A Hawke's Bay man has gone into bat for the Chelsea fans that once adored him, saying the club's involvement in a new European Super League could badly damage the game he loves.
Former top-flight English footballer Gary Locke says players grow up in England dreaming of lifting the FA Cup, but the iconic competition, and football in general, may just have changed forever.
Twelve clubs from England, Spain and Italy have signed up as founding members of the breakaway ESL, including Premier League sides Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea.
The ESL said the clubs had agreed to establish a new midweek competition, with teams continuing to compete in their respective national leagues.
However, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said players involved could be banned from this year's European Championship and next year's World Cup, as well as their respective leagues.
Locke, who made 272 appearances for Chelsea between 1971 and 1983, says money is the driving force behind the deal.
Investment banking company JP Morgan is believed to be providing a $US5.9bn ($NZ8.2bn) grant to the founding clubs to spend on infrastructure and recovery from Covid-19.
Locke, who won the NZ National League title with Napier City Rovers in 1989, said he fears the new league may damage a long-standing cultural history.
"The more you hear about it, the more it becomes clear it's just to do with money – like it always is," he said.
"For that sort of money, you can see why the team's owners want to do it, but the big six British teams are already the ones with all the money. It's going to hit the fanatical supporters hard."
AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid make up the 12.
The former defender, who won Chelsea Player of the Year in 1974, questioned whether supporters of existing teams will continue to follow their clubs.
"A lot of fans only go to watch the top games," he said. "And they are the ones who make the game what it is.
"I worry it'll lower the standard of football in the Premier League because the money will draw the top players to the new league.
"God knows what this means for the other cup competitions in the English league."
Locke said the FA Cup is big part of British culture, with youngsters dreaming of lifting the famous trophy.
"When you're a player, all you want to do is to play in those games," he said.
"And they'll have to sort something out for the international side of the game too because representing your country is ingrained into you to want that."
Other high-profile football fans and former players have also shared their dismay at the revelation with the Duke of Cambridge, who is the current FA president, stating he shared the concerns of the fans.
"Now, more than ever, we must protect the entire football community – from the top level to the grassroots – and the values of competition and fairness at its core.
"I share the concerns of fans about the proposed Super League and the damage it risks causing to the game we love," he said.
Current Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Ander Herrera said the league was "the rich stealing what the people created".