In the second of a two-part series James Pearce looks at the future for Liverpool fan groups after an eventful 2010. Today the spotlight falls on Share Liverpool FC
FORMED nearly three years ago in response to the growing resentment among fans about the huge debts being piled on the Reds by Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the mission was to buy the club.
Plans were unveiled to create a ‘member-share’ scheme where 100,000 supporters around the world would invest £5,000 each with the £500million being used to oust the co-owners and build a new stadium.
Liverpool would emulate the model of European clubs like Barcelona and Bayern Munich and become the first Premier League club to be owned by its supporters.
The initial rush to sign up led to their website crashing and among those to commit was Reds legend John Aldridge, but the dream failed to materialise.
With October’s takeover by New England Sports Ventures (now Fenway Sports Group) having finally turfed out Hicks and Gillett, fans’ anger has waned.
However, the desire to have a greater say in the way the club is run remains and rather than slip quietly into the background Share Liverpool have continued to gather support.
A takeover may be unrealistic now – after all John W Henry insists he’s at Anfield for the long haul – but the hope is the Boston Red Sox chief will agree to sell a stake in the Reds back to supporters.
“We always had two aims,” said football business lecturer and Reds fans Rogan Taylor who founded Share Liverpool.
“That was either buy the club outright or buy an unsqueezable minority to get us on the road to ownership.
“Clearly it would be pointless now to try to buy out the new owners who have only just bought the club and are serious about developing it.
“But a stake is what we’re after and we hope to have a detailed discussion with them about that early in the new year. We want to talk about the role fans might take in return for an unsqueezable stake in the club.”
Since last summer Share Liverpool have been working together with fellow fans group Spirit of Shankly (SOS).
With their combined resources, Taylor believes they will be able to put on the table a very generous offer for Henry to consider.
“The combined membership of SOS and Share Liverpool is 60,000 plus in terms of the wider network it represents,” he said.
“If everyone wrote a cheque for £500 that would be £30m.That gives us an amount of cash to change the ownership structure of the club.
“We believe that would be beneficial for fans and beneficial for the owners as well.
“I’m sure £30million to £50million would be a useful down payment on the new stadium or it could swell the player recruitment account.
“We don’t care where it goes as long as we get an unsqueezable equity and a seat on the board.
“It’s a fairly straightforward idea and something they need to consider.
“After all why would they not want that money raised by fans? This is our fit and proper persons test and it’s much more rigorous than the one set down by the Premier League.
“If the owners don’t want a partnership with the fans then you have to ask ‘what are you doing here?’”
Taylor, who is director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool, admits his joy at seeing the back of Hicks and Gillett in 2010 was tempered by the Reds’ struggles on the pitch.
It was no surprise to him that Fenway Sports Group were so keen to complete their £300million takeover but he insists the owners face a major task transforming the club’s fortunes.
“Looking back it’s a mixture of feelings really,” he said.
“Of course I’m extremely glad we got rid of Hicks and Gillett. It was great not only to see the back of them but the fact they went with a hole in their pocket made it even sweeter.
“But the team is clearly not playing well and very significant work is needed to be done. The reality is the club has lost its debts but there’s an awful lot to do.
“I’ve met them once to say hello and clearly the new owners are creatures of a very different order. But they don’t plan on doing anything very quickly as that’s not the way they operate.
“People who own American sports franchises only buy Premier League clubs with one aim in mind and that’s to access the markets that American franchises can’t deliver.
“The Premier League is shown in over 200 countries and has a big fan base in Asia. It doesn’t matter how many baseball, basketball or gridiron teams you own, none of them will deliver that.
“Their focus quite rightly is on unpacking some of the value in the club. For nearly two decades it was shamefully unexploited and what’s wrong now goes back a long time.
“It doesn’t get fixed quickly and they have a lot on their plate. They have to think strategically as there are big decisions to be made on the stadium and player recruitment which demand significant amounts of money.”
Taylor is keen to ensure no set of supporters ever has to endure again what Liverpool fans did under Hicks and Gillett.
In January he will sit on the advisory panel of experts for the Government’s select committee looking into the ownership of English clubs.
And he hopes changes will be made to tighten up the rules on who can and can’t buy them.
Taylor said: “The Government may decide it’s time to do something about the situation English football finds itself in. After all is it really appropriate for a proud football institution to be the play thing of shysters?
“The current regulatory issues are so easy to overcome that anyone can have a punt these days.
“The analogy I use is that a club is like a woman standing on the street corner waiting for a passing punter to pick her up. That punter doesn’t even need to have money in his pocket as he can just borrow it off his mate.
“Is that appropriate? Clearly something needs to be done.”