In a landmark move that has the potential to reshape football governance for years to come, Liverpool FC and supporters’ union Spirit of Shankly have struck a legally binding deal on the creation of a new Supporters Board.
The move, which received an astonishing 98.94 percent vote of approval at a recent SOS Annual General Meeting, marks the end of months of negotiations dating back to the immediate aftermath of FSG’s abortive attempt to join a European Super League, and will be seen as a remarkable turnaround in relations between club and supporters.
The historic agreement will see the creation of a 16-strong Supporters Board led by Spirit of Shankly (SOS), who are now legally recognised as the Liverpool Football Club’s Official Supporters Trust, holding 10 of those seats.
The remainder will be occupied by:
- Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association
- Kop Outs
- Spion Kop 1906
- Official Liverpool Supporters Clubs
- Liverpool Women’s Supporters Committee
- Faith and ethnic groups
SOS will be responsible for ensuring the widest possible supporter representation is achieved, which should allay fears expressed by some that the Supporters Board may not address their interests.
Emphasising the formal nature of the agreement, the Board will have a chair and vice-chair with each “elected from the members of the Supporters Board by the members of the Supporters Board.”
There will be regular meetings with the club, with the Board’s chair invited to attend the club’s main board meetings when strategic issues directly affecting supporters are on the agenda.
In a move designed to ensure that supporters and club officials can continue to discuss “day-to-day matters” on a regular basis, the existing fan forums will be reshaped into three working groups to cover ticketing, matchday experience and equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I), and where necessary issues arising can be brought to the Supporters Board for discussion.
What will doubtless be regarded as a truly groundbreaking feature of the deal is the agreement by all parties to place the arrangement on a legal footing and secure its future irrespective of any change in ownership, ensuring that what has been achieved by the club and SOS goes way beyond a mere “shadow board” recommended by the recent fan-led review instigated by Tracey Crouch MP.
The club statement continues:
“The new engagement process will be enshrined in the club’s Articles of Association and a legally binding Memorandum of Understanding between the club and the Official Liverpool Supporters Trust will be entered into, thereby ensuring supporters input on fan issues via structured dialogue.”
The club’s view
Liverpool CEO, Billy Hogan, thanked supporters’ groups for their engagement, and outlined the journey the club and SOS had been on for several years:
“The idea for the Supporters Board came from an understanding and recognition that there was a lack of engagement with supporters on some important fan-facing issues and that was something we wanted to address.
“We had the ability to engage directly with a number of our different supporter groups, and we started with our official Supporters Trust, Spirit of Shankly.
“There has been a tremendous amount of engagement with our fans and supporters across the last several years, particularly the work that went into Kyiv and Madrid, a lot of engagement around the Club World Cup, and issues such as equality, diversity and inclusion, ticketing issues and our sanctions process.
“There is a lot of engagement, but it was clear that we needed to address our levels of dialogue and put a process in place that was more formal.
“This has been a healthy process with a lot of engagement, and ultimately we’re really proud of where we’ve ended up. We think the Supporters Board concept is a really good one and it allows us to engage in a really meaningful way.
“I do just want to say a huge thank you to all the different groups that we’ve engaged with to get to this point.”
Just a matter of months ago, few supporters could have envisaged such progress in such a short space of time.
That all parties have managed to get the agreement over the line is evidence of the hard work and commitment of all involved to move on from what was a low point in the club’s history.
‘Hold the club to account but work in harmony’
As previously reported by This is Anfield, the deal that has now taken shape delivers on all aspects of the government’s fan-led review, published just a week ago, and goes further still.
Joe Blott, chair of Spirit of Shankly, was keen to emphasise this in a statement released on the club’s official website:
“We’ve been working really hard as a union to work alongside the club, to hold the club to account but at the same time to work in harmony to try and get the best for supporters.
“The Supporters Board will be led by democracy, with an invitation to affiliate groups, not individuals, so when you work on the Supporters Board, you’re operating at a level of speaking on behalf of supporters, not just yourself.
“The key differences now the Supporters Board is in action will firstly be strategy, because we as a fan organisation can now take issues to the club, the opportunity to be strategic.
“Here we also have a broader aspect of fan representation, anybody can have a voice and be part of one of these affiliate groups.
“The club also wants to retain elements of the separate working groups, such as the ticketing working group, equal opportunities, and it’s important that they can pick up day-to-day issues that will feed into and inform the Supporters Board strategy, which then informs the engagement with the club.
“Another feature of the agreement is that it will be formally written into the club’s articles of association, which future-proofs the relationship between supporters as it would form part of any transfer of undertaking to new owners.
“We’ve come such a long way from the challenges of the past, and it was critically important to make sure the supporter voice is heard.
“We know that fan representation is critically important to maintaining football. I think what we have now is a real synergy and organisational approach that ensures stronger representation and greater engagement.”
What comes next?
In the coming weeks, Liverpool Football Club and its supporter representatives will set up the necessary structures to ensure that the new Board is in place as soon as possible.
There will undoubtedly be many more challenges ahead, and it is unrealistic to think that the football club and Supporters Board will always see eye to eye in all areas.
However, this game-changing agreement ensures a stronger voice for fans of the club and all parties should be congratulated for creating what promises to represent a new benchmark in football governance.
The eyes of all those with an interest in supporter engagement will now no doubt be focused squarely on Anfield.
It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to make this historic agreement work.