IN February 2007, Tom Hicks and George Gillett purchased Liverpool FC. It was a turbulent three-and-a-half years in the history of the club, and it also sparked the birth of Liverpool Supporters Union, Spirit of Shankly.
“An Epic Swindle” was how Hicks later described New England Sports Ventures (latterly Fenway Sports Group) wrestling control and ownership of the club from the pair. Attaining ownership of a world-famous sporting institution — loved by millions around the world — for such a knockdown price was indeed a bargain to Boston’s John W Henry et al.
However, if there was a “swindle” at all, it was an earlier theft — in 2007 — from Reds’ supporters, and the near loss of their beloved Liverpool, that was truly epic.
A leveraged buy-out of the football club, from the local ownership of David Moores, damaged Liverpool from day one.
Hicks and Gillett arrived offering Liverpudlians the earth. Grand stadium plans which never saw the light of day. A mirage of “a spade in the ground in 60 days” that never so much as pierced Anfield turf. Crass behaviour and in-fighting between the pair of them that made of mockery of Liverpool fans’ unique style and dignity.
A support — for those of us who lived through Hillsborough in April 1989 — that was still reeling from the cutting, profound effects of that awful day, never given a second thought.
It was all about the money. Never mind avaricious. They were just bloody greedy.
Broken promises from day one. Lie upon lie and mismanagement at every level. Cash from the club’s own profits — generated by the name, success and prestige of Liverpool FC — stripped away to pay their own “mortgage” on “their” asset.
Persecution of a team manager in Rafa Benitez who was loved by his people and fought and fought against them for two-and-a-half years before being forced to fall on his own sword.
Hicks and Gillett somehow managed, with the assistance of media asleep at the wheel, to turn the majority of Liverpool fans against Rafa Benitez.
On his departure, a gift of £96,000 of Hicks and Gillett’s severance was paid to the bereaved by Benitez. Ask the Hillsborough families what they think of Rafa.
Once again, thank you Rafa. You’re one of us.
On the pitch, despite a civil war inside the club; one which then pervaded the terraces and split the famous Kop down the middle, came a valiant, often heroic challenge for the League title in 2009.
They were the best of times. But my word, they were the worst of times.
Those of us who saw through the owners — our “custodians”; those of us who recognised their grand larceny, their own epic swindle, fought back. We fought hard and long.
We took to the streets. We marched, we protested, we sang our hearts out. Get out of our club. Liverpool Football Club is in the wrong hands.
Writing these words — of those impassioned chants which rang around Anfield — still chills the soul.
Thousands didn’t get it and just ignored us. While we stayed behind to air our voices, they went home. We exposed the unwanted squatters in our home while the rest shielded them unknowingly — but for far too long to give credence to their ignorance.
Fighting tooth and nail we went to war. We took sides and were on the right team.
God bless those who formed and joined Spirit of Shankly in February 2008. “Shankly Lives Forever,” a banner once read. His spirit does exactly that. That spirit gave us legs, heart, and oiled our vocal chords. It gave us the will to fight the good fight.
We fought and scrapped to the end. We won the day. Liverpool FC was saved and we saved the club, not FSG. We know this because we were there, and we fought every battle. Fenway now have the chance to consolidate and build on their asset, so it can thrive. It’s up you, John, Linda and co.
Spirit of Shankly was 10 years old a couple of weeks ago. Happy Anniversary, lads and lasses.
Hicks and Gillett are a dim, distant but painful memory. “At the end of a storm there’s a golden sky.”