Friday, February 1, 2008

Counterpoint: LFC fans should buy their club back

The American duo of Hicks and Gillett may appear to be getting their act together, with more loans and renewed promises that they're in this ownership lark for the long haul, but let's face it, time is ticking and something needs to give at Anfield.

The recent news that a supporters' group is going to make a run at buying back the club could not come at a better time. For my money, it is not a bad idea at all.

Without looking too much at the financial side of it [mainly because I don't quite understand all the numbers], I'm going to focus on the symbolic side of such actions, because the spirit and passion behind such a move cannot be disputed.

Far-fetched as it may come to be, the fan-led movement by Share Liverpool FC Group is directly addressing the problem of Liverpool's foreign ownership.

The battling between the Dubai Investment Consortium and the American team of Hicks & Gillett has been distracting and disheartening to us, the average, born-and-bred fan. Neither side is really any better than the other; the Americans leave a trail of bad business practices behind them, while the Dubai investment wing, connected directly to the Dubai ruling class, have their hands dirty with human rights issues and grossly un-democratic ways.

Each option becomes even less appealing to the Liverpool faithful when you consider that the drama off the pitch is shadowing and distracting events on it.

According to surveys taken by the Liverpool Supporters' network, 76% of 2000 fans polled said that they'd "seriously consider reducing their financial commitment to the club" if things remain as they are. Such a drastic pull-out would be crippling to an already crippled club; with so much debt being hung on the club [somewhere around 105 million pounds] that will inevitably be recouped by raising ticket and merchandise prices, the high percentage of disillusioned fans would ruin those plans and plunge the club into financial ruin.

Fan ownership is not a new concept. In the new era, we've seen Ebbsfleet United touted as the crossroads of football fandom and democracy in the modern era, but there are many successful franchises across different sports that have fan ownership to varying degrees: Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Primera Liga, and the Green Bay Packers in the NFL.

In my eyes, it's the best remedy for the tumult and hostility that comes with major foreign investment, or any ownership group that doesn't understand what they're getting into. It ensures the long-term stability of the franchise, as there's no ulterior financial or profit-driven motive in the eyes of the fan/owners. While profits will be made, that money is turned back into the club, with the aim of making it better and stronger, the case in point being the Champions League, won 6 times in the last 15 years by fan-owned clubs.

The misconception is that this is a pathos-led charge, a disorganized mutiny simply to seize control in the short term, ultimately destroying the club over the long-term thanks to emotionally-charged decisions. That is simply not the case. The shared desire for success throughout the invested fans is a steadying force, not a destructive one. Barcelona may make questionable signings over the year, but the effect on the pitch cannot be disputed. I believe that fans could make the hard choices, as other fan-led franchises have had to, in order to keep the ship steady. While this may lead to a drop-off from being part of the Big 4 for a time, anything is preferable to the current mess.

The time is right for a fan-ownership initiative taking over a major English club, and with Liverpool's recent uncertainty and embarrassing run of stories in the media, it couldn't be better-timed. A fan-owned club is the best way to guarantee Liverpool's long-term success and stability.

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