It was a cold night in January 2008; the setting was the Sandon pub, Anfield. Three hundred and fifty unhappy Liverpool fans convened to discuss their feelings towards the new American owners of this historic club. One of those disconcerted faithful was lifelong Liverpool fan Dan Nicolson. It was his belief that a series of blunders by Tom Hicks and George Gillett proved the catalyst to bring together the Spirit of Shankly union group. This is a passionate collective that would not only air their grievances publicly, but would also fight against the exploitation of Liverpool fans worldwide in a bid to represent all the team’s supporters.
Dan said: “A meeting for concerned fans was held in the Sandon pub in the shadow of Anfield. It was proposed that a supporters union, acting very much like a standard trade union would be formed to hold the owners to account and represent the best interest of Liverpool fans.” He added: “I've been involved in fan-related projects in the past so it seemed natural to get involved in this, something I feel strongly passionate about. I argued for a long time prior to the formation of the union that we, as fans, needed an
all-encompassing fans group.”
As recently as February the group brought to light their objections as they gathered outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel, where George Gillett was staying. One leading member was able to speak to the Colorado based businessman, who insisted that the infamous meeting with Jurgen Klinsman was for a consultancy role, and that the club’s debt was not in the same vein as the Glazer deal at Manchester United.
Dan’s thoughts echo the sentiments of many. He said:
"They are not men who should be anywhere near LFC.
On a not-so-personal level, I felt extremely uneasy at the
time that people many thousands of miles away with no
knowledge or experience of not just our football club, but
any football club, could take over so easily. On a personal
note, both men have done nothing to endear themselves
to me since they arrived.”
The group maintains that in keeping the pressure on both
owners, by insisting that set of aims for the short, medium
and long term are established, their passion for the
benefit of the club does not deviate into a bullying mentality.
“The SOS aims to represent the best interests of all
supporters of Liverpool Football Club. Cynics could argue
that it can only represent its members but I think in general
it is unlikely that the union would do anything so out of the
ordinary that it would upset a large portion of LFC fans.
"Without sounding all dictatorish, I'm not aware of any "bullying" tactics. None at all. Liverpool are of course plagued by this local/out of town debate. This seems to hound everything fan-led. The union all along have been keen to stress this is for everyone. It's not just a Scouse thing; there are both 'out of towners' and 'out of countryers' involved, and representatives have travelled abroad to address events for LFC fans.”
Contentions with the ownership are not the only issue the group intends to focus on. There are also a series of other aims, including arranging better methods of travel to matches, creating relationships with LFC fans around the country and beyond, and engaging with the local Anfield community; an area that many believe has been badly neglected by the club over the years. The union also runs travel to every away game.
The group also takes pride in related LFC events. Dan said: “There's an end of season 'bash' happening again. I'll speak for everyone there last year now and say it was one of the best nights of last year. That will be on Sunday 24th May. The Thursday before sees the World Premiere of Awaydays, the movie based on Kevin Sampson's book, at the Philharmonic. Kevin sat on the working committee and is still involved in the union. He has kindly handed over a significant portion of tickets for the showing to the union.”
To make a difference and speak together as one voice is the central motivation of the groups’ beliefs, but the ownership debate is the one issue that is set to continue, and Dan believes the union has been effective in holding the owners to account. He said: “Everyone will have different levels of expectation. As has been shown, for every man that wants to shout out against the owners during a match, there will be another willing to shout him down. For every man wanting direct confrontation, there will be someone suggesting a more mellow approach.
"I don't think you can underestimate the impact and influence. The union have met - and been listened to - by people at the very top of LFC. It's my opinion that things may have been done differently, or to a greater extent, if it wasn't for the pressure placed on club. Only time will tell just how much.”
By Alex Fontaine, Sports Editor
Spirit of Shankly group in the news