Fans at leading Barclays Premier League clubs have vowed to oppose any moves to stage Champions League matches in the United States or the Far East.
Officials from Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool were reported to have met in London this week with American billionaire Stephen Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins NFL team.
The meeting, at the Dorchester Hotel, prompted speculation that another attempt could be made to reform European football at the highest level, possibly in favour of a breakaway European Super League.
Press Association Sport understands the meeting was with Ross’ company, Relevent Sports, rather than the American himself, and the clubs subsequently denied wanting to leave the Premier League.
They did, however, confirm the talks involved the forthcoming pre-season International Champions Cup, which Ross’ company spearheads, and also potential changes to the current Champions League format.
One topic of conversation, according to The Times, was the notion of playing Champions League games in either the US or the Far East to meet the growing demands of the global football audience.
The International Champions Cup, a high-profile pre-season tournament played in the US, China and Australia and contested between Europe’s top clubs, has been a huge success commercially but any plans to replicate that in the Champions League have been given short shrift by supporters’ groups across England.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Sean Bones – spokesperson for Manchester United Supporters’ Trust – insists he will resist any such proposals.
“I am 100 per cent against it,” he said. “(Manchester United’s) American owners (the Glazer family) are out to earn as much money as they can, and we want the traditions of the club and of football to be maintained.
“If they want to do that, they will have a fight on their hands.”
The recent ticket-price row angered many fans, and Liverpool supporters have successfully protested against the club’s plans to introduce a top-price £77 seat.
The prospect of having to head across the Atlantic or to Asia to watch a game would add further fuel to the fire for fans.
Alan Galley, chairman of Manchester City Supporters’ Club, branded the possibility “crazy”.
He said: “There’s enough money in the game as it is. The football fan is hammered all the time, and why?
“It’s similar to the ‘Game 39’ talk a few years ago, and there was a lot of opposition to that.
“It’s ridiculous, it’s not a good idea because the poor old fan has to cough up again.”
The idea of playing fixtures abroad first came to the fore in 2008 when the controversial ‘Game 39’ proposal was floated by the Premier League.
At the time the Football Association, FIFA and UEFA rejected the idea, as did many fans, and Chelsea Supporters’ Trust chairman Tim Rolls believes the latest suggestion will meet the same outcome.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Rolls told Press Association Sport: “(With) the 39th game, the Premier League put their head above the parapet and got shot down.
“The clubs will be wary of alienating (fans). They would know if they openly supported it – and I’m not just talking about Chelsea, I’m talking about all the big English clubs – they would be shot down by their supporters.
“I can’t speak for any other countries, but I can’t imagine too many Spanish or Italian fans would be too enamoured with it either.”
A statement from the Football Supporters’ Federation read: “The idea of playing competitive fixtures in North America or East Asia has been floated in the past, most notably with the Premier League’s ‘Game 39’ idea.
“Our members, and the vast majority of football supporters were opposed to ‘Game 39’ and we led the campaign against such moves. We would do so again.
“Many fans dream of seeing their clubs in European competition, and the opportunity to visit some of the most famous grounds in football.
“Competitive ‘European’ fixtures in North America or East Asia, with the substantial costs and inconvenience that entails, would deny that to thousands of loyal supporters.”
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