These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the Southern Premier - just seven leagues below the Premier League. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton. After nearly 14 nomadic years we finally have a brand spanking new home in Slough.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

INDEBTED TO THE FANS

Published in the Southern League south and west division one game v AFC Hayes 9th February 2008. A dismal game where we lost 3-0 in front of 220 pissed off fans.

While those playing for high stakes on the financial markets stuff their pockets with as much cash as they and in doing so have taken the world to the brink of a major recession, it’s no surprise that some of these ‘bankers’ have moved into the Premiership.

US tycoons George Gillett and Tom Hicks bought Liverpool nearly a year ago with Hicks boasting that buying Liverpool was just like buying another one of his purchases - Weetabix. But you don’t find thousands of people cheering on Weetabix every week. Despite buying the club, not one penny of the cash was either Hicks or Gilletts! Instead they borrowed £298m and a couple of weeks back entered a new £350m refinancing deal, making Liverpool even more tied in debt; the club will have to find an additional £30 million a year just to pay back the annual interest payments on the loan! Even better for the new owners, switching ownership to a holding company also means that while they can take any profit for themselves, they will not be liable for any debt. So just like the collapse of Northern Rock which has cost taxpayers a thousand pounds each, if Liverpool goes to the dogs it will be its supporters who would pick up any bad debt.

Faced with these economies of the mad house, the Share Liverpool FC Group wants to use a Barcelona style, "member-share" scheme, aimed at raising £500m to buy the club from its US owners. Those behind the plan include football business lecturer and Liverpool fan Rogan Taylor and lawyer Kevin Jacquiss - an expert in launching co-operatives. "The time is right to offer a different solution to the rising concerns that football fans have about the patterns of ownership developing at our major football clubs" said Taylor. "Large amounts of debt often devolves onto clubs newly purchased, but the fans know that in the end, it will be they themselves who will have to pay it off through increased ticket prices and other schemes. In such a case, why not simply buy the club yourselves?"

As Taylor pointed out, in Germany and Spain most top-level football clubs are not for sale as they were owned by many thousands of "member fans". The Champions League has been won on six occasions in the last 15 years by these member only clubs.

Maybe Liverpool supporters could ask Cambridge City fans for advice on taking on the rich and powerful. It was a bolt out of the blue when City supporters learnt that their ground had been sold and they would merge with rivals United. However a relentless campaign by supporters eventually led to the sale being challenged in the high court where judges said that former directors had misled the club, undersold the ground and that the actions of their former chief executive amounted to bribery. This has meant that the land deal has been cancelled and the club given another opportunity to achieve a fair value for its ground.

One of those supporters Rab Crangle said "People said I was a conspiracy theorist when we began, but the judgment says it: the club was the victim of fraudulent misrepresentation on behalf of a property development company with whom we were supposed to be in partnership. Fans of clubs in financial trouble, but sitting on valuable land, should understand this, and be very careful about the deals directors do in their name."

The Liverpool refinancing package is the economics of Never Never Land; part of an economic system that has led to tax avoidance by the super-rich costing Britain £13bn a year. Where dealing in what is called the futures market – predicting the future of the cost of commodities to make a profit is acceptable. This second guessing is what led to a French Bank investor making bets so big he managed to lose his bank £3.6 billion! But betting on the high stakes futures market is exactly what the owners of Liverpool and Man United are doing. But what happens if Liverpool don’t win the Premier League? Don’t even come fourth and don’t qualify for the Champions League? What happens if the football bubble bursts?

Just look at Manchester United were Glazier has also saddled the club with massive debts. Were making money has become the be-and-end-all where even a 50th anniversary memorial of the Munich air disaster bears a large logo for AIG. The memorial has already been vandalised by fans angry with the advertisement – which the club has condemned as 'mindless idiots'. But since when has it become ok to put sponsorship on memorials? Since when has it become acceptable to buy something with someone elses money where you take the profit, but none of the debt if things go wrong? It’s no surprise this economic madness has come to football, its just about bloody time Liverpool supporters made the first moves to take back their football club away from the clutches of people who don’t care for the club, back to where it rightfully belongs – with the fans.

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