Chelsea protests
Chelsea fans protested before Tuesday’s Premier League match against Brighton

Just when you thought this season could not get any stranger, along came a plan that appeared to divide the game and then united fans in fighting against it.

Here’s how the European Super League debacle unfolded…

Sunday 13:00 BST: The news breaks

It all began on Sunday afternoon, just as Arsenal were limbering up to play Fulham.

The Timesexternal-link reported that 12 clubs from England, Italy and Spain – including six of the Premier League’s biggest – had agreed to take part in a new European Super League, to the fury of European governing body Uefa.

As details emerged – two groups of 10 teams, followed by a play-off phase – people began to realise just how far planning for this European Super League had already got.

What raised most eyebrows, though, was the prospect the ‘dirty dozen’, as they were soon named, would never have to forfeit their places in the league, locking out all but five other clubs across the whole of Europe in the process, once another three founding clubs had been confirmed.

Protest banners outside Liverpool's Anfield stadium
Protest banners were placed outside Liverpool’s Anfield stadium

Sunday 16:00 BST: ‘It’s pure greed’

The Premier League moved quickly to condemn the plans, followed swiftly by… every other major body in football, including Uefa and the English, Spanish and Italian football federations. Uefa – European football’s governing body – announced at 16:30 BST it would use “all measures” possible to stop the “cynical project”.

Politicians were soon involved, a statement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson supporting the sport’s authorities “in taking action”, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer quickly following suit.

Former Manchester United and England defender and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville added later: “It’s pure greed. There’s 100-odd years of history in this country of fans who have lived and loved these clubs.

“Dock them all points tomorrow. Put them at the bottom of the league and take the money off them. Seriously. You have to stamp on this.”

Sunday 23:00 BST: ‘Commence as soon as practicable’

The response to breaking the internet on a sleepy Sunday afternoon? The ESL put out an official statement, confirming the 12 clubs signed up: AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham.

The statement also said the ESL wished to “commence as soon as practicable”, and that “clubs look forward to holding discussions with Uefa and Fifa to work together in partnership”.

Fifa got involved just before midnight, condemning the move.

Monday 07:30 BST: Things get official

As soon as Europe was awake again the ESL contacted Fifa and Uefa presidents Gianni Infantino and Aleksander Ceferin to issue notice of legal proceedings in European courts designed to block any sanctions the two governing bodies might try enforce over the formation of the ESL.

An hour later, all 12 clubs turned the screw further by resigning from the European Club Association (ECA), as Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano also stood down from their roles at Uefa.

Spain’s top flight, La Liga, would soon condemn the proposals.

Monday 11:40 BST: ‘The rich stealing what the people created’

Current players soon began speaking out: one of the first was Ander Herrera, Paris St-Germain’s former Manchester United midfielder. The Spaniard, whose French club side had not signed up to the ESL, said: “I cannot remain silent about this, I believe in an improved Champions League, but not in the rich stealing what the people created.”

By 14:00 BST Uefa president Ceferin was not mincing his words, calling the ESL a “disgraceful, self-serving” plan and a “spit in the face of football lovers”.

“This is new for us,” he added. “We might be naive in not knowing we have snakes close to us. Now we do. There will be legal action soon.”

Uefa simultaneously announced its widely trailed new format for the Champions League from 2024, with 36 teams in one league, each team playing 10 matches.

At 17:00 BST Paris St-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi denied he had turned down the chance to replace Andrea Agnelli as chairman of the ECA because PSG were considering joining the ESL, insisting his reason was simply a reluctance to add to his existing workload.

‘It’s a time of great concern’ – Lineker on European Super League

Monday 19:00 BST: ‘Earn it’

Elland Road became the focal point on Monday evening. Leeds supporters were joined by fans from other clubs as they gathered outside the ground to stage a protest – during which a Liverpool shirt was burned, and a plane flew over the stadium displaying an anti-ESL message.

In the stadium, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was the focal point. The German had said in 2019 he hoped there would never be a Super League, and at Elland Road he confirmed his opinion had not changed.

Leeds players wore T-shirts saying ‘Earn it’ next to the Champions League logo and ‘Football is for the fans’, and left the shirts in Liverpool’s dressing room in case they wanted to join the protest. That angered Klopp.

“We were not involved in the process,” he said after the game. “We are the team, we wear the shirts with pride. Somebody has made a decision with the owners in world football that we don’t know exactly why.”

Liverpool midfielder James Milner speaks against club’s involvement in Super League

At 23:00 BST former England captain David Beckham, now a franchise owner in the United States’ Major League Soccer, posted on Instagram that football was “nothing without the fans” and that the game should be “for everyone” and competitions “based on merit”.

Tuesday 06:00 BST: ‘We’re doing it to save football’

Tuesday began as combatively as Monday had ended, as much of Europe awoke to an interview with Real president Florentino Perez – the first ESL chairman – that had gone out on Spanish TV late on Monday night. Perez claimed the clubs were “doing this to save football at this critical moment” and that “young people are no longer interested in football”.

He later said expulsion from the Champions League would not happen, claiming “the law protects us”.

By 09:30 BST Fifa president Infantino had given an insight into the world governing body’s approach, saying his organisation “strongly disapproves” of the plans and warning the breakaway clubs they could not be “half in and half out” and would have to “live with the consequences of their choice”.

Petr Cech
Former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, who is now the club’s technical director, called for calm from fans during protests at Stamford Bridge

At 12:00 GMT Boris Johnson held a meeting with the representatives from the Football Association, Premier League and football fan groups, with Downing Street saying the prime minister had reiterated his “unwavering support” for their attempts to prevent the breakaway competition.

A meeting of the 14 non-ESL Premier League clubs “unanimously and vigorously rejected” plans for the Super League at 14:00 BST, and the league announced it was “considering all actions available to prevent it from progressing”.

At about 17:00 BST Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich confirmed they had said no to the ESL.

Tuesday 19:00 BST: ‘We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen’

As Chelsea warmed up for their match against Brighton, and fans gathered outside Stamford Bridge to protest, the BBC learned Manchester City were to pull out of the ESL – and that Chelsea were considering following suit.

At 20:00 BST, Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward said he would resign at the end of 2021, and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson posted on social media that his side’s “collective position” was against the breakaway.

His message – “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen” – was also posted by many of his Liverpool team-mates.

The pressure had built, the cracks had begun to show, and then the dam burst.

From 22:45 BST, all six of the Premier League teams involved in the ESL announced they were to formally withdraw from the competition.

Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy spoke for many when he welcomed the move.

Wednesday 06:45 BST: End of the road?

Uefa president Ceferin said the six English clubs were “back in the fold”, adding: “The important thing now is that we move on, rebuild the unity that the game enjoyed before this and move forward together.”

But perhaps the ESL is not dead yet.

In a statement released at 07:30 BST it said: “Despite the announced departure of the English clubs, forced to take such decisions due to the pressure put on them, we are convinced our proposal is fully aligned with European law and regulations as was demonstrated today by a court decision to protect the Super League from third-party actions.”

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