As you will have already hopefully read elsewhere, it now seems highly likely that a Trust run team of some description going by the name of AFC Liverpool will be started up. As happened at Manchester United several years ago, disenchantment with the politics surrounding a club is causing a number of its supporters to reassess their values, and what seems to be a common feeling is a creeping sense of dislocation towards the Premier League. Supporters of Liverpool have more cause than most to feel like this. A year ago, their club had a manageable debt, was owned by people that seemed to care about the future of the club and was on its way to a second European Cup final in three years. A year on, and the debt has spiralled out of control and is only being kept in check by refinancing at considerable cost. The new owners might be asset-strippers (no-one really knows for sure exactly what their motives are), the team might not even qualify for next year’s UEFA Cup and, although they’re still in the Champions League, it seems massively unlikely that they will get anywhere near the final of it this season. In a more general sense, the Premier League wants to play matches abroad and is happy to mess up the format of the league in order to do it, ticket prices are still rising massively year on year, and there seems no sense in which these things are going to get any better.
It was this combination of events that led to the formation of FC United of Manchester – the brazenly cynical Glazer take-over being the tipping point for a sizeable minority of supporters that were already heartily fed up with the rampant commercialism of it all, being viewed as little more than walking wallets and purses that clubs could dip into whenever they liked and having kick-off times shunted around to suit everybody other than those that actually turned up at the stadium itself. They seized control of their own destinies, and started their own club. It wasn’t about “throwing their toys of their prams”. It was about supporting a football club during the most successful period in their history and it not being enjoyable any more. No-one could reasonably argue that it was an “easy” decision for any of them to make. Every single one of those that walked away was jettisoning a lifelong commitment – a commitment that they never thought that they would have to walk out on. They were subjected to abuse from the supporters that stayed, insulted by a manager that they had lionised and who had built his own reputation on being a “man of the people”, and they have found themselves in constant hot water with the authorities, not having realised that amateur and semi-pro leagues can be staggeringly incompetent and petty.
Yet they stuck with it, and if you ask those that have stuck with whether they have any regrets, the answer is unanimously “no”. Football is fun again. They’re not paying through the nose any more. They can stand safely on terraces. They kick-off at three o’clock on Saturday afternoons. They’re building a better future for themselves – to the extent that they are raising money to build their own stadium. It my strike some as odd that they could go from expecting a place in the last four of the European Cup to hoping amongst hope that they can get promoted into the Unibond League Premier Division, but people’s perspectives have been adjusted. Everything is a new challenge again. Liverpool supporters have a chance to experience this, they should cast aside their concerns & prejudices and welcome it with open arms. To not do it because of the embarrassment of doing something that “the Mancs” have done is absurdly short-sighted. It’s not about “copying” them – that simply is not the point. The reaction on the FC United forum has been broadly supportive to AFC Liverpool, and they’ll be likely to receive support in setting up from the club and/or its supporters. You never know – at this lower level, some of the poisonous hatred that has soured relations between the two clubs’ supporters might even be diluted. It’s not about “hating Liverpool” or “turning your back on Liverpool”, either. The majority of FCUM supporters remain Manchester United supporters to at least some extent. They still watch them on the television. They still cheer them on, albeit from a greater. It’s not a bond that breaks that easily.
It is, however, about creating a football club that exists as far from the spirit-crushing world of corporate business as possible. A football club that operates within its means. A club whose shirt isn’t covered in sponsors’ logos. A football club that does everything within its power to keep it affordable for everyone to get in. A club in which there is harmony between the supporters and those running the club because they are, essentially, the same people. It’s about proving that you do not simply have to be a passive consumer, whose loyalty is, frankly, abused by a club that doesn’t even really care about you any more. A club that plays in a league that doesn’t care about you any more. It’s not about “going to watch the reserves instead” – that’s the footballing equivalent of giving up smoking by going from twenty cigars a day to twenty cigarettes. It’s not about “just going and watching a local non-league team instead”, either. They won’t have that special bond if they all just pitch up at Marine or Bootle. It won’t be theirs.
Maybe Liverpool’s supporters are masochists. Maybe they enjoy the position of their club and the position of utter helplessness that they hold over its future. In that case, they should stay where they are. Give it five years and they’ll have a dentists table built into the turnstiles at all Premier League grounds so that they can extract your gold fillings on the way in. That would certainly be the rational thing for the club to do – just before the bucket into which you throw the deeds to your house as well. The alternative is for Liverpool’s supporters to take the one chance that they get at life and try to do something different. They may never win the European Cup, but they’ve done that five times already, anyway. Starting from scratch and getting into the Football League – now, that would be a challenge.