The plight of Liverpool Football Club is very a well documented one now, especially regarding its ownership and debt laden financial position since American’s Tom Hicks and George Gillett took over ownership of the club in the form of a leveraged buy out model, from David Moores back in 2007. In many a fans eyes Liverpool FC has been at crisis point for longer than they would really wish to remember.
It provides a story full of lies, failed promises and decline concerning a massive lack of transfer funds available to previous manager Rafa Benitez to develop a squad with no depth, an arrogance at board room level seemingly neglecting tradition, passion and even intelligence at times as well as anything else that got in the way of profit, or potential profit. Part of their commitment in buying Liverpool and the grounds of success in their bid was the development of a new stadium, capable of doing justice to the team which would call it home and being a long term source of revenue for the club with greatly extended capacity and facilities. A famous quote exists upon their arrival that in addition to the work and designs that had been done already, “a spade would be in the ground within 60 days” to turn the vision into a reality. 4 years later and the spade remains on the shelf at B&Q gathering dust, in the region of £50m has been spent on the ground according to Liverpools accounts but the ground remains of the same substance as the invisible man.
These are but a sample of the failings of our its so called custodians that lie underneath, the just shy of £240m worth of debt that formed part of its recent accounts to Companies House, totalling and growing day by day in excess of £425m when taking in to consideration the debt also carried by the Kop Cayman offshore account as well as running annual losses. Throughout these dark times many a Liverpool fan has turned to the Spirit of Shankly supporters group for unity and so their voice can be heard alongside other Reds trapped in a sense of disilusion and concern for the great club. The Spirit of Shankly have taken great strides forward in raising awareness in their battle to achieve both short and long term objectives for the club and ensure it remains as a well structured and stable on going concern for many a generation to come and embrace.
I recently caught up with Paul Gardner, the Community & Youth Officer for Spirt of Shankly to cover where the organisation is at today with the work that it is doing and its plans for the future, which are detailed in interview format below.
Q1. SOS recently held a Independence Day Rally on July 4th which was deemed a great success by Liverpool fans. Did SOS find this as successful compared to their expectations and that it got the right message out? Are there any plans for future rallies?
The Rally went as well as we could have hoped if not better. It got good press, we got our message out with more leaflets about the credit union. Over 150 new members on the day and more afterwards online as well. It was great to see considering the amount of time put into the event. It got the message out there that not only do we want Tom Hicks and George Gillett gone, but also that we are more much more than people shouting in the streets. We are a professional organisation with clear aims and we are taking forward things to push towards our ultimate aim of fan ownership of Liverpool Football Club.
There is nothing definite about whether there will be another rally on a similar scale. We have to choose actions according to what is appropriate and achievable at the given time. We will be working hard continuously though on the Credit Union and spreading the message that Tom and George are not welcome here.
Q2. Did the rally help in ways that other mediums used in the past haven’t done or were not able to do so?
Of course, it was something different to what we have done before and on a different scale also. As we grow as an organisation with more members and more support we can achieve more things through strength, unity and power in numbers. The Independence Day Rally showed what can be done, but also shows the way forward in that we are not resting on our laurels, but want to continue on growing and becoming stronger to work towards achieving our aims and objectives.
Q3. Many Liverpool fans have voiced their commitment to SOS in recent months at a growing rate, especially since the “Debts Lies Cowboys” campaign, has SOS seen this reflected in new subscriptions and what do you credit the growth rate to yourselves?
Yes we have. The Debt Lies Cowboys billboard campaign in March helped spread the word and helped further show our intentions and ability to spread that message. There have been over 170,000 leaflets distributed at matches in the last year to inform fans about us and the situation at the club. As the problems have become more and more evident with David Moores speaking out and question marks over Christian Purslow and the circumstances surrounding why Rafa Benitez left the club. We need to keep this momentum going though with all our action and through our members telling fellow fans there is something we can do and Spirit of Shankly is trying to do it.
Q4. Social Media such as Twitter, Facebook, Forums & Blogs is now a very common way for Liverpool fans to communicate and unify. SOS uses theses platforms to raise awareness, are these now one of the most important areas for SOS to expand its cause?
Any way we can get the message out there is always going to help expand the cause. Facebook and Twitter are easy ways to stay in touch by the click of one button. They help get information about us to more people. People who may have doubted us, but with regular updates can see us for what they are and decide to join. However, to save Liverpool FC we need to do more than just click a button to ‘follow’ or ‘like’ a group or action, we actually need to work together and make things happen. We would obviously urge those who are following us on Facebook and Twitter to look at us more if you need to, ask us questions if you have any and then ultimately join us and become a member.
Q5. It has been well documented that Liverpool MD Christian Purslow reacted very negatively to Liverpool fans on one of the well used forums, coupled with comments made by Rafa Benitez as he left the club, does SOS see a place for Christian Purslow moving forward with the club or is he a growing cause for concern alongside our present owners?
Ultimately, we represent our members in terms of who and what we target. Our members have wanted answers from Christian Purslow for the last year. We had 2 meetings with him, with the last meeting in January. After this meeting, Purslow decided that there was a different version of events that happened in that meeting and sent us a different version of the minutes. We put out both versions (Our version of the meeting and Purslow’s) to let people decide what was the correct set of minutes. Since then Purslow has not provided any answers in a time when there are more and more questions every day, particularly about his actions. So he is becoming a growing concern. We went to present a set of questions to him recently at an event he was attending. The event was cancelled and we were unable to present the questions. We will be continuing to seek answers.
Q6. Liverpool FC is well known for having one of the largest global fan bases in world football today, do SOS find it harder to raise awareness of the clubs plight beyond the UK and is there also much of a difference outside of Liverpool itself? Is it likely that many fans believe the further away they are the less they can help? How can this be remedied and fans help from further afield?
Getting a message across different countries, different cultures and to many different circumstances can be very difficult. That is where the support of our members has helped us spread the message. Someone in Liverpool would not be able to comment well on what the depth of feeling was in the Thailand Supporters Club and vice versa, but our international membership shows that that message is spreading and with those members in those locations the word can spread even easier. The message of what Tom and George are doing to our club is clear to many fans across the world now and this is something our members can take credit for in helping get that message out there.
It is not completely true that the further the way you are the less you can do. Yes, to someone the otherside of the world they cannot attend the recent Rally, but there is different forms of action they can do which we have ran with such as e-mails to the Premier League and currently with the Not Welcome Anywhere Picture Campaign http://www.spiritofshankly.com/news/Tom-and-George-_-Not-Welcome-Anywhere.html. These things can help enhance the strength of the message by showing it is not just those in Liverpool that feel strongly about this, but the global fanbase.
This can be taken further with the ability for members to set up a local branch where they live. This will help improve the democracy of the Union, give those members a greater say and also give them a chance to co-ordinate action, events and activities wherever they live. These branches are starting to be set up now with the first international local branch being Sweden. If someone was setting up a branch in your area then you will have been notified (if you are a member). If you want to set up a Branch or want more information then contact Graham at email@example.com.
Q7. Save Liverpool have recently launched a supporters shirt for the coming campaign as part of their own “Standards Corrupted” awareness process, is this something that SOS backs and is working in unity with as part of the growing message?
The shirt is not something we are involved with, but obviously we want more and more people to get involved with action that will put more pressure on Hicks and Gillett to sell. SOS can be there as a focal point of this action for everyone to unite under, but this does not stop individual action.
Q8. SOS and Share Liverpool are committed to bringing fan ownership to the club as the top level part of their agenda. How is this developing as a tandem process and with a “Credit Union” process being pushed forward as the recommended solution to achieving this, how easy will it be for fans from all walks of life and level of finances to get on board?
Discussions are still ongoing between SOS and Share Liverpool on the structure on any relationship between the two. This does not affect the plans of the Credit Union though. The Credit Union is there to be accessible and open to all. It will initially be open to Merseyside residents only, but will be opened up as regulations change and with working with Partners to allow every Liverpool fan to save for their share in the club. This applies whether you have £500 or £5 and whether you can save £1 a week or £10 a week. It allows everyone to get involved.
More information here – http://www.spiritofshankly.com/documents/sos_credit_union.pdf
The Credit Union will hopefully be open to collect money over the coming months and members will be kept informed of the progress and when they can start saving.
Q9. Martin Broughton has been brought in to oversee the auction style sale of the club, which we are told continues to develop to plan. When the actual day arrives that H&G are finally removed from the club and it begins new ownership, as their removal was one of the prime SOS objectives how will the SOS structure change moving forward with this goal completed and life after H&G?
Essentially nothing changes. We are much more than just Hicks and Gillett with cheap travel, regeneration plans with the Football Quarter, coaching for children and so on. Our aim relating to Hicks and Gillett is “To hold whoever owns the football club to account.” Obviously we hope that the next owners will be fit and proper that it will not need the same action as we are doing for Hicks and Gillett. We don’t want to protest for protests sake, it is because of what the current owners are doing to our club. We will still keep working on all our areas are aims cover including fan ownership, whether part stake or ultimately full ownership.
Our aims can be found here – http://www.spiritofshankly.com/aims.html
Q10. As the Community and Youth Officer for SOS you are heavily involved in the “Football Quarter” project and the effect of stadium developments on the local area. How is this developing and what are the current SOS objectives in this area? How important is “Football Quarter” in the overall agenda?
It is developing well. There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes. Meetings with Steve Rotheram, Universities, Community Groups and more. We have had positive responses and we are driving things forward. Obviously there is not a lot to report on at times until milestones are reached, but it is developing well. A website is getting developed currently and will be found at http://www.thefootballquarter.com. There is just a holding page on there at the moment taking people to our Facebook page and to the online petition as well.
The Football Quarter concept is very important. I was at a community workshop last week where various groups from different areas from North Liverpool had come together to learn how to take things forward. They all share the view that regeneration is needed in North Liverpool and realise that both football clubs can play a key role in this. The Football Quarter is about uniting all stakeholders to determine what is best for everyone. This will continue to be worked on to push for a feasibility study and further.
Q11. Are SOS happy with the coverage that it gets for its awareness from the press and local media? Is this fairly portrayed or something that is very hard to establish when a club the size of Liverpool FC is involved and press very careful as to what is broadcasted?
Ask anyone or any group who wants media coverage do they get enough and they will say no. Everyone will always want more positive publicity. We are gaining more and more coverage from the press as time goes on and we are the first port of call for many areas of the press seeking the fans view on affairs at Liverpool FC. The majority of the media are not taking on the message on how much damage Tom Hicks and George Gillett are doing to Liverpool FC that not all were doing from the start. This can be reflected in the time and effort to talk to the media and brief them on what we are doing and what is happening at the club. Obviously a club the size of Liverpool can just call a press conference at the drop of the hat to try and get the publicity they want, but we are finding now that we are getting more and more opportunities to give the fans right to reply to issues at the club.
Q12. What is next on the road map for SOS? Are there any forthcoming events in the near future that fans can get involved in?
Events, action and more are always getting planned by Spirit of Shankly. Currently we would urge fans across the world to take part in our Not Welcome Anywhere Campaign. All it needs is a picture of you, your family, friends or more with a SOS Not Welcome Anywhere Sign where you live. Details here – http://www.spiritofshankly.com/news/Tom-and-George-_-Not-Welcome-Anywhere.html. We will be taking forward the Credit Union and The Football Quarter and will relay any progress to members, particularly when the Credit Union will be open to start saving money. The season will soon be on us as well and direct action will continue.
If anyone has any ideas for events, action or something else then please contact the relevant officer. Contact Details for the committee can be found here – http://www.spiritofshankly.com/union-roles.html.
For anyone wishing to become a member then visit http://www.spiritofshankly.com/join.html
Should you have any further questions about Spirit of Shankly or wish to know more about any of the points covered here, then Paul Gardner can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org – The Spirit of Shankly website is also continually updated with developments and progression. Please look out for further updates from Paul as we catch up over time.
You can also connect to Spirit of Shankly via their Facebook and Twitter accounts using the following links:
Image Source: Spirit of Shankly