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Spirit of Shankly on cusp of historic agreement with Liverpool FC

The LFC Supporters Union is on the verge finalising its legally-binding agreement with Liverpool FC.

Imagine the scene, just weeks after the collapse of the calamitous European Super League, high-level representatives of Fenway Sports Group, including Liverpool FC CEO, Billy Hogan, are sat around a table with Liverpool supporters, attempting to find a way forward and rebuild trust.

Spirit of Shankly’s negotiating team, which includes the union’s Chair, Joe Blott, list the issues at stake, and in doing so the damage that had been wrought to supporter confidence and faith in the ownership by the ill-fated breakaway league is laid bare.

The stakes could not be higher. The relationship that had been established between the club and Spirit of Shankly over a number of years had never looked more precarious.

You might imagine a tense standoff, fists banging on tables and raised voices, but instead the mood was sombre and determined, with both sides seeking to rebuild what had been created rather than tearing it all down. FSG had found themselves with a problem of their own making, and Spirit of Shankly had a solution that offered a mutually beneficial way forward.

European Super League protest, Anfield (PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

“The relationship we had before all of this had been good,” Blott explains to This Is Anfield.

“We’d been having talks and engaging with the club on various issues in the weeks before they announced they would be joining the European Super League, so the news came as a huge surprise.

“We felt there were any number of opportunities for them to discuss it with us – if they had, we’d have told them it was a huge mistake and that supporters would never support the idea.”

The way forward clearly lay in ensuring that in future supporters are properly consulted on issues of this magnitude, and beyond that the club should not be able to proceed on such “existential” matters like a European Super League, ground moves and ground shares without seeking the consent of supporters.

Blott reflects on the early days of discussions as the Supporters Union set out its position:

“We view the club as belonging to the fans and the community. We needed a way to ensure that the club had a legal obligation to consult and seek consent on issues that directly affect the future of the club and impact on supporters and the community.”

 

‘Supporters on the board’

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 21, 2021: Liverpool supporters on the Spion Kop sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Burnley FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Many of us have used the phrase ‘supporters on the board’ as a rallying cry, demanding the right of fan representatives to be involved at the highest level of the club.

However, for Spirit of Shankly, there was a growing realisation that such a proposition was fraught with difficulties.

“FSG is such a complex organisation with many investors and interests,” explains Blott. “There was a real risk that supporter representatives sitting on a board like that would potentially have their voice diluted. There’s also the issue of independence and influence.”

Board members are mutually accountable for decisions made as a result of a majority vote, which raised the unwelcome prospect of any supporter representative being forced to defend board decisions they did not agree with and had not voted for.

Says Blott: “Imagine having to go into the 12th Man pub after a board meeting, and finding yourself explaining why the club has just decided to sell Mo Salah. I don’t want to do that and no supporter should.”

 

Supporters Board – Explained

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 17, 2010: Liverpool's owner John W. Henry and co-owner and NESV Chairman Tom Werner during the 214th Merseyside Derby match at Goodison Park. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Instead, what has been secured safeguards supporter independence and ensures that a newly created supporters board, which will be truly representative of the fanbase, made up of 16 democratically elected members.

With Spirit of Shankly formally recognised as the club’s official Supporters Trust, they will hold 10 of those places and the remaining seats will go to representatives of the Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association, Kop Outs, Spion Kop 1906, the Official Liverpool Supporters Committee, Liverpool Womens’ Supporter’s Committee and from faith and ethnic groups.

Another feature of the agreement is that it will be formally written into the club’s articles of association, something that Spirit of Shankly argue future-proofs the relationship between supporters and the club and prevents future owners from ripping up the agreement.

The deal now obliges the club to meet with the supporters board regularly, explains Blott:

“We will have a monthly meeting with the local FSG board members, and we will have an annual meeting with the full FSG/LFC management board.

“We will have early access to accounts, strategic plan or anything that affects our football club or the L4 community.

“This agreement also allows us to lead on strategic issues, rather than waiting for the club to engage with us, we can initiate on issues that matter to supporters.”

 

More than government agreement

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, June 25, 2020: Liverpool supporters congregate outside the famous Spion Kop at Anfield as they celebrate after their side were crowned Premier League Champions following Manchester City's defeat by Chelsea. The supporters have waited 30 years for this their 19th Championship title. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

So what does this all mean, what difference will it make? Would FSG or any future owners simply be able to ride roughshod over the wishes of fans, and sign up to a new incarnation of the European Super League, for example?

The answer is emphatic: no.

Under the agreement, the consent of supporters would be needed on this and other issues – and this arrangement would be legally binding.

It would be written into the club’s articles of association, meaning that even in the event that FSG sell the club, the framework would remain through a transfer of undertakings.

Impressively, Liverpool supporters seem to be on the verge of securing a deal with the club that goes further than the government’s own proposals.

Tory MP Tracey Crouch has been leading a fan-led review into the future of English football, and proposals were published just days before SOS put their proposals to their AGM. Examination of the government report reveal recommendations for a ‘golden share’, fan veto and the introduction of shadow boards to give fans more power over decision making on specific issues.

SOS’s own plan, produced through negotiation with FSG, is clearly ahead of the curve and likely to serve as a beacon to other clubs and their supporters. Rather than having to wait for ministerial approval and embark on negotiations, Spirit of Shankly and the club have already mapped out a way forward and can get straight to work.

Blott concludes: “We think that we are in a strong position and think that we have got a more than mirror image of the Tracey Crouch review. We think it is important we get this mobilised and get this underway as soon as possible.”

SOS members also seem keen to move the proposals forward, with the motion detailing the deal passing at the union’s AGM in Liverpool on Saturday, November 27.

It is now hoped hoped that the wider membership will ratify the agreement at an online meeting taking place soon. If the deal is secured, a legal framework will then be developed to establish the new engagement at the earliest opportunity.

In truth, the agreement secured by SOS is hugely significant and does go further than the Crouch led review and offers more than the creation of a vague “shadow board”.

Indeed the creation of the Liverpool FC Supporters Board will represent a huge milestone in the history of our club and football in general.

It will lead to the creation of a truly representative body able to advocate on behalf of fans and ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated. It surely secures Liverpool supporters’ position as the vanguard of supporter engagement.

SOS, their affiliates and Liverpool FC have come a long way in a short space of time. Out of the ashes of the European Super League, they have built something that has the potential to be truly groundbreaking and change football forever.

We should all wish them well as they finalise the agreement. They deserve all of our thanks.

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