The first thing that sprang to mind when I heard that Rogan Taylor was plotting to buy the club was “I knew it!” When Rogan Taylor first crept into my consciousness as Lecturer in Football Studies, or whatever academically-ranked-behind-Old-Greek-and-Economics pursuit he follows, back in the early 1990’s, I thought he was a Red. Some reading this will say “duh!” to that. But I can’t ever recall a clear reference to his footballing allegiances in the media, and no doubt he’s played his cards relatively close to his chest so as to preclude knee-jerk accusations of bias. And among those who weren’t 100% sure, there must be a few Bluenoses who are darkly muttering about the perfidy of the University of Liverpool and its board consisting of Clive Thomas, Pierluigi Collina and the entire staff of Uefa c. 1985. If it hadn’t have been for Rogan Taylor, I wouldn’t have failed my exams, not turning up for any lectures (or even the exams) had nothing to do with it . . .
The next thing that comes to mind is whether his figures stack up. Are there really 100,000 Liverpool fans worldwide willing to stump up £5,000 to buy the club? Five grand to buy 0.001% of something that, in a very real sense, we all own anyway for free seems steep. Yet it’s hard to believe that Dr Taylor hasn’t done his research on this, found half a million people in supporters clubs and online who have expressed an interest and calculated from research that 20% of people who ‘express an interest’ in investing in projects like this are eventually willing to put their money where their mouth is.
The big question though is what he and his backers expect the end result of this action would be. No one would quibble with the idea of the club belonging to the fans in an even more real sense than the very real sense that it is already owned by the fans. If that was enough for the fans in itself, then the proposal would be a no-brainer. But the recent pleas for the al-Maktoum’s to come in and rescue the club show that people want success and they don’t care if it’s Uncle Tom Cobley who is writing the cheques as long as they have space for lots of zeroes and don’t bounce.
Aha, Dr Taylor and his backers might counter, clubs can be owned by the fans and be successful. He cites the fact that six of the last fifteen Champions League titles have been won by clubs owned by their supporters – as an exercise in showing that one doesn’t have to be spoon-fed by Google to Know Things, I’m guessing that these clubs are Barcelona (2), Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. Barcelona shine through as the exemplar of fan owned clubs, regularly going toe-to-toe with the forces of the Falange, aka Real Madrid, and coming out on top, a club so sickeningly virtuous that the only group they have ever given shirt sponsorship rights to was Unicef – a classic case of someone please thinking of the children.
There are a few problems with what might be termed the Barca model. The most obvious one is that they may be great but are a distant second in Spain to the aforementioned evil Falangists. Barcelona fans, fired up by a sense of righteous Catalan nationalism, might be happy to wallow in their virtue and blithely account for any gap between themselves and Madrid by blaming El Diablo, or corrupt Spanish refs, or saying that they are one and the same thing. Liverpool fans, raised on being the best and getting increasingly hysterical at the prospect of being overtaken in the league title stakes by the much more evil Manchester United, might balk at any model which expects them to settle for second best.
Another issue is that while it may work for Barcelona, it doesn’t seem to work particularly well for some of the other clubs who use it. Most (all?) clubs in Germany are owned by their fans, and on the face of it Bayern Munich aren’t doing so badly. But Felix Magath confessed after winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles with FC Hollywood that he’d happily forgo a hat-trick if he could deliver a European trophy – that’s any trophy, even the Uefa Cup. Given that European Cup win, and the prospect of more of them, is the one thing we can cling on to in our rearguard action with the forces of Mancdom, any ownership model that reduces our competitiveness on that front is too scary to contemplate. Tickets for the German league are famously cheap, and their fans seem content with that, but I’m not sure Liverpool fans would be happy with the cheaper tickets => less success equation, especially seeing as tens of thousands of the putative owners would be domiciled far from Anfield and not in a position to benefit from cheaper tickets.
Which leads to another stumbling block: the season ticket holders, as pampered and self-serving a group as there has ever been since the First Estate before the French Revolution. The Barca model involves each member being entitled to buy tickets for individual matches. The season ticket system that we have in England is unknown to the Spanish. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that anyone willing to cough up £5,000 for the good of the club would be in the first tier of ticket entitlements, which would mean abolishing the season ticket system. You can imagine the howls of outrage from that particular group, and while no one would be more chuffed to see the rug being pulled from under the men born 150 years ago whose season ticket is being used from beyond the grave, I can appreciate how they’d be entitled to claim that when they invested in a season ticket all those years ago when no one else was willing to come up with the money up front there was an expectation that they’d have it for keeps. That might even be legally true in the way that squatters have rights, and I can see a few taking legal action to retain that right rather than having their entitlement diluted into a mere membership scheme.
I have no doubt that Rogan Taylor has thought all this through. This isn’t some joker pulling a fast one. He has been a constant presence in the football world for the best part of two decades and clearly wants what is best for football fans in general (not that I care about them) and Liverpool fans in particular (about whom I care very much). But ask fans whether they would like fans to own the club, they’d all say yes. Ask fans whether they’d be willing to take the chance on having less success as one of the prices of fans owning the club, approval would be less than universal. How willing Liverpool fans are to adjust to this reality, only time will tell.