Liverpool, you’ll always walk alone
If fickle football fans weren’t so parochial, supporters around the country could unite to put pressure on the money men who run the Premiership.
So now that things aren’t going well, Liverpool FC fans have finally started to care about who owns their club. Current owners, American sports tycoons Tom Hicks and George Gillett – who bought the club less than a year ago – are trying to refinance their purchase while apparently under pressure to accept a £350million bid from Dubai International Capital.
Well forgive me if I fail to double up in paroxysms of sympathy for the fickle grief-mongering hypocrites. One minute, Liverpool fans were happy for their club to behave like a cheap whore who drops her knickers the instant somebody waves some money in her face; the next they’re not only surprised when she gets screwed, but they’re begging for her to be shafted by a richer punter.
Sympathy no, empathy yes. As a Manchester United supporter who jacked in his season ticket when my club was the subject of an American takeover, I was unsurprised at the schadenfreude the buy-out inspired. But I was disappointed that beyond the tribalism we all love, there was no concern whatsoever in ensuring that everyone gets to enjoy this football-inspired antipathy for many happy hate-filled years to come.
The reason why cowboys like Gillett and Hicks wanted to own (rather than buy) Liverpool was not, as the Scousers were gullibly prepared to believe, because they were blinded by the illustrious history of the club’s European Cups won after penalty shoot-outs. Rather, it was because they felt the club was undervalued and under-earning; in other words, there was money to be made. Like the Glazers, the Yanks that bought Man United, they give not even a rabbit shit about how many rude songs are sung about them, and care nothing about anything that doesn’t affect the size of their bank balance. And who knows what steps they may take in the future to ensure that bank balance’s continued good health – league games abroad, sales of top players, even more outrageous ticket pricing, even the ruin a couple of lean seasons could inflict? Strangely, while this obsession with the bottom line is obviously the worst thing about them and their ilk, it’s also the very best – it makes it absolutely plain that the only way to bother these people is to hurt them in their pockets.
Unfortunately that’s easier said than done, as discovered by those who objected to the Glazers. For now, at least, if one person chooses not to pay off their debt for them, there’ll be somebody else with thicker skin who minds less. So what to do?
The one remaining option is to go over their heads. As customers in a multi-billion pound industry, fans have an incredible amount of influence to affect decisions made by ruling bodies and television stations – if they unite to campaign on issues that affect everyone. The German model of supporter activism – where fans have coordinated protests about specific issues that matter to many – has led to reduced ticket pricing, stadia with safe standing areas, and match highlights shown on free-to-air television a couple of hours after full time. In June 2007, a general meeting was held over two days, involving fans from 50 clubs, the German football association, the DFB, and officials and representatives of the DFL, the organisation which runs the two professional leagues. In all, more than 400 people convened in Leipzig for the first Supporters’ Conference.
Achieving this in England is difficult only because there is no coherence between the supporter bodies of different clubs. It’s clear that there are vocal and well-organised groups at both United and Liverpool who hate the fact that they now scour their clubs’ yearly accounts, and resent their familiarity with terms such as rolled-up interest and pay-in-kind loans. If they could put aside their parochialism and unite with followers of other teams who care about the integrity and character of the English game, then there’s a chance they might continue to enjoy it, rather than having to get up at four in the morning to watch their rivalries played out in a stadium in Shanghai.
Daniel Harris is a writer and journalist. His dazzling first novel will be out when he’s finished it.
spiked issue: Sport