I appreciate the title of this post may seem at best ironic, at worst like sour grapes, after the 3-0 drubbing at Eastlands on Monday night but it started swimming around my head before that match had even kicked off.
I was listening to the Sunday Roast on BBC Radio 5 Live and on that programme, a City fan said he worried that all the money was “sucking the soul out” of the club. I thought to myself “you’re right – it’s already happened at Chelsea”.
Here’s the thing: it’s not the so-called “fans” who latch onto these clubs when they get a backer with seemingly unlimited resources for whom I feel sorry (although they have their issues such as why they are so dependent on success to follow a club) but the genuine fans, the ones who were there before, who have followed their clubs through thick and thin and who now see the clubs they love being turned into the plaything of someone with the money to create the sort of merry-go-round of players the City of Manchester Stadium has been witness to over the last 12 months.
I also feel sorry for Manchester United fans from Manchester – both of them! As a fan of Liverpool, I have no small dislike for the club I refer to as “Surrey Utd” but it’s hard to not have a grudging respect for their dominance in English football in the pre-Abramovich era. Sure, they were favoured by Sky since the creation of the Premier League and referees have largely leaned in their direction over the last few years. The thing is that they also had a squad that was based on a good academy system, that bred success which in turn generated revenue, which allowed the squad to built upon and so on… That attracted the Glazers. Here, as a Liverpool fan, I have a lot of sympathy for United fans – the Glazers have loaded that club up with their own debts in the same way as Hicks and Gillett have done at Anfield. Both clubs have been placed in seriously precarious situations financially because the football authorities in England didn’t have the guts to properly apply fit and proper persons tests to these American “investors”.
It’s worth noting that, although Abramovich has not set about asset-stripping Chelsea in the same way that the Americans have done in the North-West, it’s a similar tale of financial danger in West London. Chelsea were, before everyone’s favourite oligarch rolled into town, doing things the “right way”. They played good football, won some cup competitions – both domestically and in Europe – and generally matched the expectations one had for a club of their stature. That’s what attracted the interest from Russia. Most of the money that has been spent by the Stamford Bridge club has been loaned by Abramovich, putting their level of indebtedness as a result of their ownership arrangements on a par with United and Liverpool.
All this has a bearing on what I think about the current question of who will buy Liverpool. The accepted wisdom is that Liverpool needs an Abramovich or Mansour to compete with the other big-spending clubs in the Premier League. That may well be true but I’m not sure I want to compete if it means becoming like Chelsea or Manchester City. I find myself thinking about some words of Jesus on this point:
What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? (Matthew 16.26 (TNIV))
Back when Liverpool were dominating English football in the 1970s and 1980s, they were the biggest spending club. This spending was done in the right way though. There are two valid options for football clubs to raise money in my view. Firstly, through success breeding success and secondly if a genuine fan of the club wishes to spend their own money. What I hope for from the current attempts to sell the club is the latter of those. Failing that, someone who will rescue the club from Tom and George and stabilise the finances so that the former can happen. That may mean a generation in the wilderness of English football but at least we’ll still have our soul and will be able to honestly sing You’ll Never Walk Alone.