Up to you whether to give it to them.

    In cricket the sell out has been supported by the so called custodians of the game. And they journalist who were supposed to be holding them to account decided on mass to sell out to the new order for their own interest. I fully expect the football media to do the same.

    Like

    • thelegglance Apr 19, 2021 / 1:03 pm

      It is indeed the only option the fan has – to withhold payment, but it’s an extremely powerful one. What is always the unknown is at what point the authorities shatter that loyalty. We will have to wait and see. Matchday revenue is of limited importance, but half empty stadia look dreadful and scares off sponsors.

      Like

      • dArthez Apr 19, 2021 / 2:17 pm

        It may look dreadful, but unless it hits the bottom line, it won’t matter much.

        Other than gate receipts it is sponsors, and TV subscriptions. Sure these greedy bastards may sell the rights for $1 billion a year. Sure. But at some point people may also decide that spending $200 or $300 a year on these games may simply not be worth it. People are stretched enough as it is, and with real wages not rising for a few decades now (other than for a select few), it is foolish to assume that this cannot / will not blow up.

        Cricket in England may well get to that saturation point soon enough. Sure you can sell the rights for 200 million a year. But if you just draw in 2 million subs a year (viewers will share a television), the subscriber will have to fork out 100 GBP just for the broadcaster to break even. And that is a cricket-exclusive channel. And there is no reason to expect broadcasters to keep paying more for rights than what they earn from those rights. Likewise people may not be that interested in paying premium if they’re then also filling the coffers for sports they have no interest in. And I don’t think pay-per view is going to be that appealing for cricket in general (maybe with the exception of the knockouts in a World Cup).

        Even moreso when there is no reason to expect upsets. In cricket England – South Africa is as interesting as England – Faroer in football. Call me a pessimist, but I foresee no reason for that to change in the future. In cricket the haves have basically succeeded in destroying competitive cricket outside the haves (New Zealand excepted, but that is just for the time being). Why watch sport when the result is a foregone conclusion?

        A child who was born on the day that Tottenham Hotspur last won the league title will probably retire from work before they win their next league title. So even the pretence of meritocracy is extremely hollow. I would not be surprised if there are several clubs in the third tier in English football that have the league more recently than Tottenham, or more often for that matter.

        Like

      • Mark Apr 19, 2021 / 2:35 pm

        If fans of non break away teams pay tv subscriptions for the new league they can’t complain as their own clubs go to the wall. And they will go to the wall because no one in their right mind is going to invest with zero prospect of making it big sometime.

        As to the breakaway super teams their fans tend to not give a toss about anyone else anyway. It’s Im All right Jack pull the ladder up. Although in time the lack of local derbies, and tribal rivalries may rather ware off.

        The reality is the European super league teams are now international corporations often located in tax havens with a global brand. They don’t care about the local fan anymore or empty stadiums. I can see in about twenty years time all these teams packing up from Europe, and relocating to China. China would build them all brand new 200,000 seater stadiums, and the new league would be the China Premier league.

        Like

        • Mark Apr 19, 2021 / 2:41 pm

          A bit like how the ECBs supposed new fan base for cricket now turns out to be Indian IPL tv fans. They also don’t care about local fans.

          I would like to think people will walk away but I think there are others to replace them. Usually from a distant shore. The local fan is now disposable.

          Like

        • Marek Apr 19, 2021 / 9:21 pm

          I wonder if that’s as true as it appears to be on the surface, Mark. How many people in the UK, for example, are avid Rajasthan Royals followers just because a trio of English superstars play for them?

          I also wonder if following clubs has at heart some kind of emotional resonance–which of course may be a different one if you’re from Stretford or Beijing, but which is more than just “I’m following the best players in the world all playing on the same pitch simultaneously”, for younger and/or geographically distant followers as much as people who support Man Utd because they come from Stretford.

          If the money argument is right, then there’s no need to call the teams anything legacy–just sign up all the players by promising them vast amounts and turn them into an exhibition team (Ronaldo’s Renegades, Lewandowski’s Lions). I suspect there’s a reason that there’s some attempt with all these competitions to underline some kind of link with the legacy clubs, even if, like the Hundred, it’s a rather vague one.

          Like

          • Mark Apr 19, 2021 / 10:19 pm

            I think Marek the analogy I would use as far as the club owners are concerned (they will never admit this publicly of course) is that of a large global corporate entity.

            Substitute Man City, Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea etc for HSBC, Google, Apple, Starbucks, and you have their vision. You can buy these companies products anywhere in the world. The loyalty is to the brand. Where you come from is irrelevant.

            Now fans don’t see themselves as customers of course. Perhaps they should? Then it will become easier to walk away. It would be more honest if the clubs just admitted this reality and stopped all the legacy bullshit. They are all just different soap powders really.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Northern Light Apr 19, 2021 / 10:26 pm

      Where are they now? A shallow and glib person might say, as far as Norwich are concerned, they’ve literally just been promoted back to the Premier League 🙂
      But more seriously, declaring an interest as a fan of my native city, Norwich back in 1992 were a very different club to the one they are today. These days they’re a model of a community club and are owned by a couple of well-to-do pensioner fans one of whom happens to have been a TV chef back in the day 😉
      I’m pretty cynical about the Premier League and the FA at the best of times but Norwich are run the way most clubs should be run – within their means, engaged with fans and trying to be a positive force in the area.
      *thread hijack over*

      Like

      • thelegglance Apr 19, 2021 / 10:27 pm

        I don’t think it’s a thread hijack by the way. Whether it’s football or cricket, this is the essence of loving sport for the sake of it. So go for it.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Mark Apr 19, 2021 / 11:11 pm

    A perfectly fair point, as Norwich are coming back into the Premier League.

    I could of course used any of the following….Middlesbrough, Ipswich, Coventry,Blackburn, QPR, Wimbledon, Sheffield Utd, Oldham.

    Point is they were happy at the time because they were in the big league. One day it might be Tottenham or Arsenal who get booted out of the elite if they decide to reduce down further.

    The remaining clubs in the Premier league should boot out the break away clubs if they feel so strongly about it. But they haven’t got the guts to do it. They are too reliant on their coat tails.

    It would be funny to me seeing a handful of elite clubs with huge wage bills and nobody to play on a Saturday and Sunday.

    Like

    • thelegglance Apr 19, 2021 / 11:16 pm

      Kicking them out would be the quickest way to ensure a Super League happened. Then they’d have no choice but to go ahead. I think it’s dead in the water already personally – and it would amuse me intensely if the ultimate outcome was vastly greater oversight and reduced power due to Parliament quite clearly having lost its temper with them. Oh for cricket to have that effect…

      Like

      • Mark Apr 19, 2021 / 11:39 pm

        I think it will happen one day whatever Parliament says. These clubs are mostly foreign owned and some registered in tax havens. They could all just up-sticks and move to the US or China. They obviously want more of the pie for themselves.

        Might be better to call their bluff now and leave them to it. The other clubs could get on and build a new league with a much better competitive edge to it.

        It will probably be fudged for now and the elite clubs will settle for some compromise which will let them syphon away more of the money with the other clubs dying a slow death. The best outcome would be if the fans walked away, but that is never going to happen.

        Like

  5. quebecer Apr 20, 2021 / 8:13 pm

    So. Farewell then, Ed Smith. Aw. Then again, I do love a nice bright new dawn.

    Like

    • Mark Apr 20, 2021 / 8:40 pm

      From the BBC

      Ashley Giles “ The new structure also makes lines of accountability much clearer, with Chris Silverwood, as head coach, taking ultimate responsibility for picking England senior men’s squads.”

      Silverwood will continue to take input from Test captain Joe Root and limited-overs skipper Eoin Morgan, along with performance director Mo Bobat and James Taylor, who takes on a new role of ‘head scout’.

      The ECB says the system will be supported be a “resource that will provide intelligence from performance analysis, talent ID, scouting, medical and sports science”.

      Make of that what you will…….

      Like

      • quebecer Apr 20, 2021 / 9:11 pm

        Yeah, already have, to be honest.

        Like

      • Marek Apr 20, 2021 / 10:29 pm

        Interested to see whether it actually does make the lines of accountability clearer. One paper already implying that Silverwood de facto neither selects nor head-coaches the white-ball teams–and it’s not the first time I’ve seen that suggestion.

        Like

        • dArthez Apr 21, 2021 / 4:58 pm

          Only in success.

          Like

    • dlpthomas Apr 21, 2021 / 10:42 am

      I am assuming that despite Brexit there are still only 24 hours in a UK day so how is Silverwood going to have the time to watch County Games, select the teams and coach the test side? Surely a test selector has to spend as much time as possible watching first class cricket? (or am I too old to understand how the modern world works?)

      Like

      • Mark Apr 21, 2021 / 11:58 am

        I’m not a fan of Ed Smith, and think he was not the right man for the job, and I think this winter some of the selections have been very odd. (Albeit with the problems of Covid and team bubbles etc etc) But was that Smith or Silverwood/Root?

        But there are dangers in bringing selection into the dressing room via the coach as chief selector. As a player you will be reluctant to open up to the coach when he also selects you. It also can lead to an emphasis on favourites as coaches need to keep the dressing room on side. Over time it becomes more difficult to get into a side than get dropped as coaches prefer the devil they now.

        But the buck will stop with Silverwood. He will be responsible for selection and performance.It’s a football managers version of a coach. Which is often not successful, and short term. Fact is he can’t do much about the youth development at counties.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mark Apr 21, 2021 / 12:00 pm

          Should be Know, not now!

          Like

  6. dArthez Apr 20, 2021 / 9:14 pm

    Seems that the ESL is collapsing even quicker than the South Africa cricket team these days.

    Like

    • dArthez Apr 21, 2021 / 6:14 am

      Oh, and Ashley Giles is apparently working for Liverpool. Atrocious, atrocious press statement, that has many a parallel with Giles’ words after the 2014 T20 World Cup elimination.

      Like

    • Mark Apr 22, 2021 / 1:22 pm

      I wondered what you would make of it boss. Your line about the 2004 FA cup was very astute. Your team got well beaten and the winning team didn’t enjoy it either. A pointless exercise. What’s the point of the whole thing?

      The super league story and it’s temporarily implosion (its idea will be back I promise.) has got me thinking about the state of sport today, and reflect on what attracted me to it over fifty years ago, and what has now lead me to cancel any payment to these entities.

      Many people go to the theatre to see a production of a famous play even though they know what the outcome is. The beauty of sport, what hooked me back in the 1960s was the drama of uncertainty. Increasingly that drama is controlled. Alex Ferguson once noted, as he began to have success that the expectations of the home ground had changed. It was no longer the case that the fans hoped to win, they now took it as guaranteed. Instead, the issues were by how many, and would they be entertained? A bit like the coliseum in Roman times. The result was not in doubt.

      The problem is that uncertainty, and drama are not what businessmen demand. They want guarantees. I remember in the late 1970s when the league tile winners Notts Forrest were drawn in the first round of the European cup against the existing holders Liverpool. A two legged affair with the losing team being knocked out. The losing team (which was Liverpool) were out of Europe for the rest of the season . No dropping down to a lower European competition, No group matches to milk the fans dry? The only way back was to win the title to get entry for the following season. Fabulous drama, but a lousy business model.

      I read what the President of Real Madrid said. He claimed they were not making money in the current format. Some of that he blamed on Covid, but if Real Madrid are not making money then the model is in big trouble. He also claimed the kids were no longer interested in football. If true, who’s fault is that? Who has made the matches boring with most of no consequence? Who has placed themselves behind a paywall and priced themselves out of the market?

      The big clubs have enormous costs because they pay ludicrous wages to an army of players. The teams who signed up for the super league could put out a second team in their respective leagues and be more competitive than many of the other smaller teams. In decades gone by those players would have been more evenly spread. The business model of team sport now makes competition less likely. Instead we are given endless matches to milk the fans dry, which lets be honest have little drama because the outcome is not important. Maybe because of this I find individual sport interests me today far more than team sport.

      If Football is beginning to feel the financial strain then all sport should shudder. Because football has been the gold standard of the electronic turnstile. Many sports including cricket have been riding their coat tails. If the break away had happened then the knock on effect to Sky and therefore cricket would be huge. But cricket is mired in its own problems of destroying the competitive Test match format, and now having to offer more and more Mickey Mouse formats to pay the bills. It seems to me that if club sport is a business that primarily exists to make money then the competitive nature of sport will be compromised over time.

      Finally I have little sympathy for the fan. Unless you understand you are not viewed as a fan but a customer, and unless you withdraw payment and walk away these businessman will carry on doing whatever they like.

      Like

      • LordCanisLupus Apr 22, 2021 / 1:59 pm

        I’ve a follow- up well in the works covering a lot of the above….

        Like

        • dArthez Apr 22, 2021 / 3:59 pm

          Looking forward to reading that as well. Good read.

          Like

        • Mark Apr 22, 2021 / 5:01 pm

          I look forward to reading it!

          Like

  7. dArthez Apr 24, 2021 / 7:43 am

    Looks like they built a road in Sri Lanka. 10 sessions played in the Test against Bangladesh. 10 wickets have fallen, with three of those in pursuit of quick runs. Match aggregate currently 872/10 – and I don’t think even a timeless Test would be that exciting on this wicket..

    Like

    • dArthez Apr 24, 2021 / 1:44 pm

      Karunaratne could end up being on the field every minute of the Test match. Aggregate of 1053/10 at stumps Day 4. If this pitch does not get rated as poor, then the authorities could spare themselves the expense of maintaining wickets, and make the fielding sides bowl on a literal highway.

      We might not even get a third innings this Test match, despite 420 overs having been bowled at the end of it. (Probably 405, unless the Sri Lankan batsmen are real sadists).

      Like

  8. dArthez Apr 25, 2021 / 12:34 pm

    It is possible that South Africa have played their last international match for a while. The Minister of Sport has stripped CSA of national honours, pending the %#^@^@%@^@bleep in charge actually accepting the changes to the MOI. Given the sheer stupidity of those CSA people, don’t expect those changes actually being accepted, let alone implemented.

    Sorry if I offended any %#^@^@%@^@bleep

    Like

  9. quebecer Apr 27, 2021 / 6:24 pm

    Interested to hear the IPL has told the players they are now playing for humanity. That conversation in full: “Right, lads, from now on, you’re playing for humanity – The Humanity Mega Super Kings!” and steps aside as a curtain is pulled back revealing the new The Humanity Mega Super Kings kit (quite gaudy) and related merchandise. Players are reported to have reacted with, “We still get paid on Thursdays, right?”

    Like

  10. dlpthomas Apr 28, 2021 / 12:48 pm

    I know there is a lot going on in English sport at the moment but I can’t help but think we are ignoring the big question – what the hell is going on with Haseeb Hameed’s hair? (and are his Samson-like locks the reason for his recent success?. What ever the reason, long may it continue.)

    Like

    • quebecer Apr 28, 2021 / 9:44 pm

      It’s a fair point. I mean, that Pucovski chap has the excuse that he’s Australian.

      Like

      • dlpthomas Apr 29, 2021 / 1:03 pm

        Will Pucovski has a head of hair that warms my bogan heart

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s