The Spirit of Shankly statement on Wednesday afternoon summed up the feelings of Liverpool supporters pretty aptly. “We have noted John Henry’s apology, but this PR exercise is too little, too late,” it read. The damage has already been done by the grimmest cash grab the sport of football has seen yet.
One of Liverpool’s most notable supporters groups, Spirit of Shankly (SOS), made their feelings abundantly clear throughout the 48-period in which the European Super League became a reality that threatened the entire sport before burning into a spectacular fireball as clubs fell like dominoes.
SOS said at one point on Tuesday, before Liverpool became one of nine sides to pull out of the 12-team breakaway league: “We are calling on the FSG board to withdraw our club from this catastrophic idea and consider their positions with immediate effect.”
That was similar to the sentiment of club legend Jamie Carragher, who too feels that Fenway Sports Group’s relationship with the Liverpool fanbase may now be irreparable, the fact they backtracked completely irrelevant.
Speaking on Sky Sports on Tuesday, the iconic former centre-back said: “They can’t just leave the club, because it’s a business, it’s worth a lot of money, but I don’t see a future of FSG at Liverpool anymore. You just think it will be worse for them the longer they hang in.
“Jurgen Klopp has said [him leaving] will not be happening but I do not see how John Henry can sit in that wonderful Main Stand he was a big part in building, I don’t know how he sits there and watches the game.
“He doesn’t come too often, him, Tom Werner, his wife, Linda, I don’t see how they can come to the club on the back of this because it will never be forgotten.
“I think the best thing is for them to find maybe a buyer, I’m not sure how easy it is. But it will be very difficult for them to have any sort of relationship with Liverpool supporters and the club going forward.”
And while Henry promised to do whatever possible to keep the ‘Liverpool football family’ intact in his video message posted on the club’s social media channels on Wednesday, there may be no way back for the Americans at Anfield now.
This gigantic misjudgement follows an attempt to introduce £77 ticket prices in 2016, an effort to copyright the word Liverpool in July 2019, the plan to sign up to a Conservative Government’s furlough scheme in April 2020 and their support for Project Big Picture in October 2020.
Every single scheme or idea contrasted the beliefs of the club’s predominantly socialist local fanbase and also went against the historic values of the club, which was built up into a ‘bastion of invincibility’ in the 1960s and 70s by the great Bill Shankly, a proud and staunch socialist.
While FSG have overseen so much on-pitch and off-pitch progress during their 11-year ownership, which has yielded a sixth European Cup and a first league title in 30 years as well as the new Main Stand and a state-of-the-art new training ground, their latest mistake is seismic. It’s also one too many.
It is increasingly difficult to see how they repair their relationship with the club’s supporters, the vast bulk of whom rightly still feel betrayed by the plan to ever join a Super League and abandon the Champions League, Liverpool’s favourite competition with which they have so much cherished history.
Even a big-money buy like Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe won’t do it. At least, it will not rectify FSG’s decision-making with the vast majority of fans, those most hurt by the failed ESL plot.
Liverpool have been tenuously linked to the in-demand duo for some time, with Borussia Dortmund’s Haaland likely to command a fee of at least £130million this summer if he leaves the Signal Iduna Park.
Paris Saint-Germain are desperate not to lose Mbappe and it would cost a similar amount to steal him away from the French capital although he is out of contract in 2022.
The finances involved in either deal are astronomical, rendering the links to Liverpool dubious, given the way the club have operated in their decade under their Boston-based owners and the financial impact of Covid-19.
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Would FSG change tact to try to win back over the Liverpool support? It probably can’t be ruled out. They are after all dealing with the strongest backlash they have faced yet, and one that should have been so painfully obvious. The ESL was never going to be accepted.
“It goes without saying but should be said that the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans,” Henry said on Wednesday – essentially acknowledging that he and his fellow Super League architects knew what was coming. They still tried to force it through anyway.
Why did they not think of the fans before getting themselves into such a mess? Money. It’s that simple. As a founding club they would have been guaranteed Super League status every year, unlike in the Champions League, where the right to play in the club game’s most prestigious competition has to be earned.
That disregard for sporting integrity and tradition will never be forgotten – and so it shouldn’t. Jurgen Klopp and James Milner made their feelings clear on the matter on Monday night away at Leeds United, with FSG even going against their own staff with their decision.
“I like the competitive element of football, I like the fact that West Ham might play Champions League next year, no problem, I don’t want them to to be honest, because we want to, but I like that they have the chance,” said Klopp.
Milner meanwhile declared succinctly: “I can only say my personal opinion – I don’t like it and hopefully, it doesn’t happen.”
That was a stance shared by his Liverpool team-mates, who posted in unison on social media on Tuesday night a statement which read: “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen. This is our collective position.