An Open Letter to John W Henry and NESV

Posted by RAWK Editor on October 18, 2010, 12:25:12 PM

Dear John,

Congratulations  on buying Liverpool Football Club. We’re very pleased you’ve bought it. But we’re also full of trepidation.

We’re pleased because you’ve rescued us from, by some considerable distance, the worst owners that Liverpool FC have ever had. We also know what New England Sports Ventures have achieved across the pond with the great Boston Red Sox. We’re hopeful that, on the pitch at least, you can bring some of that kind of success to Anfield.

We’re full of trepidation, however, because of what happened under the men you’ve replaced. Tom Hicks and George Gillett arrived in Liverpool making extravagant promises and literally waving wads of cash. They left having buried our club under a mountain of near-ruinous debt while flinging out personal insults to supporters and blaming everyone for their misfortune apart from themselves. There is a thing called ‘the Liverpool Way’ and we argue endlessly over exactly what it means. But we know when it’s violated. Hicks and Gillett violated it every day. They achieved what many people who know this part of the world would think impossible. They made Liverpudlians hate them.

But the departing owners did leave us one thing, and it’s important to bear it in mind. We’re better educated now. You will find Liverpool supporters with as much passion as ever John, but with a great deal more business acumen than when Hicks and Gillett marched into Anfield. The last three years have made us sadly familiar with ‘leveraged buy-outs’, ‘mezzanine debt’ and, god help us, ‘temporary restraining orders’.  Fans have wised up because the cost of ignorance, under the old regime, was so high.

We hope that you see both these things – the passion and the newly-acquired knowledge – as good things. It’s worth knowing that there probably isn’t a single one of us, if we’d had the money, who wouldn’t have competed with you to buy the club! And as Liverpool supporters we will continue to think of the club ultimately as ours not yours. That may sound cheeky, even silly, but it isn’t. If you’re wise you’ll find a way to use that feeling so that it becomes an advantage. We hope you give serious consideration, for example, to the SOS-Share Liverpool call for an equity stake in the club and for supporter representation on the board. Such things should have happened a long time ago in British football. They already happen at the most successful clubs in Germany and Spain. It would be a great and memorable thing if you were to pioneer such a change and be the architect of a new football constitution at Liverpool.   

You will know this we're sure. Football clubs have enormous value but they don’t always make economic sense. That our league clubs have defied the economic odds and survived from their mid-Victorians origins is as much due to the fact that they are great cultural and civic institutions as commercial enterprises. That’s not to say they don‘t represent untapped economic potential. Liverpool FC in particular, with its global reach, must be capable of generating a huge amount of revenue. If things go well on the pitch it ought, with its ‘epic’ prestige, to be able to go toe-to-toe in the markets with Manchester United and Real Madrid. On the pitch we tend to knock those teams out. There’s no reason why the same shouldn’t apply in the world of business. But ultimately LFC is not a commodity. It’s not even a franchise or a brand. It is a football club.

It is a unique one of course. You will receive lots of advice, and enjoy many insights, over the coming months about what makes Liverpool so special. The legacy of Shankly and Paisley, of Liddell and Dalglish, of Rome and Istanbul. We have experienced great things and long to experience them again – this time with you.

A final word of advice John. Analyse the club, see how it can be better organised, but don’t try and control everything. There’s a divine spark to Liverpool and it should be left alone. It is best represented by the Kop when the Kop is at its best. The Kop is as famous as the team itself.  For Bill Shankly, of course, it was part of the team – the famous ‘12th man’. But it’s a creature of improvisation. Nobody handed out song sheets, told the Kopites to wear scarves, asked them to bring flags. They just did these things. The place grew to what it was pretty much because it was left alone to express the spirit of the city.

All the club did – and it was hugely important – was to keep ticket prices as low as possible so that the beating heart of the club – working-class Liverpool - could afford to stand on its steps and latterly sit on its seats. We hope and expect when we move to a new stadium in the park, or renovate and upgrade Anfield (a groundshare with Everton will never be accepted of course), that those people will not be priced out.

Those who are able to spend a lot of money on Liverpool FC merchandise and corporate boxes, and those who maintain the culture of the club, which so impresses the world, are not always the same people. Don’t lose touch with what’s important.

We feel sure you won’t.

Welcome to Liverpool. It ought to be the greatest experience of your life. One day, we hope, you’ll know what is like to travel to the other end of Europe with 50,000 friends.

You’ll Never Walk Alone,

RAWK

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