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Dear John Henry: A letter from a Liverpool ‘legacy fan’

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Jeff Goulding is an Anfield season ticket holder for over four decades – he is a so-called ‘legacy fan’. This is his message to Liverpool FC owner John W. Henry.

Dear John,

Apologising when you’ve made a mistake takes courage and I know it can be difficult. So, in this respect your video apology to Liverpool’s players, our manager and supporters is welcome. Who among us hasn’t made mistakes?  This though should be a first step and not an end in itself. It should inform future behaviour.

Sadly, though, we’ve been here before. After the £77 ticket hike, the attempt to trademark the Liverbird, and the word Liverpool when used in a football context, and the furlough controversy, you and your organisation issued apologies, backtracked and promised to do better. Yet, here we are again.

Each of these issues have a common thread and are about squeezing as much money from the club as possible. They also reveal a staggering lack of insight into the ethos and philosophy of the club you own and its supporters.

More worryingly perhaps is the fact that your involvement in the failed breakaway Super League suggests that not only do you not understand your own club, but you don’t get English and European football either. There isn’t a single supporter of any club, not one player or manager who, if you had asked them, wouldn’t have told you to swerve this whole idea.

Anyone who has grown up supporting their team from the terraces understands that what makes football special is that success is earned, and the possibility of failure makes victory all the sweeter.

The plan you were involved with would have transformed the game we love into a sterile, meaningless affair devoid of passion. Countless people have fought hard to build this club. We have spent small fortunes in the context of our income to drive it on to success.

Over a period of almost 130 years, on the pitch, in the stands and in the dugout men and women have worn the shirt, sung their songs, and a dynasty of truly great managers have won 19 league titles, and amassed six European Cups. Your reckless actions risked trashing all of that, and for what? More money?

Any Liverpool supporter could have told you that no amount of money could ever compensate for the loss of such a legacy, if only you had asked. Instead, we have faced days of uncertainty and unnecessary angst.

To give you an indication of how hard the last 72 hours have been for many of us, consider this. I have been supporting this club for five decades now. I have lived in and near to Anfield my whole life. This club is a part of who I am and my moods are as aligned to its fortunes as the tides of the Mersey are to the moon. So, being locked out of the stadium I have genuinely come to call home for 12 months has been hard to bear.

A general, aerial view of Anfield (Goodison Park) (PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

One thing that has kept me going throughout lockdown has been my hope, that one day I would take my place on the Kop again. The day I renewed my season ticket was a milestone along the road to normality. Then, on Sunday, it felt like the rug had been pulled from under our feet. Many of us began to wonder if we would even be in the Premier League or Champions League next season. After waiting 30 years for a league title, would we now be stripped of it because of the actions of distant owners. It’s no exaggeration to say I was heartbroken.

Now it’s over. Just like that. You issue your apology and you move on. Until the next time.

I am left wondering, just what were you thinking? Either you knew exactly how we would react and chose to carry on regardless, thinking you could ride out the storm. Or, you simply hadn’t learned from your past experiences. Only you know which, and to be honest I can’t decide which explanation is worse.

The real question though is, where do we go from here? My gut told me to join the chorus suggesting that your ownership is untenable and regardless of the challenges it would create, putting the club up for sale is the only viable option.

However, everything I have witnessed in football since 1992 tells me that we may only be swapping one set of profit-hungry owners for another. As fans, we once more find ourselves between the devil and the deep blue sea. This cannot continue for long before the bond we all feel with this club is broken forever.

I am willing to acknowledge your achievements since 2010. The Main Stand redevelopment, The training base at Kirkby, the plans for Anfield Road, bringing in Jurgen and amassing this incredible squad who have achieved so much, could all be worthy legacies of your ownership.  Sadly, future generations will have to weigh these against the embarrassment and anger caused by your various misadventures, the latest of which has severely damaged our reputation and tarnished our achievements.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Friday, September 9, 2016: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and owner John W. Henry during the Liverpool FC Main Stand opening event at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In your apology, you again mention that you have the clubs interest at heart. I’m reminded of an open letter you sent to Spirit of Shankly in 2012, in which you concluded:

“Finally, I can say with authority that our ownership is not about profit. Contrary to popular opinion, owners rarely get involved in sports in order to generate cash. They generally get involved with a club in order to compete and work for the benefit of their club. It’s often difficult. In our case we work every day in order to generate revenues to improve the club.

“We have only one driving ambition at Liverpool and that is the quest to win the Premier League playing the kind of football our supporters want to see. That will only occur if we do absolutely the right things to build the club in a way that makes sense for supporters, for us and for those who will follow us.

“We will deliver what every long-term supporter of Liverpool Football Club aches for.”

Noble sentiments indeed, and I acknowledge the club has now won the Premier League. However, I would draw your attention to the sentence highlighted. Because, within those words may lie your salvation. If you genuinely want to build the club in a way that makes sense for the supporters and you, then there is a way for FSG to build a more positive legacy.

You must become part of the change that is needed in football. You need to lead and not be bounced into the right thing by protest and sanction. That means supporting and delivering greater supporter involvement at board level. Involving fans representatives more will ensure similar mistakes won’t happen in the future.

You also need to be more proactive on ticket prices, support supporters who travel to matches and advocate for them in negotiations with broadcasters over scheduling. While I don’t speak for Spirit of Shankly or Spion Kop 1906, they do speak for me. I believe that if you engage directly with them in good faith, they will help you to lead, and maybe there will be a way back for you and FSG.

Maybe, Liverpool FC can become a beacon of supporter engagement with fans at the heart of the club’s decision making. What a truly historic legacy that would be.

Of course, this is a letter written more in hope than expectation. In truth, like many fellow supporters, I’m not convinced my words will resonate with you. Prove me wrong.

Jeff Goulding

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