Is our Soul Being Sold for TV Gold?

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Years ago in a previous job my company was being audited and as a result I had to endure an entire day of some spotty number-cruncher sitting with me as I explained the every move, thought and process that constituted my average working day. Despite him possessing all the menace of a pacifist on valium, I suddenly found myself feeling deeply self-conscious and began to doubt my professional capabilities, querying all the actions I would have normally done without a moments thought. I had gone from being a confident, self-assured worker to a jittery mess who appeared to be making it up as he went along, all in a single day. And why? Simply because someone was watching me at work.

I mention this because Sunday’s home game against Man City marks the end of the filming period of the imminent fly-on-the-wall Fox TV documentary of four months inside Anfield, and I sincerely hope both Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers cope better than I did when it comes to the every last facet of their performance being scrutinised in forensic detail. You may think that’s a ridiculous thing to say of two professional football managers who live their lives in the spotlight, but there’s a massive difference between everyone knowing what you do and everyone knowing how you do it.

The period of filming encompasses the last month of Kenny’s reign, the appointment of Rodgers and the start of the new season. For some fans this will be must-watch TV, a rare chance to witness the inner machinations of the club we love. For others – myself very much included – it is something to be dreaded.

For many my age the football documentary begins and ends with An Impossible Job, the 1994 fly-on-the-wall account of England’s attempt to reach that year’s World Cup Finals in America, under the stewardship of Graham Taylor. There have been others, but no football documentary has had such a destructive impact on its subject’s career (and indeed life) as An Impossible Job. Almost overnight Taylor went from being thought of as a decent manager who was merely the latest in a long line to fail with the national side to being a near-unemployable laughing stock.

It’s difficult not to fear a similar fate befalling Dalglish. For starters, the last few months of 2011/12 were not successful, an FA Cup semi-final win over Everton notwithstanding. Therefore the narrative (and with the documentary being made by Fox we can assume it will be an extremely simplified narrative) will be how Kenny failed, had to be sacked and now the club can go forward with renewed hope. This would be to do a massive disservice to a club legend and in particular his second spell as manager.

For starters, the filming time-frame doesn’t take in the Carling Cup success, although it may get a mention in passing. But more crucially it won’t mitigate the circumstances behind the poor league finish. Somehow I can’t imagine phrases like ‘the absence of a clinical finisher’ and ‘the width of the woodwork’ being used in a Fox ‘soccer’ documentary – aimed primarily at a US audience – to explain away Liverpool’s poor league position. What’s more likely is Dalglish’s reign will be portrayed as one big blooper reel. How Kenny emerges from this documentary will form the basis for how lots of young Liverpool fans remember the greatest player in our history and one of our greatest managers. I fear the worst.

But more pertinently will be how the documentary affects Rodgers. As if taking over the reins at one of the biggest clubs in world football, with no comparable experience behind you, isn’t tough enough, Rodgers has had to learn the ropes with a camera trained on his every move. This simply cannot have helped. Not only has Rodgers had to come to terms with the tenfold increase in media coverage of his job performance, he has had to come to terms with justifying his every move.

Thankfully the filming period only takes in two league games of the new season and therefore whatever additional difficulties the documentary has presented to Rodgers will be minimised, but the question remains: how was this documentary allowed in the first place?

Clearly a manager as schooled as Dalglish in the Liverpool tradition of keeping things ‘in-house’ would never have willingly agreed to the documentary, much less suggested it in the first place. Unfortunately for Kenny the idea was floated at a time when he was in a position of weakness on the back of the Suarez-Evra affair and having all but conceded Champions League qualification. It’s extremely doubtful the documentary would have received the green light had Suarez being exonerated and the reds been third in the table at the time. Obviously the owners were the driving force behind the decision to make the documentary and in doing so compromised the welfare of the first team squad.

When asked for the reason the club agreed to the documentary being made, Tom Werner said: ”I come from a background where the more supporters get to know the inside workings of the club the more they are interested in the club itself”, suggesting apathy was prevalent among the Liverpool fan base. Clearly this is a red herring; the reason is simple – money.

Whilst it’s encouraging that the owners are showing imagination and thinking outside of the box in terms of increasing the club’s commercial revenue, interfering with first team affairs can never be justified. If the presence of cameras in the dressing room inhibits even one player from seeking clarification of tactics or the manager to hold back on a motivational team talk (both very real fears), then clearly the cameras shouldn’t be there.

Whether we like it or not Alex Ferguson remains the template of how to manage in the modern age and it was therefore telling that Hills quoted odds of 100/1 for a similar access-all-areas documentary to be made at United. Ferguson understands the sacrosanctity of the dressing room and how easily that can be undermined by the presence of people who, quite simply, have no business being there. How many times over the years have we heard players of other teams mention the words ‘the gaffer said …. at half time’? Now compare that to United’s players, who know better than to repeat a single syllable of anything that’s uttered within the four walls of their dressing room.

Regardless of how sympathetic the documentary may turn out to be towards Kenny and his sacking (which many fans still believe to be of questionable justification), no matter how far the filmmakers slinked into the background for Rodgers’ first few months in the job, there can never be a valid reason for opening a team’s dressing room doors to the public. The strong mutual trust Ferguson and his players have developed over time owes in no small part to the conclave-like secrecy of the United dressing room. That Liverpool’s owners have decided to surrender theirs for the sake of a few dollars is something we should all be deeply worried about.

Paul Cantwell



  1. Everyone knew about about when Fergie threw a mug of tea across the dressing room or a boot at someone or gave them the “hairdryer”. Pathetic nonsense and a waste of time in writing or reading. This is more about you making a name for yourself than about the club and I find it rather bog headed of you to make assumptions on behalf of LFC fans and staff. How much do you get paid to sell your soul?

  2. Here’s the thing, the only thing FSG are ultimately concerned about is a return on investment. They see the TV programme as a means of creating a demand in new markets…The author of this piece is ‘right on the money’ – and it is reasonable to suppose that should Rodgers not have at least a few successful games that there will be a backlash of some sort. The most obvious being the mismatch between local (Liverpool based) support and globalisation. Scousers will react if they believe that their team is being short changed and micro managed according to the restrictions of absent owners (Bellamy’s wages mostly being paid at Cardiff? A reported loan fee of £5 million for Suhin?Carroll being touted about the place and unable to sign Dempsey because £7 million is too much) – it all smacks of desperation to trim to the nth degree wages and commitments. The way that Dalglish left is more than a cause for concern it is still quite simply outrageous. Spartacus wake up and ‘smell the coffee’ as they say and as for the article it’s fair comment.

  3. I never claimed to be representing all LFC fans, I clearly state that some fans will welcome the documentary. I am writing from the perspective of other LFC fans who do not welcome it (and I use the plural advisedly – I know of several fans who share my concerns). It’s an opinion piece, not a hard news story.

    As for Ferguson, one dressing room incident from 25 years being made public and that was only due to it involving Beckham, a person never able to pass up the opportunity of making the front page of the next day’s papers. This one incident aside, what do we know? A lot less than the world will know of Brendan Rodgers dressing room in a few weeks time!

    There is a reason William Hills quoted 100/1……….

  4. Personally I think you’re over reacting. BR thrives under pressure. He loves it, he’s said this many times. Also this team needs to find creative sources of income because of stadium issues, lack of champ league, etc. be glad these guys are thInkIng outside the box bringing in extra income. It will help in the long run. Besides all that, I want to see it! : )

  5. Fivelamps? Is that not Waterloo in the suburbs of Liverpool? I am from Liverpool too. And who was complaining when these owners saved the club from going under? Funny how fickle folk get when they think they own something that does not belong to them! They were selling us out when they removed the burden of debt from the club where they? The author of this article is short sighted and living in the past although too far back to recall recent events under the previous American owners who were sold out to by “Scousers!” David Moores walked away with many millions and a clear conscience while other people who dragged the club out of that demise are slated for wanting a return on their investment. What a disgrace. And the fact Fergie would never allow the camera’s in is because he would be found out for the true person he is! This a man who welcomed Cantona back with open arms after kicking a fan in front of the cameras and then calls for Suarez to be sacked by Liverpool for not shaking Evra’s hand. Imagine what he is like behind closed doors! How dare you mark him as the epitomy of top quality management and then call our owners soul sellers. Football is a business and look at the way the Glazers run Utd, they line their pockets on the debt of the club! They float £150 million in shares on the New York stock exchange and £75 million goes straight in their pockets with only £25 million actually going on the debt payment! That is a club having it’s soul stripped.

  6. Spartacus, I agree with your points about Moores, the new owners being nothing short of saviours at the time they purchased the club, the Glazers, etc, but what do these have to do with the documentary?!

    Ask yourself this: would you be happy if the club started allowing anyone and everyone to sit in on pre-match team talks providing they stumped up a few quid? What’s the difference between that and the documentary?

    As for your unquestioning support of the owners? Very dangerous (there was a time for about 6 months when Hicks and Gillette had the full backing of the fans – Stars and Stripes on the Kop?!) No matter who they are, all custodians of Liverpool Football Club should always be answerable to the fans

  7. While I may live across the pond, I eat, sleep and breathe Liverpool. News on Liverpool is the top of my agenda every morning. I want to know what is happening inside my beloved team. I may not have made it to the Kop, but watched my North American brethren turn every stadium we played in become a fortress “Anfield.” At the Tottenham game, 90% of the 43k were in Liverpool red; for a friendly, on a sweltering 100 degree day in the middle of August, to watch the likes of Morgan, Ibe, etc.

    Without us and our passion, Liverpool will be unable to return to its glory. I travel all over the world, and I am always boggled by how even in the deepest recess of a 3rd world country I find some kid running around in a barca or man u jersey. Why is it not a Liverpool jersey? Many of them do not understand my passion. For the new generation, the magic of Istanbul and the glory of Anfield are mere tales of a bygone era. If we are to compete without oil money, the fans must supply the resources.

    Having a camera focused on Brendan Rogers’ pre-match talk did not affect Phil Dowd’s ability to referee the game; it did not affect Zoltan Gera’s wonder goal. Perhaps, it has even motivated our players to work harder and to be more respective of the gaffer. When I know I’m being watched, I lift my game; I want to impress. Let us not forget, these are professionals who must justify their spot in the starting lineup, no matter who they are. Even Stevie has said as much. This documentary is not like Man vs Wild where Bear Grylls is put into potentially difficult situations so we can watch him eat a large insect, start a fire with his chest hair and dive off a precipice. This will be thousands of hours of live tape edited into several compelling one-hour episodes with dramatic music and strategically timed slow-mo.

    Many people will watch this documentary. Many of these people will become consumed by the magic that is Liverpool. Many may be fans of other teams who out of sheer curiosity tune in; they will be converted. Many will buy jerseys, tickets and lfc online memberships. This is not a bad thing for Liverpool, many will come off the season ticket waiting list as a new stadium is funded.

    Most will enjoy this documentary, Dalglish will remain a legend and we will all be enthralled to see how Roger’s assumes the mantle. Are you not at least a little bit curious to see his first conversation with Stevie, his attempt to translate Carra and the task of bringing the old “This is Anfield” sign back?

    Perhaps you are not curious about these issues, I am. We can continue to argue about this after I buy you a pint, because that is the true Liverpool Way.

  8. Hi Spartacus – I am always curious even if I am from the north rather than the south…. (part of Liverpool)…am I totally ungrateful for our North American saviours (No) – however I am mindful of the phrase ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ – ask yourself this if the heart and soul of the club have been sold out by Moores, Hicks or FSG who besides people like us are going to care about it? Roll on the brave new world of super athletes and moneyball but you know what? Dalglish, Paisley,Fagin and Shankly took a team put it together and made it work…old players and new – with 20+ goal strikers (!) and goals from all over the bloody pitch…and you know what this aseptic, bloodless, media pleasing ‘on message’ spin makes me feel sick. I don’t care if you think that John Henry and Co are the best thing since sliced bread it does not cut it with me…good luck to Rodgers he’s going to need it…

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