Monday, 18 October 2010

An open letter to John W. Henry

Dear Mr Henry,

Blundell; Hill, Fleche, Bolland, McKenna; Gardner, Henderson, Dulaimi, Heaton; Andrews, Cummins

I recently wrote an open letter with similar intentions to Stephen Hester of Royal Bank of Scotland. Please accept my apologies in advance if this letter is a bit more disjointed than that one - I’m still rubbing sleep from my eyes. I’ve just awoken from a three-year nightmare.

I don’t expect you to know the relevance of the 11 names printed above. This is no ill reflection on you – few others would know either.

The names above are not the starting 11 of a pre-war side that ran out against Bradford Park Avenue, nor is it the substitutes bench of one of our extremely talented youth sides.

They are supporters of Liverpool Football Club.

In my letter to Mr Hester, I recalled the starting 11 of the first match I attended. Port Vale, October 1991. Sat at my computer, I shut my eyes and visualised my surroundings as a four-year-old boy, scrunching them tighter to help heave my memories of those Subbuteoesque silhouettes on the Anfield turf to the surface of my consciousness.

But what I remember with less effort and more vibrancy than the 11 on the pitch were the 20,000 who surrounded me off it.

That’s not to disparage the players, of course; but when a supporter engages with the Kop for the first time, they become part of a brotherhood or sisterhood. Spiritual contracts signed by all that state we will uphold the traditions of our predecessors, and persevere to teach our inheritors about dignity, loyalty and respect.

I can’t name the substitutes bench when we played Port Vale, but I can reel off yet more names who this football club can call upon: Smith, Edwards, Roberts, Naughton, Dhakal-Woolfall, Nelson, Crane, Barrett, Cook, Spreag, Jaggs, Ballard, Watson, O’Shea. The list could, quite literally, go on and on.

Some of these supporters I consider my closest allies while others I’ve only met sparingly. There are even a few whom I’ve never met at all. But we’re all united by the common bond of wanting what’s best for our football club and of acting in its best interests; we all subscribe to Bill Shankly’s idea of socialism of helping out each other and sharing the rewards.

In the next few months, you will hear an oft-repeated cliché: Liverpool fans are the most knowledgeable in the world. This extends far beyond knowing Christian Poulsen’s birthplace or how many international caps Dirk Kuyt has earned (Asanaes and 73, in case you're wondering).

Our knowledge comes from that aforementioned dignity, loyalty and respect bred on the Kop. It comes from an appreciation of the sport we have watched since we were youths; from Alonso to Ziege, we appreciate the game in its simplest form.

We appreciate football is played 11 versus 11; sometimes the better 11 win, sometimes the better 11 don’t. We appreciate those who tackle with ferocity, pass with finesse and finish with flair. We appreciate the time we have afterwards to sit with our friends and talk about these things. It’s a simple ritual for a simple game.

Three years ago, two men overcomplicated our simple sport; the one-time beautiful game manifested into two ugly heads, coins and bank notes dripping from their grotesque mouths like a constant stream of acidic, poisonous drool.

They took our simple game and our simple football club, and they almost destroyed it. The promises they broke, the debt they accumulated, the world class players they caused to be sold and taking an 118-year institution to the High Court twice – all of this wounded Liverpool Football Club and will leave scars that will take years to heal.

But most damagingly of all, it was the heart of the club, the supporters, that nearly stopped beating when they wrenched it from the Liverbird’s chest.

No longer did we discuss full backs without worrying about finances; we worried more about RBS’ right hand man than we did John Arne Riise’s right foot.

Last week, we watched nervously at the Guardian’s minute-by-minute coverage of one of the most importance matches in our history. But the bar being struck was not made of metal, and the judge was not a trite name for a ruthless referee.

Pars of litigation and terminology filled both our computer screens and our minds. Lads from Aintree became part-time accountants; boys from Bootle became makeshift barristers. It was never meant to be like that.

The supporters of Liverpool Football Club did not become so to understand business. It was meant to be a simple game; this was meant to be a simple football club.

Now, thankfully, we feel we’ve got it back. The Liverbird’s feathers are displayed proudly once more as it looks out over the city, and its heart is beating as strong as it has in a long time.

Liverpool, as a city, has always grown stronger during times of distress, and as a direct result, so have the supporters of the football club. We eventually united through hatred for Tom Hicks and George Gillett and through realising the thing we hold closest to our hearts very nearly evaporated. Spirit of Shankly, Save LFC and other groups united to save our football club.

Never again will we take Liverpool FC for granted.

You will learn a lot about Bill Shankly, as well. You will learn he was a great, humble and intelligent man. You will learn about his views on socialism and how the socialism we believe in is not really politics, but a way of living. You will realise several of our supporters subscribe to it, and that's why our team is the only team that will always stick together; that's why we are the only team you can ever fully rely upon.

The Kop has witnessed players such as Liddell, Yeats, Dalglish, Rush, Fowler, Torres, Carragher and Gerrard. But when they've gone, or when they go, the Kop still remains.

We very nearly crumbled under the intense pressure of modern football, under the weight and strain of two men overcomplicating our simple sport.

But now, we no longer have to sit in the pub after the match and worry about balance sheets and bitter court battles.

We no longer have to stop our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters from wearing the official club shirt. We no longer have to deny them the opportunity to play football in the park with their favourite player’s name on that shirt, just like we could when we were young.

We no longer have to leave our houses earlier on matchday to march to the ground, hoping we have some small influence of taking back the football club our ancestors founded over a century ago.

We have our identity back. Simply put, we have our football club back.

Please keep it that way.

Throughout the whole sale process, your actions were nothing but dignified, loyal and respectful.

Maybe you were meant to stand side-by-side with us on the Kop all along.

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