The 14 spurned Premier League clubs met for the first time yesterday since the breakaway Super League bomb exploded.
Sportsmail’s Mike Keegan gives the inside story of an extraordinary two-and-a-half hours which featured quotes from Boris Johnson and Oscar Wilde and a reference to The Twilight Zone.
From the kick-off, it was clear this was to be a Premier League summit with a difference. Gary Hoffman, investment banker turned top flight chair, made the introductions and vowed that no minutes would be taken. This was not a normal shareholders meeting, he told the call. The subtext was clear – we were very much in off-the-record territory.
Hoffman turned it over to chief executive Richard Masters, who had also come ready for the fight. He was armed with explosive quotes from none other than Boris Johnson, with whom he had spoken in the morning. The Prime Minister, while a staunch free marketeer, had blasted the breakaway European Super League as ‘anti-competitive’ and had declared that a ‘legislative bomb’ should be dropped to stop it – and that ‘it should be done now’.
The online gathering was also shown a slide which revealed the extent of government support. Downing Street would do ‘whatever it takes’, including potential ‘competition law intervention’ and the introduction of ‘sports-specific legislation’, although it was pointed out that Johnson would prefer the top flight to try and use its own regulations first.
14 ‘other’ Premier League clubs met on Tuesday to discuss the European Super League plot
The clubs took took solace from the strong support given by Prime Minister Boris Johnson
FA CEO Mark Bullingham was next up, stating that the idea should be ‘killed as soon as possible’. The FA man pointed out their permission was needed whenever an English club played a club from another nation and pointed out that it would not be forthcoming.
Attention then switched to the logistics. Saudi Arabia was mentioned as a potential venue for matches. 2022-23 was the more realistic start date although there was a desire, it was understood, to start the ESL in August this year. A court filing in New York by the ESL, in an attempt to get around Court of Arbitration for Sport jurisdiction, was also mentioned.
Defences were explored. The Premier League said permission for its clubs to play in a new competition would not be provided, while more information from the government disclosed that work permits would not be forthcoming for new signings for those from overseas to play in any ESL.
No decisions on action were made but the need for a swift response was agreed upon. The Premier League ended their section by stating that they were meeting UEFA for talks on Wednesday.
Then came the fireworks.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters led the meeting among the 14 other clubs
There was a firm belief that Big Six officials had acted like ‘spies’ over broadcast rights deals
It was claimed that information regarding the deals had been used as part of breakaway plans
Clubs were asked for their feedback and the allegations started flying. There was outrage and a firm belief that officials from big six clubs on Premier League broadcast and commercial working groups had been acting like spies, gleaning information and then taking it back to be used as part of their breakaway plans. There were even claims that big six officials had tried to persuade the Premier League to hold off negotiating a new broadcast rights deal because they secretly wanted to announce their own new league first.
Calls for those suspected of behaving in such a manner to be immediately thrown off working groups were made by a number of incandescent representatives.
On the subject of broadcast deals, the Premier League chimed in with news that it was already coming under pressure from overseas broadcasters for updates given they had recently pledged £2bn to the cause. Details of a phone call that morning between Paul Barber and Tottenham’s Daniel Levy were then relayed by the Brighton chief.
Levy was said to be ‘quite shaken up’ and had acknowledged that the project was a PR disaster for those involved. However, Levy said the big six felt nobody at either the Premier League or UEFA had listened to them and they felt they had been put into a corner. The Spurs supremo was reported to have said it was only right that the biggest brands should have a bigger share of the monies and pointed out that his club had a large debt to service thanks to their new stadium.
Brighton chief Paul Barber (R) reportedly spoke with Spurs chief Daniel Levy while Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish (L) likened the saga to an episode of The Twilight Zone
Everton chairman Bill Kenwright (L) quotes Oscar Wilde as the meeting came to a close
Kenwright, a film and theatre producer said: ‘One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards,’ in reference to the current plans that have rocked football
Bill Kenwright, Everton chairman and film and theatre producer, then injected some much-needed light relief, courtesy of Oscar Wilde. ‘One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards,’ he said.
When asked what the Premier League should do, the desire was for ‘a swift counter attack’. However, there was the firm belief that this was not the fault of the clubs, rather their owners. ‘We can’t lose them, this is not their fault,’ one representative said.
Towards the conclusion, Crystal Palace’s Steve Parish, who had claimed the 14 had been ‘treated like toilet roll’ likened the saga to an episode of The Twilight Zone in which ‘we know something is happening but we don’t know what it is’. The next few episodes should be worth watching.