Opinion: ‘We must protect the sport we love...’

Peterborough MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph...

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 25th April 2021, 5:07 am
Banners critical of the European Super League project hang from the railings of Anfield stadium, home of English Premier League football club Liverpool. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Peterborough United are in second place in Football League One. This season, most fans haven’t been able to watch the Posh at London Road, but there’s a real buzz about what promotion to the Championship might mean for the club and our city.

As readers of this column know, I have two loves in football. The other one is York City FC.

With the Minstermen languishing in National League North, the Posh’s run of success is doubly welcome.

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The top Premiership teams’ attempt to join a breakaway European Super League convulsed football this week.

It was such a spectacular misjudgment by the so-called ‘Big Six’ that Prince William led the chorus of condemnation.

The government was pleasingly robust. The prime minister immediately threatened to block the Super League by changing the law.

All options were on the table.

It didn’t take long for the clubs to perform a humiliating U-turn.

But there will still be consequences, despite the apologies and non-apologies from the English clubs involved.

A review of football governance has already begun. Although the top clubs have been accumulating wealth for years, their attempt to pull up the draw bridge invites change.

Billionaire owners are one thing - and not necessarily bad for individual teams.

It’s hard to imagine Manchester City’s success without its change of ownership. Betraying fans and communities is another thing entirely.

However large the gap between York City and Peterborough United, a gulf separates the Posh from the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool. Yet the actions of the ‘Big Six’ would have been felt by all.

It’s hard to see how the League Cup or the FA Cup could have survived in their current form. With the big clubs protecting themselves from relegation, the Super League cartel would also have prevented other teams from getting to the top.

I remember Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp in the line-up at London Road, when the Posh beat Liverpool 1-0 in the League Cup. I also fondly recall the first time that we reached the second tier and what, at that time, were huge games against Nottingham Forest.

Great memories, but also welcome income for the club. It has been a similar story for others. Teams for whom the billions spent by the ‘Big Six’ are fantasy figures.

I was at Old Trafford when York City beat Manchester United 3-0 in the League Cup, before surviving the return leg by only losing 3-1 at a packed Bootham Crescent.

Eric Cantona and his boys weren’t happy! And that’s the game at its best.

Our smaller clubs are also a training ground for the stars of tomorrow. Without a York City, where would England stars Nick Pope and Ben Godfrey have got crucial game time? Peterborough United was a breakthrough for many players who went on to be Premiership regulars, like George Boyd and Dwight Gayle.

The Big Six clubs have an obligation to the other clubs in the football pyramid. They have an obligation to their fans. Even the biggest still draw their support base from local communities.

If clubs like Peterborough United and York City become poorer, football would be poorer.

Billionaire owners need a reminder of what the game is actually about. Their greed must never be allowed to destroy football.