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England club owners seek fans' forgiveness

by The Associated Press | April 22, 2021 at 2:14 a.m.
Banners are seen outside Liverpool's Anfield Stadium after the collapse of English involvement in the proposed European Super League, Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Liverpool owner John W Henry has apologised to the club's supporters for the "disruption" caused by the proposed European Super League (ESL). (AP Photo/Jon Super)

LONDON -- England's Super League rebels finally listened to their fans, just a bit too late.

Even the apologies -- on camera from Liverpool owner John Henry and in a letter from Manchester United co-owner Joel Glazer -- couldn't placate anger that their clubs tried to split to form a largely closed European competition.

Under a weight of pressure from supporters, the government and some of their players, the Premier League's Big Six withdrew from the breakaway Tuesday night, imploding the project as the Spanish and Italian elite clung on.

"The cabal of billionaire owners overplayed their hand and their rapacious appetite for more united an unprecedented array of opponents," the Football Supporters' Association said.

The mutineers, who also included Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham, didn't just fail to consult their supporters. Even players and coaching staff at the Premier League champions were left in the dark before the announcement Sunday that they were quitting UEFA's Champions League structure to form the Super League.

"I'm sorry, and I alone am responsible for the unnecessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days," Henry told Liverpool fans in a video message.

Liverpool players publicly voiced their opposition in a wave of coordinated tweets Tuesday night to intensify the pressure on Henry to keep the six-time European Cup winners within the long-standing, open competition.

As owner of the Boston Red Sox, Henry hoped to import the American system of closed leagues into European football where it is an alien concept. Now he accepted he had to "rebuild trust" after letting down the fans.

"It's something I won't forget," Henry said, "and shows the power the fans have today and will rightly continue to have."

Outside Anfield, supporters felt Henry and his Fenway Sports Group need to do a lot more to get them back onside.

"I don't think it's a meaningful apology," fan Hannah Ray said. "Had the fans not spoken up, the players not spoken up, they 100% would have gone along with it. It's not something they regret doing at all, I think."

Being ignored is something Manchester United fans have grown used to in the 16 years that the Glazer family has owned the club. That made the open letter from Joel Glazer rare, acknowledging the deep wounds caused.

"In seeking to create a more stable foundation for the game, we failed to show enough respect for its deep-rooted traditions -- promotion, relegation, the pyramid -- and for that we are sorry," he wrote about 10 hours after Henry's video message was posted. "This is the world's greatest football club and we apologize unreservedly for the unrest caused during these past few days."

The Glazers, the owners of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have faced plenty of anger from United fans before. Their leveraged takeover was forced through amid street protests after it saddled the club with debt that stands at $635 million.

"Like most United fans I do hope that the Glazers pack up and move on because most of us feel like they haven't been good for the club at all," United fan Mark Stembridge said outside Old Trafford, a stadium that is becoming dated due to a lack of investment. "Certainly all this with the Super League just underlines how they don't really care at all about the club or its fans."

Tottenham fans stage a protest against the Board over the planned creation of a European Super League, outside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton in London, England, Wednesday April 21, 2021. (Clive Rose/Pool via AP)
Tottenham fans stage a protest against the Board over the planned creation of a European Super League, outside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton in London, England, Wednesday April 21, 2021. (Clive Rose/Pool via AP)
Tottenham fans stage a protest against the Board over the planned creation of a European Super League, outside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton in London, England, Wednesday April 21, 2021. (Clive Rose/Pool via AP)
Tottenham fans stage a protest against the Board over the planned creation of a European Super League, outside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton in London, England, Wednesday April 21, 2021. (Clive Rose/Pool via AP)
A Tottenham fan takes part in a protest against the Board over the planned creation of a European Super League, outside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton in London, England, Wednesday April 21, 2021. (Clive Rose/Pool via AP)
A Tottenham fan takes part in a protest against the Board over the planned creation of a European Super League, outside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton in London, England, Wednesday April 21, 2021. (Clive Rose/Pool via AP)
Manchester City's Etihad Stadium is seen after the collapse of English involvement in the proposed European Super League, Manchester, England, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Manchester City were the first club to pull out after Chelsea had signalled their intent to do so by preparing documentation to withdraw. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Manchester City's Etihad Stadium is seen after the collapse of English involvement in the proposed European Super League, Manchester, England, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Manchester City were the first club to pull out after Chelsea had signalled their intent to do so by preparing documentation to withdraw. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium is seen after the collapse of English involvement in the proposed European Super League, Manchester, England, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will step down from his role at the end of 2021 an announcement which came before Manchester United, along with the other five Premier League sides involved in the proposed European Super League (ESL), withdrew from the competition. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium is seen after the collapse of English involvement in the proposed European Super League, Manchester, England, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will step down from his role at the end of 2021 an announcement which came before Manchester United, along with the other five Premier League sides involved in the proposed European Super League (ESL), withdrew from the competition. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Banners are seen outside Liverpool's Anfield Stadium after the collapse of English involvement in the proposed European Super League, Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Liverpool owner John W Henry has apologised to the club's supporters for the "disruption" caused by the proposed European Super League (ESL). (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Banners are seen outside Liverpool's Anfield Stadium after the collapse of English involvement in the proposed European Super League, Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Liverpool owner John W Henry has apologised to the club's supporters for the "disruption" caused by the proposed European Super League (ESL). (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Banners are seen outside Liverpool's Anfield Stadium after the collapse of English involvement in the proposed European Super League, Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Liverpool owner John W Henry has apologised to the club's supporters for the "disruption" caused by the proposed European Super League (ESL). (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Banners are seen outside Liverpool's Anfield Stadium after the collapse of English involvement in the proposed European Super League, Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Liverpool owner John W Henry has apologised to the club's supporters for the "disruption" caused by the proposed European Super League (ESL). (AP Photo/Jon Super)

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