Saturday, 7 November 2009

Liverpool FC's off-field crisis: Spirit of Shankly answer fans' questions


Liverpool Football Club Confirms Takeover Bid

SINCE my recent post about the Spirit of Shankly march before the win over Manchester United, several fans have raised questions about the ongoing protests against Liverpool's co-owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Spirit of Shankly (SOS) is a Liverpool supporters' union - the first of its type in the UK - whose ultimate aim is supporter ownership of Liverpool FC.

I put the questions asked by fans to PAUL GARDNER, Community Liaison and Regeneration Officer for SOS.

WELL RED: One of the main criticisms being levelled at Spirit of Shankly is that marching before games is pointless and counter-productive, that it is somehow taking away from the support of the team and is also unlikely to unsettle Hicks and Gillett. What are your views on this?

PAUL GARDNER
: With arranging any protest there is always a fine line in finding a balance. Any protest has to be achievable in both the support it can get and needs, and the outcome it has.

Many different ideas have been considered by SOS and we can say that the majority of protests, if not all we have held, have been very successful. A march was not everyone's first choice of protest before the United game this season, but we supported the majority of our members’ views that chants were not to be taken into the ground while the game is on.

This view is taken because they want to support the team whilst in the ground. Having a march outside the ground does not affect in any way the ability to support the team. In fact, if you compare the results after both of our two big marches (both wins against Manchester United) then you could say the march helps to get people even more motivated to support the team once in the ground.

On the point of unsettling Hicks and Gillett, yes, Hicks and Gillett probably wouldn't haven't heard the chanting directly but the other way of getting at them  is finding out where they are whenever they are over here, as shown when SOS confronted Gillett prior to the Hull game at Melwood and the Academy. Some fans also made their feelings known to Gillett after the reserve game against Sunderland the week before the United game.

The march is about gaining media interest and spreading the word about what Hicks and Gillett are doing to our club. It is not only about putting pressure on the owners but informing fans, whether they are watching on the path of the march or across the world reading or watching via the media.

There were massive amounts of positive coverage of the march including a clip on one of the biggest national news programmes. With around 5,000 on the march (more than the previous march) and with the coverage it received we can say it was a success on all levels.

The club will also be aware of our protests that day with 600 beach balls thrown around the ground and on to the pitch before the game, all with messages for the owners written on them.

We need to keep on coming up with ideas for protests that maximise the pressure on the owners. We have regular mass meetings were our members vote on  issues including what type of protests they support. If people have ideas to put forward they can e-mail: directaction@spiritofshankly.com

WR: Fans against the protests have also suggested it could put off potential new investors/owners - what would you say to them?


PG: This is something Christian Purslow (Liverpool FC managing director) has suggested to us as well. We can understand people's thoughts on this. You have to look at both sides of the argument and try and judge what is best for the club.

Protesting will get a message across to potential investors and owners. It shows we understand when someone is damaging our club for their own benefit. If those type of investors are put off then it is for the better.

The key thing to remember is protests are not against Liverpool Football Club - they are against Tom Hicks and George Gillett. New deals with Standard Chartered, 188Bet and Halliwell Jones show investors realise this. The protests are not having a damaging effect.

Fans have to realise that every ticket, shirt or hot dog bought at Anfield is paying towards interest repayments to allow Hicks and Gillett to own the club. Spending £2.5million net in the last two seasons shows that they are not willing or able to invest back into the team regardless of our earnings at the moment so it is important that we keep putting pressure on them.

The problem for new investors and owners is the valuation that Hicks and Gillett have put on the club - no investor will invest at the wrong price. We can help by making life uncomfortable for Hicks and Gillett and make them get out sooner with a lower price that a suitable owner is willing to pay.

WR: The use of the word 'Yanks' on the SOS website and in banners/literature etc has been highlighted by some critics who accuse the union of being xenophobic. What's your response?

PG:
Yanks is a shortened version of Yankees and is a playful colloquial term for Americans used in Commonwealth countries since World War 2. It was not meant to be derogatory and having American members of SOS illustrates this. It was used as a shorter term in banners and chants to help relay the message about the owners.

Recently, we have been working on a new campaign called 'Tom and George - You're not welcome here'  along with banners such as 'Tom and George - You Tell Lie$' so it further highlights how we are not intending to be xenophobic in our pursuit to get the owners out. Our quarrels are with Hicks and Gillett as individuals and not as a nationality.

Also, if using the term 'Yanks' was really deemed to be xenophobic why are possibly the most successful baseball team in America called the New York Yankees? Surely if it was so offensive they would be called something else?


WR: Some fans want to see more direct action against Hicks and Gillett. They have suggested boycotts of games, club merchandise and so on. Have you looked at these options?

PG: At present we do not think they are realistic. Club merchandise is sold around the world. You would need to stop millions of people buying merchandise.

Boycotting a match has been talked about a lot. It would definitely have an effect seeing an empty Anfield, but for every person giving up their ticket there would be someone else willing to buy one, so the number of people you need to boycott the match becomes much bigger.

With season tickets and the auto cup scheme it means most of the ticket revenue will already be in the club's hands. Also, there is the issue you raised in the question about does a march affect the ability to support the team. People have different opinions on what direction to go with a protest and rightly so. Boycotting a match was discussed at the last mass meeting and the majority voted against it.

WR: Some fans have highlighted what they see as good things achieved by Hicks and Gillett - the Standard Chartered sponsorship deal, Benitez's new contract, the manager being given control of the academy and transfer deals. Would you acknowledge these things have been steps in the right direction by the co-owners?

PG: I don't think it is a step in the right direction by the co-owners, but a right step in the right direction by Christian Purslow and Ian Ayre (LFC commercial director). The co-owners have pretty much left the running of the club to them two. All Hicks' and Gillett's names mean on club documents now is that there is £245m worth of debt on the club. So these deals are great, but when the money received from them is going straight to Royal Bank of Scotland and not to strengthening the team it means there are still major problems.

On the point of Standard Chartered, look at the deals Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have been getting for the past five years and then compare that to the Carlsberg deal we kept renewing under Rick Parry.

What has been delivered recently with the new sponsorship deals is great and would be even better if it didn't just go to servicing debt. But the opportunities for such a deal were there beforehand. David Moores and Parry missed out on them - Purslow and Ayre are simply taking us up to the level we should be at rather than of the owners' making.

WR: Is there anything that Hicks and Gillett could do to reverse SOS's stance on their ownership of the club, or is it an 'out at all costs' approach?

PG: It is a simple 'out at all costs' approach. People may see that as one tracked and narrow minded, but you have to look at what has happened during their ownership to see why this is important.

When Hicks and Gillett  bought the club we trusted Moores and Parry when they said they were the best option to take the club forward. We then believed Hicks and Gillett when they said there would be no debt on the club like the Glazers' takeover at Manchester United, that there would be a spade in the ground in 60 days and that Rafa would be given money to buy anyone he wants (remember 'Snoogy Doogy'?).

If they did manage to pay off the debt, or rather by us going the match and buying merchandise we were able to pay it off for them, why should we ever trust them? They have lied to us many times before, damaged the club massively and continue to do so. Take a look at the recordings on our YouTube side and on our website of a meeting with Gillett - he still continues to lie to us on issues which have been proved countless times before.

Hicks is struggling with his other sports teams and is hated by Texas Rangers fans as he was by Corinthians fans when he did similar things to what he has done with Liverpool.

Hicks, as part of a group, Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, bought a winning team with Brazilian football team Corinthians in 1999. Similar to with Liverpool reaching the Champions League Final in 2007, Corinthians won the World Club Championship in the same year Hicks bought them.

He promised them a new stadium, but didn't deliver it. He went against the traditions of the club and failed to deliver on any of his promises. Hicks retired from the group owning Corinthians before they sold to MSI in 2003. Legal battles between MSI and Hicks group went on until 2007 and in 2007 Corinthians got relegated for the first time in their history.

Here's an article from December 2000 about Corinithians - the similarities with Liverpool are uncanny.

Then look at the Texas Rangers - they are still looking at closing the museum there to create more room for corporate events. More on this here

They have had plenty of opportunities to learn the right way how to run a sports team and they still can't get it right - we have no reason to ever trust them. 

WR: It has been widely reported that Hicks and Gillett's ownership of LFC could be diluted by the introduction of new owners. What are the union's views on this?

PG: We have to judge this as it happens. A reduction in the shareholding of Hicks and Gillett would be great, but only if the other owners are suitable custodians. We can thank Hicks and Gillett for making us learn that the hard way. One of Spirit of Shankly's constant aims is to hold whoever owns the football club to account. 

WR: People who oppose the views of Spirit of Shankly in respect of Hicks and Gillett are suggesting the issues with the owners are being used as a smokescreen to cover up what they perceive to be the real problem, the manager Rafa Benitez. What would you say to this?

PG: Spirit of Shankly will not get drawn into whether Rafa Benitez is the right person to manage Liverpool Football Club. It’s not what we were set up for. We do however support the position of manager and the owners are undermining that position constantly - the lack of support in the transfer market with a net spend of around £2.5m in the last two seasons highlights this.

I would go as far as to say the issues about Rafa Benitez are a smokescreen for the owners. We have the fifth most expensive squad and fifth highest wage bill in the league but are still expected to win the title. If you expect a manager to achieve something you need to give him the necessary support for it and that isn't being given at the moment. We were outbid for two players in the summer by Sunderland. As long as that is happening then whoever is manager of Liverpool Football Club will struggle to win the league. 

Part two tomorrow