As the week has worn on, the situation concerning the ownership of Liverpool Football Club has descended into chaos. With each passing day, the tug of war for the ownership of the club has passed through low comedy, drama and bathos to the point that has started to feel exhausting. There is too much information. There are too many conflicting opinions. And with this exhaustion comes a feeling of profound depression and the feeling that, for all that we could have told the world – indeed, have tried to tell the world for several years – that it was always likely to end up like this, this situation has spiralled out of all control. If football supporters in England hadn’t had the extent to which their game has been taken away from them spelled out in plain enough language over the last twenty years or so, they surely have over the last week or so.
It wasn’t difficult to spot what was going to happen at Liverpool. Many people saw it coming, even if a sizeable proportion of Liverpool supporters didn’t when Gillett and Hicks took control of their club in 2007. There is plenty of mileage to be had in the argument that the protests at Anfield weren’t loud enough, that the formation of AFC Liverpool, which mutated very quickly from a protest at the state of the game into a watered down little brother to the “big” club and that the protests of Liverpool supporters have become too obsessed with the removal of Gillett and Hicks, to the extent that RBS, of all people, are being lionised for acting entirely in their own best interests and the prospective new owners are being treated as heroes before anybody has too much of idea as to what sort of owners they will be. Wisdom after the event, however, is easy and, more to the point, for all that Martin Broughton may insinuate otherwise, the current situation at the club is less about protesting than some may wish to believe – not, as we will come onto, that protesting is a bad or pointless thing.
Where, though, is the Premier League in all of this? The silence coming from the organisation of which Liverpool are members has been deafening since a press release issued last Friday so banal that they might not have bothered issuing in the first place. We are left to wonder whether they are proud of the fact that one of their members is in this state? Are they happy with the fact that the laissez faire economic policy that they have done practically nothing to temper since the first leveraged buy out went through five years ago has ended like this? Why haven’t they acted to ensure that this can never happen again? The name of English football is being dragged through the mud before the eyes of the world, yet Scudamore, Richards and all the rest of them remain silent.
Still, at least the Premier League said something, even if it was virtually pointless that they did so and was almost a week ago. The FA, we might presume, have been stuck at the bottom of a mineshaft in South America for all that they have said in the subject. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this. Destabilised and neutered by the Premier League, it is a rudderless organisation that seems incapable of standing up to anybody or anything. All of the criticism levelled above at the Premier League also apply to the FA. Indeed, they arguably apply even more to the FA than to the Premier League. The FA, after all, has invested in it the overall well-being of the game in England. FIFA delegates are currently chewing over to whom to grant the right to hold the 2018 World Cup could be more than forgiven for wondering whether a country that gets itself into this sort of pickle over the ownership of one of its biggest football clubs is capable of holding its showpiece tournament.
It has long been an undeniable but seldom spoken truth that football supporters have more in common with each other than they do between the artificial constructs that form their inter-club rivalries. Manchester United supporters sniggering at Liverpool’s predicament should pause to reflect upon the losses that their club posted last week and that the scenario being played out at Anfield may well come to pass at Old Trafford one day. Football supporters have, for years, effectively been told to sit down and shut up and they have, broadly speaking, done so. If the current chaos at Anfield hasn’t been resolved by the time of Liverpool’s next home match there will undoubtedly be another protest march, but that march will be likely to end in bums on seats inside the stadium itself. To this extent, football supporters are like junkies. For all the fine talk of principles, they can’t miss out on that hit. This isn’t, particularly, a critcism of Liverpool supporters. It feels at the moment as if all (or most, to say the very least) football supporters are this supine.
The nature of the very set-up of those that organise, manage and administrate football is that supporters themselves have no say whatsoever in how they are organised, managed or administrated. We, as supporters, can no more vote for a new executive board for the Premier League or a new FA Council than we can vote for a new president of North Korea. No-one realistically expects this situation to change. However, we do retain the right to be furious, not only at the situation at Liverpool Football Club and what may happen elsewhere in the near or distant future, but also at those whose policies (and/or lack of them) allow situations like this to come to pass in the first place. Whether there is the momentum for a protest movement that reaches across all football supporters, however, remains unknown.