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  • By Charlie Stong at Emirates Stadium

Time to fight back against Super League greed

Arsenal fans begin to gather at the Emirates Stadium this evening for a protest against plans for a European Super League

Like millions of schoolboys and girls up and down the country, I grew up watching my local football team with the hope that one day they would be champions of England - and could compete against the biggest names in Europe and the wider world.

I was lucky that my local team happened to be Arsenal - there wasn’t a football pitch closer to my home - and there still isn’t - than the one the Gunners played on at Highbury and do now at the Emirates.

My dreams came true more quickly than most - my team were league champions within three years of my sister first dragging me up the stairs of the West Stand in 1986 and out into the open of Highbury, a place which mesmerised me as a seven-year-old just as much as its memories do as a 42-year-old.

Not only were my little club champions of Football League division one, thanks to Micky Thomas’ last-gasp goal which secured the most unlikely 2-0 win at Anfield against the mighty Liverpool - in the days when they truly were mighty - but we were champions of the whole of England - at the very top of that wonderful pyramid of endless divisions.

You may scoff at me calling Arsenal ‘little,’ but I could just as easily have been born in Accrington, Hull, Carlisle or Barnet. Like millions of others, I supported my local team, and it really did feel like my community, not only my football club, had risen to the very top.

Us Gooners at Canonbury and Highbury Grove walked tall during my school days - and as I got older, friendships were formed around a love of Arsenal Football Club.

The local pub became the hub of my little Arsenal community. Trips abroad and up and down the country were taken with people who became friends for life.

We even had the numerous trophies The Arsenal collected under George Graham and later Arsene Wenger visiting the schools and pubs on occasion on their tours of Islington. It’s hard to imagine that happening now.

Some of the best memories of my lifetime have been formed around Arsenal Football Club, friends and the community in my little part of the borough.

Now of course the notion of football clubs being a hub of the community began to depart years ago. Both the Premier League, when their operation began in 1992, and UEFA, who ruined the essence of the European Cup when they admitted into the competition teams who had not won their country’s league championship the previous season - presumably missing the irony by renaming it the ‘Champions League’ - have protested against the greed of the European Super League (ESL) today.

Don’t be fooled by them - all they are concerned about is their money-grabbing operations being outdone by an even bigger money-grabbing operation.

But what it will do is kill the dreams of supporters - young and old - who hold out the hope that no matter how bad their striker may be, there’s still the chance that their little club will one day be able to pit themselves against Barcelona.

The way the current ESL is planned, Accrington Stanley can never, ever play Barcelona in a competitive game.

‘Anti-football’ was a phrase Arsene Wenger used to like to use. There can be no better description of a championship which is impossible to get relegated from or promoted to - and which his beloved Gunners could be about to become an ugly part of.

UEFA, FIFA, the Football League and the Premier League, together with the global federations, must come together to do everything they can to stop this happening.

Banning the clubs from domestic competition will only penalise the fans - greedy owners will care little about being deprived of a trip to Burnley if the truly astronomical figures the ESL is purported to be lining their pockets with are true.

There are maybe only two things which will defeat this plan.

One is FIFA and UEFA banning players who play for a European Super League club from taking part in international matches - thus World Cups and European Championships - while they are contracted to these mercenaries. That just may make players think twice about signing for one of them.

The other is fans voting with their feet - when things do get back to normal, no American owner will want to see the backdrop of an empty stadium when watching on TV - because let’s be honest, they won’t be bothered to be at the grounds themselves.

People power is an extraordinary thing - and now more than ever the future of our great game - and in many ways our communities - rests in the hands of those who love it the most.


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