You’ll never walk alone.
This is the anthem for the Liverpool Football Club. It speaks to fans’ hopes when all seems lost. And defiance in the face of adversity.
Red Sox/Globe owner John Henry has found great riches and success as owner of Liverpool FC since 2010, but today he walks alone at Anfield in the wake of his role in a botched attempt to form a European Super League.
Plans for the elitist, money-grabbing league were unveiled Sunday night, triggering universal condemnation and galvanizing fans against the 12 owners who proposed the tone-deaf breakaway. In Liverpool, Henry endured a fan-driven pummeling 100 times rougher than what happened in Red Sox Nation after he traded Mookie Betts.
The Super League collapsed under the weight of its own greed less than 48 hours after it was introduced, and Henry posted an apology video hours later in which he said, “The project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans. No one ever thought differently in England. Over these 48 hours you were very clear that it would not stand. We heard you. I heard you.”
We don’t follow European soccer much on these pages, but Henry plays a critical role in the day-to-day joys and sorrows of New England sports fans. In his two decades as Red Sox owner, he has overseen the rebuilding of Fenway Park and delivered four World Series championships to a region that endured an 86-year title drought.
Owning the Red Sox involves routine criticism from fans and media because most New Englanders have an opinion about the ball club and we all think we could run it better than whoever happens to be in charge. It’s part of the charm and beauty of the Boston baseball experience. People care, and with that passion comes some occasional tough sledding.
You can count Henry’s Red Sox crises on one hand. There was Theo Epstein’s surprise resignation in 2005 when the young general manager left Fenway Park in a gorilla costume. At that time, Henry said, “Maybe I’m not fit to be the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox.” There was more noise when Henry fired popular manager Terry Francona after the chicken-and-beer collapse of 2011. That’s when he burst into the studios of 98.5 The Sports Hub, unannounced, and complained of a “media riot.” Most recently, the salary-dump dealing of Betts and 2020′s last-place finish put Henry behind the 8-ball and drove him deeper from the public eye. He has not taken questions from independent Boston baseball media in 14 months.
None of those Hub hardball dustups could have prepared him for what just happened across the pond. This was Henry’s Bay of Pigs moment. After launching their surprise takeover, Henry and his Super League co-conspirators were pounded relentlessly by virtually every media outlet and soccer fan group in Europe and North America.
The New York Times characterized blowback over the proposed league as “a great torrent of caustic condemnations, each one flecked with scarcely concealed rage.” Corporate sponsors threatened to withdraw support, and Henry’s own Liverpool players and coach ripped the proposal, noting that none of them were consulted before the announcement.
Henry was caught in a landslide of outrage that made my occasional Red Sox critiques in the Globe sound like a Channel 4 postgame show after a Patriots win.
▪ The UK-based Football Supporters Association stated, “The motivation behind this so-called super league is not furthering sporting merit or nurturing the world’s game — it is motivated by nothing but cynical greed. This competition is being created behind our backs by billionaire club owners who have zero regard for the game’s traditions and continue to treat football as their personal fiefdom.”
▪ Aleksander Ceferin, president of UEFA, soccer’s governing body in Europe, called the prospective Super League’s owners “snakes” and “liars” and characterized the plan as the equivalent of “spitting in football fans’ faces.”
▪ Retired star footballer and Sky Sports commentator Jamie Carragher, who grew up in Liverpool, said, “I actually think the situation with Liverpool’s owners is that I don’t see how they can continue … I don’t see a future for the ownership of FSG at Liverpool on the back of this … This will never be forgotten. I think the best thing for them would be to find a new buyer. I think it will be a very difficult for them to have any sort of relationship with Liverpool supporters and the club going forward.”
▪ Former Liverpool captain Graeme Souness told Sky Sports, “Certainly with Liverpool, and I can talk with some authority there, I think it’s impossible for those guys to turn up at Anfield ever again. Will they run the club from the other side of the Atlantic? Possibly they’ll hang on to it but they are only custodians.
“This is a monumental time in our game, if you ask anyone in the street they will talk about money spoiling our game, and this was taking it to another level completely. The secrecy and deceit shown by these people goes beyond the pale and I think it’s going to be very hard for them to start again.”
▪ Michael LaVigne, a Boston public high school and collegiate soccer coach for more than 45 years (25 years with Boston College women’s soccer) and a Liverpool fan since 1973, said, “In their blind greed and arrogance these owners have lost sight of the real power in the world of football. The real power lies with the supporters and fans of the clubs — the people! These current owners are only caretakers of great histories and traditions.
“Announcing the formation of this new league as the world is beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic was a slap in the face to the billions of people who put their hopes in a return to normalcy exemplified by returning to the stadiums of their beloved teams.
“This move was one of the worst examples of hubris and bad manners. And now the bad-manners surcharge is being applied and they are finding out where the real power lies.”
So there. It’s over. Order is restored to the futbol universe. And John Henry walks alone on a pitch where nobility, honor, and tradition defeated greed and power by a score of approximately one million to nil.