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Why Liverpool’s new Supporters Board can be a “game-changer” for English football

In light of the historic creation of a Liverpool FC Supporters Board this week, fan groups and politicians have been quick to recognise the momentous achievement.

This Is Anfield spoke to many of them to gauge their reaction and share their hopes that this will be the beginning of a transformation in football governance.

Spirit of Shankly, now formally recognised as Liverpool FC’s Official Supporters Trust, have rightly received praise for the work they have done in achieving meaningful supporter engagement with the club at Board level.

However, Chair Joe Blott is keen to point out the importance of the union’s affiliates in shaping the agreement with the club.

Throughout negotiation with the Anfield hierarchy, the SOS team’s negotiating position had been significantly strengthened by the backing of a diverse host of supporters’ groups, meaning they could legitimately claim to be speaking on behalf of the club’s wider support.

 

“This will transform fan engagement”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 6, 2010: A banner featuring the Liverpool supporters union Spirit of Shankly during the Premiership match at Anfield. The 213th Merseyside Derby. (Photo by: David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Ensuring the widest possible engagement across the whole spectrum of supporters was something FSG and Liverpool FC were keen to ensure as they sought to move on from the failed attempt to join a European Super League, and Blott is in no doubt that the unity of purpose from other fan groups played an important role.

“It’s been really important to have our affiliates work with us on this,” he said.

“As well as unity, they’ve provided necessary challenge and governance to the process. It’s been really healthy to report back to them at each stage of the negotiations.

“With their knowledge, experience and insight, we now have a much more rounded and inclusive agreement. This gives a strong foundation for the development of the Supporters Board.”

One of those affiliates is the Merseyside Branch of the Official Liverpool Supporters Club.

Les Lawson, the organisation’s Chair, spoke of their delight at the announcement that a Supporters Board is to be established by Liverpool FC and was keen to reinforce the message of unity between different groups.

“Spirit of Shankly deserve rich praise for all the work they have done to reach this agreement that will transform fan engagement,” said Les.

“As an affiliate of SOS, along with Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association (LDSA), Kop Outs, Spion Kop 1906 and LFC Women’s Supporters Club, we will continue to have input and work together as this ground-breaking launch moves forward. This is great news for all Liverpool supporters.”

 

“It’s good that all affiliates are working together”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 3, 2021: Liverpool supporters' banner "Support & Believe" on the Spion Kop before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Another affiliate, Spion Kop 1906, is a group of supporters who organise flags and banner displays on the Kop during matchdays.

They have also been among the most vocal critics of the earlier ESL debacle, leading a protest in April 2021 which saw all flags and banners removed from the famous stand in protest at the move.

Emphasising that it is early days, the group have welcomed the creation of the Supporters Board and are pleased to have been a part of the process that brought about this landmark agreement.

In a statement, Spion Kop 1906 said:

“We are delighted to be working with Spirit of Shankly and other supporters groups on this, to ensure that fans’ views are represented when strategic decisions are made.

“We’re happy to be involved in the process and it’s good that all affiliates are working together.”

 

“Equality is central to the new board’s ethos”

Equally, the Liverpool Women’s Supporters Club has played a key role in scrutinising the whole process of negotiation and offering constructive feedback each time the SOS negotiating team feedback on progress

BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 26, 2021: Liverpool's Taylor Hinds celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Women’s Championship Round 4 match between Liverpool FC Women and Crystal Palace FC Women at Prenton Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

They also see the opportunity to join the newly created Board as a positive step, which will strengthen their voice going forward.

Jo Goodall, the Chair of LWSC, said:

“We are really pleased to see that the club are listening to fans and are delighted that Spirit of Shankly have welcomed us with open arms.

“Whilst we do have an open dialogue with the club already, being a part of the SOS Supporters Board gives us additional support and strengthens our engagement to ensure that our views will be listened to and that the women’s team will be treated fairly and considered in all future plans.”

Ted Morris, the Chair of the Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association feels that the new arrangement will help put the needs of disabled supporters at the heart of decision-making at the club.

Ted also believes that the move will help ensure a brighter future for a whole new generation of disabled supporters. He told This Is Anfield:

“This is a major step forward for our disabled supporters.

“To know that our fellow supporter groups and Liverpool FC placed such significance in including the LDSA from the very outset of these discussions showed that they take disability seriously and care about their disabled supporters.

“We believe that our junior disabled supporters should be able to enjoy the same right of passage supporting LFC as non-disabled supporters, we believe that this is a significant step in making that a reality.”

Similarly, Kop Outs, a group that campaigns on behalf of Liverpool’s LGBT+ supporters, also sees this as a hugely significant step in ensuring that all sections of the fanbase are represented and that their voice is heard.

Founder member, Paul Amann, told us:

“Kop Outs are pleased to be part of these developments. This helps ensure that the needs of LGBT+ fans are heard from the beginning.

“That equality is central to the new board’s design and ethos.

“This board builds on our work with our allies and realises the ambitions to work with others to keep our club inclusive and accountable.”

It is clear that the new Supporters Board at Anfield will represent a diverse range of views and interests.

It will also include representation from faith and ethnic groups, ensuring that no supporter’s voice will be left behind.

 

“It showed that we need a reset”

Fans protest against the Super League and it eventually led to its collapse within 48 hours of the announcement (Zac Goodwin/PA)

However, the importance of the move has not been lost on the city’s representatives in Parliament and others.

Dan Carden, the Labour MP for Walton, whose constituency hosts both of the city’s historic football clubs, had previously penned a letter to Liverpool FC’s owners back in April.

Written on behalf of all 18 Merseyside MPs, the letter expressed objections to the club’s involvement in the ESL and called on FSG to immediately withdraw from it.

In light of the progress made by both club and supporters’ groups, Mr Carden has since tweeted: “The new Supporters Board, backed by Spirit of Shankly, is a very positive step in the right direction.”

Speaking to This Is Anfield, he also told us of his hope that this was just the beginning for football in general, and he encouraged other clubs to follow suit:

“The European Super League debacle was the end of a long road of commercialisation that is tearing football away from the working-class communities that built it.

“It showed that we need a reset.

“The groundbreaking agreement between LFC and fan groups to introduce a new Supporters Board is very positive and a credit to the supporters who never stopped pushing for greater democratic participation.

“I hope to see more clubs taking steps to give supporters a real say in how clubs are run.

“The Fan Led Review of Football Governance presents an opportunity to safeguard the future of English football in the interests of those who follow and love the game that must not be missed.”

 

“I feel this is a game-changer…”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 18, 2021: Liverpool supporters celebrates after the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Ian Byrne MP, co-founder of Fans Supporting Foodbanks, a member of the Spirit of Shankly Committee and MP for the Parliamentary constituency of West Derby in Liverpool, agrees that the new governance structure at Anfield is of national significance.

He was also keen to put on record his gratitude to the local representatives of Fenway Sports Group, who he believes showed a genuine commitment to move on from the mistakes of the past:

“I feel this is a game-changer for both Liverpool supporters and supporter engagement nationally.

“The framework created in this agreement can be utilised by any football club and supporter representatives.

“It begins to rebalance the scales of power to the supporter base and it’s a proud day for all the affiliates involved in this agreement.

“I would also thank the local element of FSG for the good faith and genuine desire for change after the ESL debacle. It’s an opportunity supporters must now grasp and ensure our influence and voices are never ignored again.”

Adding his voice to the chorus of approval, former Shadow Chancellor and Liverpool supporter John McDonnell MP also tweeted: “Well done to Spirit of Shankly and all involved in securing this breakthrough agreement.”

In a sign that football supporters around the country will indeed be looking to the model created at Anfield with interest, the Football Supporters Association, which was consulted as part of the government’s ‘Fan Led Review’ of the governance of the game, tweeted in response to the announcement:

The significance of this agreement cannot be underestimated. We can only hope that it leads to wider change for all supporters of the game.

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