‘At a football club, there’s a holy trinity – the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don’t come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques.’
These are the words of the legendary former Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly. The man who built Liverpool into a world conquering empire certainly had a canny knack of saying the right things which portrayed relevant situations in a way that garnered support and drove passion and inspiration into supporter’s hearts. The Messiah’s speeches have gone down in, not just Liverpool FC folklore, but also British football folklore, and the majority of what he said still rings true and is relevant in today’s game.
However, is the above statement still one of them?
In the modern era, ‘directors’ and club owners are now pivotal in the running of a football club. In a time when money is king, they have the power to bankroll their clubs to success, or bankrupt their clubs into the ground, rendering players, managers and fans powerless to stop it.
Shankly’s era, of course, was totally different. Football was not run as a money-making business as it is today. In his time, a clubs owner would more than likely come from another part of the city, than from another part of the world, as is now the case with a lot of today’s big English clubs. This leads to an instant divide between club supporters and any foreign owner. They are eyed with an initial suspicion. How could this person know about and care for our club, when they themselves haven’t even grown up in the same country, and been subjected to the club traditions and history over the many years? Unfortunately it’s not an unfounded prejudice.
Liverpool supporters know this better than most, during the now infamous ownership of Hicks & Gillett who took the club to the brink of bankruptcy and through a messy, global, at times comedic-style court case, saw Liverpool almost become the highest-profile casualty of unfit ownership. So it was with this experience, that Liverpool fans eyed their new foreign owners FSG led by John W Henry, with a new suspicion. Henry and co had already ensured they were in most fans good-books as they had took on the previous rotten regime and won, in an ‘epic swindle’ – the ultimate two-fingered salute Liverpool fans could now give, in waving goodbye to Hicks and Gillett. Although there was a feeling that any new owners, couldn’t possibly be any worse! However Henry had seemed to play the game to perfection. He wasn’t brash or loud; he didn’t make promises and didn’t give guarantees. Instead he looked to listen to the people who mattered most: the fans. He knew that fans are nobody’s fools, and bit by bit, he earned respect rather than taking it for granted as the owner of a famous football club. Twitter – that 21st century tool that’s now used to spread news instantly to the masses, was used by Henry to spread messages of encouragement and announce plans and future discussions. More used to being used as a tool to spread gossip and rumour, Twitter was now (and still is) being used as a type of ‘direct hotline’ between Henry and the Liverpool supporters. Just last week when speculation gathered as to what the owners would be planning in regards to the proposed Anfield renovation, Henry took to Twitter: ‘Anfield would certainly be our first choice. But realities may dictate otherwise. So many obstacles…’ it may have not been a definitive answer, but at least it provides the fans with a kind of personal touch and comfort – a sense that he does listen to any concerns the supporters may have. Is there any other current owner or chairman out there that uses Twitter to speak to his supporters?