Super League protests overshadow Leeds-Liverpool as fans make themselves heard outside empty Elland Road

LEEUWARDEN, England – On a night when fans set fire to Liverpool’s shirt in protest at the club’s involvement in European Super League projects, the saxophonist’s tenacity outside Elland Road during the 1-1 draw with last year’s Premier League champions was ABBA’s mournful soundtrack to the existential crisis of football as we know it.

The lone musician played the same tune for 90 minutes as Liverpool – one of 12 renegade clubs previously labelled a dirty dozen by UEFA president Alexander Seferin – ended their hopes of Champions League qualification with a Diego Llorente header in the 87th minute. He cancelled out Sadio Mané’s opening goal in the first half in the second minute.

It almost seems laughable that Liverpool would qualify for the Champions League, given their involvement in the Super League schedule. If Seferin’s harsh words are to be believed, they will still be eliminated in the league, just like all the other clubs entered, but as it stands, they might not even make it to the top four after failing to beat Marcelo Bielsa’s team.

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Again, the risk of playing in a competitive league where you can be champion for a year and a half in a row is one of the main reasons why Liverpool and their Super League partners want to create a closed competition that guarantees annual participation against other super clubs for the rest of time. It’s just not what the fans or anyone outside the Super League boardrooms want. They want to see games like this, where Leeds go against the odds and play bigger, richer teams who want everything their way.

If those involved with the breakaway clubs still have any doubts about the furore their Super League plans have caused among football fans, the cheers the Liverpool team’s bus received from fans on both sides before the game will give them a good dose of reality. Up to 1,000 fans gathered outside Elland Road, despite rules banning large gatherings due to COWID-19 security measures, and greeted the Liverpool coach with boos, jeers and chants against the Super League. Some fans even tried to block the way from the car to the parking lot.

A plane flew over with the slogan Say No to the Superleague and fans hung up banners with anti-Superleague slogans, one of which was Say No: RIP LFC – the love of the working class game ruined by GR£D and CORRUPTION.

In the stadium, there was a big banner on the seats, behind a balloon, that said: Winning on the field, football is for the fans. The Leeds players wore shirts with the same slogan under the Champions League logo during the warm-up before the match.

Fans have burned a Liverpool shirt ahead of their team’s match against Leeds United. Zach Goodwin/Pa Images via Getty Images

The shirts were also left on the benches of the Liverpool dressing room, perhaps in the optimistic hope that Jurgen Klopp’s players would wear them too. Klopp said he could understand why people were unhappy [with Super League]. He wasn’t happy with Leeds because they had put shirts in the Liverpool dressing room. If anyone thinks they need to remind us that we should deserve to play in the Champions League, that’s a laugh. A real joke, he said.

Leeds are one of the clubs likely to be knocked off the throne by the Super League project. A big club with a proud history and tradition – Leeds have been English champions three times since Tottenham Hotspur in 1961 – Leeds will claim to have the fan base and potential to play in the Champions League as they did in the early 2000s.

After a 16-year absence from the Premier League, Bielsa’s side have made an impressive return to the top division this season, but Leeds could well be qualifying for the Champions League in two or three years’ time. But who knows what the landscape will look like by then? Will there still be a Champions League in two or three years? Attempts by the Super League clan to set up their own exclusive club will put an end to Leeds’ hopes of reviving their glory days. That’s probably why Victor Horta, director of football affairs, was in the dressing room before kick-off wearing a protest T-shirt.

Liverpool’s involvement in the formation of a separate Super League has drawn the ire of Leeds fans. Getty

Leeds thought they had returned to the top division with their promotion last season, renewing their rivalry with Liverpool – this was the 117th game of the season. The two clubs met in 1924. But Liverpool’s hosts would rather play in jerseys of Real Madrid than Leeds United, and there is no other option.

In normal times, without the stadium closures due to the pandemic, a full and noisy Elland Road would have sent a clear message to those who seek to destroy the fabric of English football and all other major leagues. But even without fans on the field, the scenes in the stands and the jerseys of the Leeds players have everything going for them.

Liverpool captain James Milner, a former Leeds player, was surprisingly candid in his assessment of the escape plan: I don’t like it at all and I hope it doesn’t happen. Ahead of today’s game, Leeds fans showed their feelings. As players we have no say in it, so it seems a bit unfair. All we can do is try to win football games.

Leeds players wore shirts during the warm-up showing their disapproval of the Super League project. Getty

A feeling shared by his manager. Leeds fans were shouting at us today when we drove through the city and arrived at the stadium, Klopp said. But we have nothing to do with that. We’re human and maybe the Leeds fans didn’t know that.

Patrick Bamford joined Milner in voicing his opposition to the proposals. From what I saw, I didn’t see a single fan who was happy, and football is ultimately about the fans, he said. Football is nothing without the fans and it is important that we stand firm and let the fans see the game.

But the rebel hosts, trying to take their clubs where no one else will take them, have arrogantly underestimated football and its fans. The protests on Elland Road are likely to be just the beginning.

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