Being a football fan in the modern era of the game seems to involve as much time following the goings-on in the courtroom, as in the dressing room, or even on the pitch. And that’s not just a reference to the CAT case involving Mike Ashley and the Premier League. Earlier this week, attention was re-focussed on an even more prestigious and meaningful soccer-driven legal proceeding, as fresh news landed about UEFA’s ongoing battle with the founding clubs of the European Super League.

Ever since the ESL announced itself way back in April of this year, football hasn’t felt quite the same. The over-riding memories of that ‘3 Day Civil War’ (as it was dubbed) include impassioned rants by Gary Neville, incredulous headlines on the front of every newspaper in the country, and heroic protests from the fans of the six English clubs, who had sold their souls for a ticket on the gravy train. Even now, it seems rather like a dream, and I’m sure we won’t be able to get a decent idea of what actually happened in the corridors of power during those turbulent hours until either the inevitable BBC documentary or (more hopefully) Hollywood film are released.

And the story is still very much unfolding. On Monday, an announcement came that UEFA had requested the removal of one judge involved in the proceedings due to his close ties with Real Madrid. Ah yes; corruption, divided loyalties, abuse of power and dodgy deals. Words and phrases more relevant in the modern game than ‘zonal marking’ or ‘offside trap’. To try and avoid unnecessary complications in future judiciary process, UEFA has suspended legal action against the three teams still on board for the Super League; Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus. The remaining nine teams, including our own ‘big six’, will no longer have any fines to pay whatsoever. UEFA are still adamant that they remain committed to the cause, and it may well be that this is just a pause, a reset, a stop-and-take-stock moment. Whether the founding ESL teams acted illegally remains with the European Courts of justice, and a final decision is expected in the new year. Plenty of time then for brown envelopes to be stuffed, agreements to be reached, and history to be re-written. The badges of all twelve clubs remain on the homepage of the Super League website.

No doubt the nine clubs with their UEFA fines rescinded will be wiping their collective brows at no longer having to pay the €15million fine initially imposed, although our own want-away six clubs still have the cataclysmic matter of a collective £22million Premier League fine to pay. (Sarcasm alert – that’s less than £4 million each). Bearing in mind the Super League was being bankrolled for £3.25billion by JP Morgan, these fines seem like less a slap on the wrists, more a light tickle on the lower back.

If these numbers seem pitifully small and essentially meaningless in the modern game, when clubs pay inexorable amounts in wages, release clauses and agents’ fees, it’s because they are. If it seems unfair that such a light-handed approach has been taken to those saboteurs of English football, in comparison to lower league clubs deducted points for financial misdemeanours of owners apparently vetted by the same organisation dolling out punishments, it’s because it is. And if it seems that all accountability has vanished from the higher echelons of modern football, especially in regards to the Premier League, it’s because that is very much the case. We are, unfortunately, through the looking-glass. Abominable, astronomical financial decisions have caused football to eat itself, and the greedy barons at the top of the tower, having devoured everything they possibly can, are now choking themselves and each other while trying to gobble up the very table on which their meal was served.

So, where do we go from here? A lack of accountability amongst the richest of the rich is a problem that extends far beyond football. Lessons from the wider world also teach us that the sheer force of will from the fan groups that so vociferously opposed the ESL when it was first announced will be far less coherent and powerful if the idea is brought back for a second, third or fourth time. Once the initial spark of rage has been extinguished, it is only natural that people very quickly get tired of fighting a fight that is so very hard to win. The owners of the clubs will know that, and they will also have the best (and most expensive) minds in public relations working on ways in which they can sell their golden ticket to the ‘legacy fans’ as they were so politely dubbed. We may yet see performances similar to that from Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez; mumbling softly to his poor, poverty-stricken fanbase, eyes wide and cap in hand; that without the Super League they will only be able to afford one of either Mbappe or Haaland this Christmas. Sob.

This story, this legal case, and this development in football is only just beginning. The game we love is changing before our eyes, and there seems to be very little we can do about it. I’ve stated repeatedly in True Faith articles that the only hope for football fans is for a united movement that extends beyond club partisanship. Our rivalries on the pitch, though historic and meaningful, have to be put to one side if we are going to have our voices heard in this epic and wide-reaching war. It may well be, however, that for the time being, this is just not realistic. In which case, my attitude is to sit back and watch the world burn.

Let the clubs go. Let them have their super league cake and eat it too. I’d like nothing more than for football to return to the ’90s with comprehensible transfer fees, shit left-backs and baggy shirts, but that’s just never going to happen. Let’s embrace the future, then. Only this week, reports emerged of Premier League games being played outside of the UK. Fine, whatever, let it happen. If modern football means court cases, suitcases full of cash and super leagues, then so be it. But I have a sneaking suspicion that like with most over-glamorised soap operas, people will quickly lose interest.

There’s only so long you can watch an American billionaire, a Russian oligarch, and (dare I say it) a Saudi Prince throw money at each other, before you realise that you’re not actually getting what you initially came for.

Let them change the rules, let them cut themselves adrift, I’m sure it will be fun for the first few years. But I’ve also no doubt that the unquenchable appetite of the barons who own the clubs, the haphazard and whimsical application of punishment and accountability by those in charge, and the realisation from fans that competitive sport needs to be, well, competitive, will mean the idea eventually, inevitably fails. And from the spectacular smouldering ruins, at some point in the distant future, we might just get our game back.

Ed Cole