European Super League: How breakaway group could leave Pompey charitable arm 'decimated'

FOOTBALL has always been entertainment for the masses – but now the sport is in a time of crisis.

By David George
Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 7:00 am

Following the creation of the European Super League (ESL) by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, the ‘big six’ of the Premier League left the European Club Association and announced they would join the league, alongside the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and AC Milan.

What has followed has left the footballing world in disarray, with rumours that the six clubs could be thrown out of the Premier League and players being told that by being part of these breakaway clubs, they will be forbidden from taking part in the World Cup, Euros and Champions League.

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Ashley Brown spent four years in the Fratton Park boardroom and worked with four managers

Chelsea and Manchester City have requested to pull out, and a united front between Fifa, Uefa and even the UK government, among others, has since been formed to prevent this league from going any further.

But away from the legal battles and negotiations behind closed doors lies a much deeper problem. Football has left its supporters behind, many have said.

On all levels, fans must reclaim the sport they love, the teams they back through thick and thin – from Wembley triumphs and jubilant victories to the heart-breaking losses.

In Portsmouth, being betrayed by greedy owners and having to pick up the pieces is a still raw story to Pompey fans after Pompey went into administration in 2010 with debts of around £70m.

It’s why today we – together with our sister papers and National World – launch our campaign: For the Fans.

The News hopes to protect Pompey and our community by revealing the ramifications of an ESL being set up.

Through the creation of the Pompey Supporters Trust (PST) the club was saved from extinction – eight years to the day on Monday.

Former board member Ashley Brown says fans must be given the power to retake control of the football clubs they love.

He said: ‘We have to find ways to ensure that supporters are involved in both the ownership and running of football clubs going forward.

‘I don't know if we could ever match the system in the German Bundesliga – but fans deserve to have their say, and have some power, in the clubs they love and support.

‘The ESL has been widely condemned and rightly so. But sadly, it’s been the path that modern football has been walking for quite some time, we’ve just ignored it and let it fester.’

Protests have been taking place outside the Emirates Stadium and Anfield – but Mr Brown believes fans can do even more on a local level.

He has suggested writing to your MP, urging them to back the government’s fan-led football review, which he believes has the power to bring about serious reform.

Fans can also write to their local clubs – which still hold power in English football’s infrastructure – and join their club’s supporters trust, which are backed by a national association.

Even after the resignation of Manchester United chairman Ed Woodward yesterday evening, Mr Brown is adamant that owners cannot have a monopoly over the future of football.

‘It’s bound to collapse now that Chelsea and Manchester City have pulled out,’ he said.

‘What we need to do now is make sure supporters properly influence the future of football, rather than greedy owners.'

But the damage done from the ESL could go further than the football itself.

If the ‘big six’ was to break away from the Premier League, a lot of the money that comes in will be lost – money that trickles right down the football pyramid.

Clare Martin is the chief executive of Pompey in the Community, the charitable arm of Portsmouth FC.

She says a lot of the work done to support the community could be ‘decimated’ by a lack of funding, should the ESL go ahead.

‘The creation of the ESL would hit us very hard, and it would hurt the community as well,’ she said.

‘We receive significant funding from the Premier League, which supports the majority of our projects, from cooking sessions to delivering food parcels and combatting loneliness in the city.

‘It would be a tragic day for Portsmouth if the ESL went ahead – personally I feel a lot of anger, with an underlying sense of sadness.

‘Something we all love and that benefits the community is being destroyed, all for the sake of money.

‘Hearing that Chelsea and Manchester City have pulled out does renew my faith in those clubs a bit, but we need the others to follow suit.’’

Pompey in the Community has also been running football sessions for children over the Easter holidays.

Clare added that these children dream of playing for Portsmouth, and perhaps even reaching international stardom.

She said: ‘We had 120 kids playing in Copnor every day over Easter – kids who have a chance to make a name for themselves and maybe play in the Champions League or World Cup someday.

‘And remember when Pompey ended up in Europe, we had AC Milan at Fratton Park and almost beat them. That was something fans could have only dreamed about.

‘The ESL decimates all of these dreams, so fans across English football have a right to be outraged.’

At a government level, culture secretary Oliver Dowden said that following the ESL announcement, a fan-led review will be launched.

Chaired by former minister for sport, Tracey Crouch, it will focus on financial stability, football regulation and ensuring fans have a greater say in how their clubs are run.

Labour MP for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, said: ‘Plans for a super league are nothing more than a greedy attempt to limit competition to a few elite clubs at the expense of football and communities in Portsmouth and across the country.

’Labour is working at speed to stop the ESL’s proposals. I’m glad the Pompey trust was able to join Sir Keir Starmer’s summit today, and I will be following up concerns with the trust and football club in the coming days.

‘I won’t allow a super league stitch-up to affect lower league clubs like our own, and will always fight for football to be given back to the people who built it.’

Conservative MP for Gosport, Caroline Dinenage, added: ‘Football is part of our national DNA. I’m appalled by the announcement, made without consulting fans.

‘The government is taking robust action to intervene and kicked off the root and branch fan-led review into football governance, promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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