As the crowds gathered outside Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium, there was a moment when furious jeers switched to whooping cheers, almost like a switch was flipped.
Chelsea fans, who are reportedly unable to watch Premier League games due to Covid-19 limitations, gathered on Tuesday to protest the club’s appearance in the European Super League ahead of their goalless draw with Brighton.
While the demonstrations were going on, the club declared its decision to leave the breakaway league, which was met with widespread criticism in football and beyond.
All six English Super League players soon followed suit and withdrew from the tournament. The project had only been revealed for 48 hours before it began to fall apart.
Arsenal went the furthest in recognizing the importance of fans in convincing the club to withdraw.
“The last few days have shown us yet again the depth of feeling our supporters around the world have for this great club and the game we love,” began an open letter from the Arsenal board. “We needed no reminding of this but the response from supporters in recent days has given us time for further reflection and deep thought.”
The idea took football to a position where the sport’s wider community didn’t want it to go: it sought to make European football more profitable at the cost of competitive drama (in the Super League, 15 clubs would be immune from relegation), and it took it to a place where the sport’s broader community didn’t want it to go.
The Super League received a resounding response from fans, players, pundits, and politicians, not to mention rival clubs and the game’s governing bodies.
While fans protested outside stadiums with banners, players inside the stadium staged their own protests through T-shirts and post-match interviews.
On Tuesday, players from Liverpool, one of the original 12 clubs to sign up for the exclusive tournament, took to social media to express their displeasure with the situation: “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen,” they said collectively, even though they didn’t mention the Super League.
Jurgen Klopp, their manager, had expressed his concerns the day before, while Pep Guardiola, Klopp’s Manchester City counterpart, railed about how “everyone thinks for themselves” at the top of the game.
Broadcasters such as Amazon and BT, as well as some of the game’s top TV personalities, have distanced themselves from the Super League: “If it ever happens, I would never work on this European Super League,” tweeted BBC and BT presenter Gary Lineker.
Politicians chimed in, despite the fact that the football world was almost united in its condemnation.
The Super League debacle has shown not just how powerful the wealthy owners of Europe’s top clubs are, but also how football fans and stakeholders can reclaim some of that influence.
Some club owners have also expressed opposition. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the chairman and CEO of Paris Saint-Germain, urged football to remember its fans as he pledged allegiance to UEFA’s European competitions, and Bayern Munich, which beat PSG in the Champions League final last year, also turned down the Super League.
Bayern and other German clubs follow a 50+1 ownership law, which means that members and supporters, rather than commercial partners, own the majority of the club.
“Football needs to take its fans incredibly seriously and move against them at their peril. I think that’s probably a lesson learnt that will actually help with the situation moving forward,” UK sports minister Nigel Huddleston told CNN Sport’s Christina Macfarlane.
Following the launch of the Super League on Monday, the UK government announced a fan-led study of the sport, which it describes as a “root-and-branch examination of football in this country.”
Huddleston added that the review will “come up with a whole host of recommendations on football governance and also the flow of money in football. We’ll see what those recommendations are and hopefully that will also help put us on a firmer footing.”
One of the potential outcomes of the review may be the establishment of an independent professional football regulator in the United Kingdom.
“It’s been talked about for a few years, we’re not discounting it,” added Huddleston.
“There’s definitely issues with it in terms of scope of responsibilities. I suspect the idea of a regulator wouldn’t go down well with some of the football authorities who believe that they should probably be doing them themselves.
“But we’ve seen too many failures and too many problems with English football over the last few years.”
Unlike other problems afflicting the game, the Super League and the topic of ownership at the top have unified and mobilized football’s culture at large in a specific way.
When asked about his thoughts on the Super League earlier this week, Leeds striker Patrick Bamford questioned why the game’s decision-makers are willing to take drastic measures when the game’s finances are at risk, but not when racism is at stake.