In a two-part series James Pearce looks at the future for two high profile Liverpool fan groups after an eventful 2010. In today's first part the spotlight falls on Spirit of Shankly.
THE war which prompted its formation may have been won but Spirit of Shankly continues to fight the good fight for Liverpool supporters.
That was underlined on Christmas Eve when the supporters’ union urged the club to ask Blackpool to bring forward the time of the scheduled noon pitch inspection for yesterday’s doomed clash at Bloomfield Road.
Thankfully, the message seems to have come through with the 10am peek under the covers confirming the inevitable and saving fans a wasted journey and unnecessary expense.
Anyone who thought SOS would drift into obscurity after October’s momentous High Court verdict ended the reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett was mistaken.
The collective desire to get rid of the wretched American double act may have been the catalyst for the union’s formation when 350 fans packed into The Sandon in Anfield in January 2008, but there was always a lot more to their work than simply protesting for regime change.
SOS are about supporters standing together to ensure their voice is heard as opposed to being abused or ignored as they were under Hicks and Gillett.
It’s about holding those in charge to account for their actions and trying to improve the experience of following their beloved Reds. The battle to do that goes on.
“For those supporters who campaigned long and hard to get rid of Hicks and Gillett to finally see that come to fruition this year was special,” said SOS spokesman Jay McKenna.
“With them gone we were finally able to move on and start talking about football again. To be able to put all that behind us was a massive step for Liverpool supporters and for Liverpool Football Club itself.
“A lot of why we were formed was down to Hicks and Gillett. We began looking at the ownership of the club but then saw a lot more issues.
“We represent fans on issues of ticketing and travel – running coaches to improve the standard and value for supporters.
“We also campaign to ensure the Anfield community is involved. You have to look after the local area but Anfield as an area has been left to fall into neglect and we want to address that.”
Initial discussions with new principal owner John W Henry and Fenway Sports Group have been positive.
The Boston Red Sox chief and Reds chairman Tom Werner vowed to listen to fans and so far have been true to their word.
Henry even paid tribute to the role the union played in forcing out Hicks and Gillett with their protests and marches ensuring the pressure on them never dwindled.
“If it wasn’t for yourselves and supporters doing what you have, we wouldn’t be here now,” Henry said.
SOS hope this is the start of a new era of co-operation between owners and supporters.
“When you are paying vast sums of money to follow your team everywhere then you deserve to have your voice heard,” McKenna said. “Under Hicks and Gillett we were paying for them to have the club and supporters cash was being used to pay the interest on the debt but we didn’t have a say. As a result supporters stood up and fought back.
“SOS don’t want a fractious relationship with the club – we just want to work together with everyone pulling in the same direction for the benefit of the football club.
“The new owners have done well so far and it was positive that they met with us. They have certainly learned from the mistakes made by Hicks and Gillett.
“They haven’t burdened the club with debt. They have listened and taken every opportunity to engage with supporters. There have been no false promises.”
Since October, SOS’s membership has swelled to 10,000 and new branches have recently opened up in New York and Finland.
One of the major issues heading into 2011 surrounds the stadium. Should the Reds redevelop Anfield or resurrect plans to build a new ground in Stanley Park?
SOS have an open mind but insist sharing with Everton is a non-starter.
“People are joining the union all the time and it’s growing because fans realise now we have a genuine voice within the club and our views are heard – that’s something you can’t put a price on,” McKenna added.
“It’s not just a Liverpool thing. We’ve got members all over the world who realise this is a way to be heard.
“Going forward the stadium is a big deal and supporters certainly deserve to have a say on what happens. After all it’s us who will be filling it.
“When we’ve taken a vote at meetings in the past it’s been overwhelmingly against a ground share and it was pleasing to hear the owners recently say ‘if the fans don’t want it that’s fine’.
“In terms of staying at Anfield or moving to a new ground, we just want to see a plan and be presented with exactly what the options are. Then we’ll be able to make a properly informed decision.”
In the longer term the ultimate goal remains supporter ownership of the club.
Last summer SOS formed a partnership with fellow fans group Share Liverpool to work together to pursue that ambitious goal.
A realistic starting point would be convincing Henry to sell a small stake to supporters in return for fan representation at boardroom level.
“The utopia is for supporters to own their club,” McKenna said. “We know it’s unrealistic to think that overnight you could buy 100% but fans would like a stake and a fan on the board.
“SOS and Share Liverpool are doing a lot of work on supporter ownership. We want to push forward plans for that in the next five to 10 years. In the meantime we’re here to deal with supporter issues.
“The new owners know our ideas and what we want. At the moment they are still in a settling in period and most thoughts are rightly focused on the football side of things.
“But we hope to speak to them in more detail over the coming months. If a stake was up for grabs people would be queuing around the block to own part of the club they love so dearly.”
Tomorrow: Rogan Taylor on why he believes 2011 could be a momentous year for Share Liverpool.