I can remember exactly when and how I fell in love with Liverpool Football Club.
It was in the 1990s, when Goh Chok Tong was the Prime Minister and Ong Teng Cheong was the President. My parents were both Manchester United supporters. The decade would culminate in one of the most dramatic matches ever, the victory over Bayern Munich that clinched the Champions League and the Treble.
But I didn't enjoy it as much as they did. See, I was already a fan of a club then languishing in seventh place in the Premier League.
My uncles were (and still are) diehard supporters of Liverpool, having grown up in the 1980s when the Reds of Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish conquered England and Europe. They passed on that love of the club to me, in the form of a video tape (remember those?).
In the Dark Ages before broadband and YouTube, that tape was my gateway drug. I saw Jamie Redknapp dance through a packed defence, Steve McManaman race down the wing and Robbie Fowler lash the ball in the net. That was it, I was hooked.
All these years later, after the crushing lows of Roy Hodgson and the ownership of Hicks and Gillette, to the incredible highs of the Miracle of Istanbul and winning the league with Jurgen Klopp, I will remember exactly when and how I fell out of love with Liverpool FC.
It was when I read a tweet announcing the birth of the European Super League (ESL), this rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching towards 2021 to be born.
No merit, just privilege
Although not all the details have been firmed up, what's already out there is bile-inducing.
The ESL is intended to replace the UEFA Champions League, the top European club competition.
For English clubs, who compete in a league of 20, the top four spots grant entry into the Champions League and the riches associated with it. Fans around the world watch teams battle for European glory, and are willing to pay a pretty penny for this.
While the bigger, wealthier clubs usually finish in the top four spots, and therefore compete in Europe, it's not guaranteed.
A club can theoretically rise up from the lower leagues and qualify through hard work, luck and skill. It's highly unlikely, but not impossible. A good example would be Leicester City, who came out of nowhere in 2016 to win the league and then competed in Europe afterwards. Fans of smaller clubs can still dream of someday making it to the big time.
But with the ESL, that dream is dead. The ESL has no relegation or promotion system. Even if an ESL club finishes tenth or dead last in their domestic league, they will still compete in the ESL. Even if a smaller club achieves a miracle and becomes champions, they will not necessarily gain entry into the ESL. The ESL is an exclusive private inner circle of 15 teams that is permanent and unchanging.
According to the New York Times there will be five guest spots, but how they will determine which five teams from the rest of Europe get to play with the big boys is anyone's guess.
In any case, it is vanishingly unlikely that these five, who won't get the steady influx of cash from the ESL, can compete with the rest.
Gary Neville is a man I dislike simply because he used to play for Manchester United, but he makes a lot of sense as a pundit.
I found myself agreeing with every word he's said on the subject, including this one:
This lot think they can sweep up £300m more each season than the other teams and then wander back on a Saturday and play with that advantage in the PL . Deduct points , fine heavily and embargo transfers. I hope they haven’t bought some of the other 14 clubs. #stopthesuperleague— Gary Neville (@GNev2) April 19, 2021
The clubs will have access to a pot of gold that no one else can touch, while other clubs will get even less resources. It's like beating your eight-year-old cousin in basketball because you have a stepladder and won't share.
But that's not the end of it. Why would a team guaranteed a place in the very lucrative ESL even bother trying to win games in their domestic league?
Wouldn't they rather rest their star players and make sure they're fit for ESL games instead? Club owners might not even care about becoming domestic champions, if the prize for winning the ESL is much bigger.
Having stakes is the essence of competition itself. For a match to mean something, something must be at stake. That's why a billion people watch the World Cup final and a smaller audience watches a friendly match. If promotion or relegation doesn't matter, then the ESL teams will grow complacent in their domestic leagues.
Wow, we're playing Barcelona! Again. Like last time. And the next.
But wait, you might say. "Aren't you excited about seeing Liverpool face iconic teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona?"
Not really. Part of the magic of the Champions League is you never know who you might face on the way to the final. It could be a giant like Bayern Munich. It could be a minnow like Spartak Moscow. And sometimes David beats Goliath. Knowing that Liverpool play Real Madrid at least twice every year in a glorified friendly sucks all the excitement out of it.
But would winning the ESL itself be something to treasure?
Not really. The competition is a relative infant with no historical basis. Winning it would feel like winning a pre-season tournament, such as the Audi Cup or the Emirates Cup.
And let's be real, compared to the financial muscle of the other clubs, Liverpool is not winning the ESL anytime soon. Even if Liverpool gets £500 million for playing in the ESL, Manchester City will also get £500 million, plus the billions they already have, to assemble a superhuman team straight out of "Shaolin Soccer". There's no beating that.
NYT reports that the ESL plans to implement a transfer fee and salary cap, much like in American sports, ostensibly to create a more level playing field. But even if it is implemented and enforced, it might result in the same problems.
As this old Bleacher Report article lays out, a "soft" cap based on percentage of revenue hands the advantage to the bigger clubs, while a "hard" cap based on a fixed number penalises natural growth and hinders players from negotiating the best contracts for themselves.
Legacy vs Future fans
But that's not the only thing that makes my blood boil. No, what's somehow worse is how the ESL allegedly views the modern football fan.
According to source, some of those involved in ESL call traditional supporters of clubs “legacy fans” while they are focused instead on the “fans of the future” who want superstar names— Dan Roan (@danroan) April 19, 2021
*ESL insists modelling shows solidarity payments will be boosted £10bn Euros over 23 seasons)
You see, the people behind the ESL are not stupid. Too much money is at stake.
I believe they were fully aware of the incredible backlash their proposal would engender. They might have calculated the risk of losing every local fan, whether that was in England, Italy or Spain. And they allegedly didn't care.
Because those are "legacy fans", while the "fans of the future", living around the world and who don't get to watch games in the stadiums every week, are supposed to enthusiastically make up the difference with our wallets.
There has long existed a certain tension between two groups of fans. The first commit to their clubs and learn its history and traditions. The second don't know and don't bother learning, "support a second team", mindlessly buy merchandise and follow all the requisite social media accounts.
There is a stereotype that the Asian fan living miles away from the European grounds, like myself, tend to fall into the second camp more than the first. I've never subscribed to that way of thinking. To me, it doesn't matter where you're born. If you love the club and make the effort to learn more about it, you're not a "glory hunter".
If what Roan tweeted is true, then I abhor the idea that the club looks at me and thinks that I fall into that second camp, and that this second camp is more valuable to them than the first.
Of course, this is hardly the first time that fans have been viewed as easily-replaceable wallets and little else, if true. But it would be the final nail in the coffin.
This meant more
The more you love something or someone, the more painful it is when they betray you.
I can't imagine not supporting Liverpool. This club has been a part of my life for nearly 20 years. I bonded with one of my best ever friends over a pair of red Liverpool shoes I wore to class one day, and made other friends around the world due to our shared connection.
I've made trips to the hallowed ground of Anfield itself. I've laid a hand on the statue of Bill Shankly, admired the Paisley Gates and heard the Kop roar in full voice. I've laid a flower before the eternal flame in memory of the 96 fans who died at Hillsborough. Foolishly, I allowed myself to believe the clever marketing slogan "This means more." Because it did.
But I cannot continue to support a club that joins forces with other billionaires to strike at the heart of the game itself. It's not about glory hunting, in fact, quite the opposite.
Any glory achieved in the ESL will be meaningless to me. The Premier League issued a statement which said:
"Fans of any club in England and across Europe can currently dream that their team may climb to the top and play against the best. We believe that the concept of a European Super League would destroy this dream."
Meanwhile, the Football Association said that a closed league would “attack the principles of open competition and sporting merit."
I never thought I'd see the day where the PL and the FA would make more sense than my own club. But that day has come. As just one fan, I will avail myself of the only option left available to me -- never to support this abomination of a league with my money, time or heart. Liverpool FC will walk alone.
Top image from Sulaiman Daud.