Many care passionately about their football – the links between a club, supporters, and community are to many, to paraphrase Bill Shankly, more important than life and death.

But the football is not really theirs. Professional football is a business. The decision by the English ‘big six’ Premiership clubs, and European counterparts to form a new European Super League can only be driven by finance.

With lifelong founder-members, no automatic promotion or relegation, and entry determined not on success in the previous football year, the ESL structure looks more like a franchise than it does like a European football league. It is predictable that UEFA, the largely discredited FIFA, and national leagues have reacted with dire warnings of retribution.

UEFA, together with six other bodies, including national football associations and top leagues has said that ‘the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level.’

This was silly because the threat here is one to engage in unlawful activity carrying extremely significant financial penalties. Carrying this out would breach national laws in the UK, Spain and Italy, and also European Union law which applies across the, now, 27 EU Member States.

It was beyond silly to publish such a threat as a collective statement. Competitors ganging up with each other to harm another competitor is about as illegal as it gets.

Competition law regulates economic activity carried on by ‘undertakings’, which ‘may affect trade’. More formally, article 101 of the key Treaty governing the EU prohibits any agreement between undertakings, and decisions by associations of undertakings which is intended to restrict competition. National laws, including, even post-Brexit, the law of the UK maintain their own equivalent provisions. The penalties for breach are fines of up to 10% of turnover. Victims of breach can sue for damages and to prevent any such breach arising.

Professional football teams and the businesses which own them are as much ‘undertakings’ as are manufacturers of motor cars. There is, in this respect, nothing special about football. Competition law applied to the sale of tickets for the World Cup in France in 1998, and to the sale of Celtic replica football kits in 2003; late in 2020 the UK Competition Authority (CMA) announced that it was investigating the sale of Rangers football kits.

Competition law gave rise to the Bosman ruling which fundamentally transformed the football transfer market in Europe. It regulates the sale of broadcasting packages which generate huge revenue for those clubs and leagues fortunate enough to attract large TV audiences.


But, you say, football is special. The launch of the ESL would diminish the attraction of national leagues, and harm the Champions League and, particularly, the Europa League – in both of which some Scottish clubs at least have a reasonable prospect of participating.

A successful ESL will further expand the gap between rich and poor clubs, and further marginalise those leagues which are less attractive to international television audiences.

All of this might be true.

But the ship sailed years ago, first at the point when football became professional and definitively when clubs and leagues emphasised commercialisation rather than building community bonds.

The good news is that if the big four Scottish clubs entered into an agreement with clubs in Scandinavia and Ireland to launch a Northern Europe Super League that too would be lawful. Ideally there’d be the hazard of relegation and entry. I’d watch that.

Mark Furse is a Professor of Competition Law and Policy at the University of Glasgow.