THERE’S scene in the film ‘In The Name of the Father’ where a government official leafs through the prison file of wrongly convicted Guildford Four member Giuseppe Conlon. Conlon is dying while incarcerated and has appealed for compassionate leave before the inevitable occurs. The official notices that permission has been denied. He tuts in disgust. ‘That was a mistake. What harm could it have done?’
Well, alright it’s an extreme similarity but I thought about that scene the night John Henry told a fan on Twitter that he was looking into the furore surrounding the recent non-leafleting policy at Anfield. What harm could it have done? Why deny your own fans the right to learn of the IPCC requests for people to come forward to make fresh statements about Hillsborough? Days later the club reversed their policy, presumably because Boston became involved. The decision had been reversed by another party who is not as close to the people involved.
There was no clear reason given as to why Ian Ayre should find the notion of leafleting to be ‘inappropriate’. It could not have been due to litter issues as Anfield has been home to mosaics, mosaics made up of thick pieces of card rather than slim leaves of paper, for years now. Indeed, in recent years they’ve spread to all stands, not just the Kop and the litter issue has never been raised even if the cards are often thrown around the stand once they’ve served their purpose. The club likes mosaics. It’s something we do well. It’s almost unique to Liverpool. It makes us look European, global even. We can sell that. The litter could never be a credible reason.
The message then? Well, hardly. If the leaflets bore a statement against Ian Ayre or FSG then it’s understandable that the club may not want to tacitly consent but this was not a protest. This is something the club has backed with its own signs dotted around the ground and in the programme. The club wants justice to be done as we all do but still the answer was no. Why? Ian Err on the side of caution?
In the film the prison deny a dying man his wish because they mistrust him. His innocence is all but established at that point (in terms of the film rather than the events it is based on as the conviction was quashed after Guiseppe’s death) as the real bombers had taken responsibility but, well, no is always easier than yes. It took a man with no emotional ties to the request to see the logic of both arguments and choose the right cause. I’m no fan of John Henry, we all have our own prejudices after all, but he’s done the right thing here.
Interesting word – prejudice.
So why was Ian Ayre so reluctant to help out? The only rationale I can think of is his own prejudice to the messenger. Look who carried it – the Spirit of Shankly. The SoS. That troublesome bunch who make demands of the club and campaign hard on small things like fan representation and ticketing policies. There’s mistrust there so saying no to them is a default position regardless of the main issue.
On the same day Ayre wrote to the SoS and rather sniffily reminded them that they would have to use the correct channels to contact the club i.e. via the club appointed Supporters Committee. A cynic might suggest that one of the reasons this body was appointed was to cut ties with the SOS and muddy the waters of Union access where it’s most needed. This is in no way to criticise the Supporters Committee itself who are no doubt asking the same questions regarding away tickets, travel etc. but maybe they’re not quite as vociferous as Jay McKenna and the SOS. No one is as vociferous as Jay McKenna
It is worth noting here that the leaflets do not mention the Union and they themselves are only involved due to contact between themselves and the IPCC so in no way was this an attempt to force their own agenda. They have the manpower to distribute the leaflets and the fan led media with which to promote the IPCC’s cause. Had the Supporters Committee gone to Ian Ayre they might have found a friendlier ear or maybe more easily cowed if there really is a genuine reason to refuse such a request.
It’s unclear why the club is so diametrically opposed to the very notion of the SoS. They speak of little else than the importance of the fan and the ‘values’ around the club. Liverpool FC is made up of the sum desires and actions of its fans so why not give them a voice, why not give them access? After all, it’s in the club’s interest to keep the fans onside and although the Union may be a small body when counted against the entire mass global nature of our support it still plays a significant role. Don’t get me wrong there is certainly interaction between the club and the Union but it is never truly welcomed. Clubs, businesses, are mistrustful of the word ‘Union’ and would prefer to run without fan intervention. Unions tend to make bosses, owners etc. do things that they’d rather not such as lose money on fairer away ticket prices but they have to be heard, mollified even but always held at arm’s length. Dialogue is vital, closed doors are not.
There’s a common misconception about the SoS. Many are happy to paint them as a bunch of drunken yahoos, sitting in dingy pubs laughing at each other’s trainees but the reverse is the case. I should point out that although I’m a member I’m not involved in the day to day running and don’t really know any of the people involved. I’ve attended one meeting, at the London branch, a few years ago and listened to some great and erudite speeches by people whose passion was matched by their organisation and sense of purpose. They are democratically elected and are a responsible body of fans looking at things that can increase the quality of the match going fan. These people are not playing games with job titles. They take LFC and its supporters very seriously indeed.
The club have seen sense on the leafleting but it points to a bigger picture. The fans have a right to be heard and we have our own values, our own checks and balances. We must be given a voice to the Liverpool hierarchy particularly since the owners are, by their own admission, not used to the football world and are squirrelled away in Boston. The club are accountable to us and not the other way around save for the odd ninety minute spell. They are merely temporary custodians and can get out of it whenever they want. We’re stupid enough to have signed up to this thing for life.
Are these balances important? Well, at Cardiff the overseas owners have changed the club colours, sacked backroom staff and are sending emissaries to the manager at half time to advise on tactics. I’m not saying that could happen here but this is a club that nearly went under due to intellectually challenged owners. Vincent Tan does not think his changes are stupid at all. He needs to listen to those who disagree with him.
It’s understandable that the club want to protect revenue and push the ‘brand’ as far as they can without outside intervention. It’s equally understandable that the fans have a role within the club when we are the stakeholders who pay, pay and pay for something we love. Both roles don’t always dovetail into one glorious strategy so both sides have to work together. For things to improve, for mistrust to evaporate we have to have open doors and not a system of proxy where decisions are handed down through club appointed intermediaries.
Let’s hope that there are lessons learned from this incident, particularly given the nature of the issue.
Fortunately, the IPCC leafleting goes ahead. This is the most important thing. If you’re not at the match or have missed all this and want to make a statement please contact the IPCC via www.ipcc.gov.uk/hillsborough-witness-appeal. Anyone who needs assistance with the appeal form or has any queries can contact them on 0300 200 0003.
Photos: David Rawcliffe/Propaganda.