With over 110 thousand followers on social media, The Perceiver is honoured to host a discussion with Mr. Lee Judges, founder of Lee Judges TV and a regular of AFTV, to chat about football's future, fans' diminishing role in the sport, and solutions to overcome such threats. Please find the simplified transcript below:
Shiv Pillai: Do you feel that the voice of fans has completely diminished at top tier football clubs up until the Super League uproar?
Lee Judges: I think that the owners-to-be really didn’t care about what we and the fans thought. I think they were, sort of, ‘yeah, it doesn’t matter, we can get whichever fan we want in (to watch), if this fan doesn’t come in, there will be another one which will’. The revolt happened, they realized then that you couldn’t mess with the fans.
LJ: That was a big thing for fans, not just for the Big Six, but for everybody. We realized that we have a voice, and that fans are important. Not just through that, but through the pandemic as well, with no fans in stadiums. They made people aware that fans are important to football. Look at the EUROs at this moment in time- everybody has enjoyed it watching fans back (in stadiums). I think , before the pandemic, and certainly before this thing with the Super League, fans were taken for granted.
SP: How do you feel fan voices could be included more in football clubs?
LJ: I think that fans do have a little bit of a voice now, through fan channels, podcasts that are out there and things like that, and that’s the way it is to go now. I do think that the owners of football clubs are now more aware of fans being a little bit more vocal and important. It’s very, very difficult for fans to get a voice, with the ways the clubs are run, but I think social media is 100% playing a big part. These people, the powers, are getting to hear what fans are thinking. I think it’s very, very important.
SP: Fantastic. What difference do you think the fans make at football clubs? In recent times we have seen actions of fans, perhaps, diminishing players’ confidence, especially with social media being used in negative ways.
LJ: I think that if a professional footballer does lose his confidence over the things fans are saying, then he has to get a little bit stronger mentally. But obviously, I think that fans can play a major part in players’ confidence, for example, the Granit Xhaka situation at Arsenal, and how that unfolded. Fans were getting on his back, and in the end, he broke, because, at the end of the day, whatever way you look at it, players are human beings as well. They have breaking points and triggers, but I think if you are a professional footballer, I don’t think social media is going to bother you that much, and honestly, these things happened in the past. It’s just so much more on top of you now, the more it was, 10, 15 years ago. If things aren’t going well, fans are always going to voice their opinion, whether you think it’s right or whether you think it’s wrong and, from a player’s point of view: win games of football, and then you’re going to be okay.
SP: Do you think a reformatting of the current footballing structure like we just saw will be attempted again? If so, when do you think it will happen? How will the format look like and what changes would it bring?
LJ: 100%, 100% that they will have another go at this. But I think the fans and the reaction should put them off, but they’ll go back again, I think that what they’re trying to do is some sort of Super League, where there will be 20 teams in it, like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United, etc, all the top teams, and they will be playing as a league. The Premier League (and other leagues) will be without them, and they will be underneath it (in terms of hierarchy). I think what they’ll do, is put a relegation and promotion system, because I think that was the thing that turned people against it, it was like a closed shop.
LJ: If you have a look at the Premier League now, it’s a closed shop, at least for relegation, like Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, Man City, Man United- they’re not going to get relegated, and that’s what they’re trying to safeguard in the Super League, but 100% they will try it again, because when you look at it, it’s all money people running these football clubs and what they want is not what’s the best for the football clubs and the fans, what they want is best for themselves.
SP: Leagues at the top of the football pyramid, for example the Premier League, and La Liga earn the overwhelming majority of the income. On the other hand, we sometimes see clubs lower down the pyramid on the verge of liquidation, for example, Bolton. Is this further evidence that football is already, discreetly, heading towards the Super League direction, despite it being called off? Meaning, there is already an elite band of clubs at the top, running away with it, receiving most of the money, meanwhile, some of the others struggle to pay their backroom staff.
LJ: The big powers have been always at the money. Going back the years, Man United were the ones spending the big money on transfers, they were always breaking records, because they had the biggest crowds and everything like that, so it’s always been there, the teams with the most money will always be at the top. It’s changing a little bit now, particularly in the Premier League, where everybody gets a good share of the money, depending on what success you get, and that should be how you run it. Unfortunately, teams like Bolton, and there’s other teams you can mention, not run properly.
LJ: Money is the be all and end all, it’s changed football, whether you think it’s for the good or bad. For instance, Manchester City and Chelsea are now the two powers, challenging for the title. Why? Because they’ve got money men spending the money for them. Take their owners away from them, these two clubs would not have won anything. You know, no Premier League. City, they’ve won a few cups and all that, but Manchester City, in my lifetime, have never won anything until the money came in, so money’s very, very important.
LJ: Will it change football? I think it’s already changed football, for one, now we got VAR and things like that, because of the money. But it is ruining the game of football, in my opinion, but because of the powers of money, that’s what happens. When I was growing up, football, whether you were playing professionally or as an amateur, was the same. Now though, for instance, you’re a professional footballer, you’re playing with goals over the line, and things like that. You can play in the FA Cup one round with VAR, and in the next round, not, because the club that you go to hasn’t got the technology, so, you know, even the fundamentals of the FA Cup have changed, because one rule for one, one rule for another. Football is been completely (changed) with money, whether we know and realise it or not, and I think these sort of things changes slightly, over the few (years), like with goal line technology coming in, so and so. Before we know it, it’s all changed, and I think that’s what happened with the Super League here. It’ll be gradual, little things coming in, and before we know it, oh blimey! We got a Super League. So, the powers will be very, very clever about it, and they won’t be going all out on it. Ultimately, money’s changing football left, right and centre.
SP: What do you think can be done to help this situation? What can us fans do, to bring the sport back to ourselves?
LJ: Do you know what, I think we’ve lost it. Fans are still prepared to pay over £100 for a ticket. For instance, let’s say Arsenal are playing Spurs, you’ll be paying £100 for a ticket, but if you’re playing Burnley, for the same seat, it’s £40. Back in the day, when it that started happening, the fans should have said ‘oh no, it’s 40 pounds on a given day, it should be 40 pounds on the next day.’
LJ: How can we get it back? I do think and know that, if anything’s good come out of the pandemic is that, when there wasn’t fans, you could see how the professional game isn’t as good. There are fans that just don’t turn up to games, and the thing that could happen is, fans could just say, ‘do you know what, I’ve had enough of spending all that money, I’ll watch it on TV.’ TV is still a good product, , but it’s not as good as product without the fans. So I can always see that being the only way, fans not going to games, and, saying enough is enough with the ticket prices and all that, but it’s going to take a major, major shift of something to do that.