As fans are slowly being let back in arenas and stadiums across the world to witness assorted sporting events in person, most players are actually quite glad to have real people back in the stands in lieu of cardboard cutouts and piped-in fan noise borrowed from video games. In the English Premiere League, however, after what happened yesterday before the Manchester United versus Liverpool game that never was, the players are doubtless wondering if maybe they could request turning the clock back a few months and reentering a bubble for protection … from the fans. COVID-19 is the least of their worries.
A bit of background. In every country across the globe except the United States and Canada, soccer (or football to the sports snobs) is the unquestioned king of sports. The amount of money spent by and on soccer makes even the most extravagant baseball and/or football and/or basketball salaries paid here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. utterly pale by comparison. To wit: heads across the baseball world exploded earlier this year when the San Diego Padres signed their superduperstudstar second baseman Fernando Tatis Jr. to a fourteen-year contract worth a total of $340 million dollars. Lionel Messi, arguably the best soccer player currently roaming the pitch, presently makes over $167 million in one year. Compared to that, Tatis Jr.’s contract is a bargain-basement blue light special.
Now, on to Manchester United. Back in 2005, the money-dripping Glazer family decided to really rub it in regarding the final outcome of that little tiff the Brits and those ungrateful colonials had starting in 1775 by buying Manchester United, the absolute big kahuna of English and arguably European soccer. The sale price? A modest $1.1 billion. Being wise enough to not spend their own money when it can be avoided, the Glazers worked out a leveraged takeover of the club, which in English (no pun intended) meant the purchasing funds were in part derived from a loan taken out against the club. Works great if you’re highly profitable, but if not, the business entity thus bought quickly finds itself, even should it be profitable but not quite profitable enough, in danger of not bringing in enough revenue to so much as pay off the interest due on the loan against itself. Great fun.
Manchester United, despite carrying this incurred debt which at least some fans cry is hindering its ability to compete, remains insanely popular in England and around the world. A quick comparison to their status would be the position the Dallas Cowboys hold here as America’s team, the one most likely to find fans where fans would in theory go for a team far closer to home. Like the Cowboys, it’s been a while since Man U. has manned up enough to win a championship, its most recent Premiere League title coming in the 2012-2013 season. Still, it is the top dog worldwide in the top sport worldwide.
Soccer, unlike the precision order we Americans are used to in our sporting leagues, has about three hundred and seventy-five different tournaments involving teams from assorted leagues and countries. That’s only a slight exaggeration. Making things all the more confusing is that said tournaments more often than not run parallel to different leagues’ seasons, meaning that in one game a team could be squaring off against a squad from the city over the nearest hill while the next will find them in some oddball locale elsewhere in the continent prepping to take on a team from a city and country its own players couldn’t find with an atlas and a GPS.
Okay, table is set. A few weeks ago, Manchester United and several other high rollers in European soccer announced they were planning to form their own league, modestly named the Super League. This went over about as well as a Lincoln Project booth at a Trump rally. Teams quickly disassociated themselves from the plan until it collapsed altogether. Still, fans were steaming, as were the organizers of the aforementioned gaggle of tournaments.
Fast forward to yesterday. Manchester United and Liverpool, a rivalry not unlike the Yankees and Red Sox in baseball, were set to play at Old Trafford, Manchester United’s home field. A protest against the Glazer ownership group was scheduled to take place outside the stadium prior to the game. Now, considering how, in America, if the fans are upset with team ownership the extent of publicly expressed displeasure consists of calling in to kvetch on air on your local sports radio station, or maybe hanging a banner at a game; the notion of an actual protest is, well, foreign (again no pun intended). Nevertheless, there it was.
The next act consisted of not a few protestors deciding to recreate the days of English soccer hooligans by upping the protest into a full-blown riot, breaking into the stadium and basically making a mess of things. Objects were thrown. Policemen were injured. The teams quickly decided it’d be best to hide in their respective hotels and we’ll play this game some other day and time. Said day and time, or for that matter locale, have yet to be determined. There are rumors the teams are eyeing a high school field somewhere in Topeka next Thursday, but you know talk is cheap.
A couple of observations. One, the Glazer family also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so it’s not like they’re averse to doing whatever it takes to put together a championship franchise. Second, while to a degree it’s understandable why people would be upset at such a radical upheaval as the proposed Super League would have caused, the league proposal is kaput. Yet people are still so angry over something that is not happening and will not happen that they’re willing to riot? Over a freaking soccer team?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Manchester United wins, hands down, the Dumbest Fans in Sports Award. Certainly, the brainless thousand or so people carried away with faux passion we saw at Old Trafford yesterday is an ultra-tiny minority of Man U.’s fan base. Apologies to the majority. However, fairly or no, you are now tainted by association with those who take their sports way too seriously.
Maybe try MLS.