SO it was a big Saturday afternoon from The Reds.
But not in the way we’d like.
Morning all – let’s get stuck in. We’re on a journey here. This is long. Make a cup of tea.
But first for full disclosure I need to make something clear – The Anfield Wrap had to furlough some of the permanent team last week. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pleasant either.
Being honest about it, culturally, The Anfield Wrap very much puts togetherness at the centre of what we do, of what we are about. That’s togetherness with you – the listeners, with our contributors and with each other in the staff.
However, The Anfield Wrap has also become something of an institution and it needs to be protected. For the first time really since the advent of TAW Player in 2015, we had to make a move which was about protection rather than about growth.
Podcast listener numbers are markedly down. Our subscriber numbers are down too. There isn’t judgement in this – many people have to make decisions around income and what they do with it in deeply uncertain times. Many businesses reached for the redundancy button early; some have simply had to close. The economy is a fragile thing.
So thank you for continuing to subscribe if you have. If you have left us, we can’t wait till you are back. And we will be here, we will be in shape and we will have the full team back when this crisis is averted.
Liverpool have gone out of their way to create their own crisis. They’ve triggered a nerve and have found themselves rightly receiving massive criticism from their own supporters. How have they managed this?
The economy is a fragile thing. Projections are tough. What happens next is hard for a lot of businesses. The Job Retention Scheme that leads to furloughing which the government have put in place is for exactly that.
It – thus far – hasn’t mattered about the size of the business, the type of business, the number of employees or the profit it made last year. The purpose first and foremost is to ensure jobs are retained.
The government (along with the Unions and the Opposition) doesn’t want mass redundancies. The primary aim of the scheme, whether you are McDonald’s, The Anfield Wrap or the corner shop is to protect jobs.
Liverpool Football Club have chosen to use it with a number of their non-playing staff. From a pure business point of view this almost certainly isn’t a daft or unthinkable decision. Cashflow at football clubs is very tight indeed, even huge ones, even profitable ones.
I’ve spent years saying most football clubs don’t turnover as much as an out of town supermarket. Liverpool are one of the biggest – they may turnover as much as nine or 10 out of town supermarkets. But most cashflow comes in blocks and will also be accounted for in blocks.
Most football clubs basically have money flowing through them and budget accordingly. The football club rarely holds the money. It goes somewhere.
In short, given the uncertainty under circumstances where the Job Retention Scheme didn’t exist, Liverpool FC may well be giving serious thought to making some staff redundant right now. They haven’t done that. They have instead used the scheme and I would argue, broadly speaking, used it for the purpose the government intended.
The issue is that football isn’t a normal business. It is an exceptional one.
There are many ways in which football is an exception to normal business practice. The most obvious being that it is practically impossible to change who you support. You can change the level of your support but on the whole people don’t start watching Man City if you think they play better stuff.
Football is exceptional because of the amount of money it takes in advance for a product existing. This is what will be most on the minds of football and television people right now. The reason Sky and BT give the money upfront is to see the product on the pitch. They pay early for the entertainment to make it better.
And Liverpool are amongst the most exceptional. This is what they tell us. They have spent a fortune across the last two years to tell us that “This Means More” and in a variety of ways they have not just told us that but showed us that. They have lived that message, that value really rather well.
I would argue that for the first time in Liverpool’s corporate history, they had gone out of their way to demonstrate their exceptionalism and had managed it.
It is here that a perfectly sound business decision becomes a genuinely bad one.
Twenty-First Century fandom is something that should be given further study than it currently is. The concept is why I can genuinely upset a raft of people for being unpleasant about John Lennon or the Marvel Comic Universe on an AFQ.
It shouldn’t matter what this gobshite who chats about all sorts of wham thinks about things you like. But then it happens and for reasons of fandom it does matter. It matters enormously.
Liverpool FC have always occupied a space where support and identity get intertwined. But recently they have gone out of their way to create a space for a certain type of fandom. One which goes beyond simply enjoying the football, one which football supporters, Liverpool supporters especially, have chosen to occupy for years.
But the corporate entity which is Liverpool FC have chosen to move into a value-based space and have chosen to occupy it as something which is crucially important to how people view their own identity and have sold that concept on a worldwide basis. They have invested time and money in this. It has been hugely successful.
And with this (on the face of it) perfectly reasonable decision to take advantage of this government scheme, they have wrecked so much of that work at a stroke and undermined many of those who held to the position that “this means more” prior to the club saying it.
Because to so many of the people who love Liverpool FC and the city of Liverpool it clangs. In the clanging it breaks. In the breakage people are left angry, the forces of anti-fandom strengthened and Liverpool FC have broken a covenant they probably never entirely understood they had made recently.
As ever, being Liverpool is hard. The normal rules don’t apply. They just don’t. Liverpool’s mistake is significant. Liverpool FC have done the wrong thing by virtue of the fact so many Liverpool supporters will perceive it as the wrong thing. Nothing else really applies.
Liverpool have also done the wrong thing because they have done it at the wrong moment.
As is so often the case, a right-wing British government and a right-wing press are happy to use football and/or footballers as a scapegoat rather than address their many issues around long-term management of the health service, their dreadful medium-term equipment and mechanical provision for an absolutely predictable pandemic.
I mean, Christ, Jono has been banging on about it for months – and short-term reaction to the likely crisis. For example, Atletico supporters flying in and bouncing around town, licking people’s faces when Madrid was on lockdown.
But as so often happens, this shit sticks. And it has stuck. It has left Premier League footballers – Britain’s most successful cohort of young, multi-national, multi-ethnic working class young men – getting absolute pelters from everyone up to and including the Health Secretary because they are always an easy target.
I am absolutely livid about this. Livid that their own union cannot get its messaging right. Livid that so many people have decided that this is acceptable and joined in. Livid that it is echoed by some people who purport to be actual football supporters. Livid that Matt Hancock is getting away so easily with this.
And I am livid that Liverpool FC have chosen this moment of moments to be part of that background noise. Just give it a week, lads. See where we all are. Everything changes fast these days.
It isn’t easy to be the PFA or be the players here. There are many competing interests and there may well be no one-size-fits-all solution. For instance, before we ask whether in general a 30 per cent pay cut is the right thing, it shouldn’t be across the board.
Many players in League Two are not going to be well paid at all. And 18 or 19-year-olds at Premier League level arguably shouldn’t be put under that pressure – they are one injury on the first day back away from careers falling apart and lifetime plans going under.
What is most interesting is that the players appear to be reluctant to cut their wages because they perceive that as saving club owners money, not paying club staff. They perceive the tax they pay (which as part of Employers NI needs to be in part matched by the clubs) as being important to the Exchequer.
They would like money to go to the NHS, which isn’t how tax works, and to lower league clubs’ players, wherein they need to work with their union which they know instinctively isn’t fit for purpose, because my Lord it hasn’t helped much so far in terms of wider perception.
They are, insofar as people living in the lap of luxury can be, between a rock and a hard place.
And it is here that suddenly the game is under threat because football and footballers will not be let off any hook while it is in the interests of the Conservative Party and their fellow media travellers to look over here rather than over there.
What all of this illustrates is that people – the wider public, football supporters, footballers – don’t trust the vast majority of people who run and own football clubs. They may be right not to.
But very soon football clubs (July 1st by my guess) are going to be in real, real trouble. And they will need help. They will need trust. They will need togetherness.
You need to not wreck it when you don’t have to.