Liverpool FC: From community to commodity
With the Reds struggling for form and function and Brendan apparently one or two games from the sack, Liverpool once again find themselves fodder for the rumour mill. The Club’s failure to effectively compete once again has led to more ownership talk. Of course we’ve been here before. It is rapidly becoming the new norm and yet again ‘the most storied franchise in sporting history’ is gripped will tales of takeovers and big business machinations.
Tony Evans, once of The Times, got the ball rolling with claims that Fenway Sports Group want out. “It’s all about monetizing the brand now” he suggests. To be fair he’s not wrong – but then hasn’t it always been about that Tony? Does anyone really believe that John and Linda are former Kop season ticket holders (I see Tom Werner more as a Main Stander) and that they bought the Club so they could get to pose with the European Cup? They came to win, or so they said. I think they did. Trouble is that for them and us ‘winning’ means two totally different things.
Less credible sources claim that The Reds hierarchy are in advanced talks with the Dubai Royal family. You may remember that the unfortunately named DIC, led by Al Maktoum, were jilted at the altar by the Moores clan. This in turn led to Liverpool getting into bed with probably the worst rebound guys ever. Now FSG’s is said to be $700 million, despite Forbes valuing Liverpool at $1 billion – bargain!
Apparently the Boston billionaires are frustrated at the dilution of ‘financial fair play’, and the loss of the level playing field has left them wondering if it was all a big mistake after all. Who knows if any of this is true. Many Reds will hope it is. After all the last twenty five years ave been tough to bear for most of us. Who’d have thought back in 1990 that City and Chelsea would be any where near winning the League. To be fair even United were a bit of a joke back then.
Liverpool fans have sat by and watched teams we used to regard as fodder flex financial muscles we can only dream of. Successive ownerships have had a go over the years, but their net spends reveal their true ambitions, or perhaps more accurately their real spending power. In this ‘new reality’ our only hope seems to be praying that some oil rich oligarch will come to our rescue (or more accurately to liberate us of the TV money). I don’t subscribe to this.
It might be great to watch footy at the Etihad now. City fans probably can’t believe their luck (Of course I’m talking about the ones who were supporters prior to the Mansour dynasty). While I can’t really blame them, it all seems so fake and manufactured to me. I may well exercise my right to be a complete hypocrite if, following a Dubai takeover, we buy Messi and Ronaldo before going on to dominate football for a generation. But it would still be a hollow route to success in my view.
So what’s the alternative? Is there a local messiah waiting in the wings ready to take us to the promised land? Imagine if there was red-nosed Scouser, once of the mean streets who who has now made good. What if he wanted to put us back on our perch. Would that be better? Well, possibly, but to be fair it’s highly unlikely. The days when a rich local fan could carry the hopes and dreams of supporters into the boardroom ended when David Moores sent a tear stained letter to the papers. There’s no oil in the Mersey and Curtis Warren isn’t that rich. Ask any Everton fan and they’ll tell you that having a Scouse millionaire in charge isn’t the answer.
There is bound to be more takeover tales as the season winds on. The owners have admitted they would consider outright investment – could that include a buy-out? There will be many among us who see that as a way out. I think Liverpool fans should be careful what they wish for though. Our fingers should be still stinging from the last time they got burned by a rich sugar daddy. Surely there has to be a third way. Football is the people’s game. A handful of those people might be super-rich, but they shouldn’t be able to buy up the games assets from under the noses of the overwhelming majority.
For most of us the game is a labour of love. We pour money we can scarcely afford into it every week. We put all of our hopes and dreams into it. At Liverpool the game is an inspiration for the artists who craft magnificently witty banners or pen brilliant songs, only for the club to usurp their talent and turn it into logos on t-shirts or coffee mugs before selling them back to us.
Football Clubs haven’t so much been wrestled from the people who built them and sustained them for decades. Instead they have been given up lightly by a public who can see no alternative and feel powerless to stop it happening. The new TV deals threaten to put even more clear-blue-sky between us and the objects of our affection. The grass-roots can and should be in revolt if we are to have any kind of say in how the game is run.
In Liverpool we have seen the emergence of Spirit of Shankly, AFC Liverpool and now attempts to establish a City of Liverpool Football Club. These are all signs of a fan-base that feels increasingly disenfranchised and looking for alternatives. Local fan run clubs are unlikely to challenge the Premier League’s dominance in the short-term, but if the big clubs don’t see the writing on the wall they risk alienating those who they see as customers. They should also note that empty stadia do little to encourage sponsors to shell out their ill-gotten-gains.
Football supporters need to engage more. Our elected representatives should be in no doubt that we can and should have a say in how our clubs are run. If fan ownership is a distant dream, then genuine supporter participation at board level needn’t be. There should be no decisions made about the future of our clubs without us. Football belongs to the whole community. It is the supporter who gives the game it’s life-blood. It’s time to reverse a trend, in which our teams have become mere commodities that are bought and then sold as soon as the financial winds look less favourable. As someone once suggested, they are much more important than that.
This article by me was first published on http://www.thisisanfield.com