Having worked in professional football for almost 25 years I cannot remember ever going through a week like this one. The period from early last Sunday, when news began filtering through regarding the now defunct European Super League plans, through to late on Tuesday, when it became clear the house of cards had tumbled, can only be described as surreal.
During those three days, I went through the same range of emotions that every football supporter, player, or person connected to or with any level of feeling for our national game was experiencing.
Our own midfielder Adam Lallana spoke about feeling queasy and uneasy about the whole thing; I heard Ralph Hasenhuttl talk about being unable to sleep, with so many thoughts and fears playing on his mind. We all were at the same point, and those emotions quickly united us as one.
They were the same emotions we all watched Gary Neville display so passionately and eloquently on our television screens; the same emotions the supporters, players and staff of Leeds United showed on Monday night, with such good grace; the emotions I experienced first-hand from Chelsea fans outside Stamford Bridge as I arrived for our fixture there on Tuesday night; and the same shown by Marcus Rashford, Jordan Henderson, their teammates and managers, playing colleagues and fans across the country.
Where do we go from here is the question on everyone's lips. Personally speaking, my sense is for us not to rush into a kneejerk, emotional reaction. Let’s be calm and rational. But let’s not shirk or shy away from our responsibilities either. The Football Association and Premier League should review what's happened, and at least try to ascertain exactly who was responsible for creating the very significant damage.
We know the clubs involved, but we also know so many of the players and staff at those clubs, far less their supporters, had no knowledge or input to those decisions – and more importantly no desire to play along with them. I have heard talk of on-field or financial sanctions, and while every possibility should be considered, it would be hypocritical to dish out a punishment which ultimately only affects the supporters or players; they are not the guilty parties here. We spoke about being custodians of our clubs for fans and communities they represent, and we must not lose sight of that.
We have heard apologies, and explanations that the expected response to the plans was misjudged. If those who were involved, the drivers of this, are truly sorry then they need to come clean, show some genuine contrition and a better understanding of what matters to those who love football, and work on a solution that ostensibly benefits everyone in our game, not just a few already very wealthy clubs.
A year ago at the onset of this pandemic, we talked about a reset for football and working better together; at a time when some must have been plotting this European Super League nonsense. There are a lot of bridges that now need to be rebuilt; the effort that went into creating this sporting cartel should be refocused, redoubled, and put to use for the good of our national game.
On Tuesday, alongside 13 other clubs, we were united in protecting what is great about English football, while recognising its imperfections and unique challenges, and we vowed to fight and defeat this attack on 150 years of history and heritage. Our league system and pyramid is the envy of the world. Let’s now look ahead to work together not only to protect that, but to help it thrive.
Of course we have a vested interest in our own clubs, and we will always look after those interests, but as Steve Parrish pointed out earlier this week it must be correctly balanced with the interests of the game as a whole. All of us share that responsibility.
Brighton & Hove Albion have lived the dream over the past decade; from Tony Bloom our chairman to every last fan. We know what it is all about, and we hope we haven’t finished yet. The day we almost went out of the league was one of our darkest, but the day we were promoted to the Premier League was one of the greatest days in the club’s history and in many of our fans’ lives. Football’s like that. We have fought hard to stay here for four seasons, and the desire to make it five is what drives us and allows us to still dream. We now have to protect that dream for everyone connected with the game and, just as importantly, for future generations.
This article first appeared in today’s edition of The Times