There’s a very popular perspective in the US and in other places around the world that all things have a profit motive. To those people, anything that doesn’t make money doesn’t really have a place in “adult” society; ostensibly because there’s no genuine drive to make it happen. “Genuine” tends to equate to “practical” in this conception and “practical” always means money.
I’ve long argued against this perspective, both because I’m a Marxist and because I’m a believer in the concept of social (and personal) responsibility. To me, Nike’s purpose isn’t to make money. It’s to make shoes. If they make good enough shoes then, yes, they’re going to make money and loads of it. But the company that bears that name didn’t rise from the trunk of Phil Knight’s car into a multinational conglomerate because its sole reason for existence was simply to make money. It was about making better shoes than other people were producing. It later became about making the Nike brand (the “swoosh”) stand for something; an ideal that Knight thought spoke about sports and achievement (“Just do it.”) That’s more than just a couple guys in a boiler room with their spreadsheets, working derivatives.
Football clubs, as should be obvious, are the same way. Almost none of them were created to make money (We’ll just dance around the topic of RB Leipzig right now.) They were created to compete and entertain and give some sense of civic pride to the local residents and the club’s members. Boiled down to its essence, the idea was: “Together, we can do this thing.” That’s as much a baseline for community endeavor and concern for one’s neighbors as anything. The philosophy is that we all succeed when everyone succeeds, by definition. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “As long as there is poverty in this world, no man can be totally rich, even if he has a billion dollars.” Many modern clubs were created in circumstances that didn’t have anything to do with money or wealth. They were creations of working-class men and women who were trying to demonstrate their pride in who they were and where they came from; their pride in being Scousers or Yonners or Mackems. But it was also taking pride in their humanity; trying to get the ownership class to acknowledge that they were, in fact, human: as workers, as families, and as football players. If they couldn’t get the owners to acknowledge the first two without violence, they could at least do so on the football pitch.
That perspective is especially prominent in Liverpool; long the city of the working class with an identity that many felt made it distinct from the predominantly London-based ownership class (“Not English, but Scouse!”.) It’s even more prominent in our own Liverpool Football Club since the arrival of one William Shankly, 61 years ago. Shankly spoke proudly about his conception of the club as one rooted in socialism. From his perspective, the club was of the people and for the people. Making money was the way the club kept going, but the purpose- the identity -of LFC was playing good football and bringing pride to the people on Merseyside. That meant that profits were sacrificed for the good of the people involved; not least the people who worked off the pitch to keep the club going, but also those people that filled the stands at Anfield or even simply those who lived nearby and needed a hand from someone who had one to offer.
So, it’s understandable that the general reaction to the club’s recent announcement of its intent to place many of its workers on furlough (what we in the States would call “getting laid off”) was poor. It came with a caveat, in that LFC intended to make up the 20% shortfall that came with enrolling in the government’s emergency assistance program. But that was still seen by most, both inside and outside the club, as a violation of the principles upon which it was founded and which Shankly revived. The reaction becomes especially poignant when one remembers that we’re just more than a year removed from the club’s proud declaration of record profits and even less time removed from its declaration of a massive surge in revenues, to accompany similarly large outlays for players and for Anfield. Like many of the “haves” in football’s economic strata, LFC is a very wealthy club. FSG has done wonderful work in reviving our fortunes, literally and figuratively, and when this crisis is past, we should be comfortably able to continue the recent run of success.
However, that success needs to be distributed to everyone involved in making it happen. When this crisis is past, no one will emerge from it unscathed except the already absurdly wealthy (and the question of why is a pointed one that should be repeatedly, and forcefully, asked over the coming months…) As Peter Moore noted in his statement declaring that the club’s workers would instead be fully paid by the club, LFC will be taking a pretty huge revenue hit as a consequence of all of this turmoil, as well. But the point is that the club isn’t in existence simply to make money. The club is here to make life better for its members, its supporters, fans of football… and its workers, who are typically all of the above. This is the social responsibility of Liverpool Football Club, as it is of all corporations and entities. “The economy” is not one of those entities. It’s made up of all of them; government, companies, clubs, neighbors, people. You don’t try to save “the economy” by sacrificing the people and you don’t save the club some pounds by sacrificing its workers or in putting more pressure on society when the ability to take care of its own people is extant.. As noted, LFC was going to make sure that said workers were kept whole, alongside the government, but that social responsibility extends to smaller entities, too, and when other people not working for a club as successful as Liverpool could use those funds, then the proper thing to do is make sure not just your workers and the club stay whole but society, as well, to the best of your, and our, ability.
As the saying goes: there is no bad time to do the right thing. In the end, FSG has done the right thing. It may impair the club somewhat in the coming months. It may put on hold the changes to the Anfield Road end. It may mean that Jürgen Klopp’s plan for players may have to be changed. It may mean that it’s tougher for us to compete with wealthier clubs, like the Mancunians. All of that is irrelevant if we are to adhere to the principles upon which the club was founded and which persist to this day; most notably under Klopp. Put simply: The club is here to benefit the lives of the people within and around it. If that makes it less profitable in the truly American sense, so be it. Make no mistake: This is who we are. I wouldn’t call myself a Liverpool supporter if I didn’t believe in the way the club was operating and I’m happy to say that, with some encouragement, the club is doing so. For that, we should all be pleased, even as we wait, together, for the uncertain future to resolve itself. After all, this is what the words of our anthem stand for. This will pass and we will be the stronger for it. Together.