Football Unions & The Importance of Control

Maintaining a voice

In my last piece (or more accurately, rant) I wrote about social media and its detrimental impact on our enjoyment of football and the out-of-control division it has drummed up among our fanbase. In a sense, I am starting here where I left off there with this one. Last Wednesday, Spirit of Shankly released a joint statement with the Manchester United Supporters Trust detailing their support for introducing an independent regulator into acquiring a football club.

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The message was less than 400 words long. It made zero references to any individuals or groups potentially linked to a takeover. The statement simply outlined the need for due diligence and ensuring that anybody looking to buy Liverpool or Manchester United is doing so with the right interests. One would imagine that such a proposal would be difficult to argue with. That thought would be even more so given the scale of the operations in question and the millions around the world who would be impacted by any repercussions. However, the backlash was monumentally depressing.

Supporters Must Have A Voice

Spirit of Shankly is a Liverpool Supporters Union established in 2008. The organization has demonstrated on countless occasions throughout the past 15 years that they have the club’s interests full at heart. Its custodians and supporters are at the very forefront of their minds. Without them, supporters may well be paying in excess of £80 for tickets to home matches. SOS’s presence very well may have kept Hicks and Gillett from running the club into the ground. Unfortunately, a lot of this good gets lost amid the constant and sometimes insufferable amount of online noise.

ASTV Monday Night Podcast 1/30/2023

Liverpool was close to having a group from Qatar take control of the club. Despite very few reputable sources giving credence to the rumors, certain sections of Liverpool supporters got giddy at the thought of a bottomless pit of money to play with. Many disregarded any potential ramifications that would come with such a deal. Any suggestion that the long-term future of the club might be compromised by ceding this control amounted to an “acceptance of mediocrity.”

In truth, nobody really knows what happens next. A degree of cautious anticipation is perhaps understandable given recent frustrations in the transfer market. Anything which could contribute to Liverpool revisiting the heights they hit last season is something worth exploring.

To these supporters, the SOS statement acted as pushback against such a move, nothing more. I dare say a fair chunk of criticism arose from those who weren’t around during the dark days with Hicks and Gillett in control. Either that or they didn’t bother reading the statement in its entirety.

A Divisive But Significant Issue

This is by no means going to turn into a geopolitical thesis about moral issues attached to a Middle Eastern takeover. That is a conversation for another day and something I’d need more than 1000 words to fully tackle.

One of the arguments in favor of Qatari ownership, however, points the finger at the imperfections of the current jurisdiction, justifying the wrongdoings of any potential buyers with a reverse microscope. Whataboutery achieves very little at the best of times. Needless to say, it is staggering that the imperfection of one regime is enough for so many to bypass any level of concern. Any investigation into the suitability of an entity willing to pay £4b on their club is too much. Everything and anything should be challenged in such scenarios rather than adopting a more childish approach.

They’ll point at training ground sponsor AXA’s links with funding war and environmental crime in Israel. This is upheld as another counterargument for exercising caution towards Middle Eastern involvement.

First of all, sponsorship cannot be placed in the same bracket as ownership. Sponsors are stakeholders for sure. However, they possess little control over the direction of the club. Secondly, two wrongs don’t make a right. The decisions aren’t mutually exclusive. You enter very dangerous territory by allowing past or current misdemeanors to facilitate vindication for future ones.

Control From The Collective

Exhausting all of this isn’t it? Remember when this was just a hobby and all our focus and energy was on supporting a football team?

The words “SOS don’t speak on behalf of me” probably have made their way across your Twitter feed in recent weeks. I for one am grateful that they have done so for the past 15 years and into the foreseeable future. That is exactly what a union is designed to do. Anybody aggrieved by the direction ought to remember that they are welcome to join and get their voice heard.

There are countless occasions where Spirit of Shankly protected the long-term future of Liverpool FC. Removing that would remove our voice at a time when the distance between supporters and club hierarchy is greater than ever.

You don’t have to agree with everything a union stands for to support the notion of unions altogether. Games like Barcelona 4-0 show that we are far stronger together than we are apart. That applies off the pitch just as much as it does on it.

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