It is not uncommon for football clubs to have supporter groups in their city and even globally.
While some of the smaller groups are made primarily to find like-minded people, watch games together and support their team, the larger and more formal groups have grander aims, like improving the functioning of the team, lending support or protesting against the board for things not in line with expectations and even having a say in how the club should plan its future.
One example of supporter groups voicing their concern was seen only this season when as many as 17 Everton supporter groups joined hands in an endeavour to force owner Farhad Moshiri’s hand and make some much-required changes to save their beloved team from relegation.
Not long after that, another fan club has come into the limelight. But this time not of Everton, but their local rivals Liverpool.
But before we get into the details, some context.
What are SoS and MUST?
Spirit of Shankly, or SoS, is a group of dedicated supporters of Liverpool Football Club. Formed in 2008, the organization’s mission is to give a voice to supporters and to hold the club’s owners accountable for their actions.
One of the main goals of the Spirit of Shankly is to ensure that the interests of Liverpool supporters are represented at the highest level of the club. This includes advocating for fair ticket pricing, safe standing areas in stadiums, and improved facilities for away supporters.
One of the key strengths of the Spirit of Shankly is its democratic structure, with all members having a say in the direction and actions of the organization. This allows for a wide range of opinions and ideas to be considered and ensures that the group remains truly representative of the diverse Liverpool supporter base.
Manchester United Supporters Trust, MUST, was founded in 1998 as a way for fans to have a say in the running of the club and to ensure that the interests of supporters were taken into account by the club’s owners and management. The organization is run by fans, for fans, and is dedicated to promoting the interests and welfare of Manchester United supporters.
One of the main ways that MUST achieve this is through its membership program. By becoming a member of MUST, fans have access to exclusive benefits and events, such as discounted tickets to matches, and opportunities to meet and interact with players, coaches, and other members of the club. Additionally, members have the ability to participate in the organization’s democratic process, including voting on important issues and electing representatives to the MUST board.
Why a Joint Statement?
It is not uncommon for groups to join hands, as stated above. But they are usually of the same club. Two supporter factions, let alone arch rivals, is uncommon.
So what was an issue so big that the two sets of fans, that usually hate each other so much, came together?
Turns out, the common thread here is that both clubs are looking for fresh investments and ownership.
The Glazers, United’s owners, and the FSG, Liverpool’s owners, have both reportedly sought investments and have put a price tag on the club for the same.
Joe Blott, SoS chairman, and Duncan Drasdo, MUST chief executive, jointly issued the following statement in a rare act of unity:
By common consent, our clubs are the biggest in English football and, with a combined worldwide fanbase of over 200m people, they are widely recognised global institutions – in fact perhaps two of the most well-known British institutions worldwide.
That global profile will likely attract many potential bidders, including some whose primary motivations may not respect either the cultural heritage of our clubs or the values and interests of supporters.
We think that should be a matter of importance to the government.
Just as the government would not allow our most important cultural or heritage assets to fall into unfit or improper hands, it should not allow our football clubs to do so either.
Manchester United and Liverpool fans are the most fierce rivals.
If we can come together with common cause then we believe the government can work out a way to ensure its intended Independent Regulator for English Football (IREF) and stronger ownership rules can be introduced quickly enough to safeguard the future of our two clubs.
What Do They Mean?
The statement means that both sets of fans are desperate to make sure that their clubs, and by association, any other in the PL, are not owned by owners that are unfit for the job and subsequently, are calling for greater influence over how their clubs are run.
The statement calls for new and independent football regulators, focusing on strengthened ownership and directors test and a corporate governance framework that would allow the supporters’ voices to be heard.
What Do They Really Mean?
“That global profile will likely attract many potential bidders, including some whose primary motivations may not respect either the cultural heritage of our clubs or the values and interests of supporters.”
The above line is perhaps what has irked many on social media.
It is a direct aim at owners from the Middle East and Asia who will obviously have a different culture than the British and even the current American owners.
Oil money from the Middle East is not new for football, with Newcastle becoming the latest in a long and successful line of clubs that have been acquired.
This statement, calling for better norms, is a way to regulate this and avoid the two legacy clubs coming under the ownership of someone other than a Britisher or an American.
Understandably, the statement has come under scrutiny, with social media accusing SoS and MUST of being racist.
The fan clubs are also being accused of being disconnected from their own fans and acting of their own will.
Surprisingly though, the backlash is much more pronounced on Liverpool Twitter than on Man Utd.
Quite what happens with respect to the statement remains to be seen.