The Debt We All Owe

There was a moment towards the end of Liverpool’s win over Southampton on Saturday that the enormity of what this team is looking to achieve really hit home for me. The Kop wanted to show its appreciation for the players, so one half of it starting singing ‘and now you’re going to believe us’ at the same time as the other half started singing ‘we’re gonna win the football league again’. A young lad in front of me started looking around and just laughing, a look of delight on his face. At the time we sat twenty-two points clear of Manchester City but with most people believing that it would be back down to nineteen points after Pep Guardiola’s men played Tottenham Hotspur. Little did we know that the Cityzens are having a ‘normal’ season after their two world-class ones, dropping another three points and putting us just six wins away from our first title of the Premier League era. It’s closer than it’s ever been.

We’re witnessing something truly special, with Jürgen Klopp and his players breaking record after record after record. Man City are currently closer to Crystal Palace than they are to us and Roy Hodgson’s side are in fourteenth. As opposition supporters come up with crazy conspiracy theories about why we’re doing as well as we’re doing, the Reds just keep winning. The reason the VAR system hasn’t had an impact on our campaign in the same way as it has for others is that we win in spite of it, rather than allowing it to anger us if it doesn’t go our way. It’s possible we’ll be beaten before the end of the season, just as it’s possible that we won’t break City’s record of one hundred points. Yet this side will still go down as one of the best teams ever to grace the Premier League. It’s remarkable what the lads are achieving and should be appreciated by everyone, but it’s also made me reflect on how close we came to walking a different path.

Liverpool Came Close To Oblivion Under Hicks & Gillett

When Tom Hicks and George Gillett bought Liverpool Football Club from David Moores they promised a ‘spade in the ground’ to build a new stadium and the backing of then-manager Rafa Benitez in the transfer market. Instead we soon got leveraged debt, in-fighting and disunity that nearly proved to be the club’s undoing. Fans like the young lad in front of me at Anfield on Saturday probably don’t realise how close we came to going into administration, which would have been disastrous for a club of Liverpool’s size and stature. I was living in Birmingham at the time, in my final year of my acting degree. I had no real clue of how bad things were and it’s only looking back in hindsight now that I’m really able to appreciate just how close we came to the abyss. The American cowboys wanted to asset strip LFC to the point that there was virtually nothing left and what they did took a toll on everyone.

In the end they sacked Rafa Benitez, but would have been able to take us to the same heights even if they hadn’t? He’d been opposing the owners as best he could from the inside, even whilst Liverpool supporters criticised him despite the club challenging for a league title. The likes of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher didn’t ‘stand up’ to the ownership, but what were they supposed to do? It seemed to take its toll on them for a time, with the results showing on the pitch. There was only so much that they could do to drag a club falling apart at the seams to the next level. If we’d gone into administration, where would the club be now? Certainly not twenty-two points clear at the top of the table, that much is for sure. Would we have become a Leeds United and disappeared into the ether for a decade? It’s more than possible. Coming so close and surviving did, in a weird way, lead us to where we are now – champions elect.

Protests Made The Difference

As I say, when I was in Birmingham at the time I had no real sense of what was going on at the club. I now know that few people actually in the city of Liverpool wanted to know either. Protest marches resulted in many people in the pubs and clubs around the ground essentially laughing at those looking to protect the club from the leeches that were bleeding it dry. There was a virtual civil war between those that wanted the owners out and those that thought it was detrimental to what was happening on the pitch to be causing a stink. Thankfully plenty of others didn’t, with Spirit of Shankly being formed for the expressed purpose of fighting for the heart and soul of the football club. People like me who weren’t around to do anything at the time owe them a huge debt of gratitude. We know for certain that fan protests helped to get rid of Hicks & Gillett from the club, which started the ball rolling to get us where we are now.

As we all prepare to bask in the glory of what the forthcoming procession to the title will mean to the club, the supporters and the city of Liverpool, it’s important to take a moment to thank those that helped it happen. No, SoS didn’t appoint Jürgen Klopp or sanction the purchase of Virgil van Dijk, but the people that did might not have bought the club in the first place without the work Jay McKenna et al did to remove Hicks and Gillett from power. I wasn’t around, I didn’t do that, I didn’t go on protests. Those that did should be forever thanked for their efforts. When morons used to say ‘FSGOUT’ on social media because the club didn’t buy Lionel Messi every transfer window, those that worked so hard to protest a genuinely woeful ownership group must have shaken their heads in despair. Protests aren’t something to throw around because you haven’t got your own way, but when they’re done right they lead to where we are now.

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