It was shortly after 6.15pm that Petr Cech decided to take action. So the Chelsea legend strode towards the hostile crowd that had gathered outside of Stamford Bridge to protest against the club’s reckless and ultimately short-lived decision to sign up to the European Super League.
Cech was booed by supporters, many of whom had arrived an hour earlier, as he approached. All the former goalkeeper had achieved in his playing career meant little at that point. He was viewed as just another member of the club hierarchy who was complicit in a decision that threatened to tear apart the fabric of English football.
“Give us time,” Cech yelled. “Let the people sort it out.” And in the offices at Stamford Bridge, that is exactly what was happening at a frantic pace. That night’s Premier League match against Brighton and Hove Albion had become an afterthought, an annoyance even given supporters appeared intent on denying the players entry to the stadium.
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“I personally felt a real sense of danger to everything I held dear about the club I’ve loved and the club that has been such a huge part of my life since the age of five,” football.london writer Daniel Childs recalls. “Being able to fight against more than just opposition to a terrible idea, but what I personally care about as a supporter was important. I feel like we talk a lot about issues and what frustrates us about modern football, but this was a chance to actually do something and act. It would be lazy of me not to show up. ”
“From minute one, the togetherness of the protest was clear to see,” remembers Scott Clayton. football.london editor. “We all hated the idea and didn’t want to be associated with it. I remember turning up early and being one of a few around the area at that point. In the space of minutes, attendance and noise increased dramatically. After Petr Cech spoke to fans, the buzz ramped up massively. The whispers and rumors spread. People were taking notice of us. ”
For many Chelsea supporters, the protest – which took place on this day 12 months ago – was also a homecoming. Fans had been kept away from Stamford Bridge for the best part of a year, forced to watch matches at a distance as the Covid-19 pandemic raged across the globe. That they were back on the Fulham Road and united once again imbued proceedings with raw emotion.
There were countless chants against the Super League and Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who had become the face of the planned breakaway competition after conducting rather graceless interviews in Spain in the 24 hours after the competition’s surprise launch. Several fans brought placards and signs. ‘We want our cold nights in Stoke’. ‘Fans not customers’. ‘Not Chelsea anymore’. And perhaps most poignantly: ‘RIP football’.
Had the European Super League materialized, an established elite would have been enshrined. No matter how poor their performance in domestic competitions, a seat at the top table of European football would have awaited the 15 founding clubs. There was no risk, no jeopardy, no competition. It was that which caused an uproar, even more than the greed of those involved in its launch.
“As someone who has seen life up close in the lower leagues and non-league football specifically, you gain an appreciation for what those clubs mean to their local communities,” Childs adds. “As a Chelsea supporter, I have been privileged to watch my club win everything, sign great players and play great football. But I firmly believe Carlisle and Forest Green mean as much to this country’s game as anyone in the Premier League. We want our right to get battered 4-1 to Brentford and we also want our right to win the Champions League. ”
Cech confronted Chelsea supporters outside the Stamford Gate, where the players arrive. In addition to trying to placate fans, he also urged them to move so the team coaches could enter the stadium. It was a request that fell on deaf ears but the police did eventually manage to shift the crowd down Fulham Road to the Britannia Gate. And it was en route news broke that Chelsea had decided to pull out of the competition.
There was an unbridled roar of celebration that echoed around a largely quiet west London and scenes of jubilation among the couple of thousand supporters. “After months of not being in a stadium to watch a match, this was a special moment that I will never forget,” says Clayton.
Childs adds: “I hadn’t experienced anything like that night since I was outside Stamford Bridge when we had just won the Champions League against Bayern Munich. What was particularly special is I remember seeing guys with Arsenal, Man United and Everton shirts and they were welcomed into the protest rather than shunned.
“The general age of the protest too completely shattered the myth that young people lack emotion or care about their clubs, that we only see football through a Playstation controller and are obsessed with the next shiny transfer. At 23, the faces I saw were all of a similar age to me. “
What followed that evening felt inconsequential. Chelsea did play Brighton, albeit after kick-off was pushed back, and the game ended 0-0 inside an empty Stamford Bridge. Outside, many of the crowd remained and worked through a mix of elation, anger and relief. Supporters had done what few truly felt they could. Their voices had been heard.
“The fans had the right to do what they think is best,” Chelsea midfielder Jorginho said late into the night to Sky Sports. “The club see what the fans think. Unfortunately, it is something that we can’t do much about, we just need to support and hope the club will do the right thing.”
Those inside Chelsea have always claimed they jumped aboard the European Super League train solely to ensure the club didn’t miss out. It was not an idea they pushed for. Nor one they helped become reality – for a little more than 48 hours at least until the whole thing collapsed in on itself. Still, the damage was done, despite the Blues being the first founding member to pull out.
The Chelsea Supporters’ Trust (CST) called on chairman Bruce Buck and chief executive Guy Laurence to resign. Neither did. However, Buck stepped down from the Premier League’s audit and remuneration committee, which helped appoint Premier League chief executive Richard Masters as Richard Scudamore’s replacement in November 2019.
Chelsea would later confirm that there would be supporters’ presence at the club’s board meetings. And in November, three supporter advisors were elected. football.london understands these sat in on one meeting before Roman Abramovich made the decision to sell the club.
In an effort to smooth things out with the Premier League, Chelsea, along with Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham, agreed to a ‘goodwill’ payment totaling £ 22million as part of a settlement. UEFA, meanwhile, opted against hitting clubs with fines and they didn’t face further legal repercussions. It has led to an uneasy trick.
The European Super League did, though, lead to a fan-led review of football governance in the UK, chaired by Tracey Crouch MP. Supporters’ groups from around 130 different clubs took part in discussions, in addition to football authorities – more than 100 hours of information was gathered.
Within the exhaustive fan-led review, the creation of an independent regulator was called for. There was also hope a ‘golden share’ could be handed to a club’s supporters that could be used to veto rights to fans in order to protect items such as the ownership of a club’s stadium, its badge, location, colors, and more.
Throughout the current takeover process at Chelsea, which began in February, the CST have called on prospective buyers to give fans a golden share. The consortium led by Todd Boehly has reportedly indicated they are willing to do so. As has that of Sir Martin Broughton. Stephen Pagliuca is understood to have met with supporters’ groups over the bank holiday weekend, but it is not yet known if he is willing to do the same.
If a golden share is created by Chelsea’s next owners, Blues supporters will have the ability to protect the club’s heritage like never before. The irony, of course, is the catalyst for that was a decision taken without their input that threatened the very future of the English game, one the reverberations of which continue to be felt across Europe and the Premier League.
“I don’t think there’s been enough change,” says Childs. “I still have concerns that the game and mass amounts of online chatter only really cares about the outcome at the end of the day and how much the club might spend on X player. But the Super League protest was a lovely rejection of that social media. noise in the real world. I think for me the wounds have healed, but my sense of cynicism has absolutely risen. “