Liverpool’s decision Sunday to join ranks with most of Europe’s most storied and successful soccer clubs in a new lucrative competitive league may have come at an unthinkable cost.
Their loyal fan-base is furious with the club’s Boston-based owners, Fenway Sports Group.
“The whole [Super League] has caused an uproar to the point where I think this is probably a decision which will be irreversible for Fenway Sports Group in terms of their relationship with Liverpool fans,” said Dave Powell, the business of football reporter for the Liverpool Echo, which covers the team with an intensity that exceeds any North American sports hub. “They’re going to have a hard time, if it doesn’t go their way, to spin around to be able to bang the drum for Liverpool and claim that their fans are at the heart of what the club is.”
“Greed” is the predominant reaction from Reds diehards, who mounted a fast and full-throated protest the morning after Liverpool and 11 other founding members of the rogue Super League released their late-evening manifesto that also sparked a global confrontation among governing soccer bodies, governments and teams alternately threatened or enticed by the rebels’ plot with no middle ground in sight yet.
A sampling of the venom-filled moat between the rebels and the affronted soccer establishment came Monday, after the European governing body UEFA announced a revamped Champions League format. UEFA president Alexander Ceferin also used the opportunity to label representatives of two Super League teams as “snakes.”
On a black wrought-iron fence outside Liverpool’s historic Anfield stadium, protesters hung a pair of black banners, one saying “Shame On You, R.I.P. LFC, 1892-2021,” the other “LFC Fans Against European Super League.”
#Embarrassing as fan representatives we are appalled & completely oppose this decision. FSG have ignored fans in their relentless & greedy pursuit of money. Football is ours not theirs. Our football club is ours not theirs. We will respond fully to this statement in due course. https://t.co/vFsykEm1Qz— Spirit of Shankly (@spiritofshankly) April 18, 2021
The Spirit of Shankly fan group made no attempt to disguise its disgust at FSG’s gambit, saying in a tweet they were “appalled & completely oppose this decision. FSG have ignored fans in their relentless & greedy pursuit of money. Football is ours not theirs. Our football club is ours not theirs.”
The fan group Spion Kop 1906, which is responsible for the massive banners placed in the “Kop” section of the Anfield stands asked for their banners to be removed.
In a tweet, Spion Kop 1906, explained their decision was a reaction to FSG’s apparent money-before-sport stance: “We, along with other groups involved in flags, will be removing our flags from The Kop. We feel we can no longer give our support to a club which puts financial greed above integrity of the game.”
We, along with other groups involved in flags, will be removing our flags from The Kop. We feel we can no longer give our support to a club which puts financial greed above integrity of the game.— Spion Kop 1906 (@SpionKop1906) April 19, 2021
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, a favorite of fans, players and ownership, established distance between himself and the latter by voicing his disapproval of the Super League concept before his team’s 1-1 tie with Leeds.
“I understand [the fans’ anger]. I don’t know exactly why the 12 clubs did it. The one thing I cannot understand is the competitiveness. I don’t like it if we are not in the Champions League, but if we earn it that is right,” said Klopp. “We were not involved in these processes, as a manager or as players. I have no issues with the Champions League. I like the fact West Ham may play Champions League next year. I like that they have that chance.
“The most important part of a football club is the supporters and the team. Nothing can get between that. The players didn’t do anything wrong. We want to qualify for the Champions League next year.”
Before Liverpool’s match against Leeds, one of the 14 Premier League teams on the outside looking in at the Super League, Leeds players wore white Champions League t-shirts with “Earn It” printed on the front, and “Football is for the fans” on the back.
The telecast of the game in the US by NBC Sports did not shy away from the T-shirts or protests outside the stadium gates or above the stadium, where a plane carried a message: #SayNoToTheSuperLeague.
The Super League has received backing already from banking giant JPMorgan and reportedly already has held talks with media companies on rights deals that would dwarf current contracts. One key reason why Liverpool and the eventual total of 15 planned founding members are so keen to create the Super League is because they would not only reap the rich annual media revenues but those revenues would be guaranteed, no more having to earn their entrance into a prestigious competition via success on the pitch.
The prospect of its own team being guaranteed a spot in a prestigious European club competition is, paradoxically, what rankles Liverpool fans so much, said Powell. They pride themselves on their working class ways and giving everyone a chance to succeed and rise through their own hard work rather than just showing up.
“This flies in the face of all those traditions,” said Powell. “It seems like a switch from making sure that they remain at the top of the table and taking the game in a new direction themselves purely out of self-interest.
“We know a business element underscores every move that is made, but they’re usually presented in a way in which the fans have been consulted, with great care and diligence, but this kind of dropped at 11 on a Sunday night.”
Powell’s observation of fan reaction is that “many have been incandescent with rage,” some of it fueled by not feeling adequately represented in the decision.
“It’s people’s resistance to such seismic change where they haven’t been consulted if they even think this is a good idea, the idea hasn’t been presented with meat on the bones, they don’t know what to digest,” said Powell. “The whole thing is a mess, with the feeling that this wasn’t done for any other means than to line people’s pockets and I think football fans already feel fleeced, whether it’s rising ticket or merchandise costs that make it cost-prohibitive for families to enjoy games.”
It’s impossible to gauge the actual economic cost of fans’ dismay. The pandemic may ease enough for some 10,000 fans, or approximately 20 percent, to return to Anfield before the season ends next month but the real proof will come with next year’s attendance and ratings. With season ticket demand exceeding supply, perhaps Anfield will remain full for every match but with a greater proportion of football tourists rather than Liverpool-based Reds followers.
A request for comment from any of the top three governance members of LFC — FSG principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Michael Gordon — did not receive a response. Henry owns the Globe.
An FSG spokesperson said that the statement from LFC released early Monday on its website stood as the club’s response: “Liverpool Football Club can confirm that we have joined Europe’s leading clubs in agreeing to form a new competition, the European Super League.
“. . . We are committed to working with all stakeholders, particularly supporters, as plans for the competition develop.”
An email written by Billy Hogan, CEO of Liverpool, to employees about the Super League plan Monday morning was leaked to the British media. Hogan echoed most of the main points from the Super League’s first press release, saying he wanted to share “context” about the decision, which included “numerous longstanding concerns about not only the future of European football but also the way football is run by UEFA.”
Hogan sounded an optimistic note about the Super League coming into existence, saying it “will be the future of European football and if we want to continue our journey of being a sustainable Club with ambition to grow and continue winning trophies then we should absolutely be part of that process and have a seat at the table rather than outside that group.
“We know that this announcement has provoked strong feelings within the game and elsewhere, but we believe this decision is in the best long-term interests of Liverpool Football Club.”
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.