9 times fans have forced embarrassing U-turns: ESL, furlough, ticket prices…

Quick Reads

Just as suddenly as it had been announced, it was gone. All six English clubs have pulled out of the proposed European Super League and plans for the exclusive breakaway competition lie in tatters.

There is no doubt that the quick, powerful reaction from fans of the game in general and of the ‘big six’ in particular was one of the driving forces behind the sudden change of heart on the part of the owners of English clubs.

Sometimes fans might feel powerless, but when they come together, they still hold sway.

In light of the Super League U-turn, we have taken a look at nine other occasions fans forced clubs and the wealthy and powerful to go back on unpopular decisions.

Twenty’s Plenty

In 2016, Premier League clubs agreed to cap away ticket prices at £30 following a prolonged and widespread fan campaign, led by the Football Supporters’ Association, that used the slogan ‘twenty’s plenty’.

The aim, as the slogan suggests, was to cap tickets at £20, but the campaign did at least make some impact, bringing the prices down from the absurd quantities that were being charged before that.

The cap was extended for another three years in February 2019.

Liverpool ticket prices

The European Super League plans were far from the first time Liverpool owners FSG have provoked the ire of Reds fans.

In February 2016, Liverpool announced some tickets for games at Anfield would be priced at as much as £77 from the following season. In the following home game against Sunderland, fans, including Jamie Carragher, stood up and walked out in protest in the 77th minute in protest.

Later that week, bosses John Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon announced they had changed their minds and that the maximum price would stay at £59.

“The three of us have been particularly troubled by the perception that we don’t care about our supporters, that we are greedy, and that we are attempting to extract personal profits at the club’s expense. Quite the opposite is true.”

Liverpool staff furlough

Surprise, surprise, it didn’t take that long for FSG to demonstrate that quite the opposite isn’t true. They don’t care about the fans, they really are greedy and they really are attempting to extract personal profits at the club’s (and taxpayer’s) expense.

In April 2020, Liverpool announced that they would make use of the British government’s Job Retention Scheme that covered 80% of the wages of workers left idle by the coronavirus prevention measures.

Fans and former players pointed to the £42million profit the club had made the previous financial year and the estimated £2billion personal wealth of its owners, rather animatedly suggesting that the furlough scheme wasn’t really meant to help the super wealthy save a few quid.

Again, FSG swivelled on a sixpence. Again, they issued an apologetic statement.

“We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week [duh, ya think?] to announce that we intended to apply to the Coronavirus Retention Scheme and furlough staff due to the suspension of the Premier League football calendar, and are truly sorry for that.”

Project Big Picture

Soon, the ‘truly sorry’ Liverpool owners were at it again. It was not only them this time, though.

Alongside their old mates Manchester United, Liverpool (the owners, not the fans – don’t come at us with all that ‘stop picking on my club’ bullshit) devised what was called ‘Project Big Picture’ in October 2020, which feels like three lifetimes ago.

The plan of FSG and the Glazers, approved by EFL chairman Rick Parry and the rest of the ‘big six’, was to grab all the power in English football for themselves in return for giving the EFL a £250million loan that may or may not have tided lower league clubs over until the various lockdowns finished and fans were allowed to return.

Despite the wonderful generosity of the ever-benevolent ‘big six’ owners – all they wanted was to ‘reinvigorate’ Football League clubs and their communities, don’t forget – the ungrateful peasants who follow the game were unsatisfied, revolting against their feudal football masters.

The fact the other 14 Premier League clubs were also against the plan perhaps weighed more heavily on this occasion, but there is no doubt fans’ protestations had an impact and influenced government reaction.

As the Football Supporters’ Association succinctly put it: “Very few of our members have ever expressed the view that what football really needs is a greater concentration of power in the hands of the big six billionaire-owned clubs.”

Brian McDermott at Leeds

From metaphorical U-turns to several literal ones back in 2014, when Leeds were a basket case and all-round nutcase Massimo Cellino was about to buy the club.

In February of that year, Cellino, despite not having completed his takeover and having no actual power, decided to sack manager Brian McDermott.

Fan were incensed and went to Elland Road to protest, forcing a taxi that Cellino had called to take him back to his hotel to do several U-turns in the car park.

After a 5-1 derby win over Huddersfield the following day, which McDermott stayed away from, the actual owners GFH Capital announced that, as they were still technically in charge, McDermott had not in fact been fired.

That, though, was only temporary. Cellino eventually took charge of the club and McDermott was a dead man walking. He was replaced with unknown former Forest Green Rovers manager Dave Hockaday in June 2014.

Anti-racism campaign at Leeds

That was not the first time Leeds fans had forced their club to change tack, however. Back in the 1980s, with the National Front presence at football grounds increasing, anti-racist supporters took the initiative.

The club had reacted to the NF recruitment drive around Elland Road by doing precisely nothing. But through a concerted campaign, and a brilliant fanzine, supporters forced the club to acknowledge the issue and take action.

We covered the full story here…

READ: Leeds United, racism, and the fanzine which forced change at Elland Road

Monday night football in Germany

Monday night football has become a fixture of our viewing schedules in England. But let’s face it, football on a Monday night is a fucking abomination.

In Germany, though, fans have been less complicit than we have (and I include myself) in the march towards a football full of the rapacious neo-liberal ideals which gnaw away at the game’s core ideals with insatiable appetite.

German fans are of course in the advantageous position of having the ’50+1′ ownership model, but that is not their only strength.

When, in 2018, the DFB told German fans they’d have to travel half way across the country to watch games on a Monday night because Fox Sports wanted more wonga, they told the DFB to do one.

Eintracht Frankfurt fans threw tennis balls onto the pitch, Borussia Dortmund supporters successfully boycotted a game. Others revealed banners and generally kicked up a right old stink. And they won. The DFB reneged on the deal, football on a Monday night was cancelled.

Not a surprise Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich didn’t go for the Super League in light of that, is it?

Dortmund fans’ ticket-price protests

This is a general ongoing issue in Germany as much as it is a specific U-turn, but in 2015, protests against rising ticket prices were particularly pronounced at Bundesliga games.

Prices were going up across the board and treatment of fans was questionable in many grounds, but the most obvious manifestation was Hoffenheim charging visiting Borussia Dortmund fans €55 for a ticket. Dortmund fans boycotted and it had the desired effect.

Hoffenheim lowered prices and donated some proceeds from the tickets to a Dortmund charity. “We overshot the mark,” the club said.

Chilean protests

This is not a club doing a U-turn, but it’s worth including as an example of how far football fan power – and collective action more generally – can get you.

In 2019 and 2020, millions of Chileans took to the streets to protest against the neo-liberal economic policies of president Sebastien Pinera, the horrendous costs of living across the country and stagnating wages. It was not all down to football fans, but they played a significant part.

Some of the biggest and most effusive demonstrations were sparked by the death of Jorge Mora, a fan of Colo-Colo, one of the country’s biggest teams.

Colo-Colo fans had already joined forces with fans of other clubs to protest in and outside stadiums when Mora was hit by a police van and killed while leaving his team’s stadium on January 28, 2020.

Protests ensued involving organised fan groups from all the major clubs and thousands of others. During the unrest, another Colo-Colo fan was shot dead by police, one of thousands to have suffered at the hands of police.

But demonstrations continued and, though Pinera has not resigned, a referendum was held on whether to write a new constitution. Of those who participated, 78% in favour a new constitution. The process of voting to decide who will write the constitution is ongoing.

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