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From Prince William to Ian Holloway – how the ESL battle was won

T

he first cracks began to emerge on Tuesday morning, whisperings of disquiet within the six English clubs who so brazenly attempted to destroy the game.

By early evening, fans were literally dancing outside Stamford Bridge, celebrating their club’s imminent withdrawal from the Super League — a project which united the rest of the game, supporters, politicians and even royalty in outrage and disgust.

The scenes of thousands of Chelsea supporters celebrating their club’s step away was a fitting image for a movement that is being seen as a victory for fans over billionaire owners.

Chelsea were the last English club to officially announce their withdrawal, shortly after 1am, leaving the controversial plan surely dead a mere 48 hours after the ‘Dirty Dozen’ — including Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan — announced the breakaway.

The decisions to withdraw were welcomed by the FA and Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin, and soon afterwards the Super League officially announced its suspension.

On Wednesday, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan pulled out and the rest will surely follow, tails firmly between their legs, their humiliation total and the damage to reputations potentially seismic. A definitive turning point may emerge in the coming days, but the sheer weight of pressure and strength of feeling appeared to simply break the resolve of the English rebels.

Sunday’s initial announcement was greeted by wave after wave of official condemnation, with organisations and figures ranging from Prince William to Ian Holloway, who described it as a betrayal to memory of Prince Philip, condemning the plan.

The project’s protagonists were staggering in their lack of advocacy, meanwhile, with no word from any of the English clubs’ owners until Wednesday morning’s grovelling began.

No attempt was made to explain the gaping flaws in the project, funded by JP Morgan, including the sense that the finances simply did not add up, particularly as big broadcasters joined the condemnation.

Public opinion was allowed to definitively and immediately shift against the project and the club’s own employees quickly felt bold enough to speak out against a proposal on which they were not consulted.

Supporters’ groups for all six teams were united like never before in fury, all organising and galvanising their bases to take action. It worked.

At their AGM on Tuesday night, the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust was joined by representatives from Tottenham and United — a first — underlining the strength of feeling.

The rest of football, not least the other 14 Premier League clubs, were also together in opposition. They convened for a call at 11am on Tuesday — in itself an unprecedented event — and were bound by their collective anger.

The overwhelming feeling was one of betrayal and fury at the executives who schemed away for months to concoct the plans, all the while maintaining publicly and in private that they remained committed to Uefa’s Champions League reforms.

Sanctions and penalties could yet come, while the six clubs have undoubtedly weakened their standing, not least because they can never again be trusted and after resigning from the European Club Association (ECA).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, never slow to sense a populist movement to back, threw his weight behind moves to stop the group, on Tuesday listening to the concerns of the Premier League, FA and fans’ groups on a video call.

He promised a “legislative bomb” to prevent a the “cartel” from creating a “closed-shop”, having been quick to establish a review into sport governance which will press ahead and could fundamentally alter the ownership model of football in this country.

With Parliament united against the greed of the owners, there is a feeling that this wretched plan could yet spark long-term change in football, but not of the sort envisaged by the failed conspirators.


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