A Masshole Goes Among The Thugs
“We organized a lot of protests — during the game, before the game, after the game,” McKenna said. “We had 10,000 people staying behind to protest.” There was also, of course, the Fourth of July rally, and the time group members blocked the owners from getting into the stadium. And then, when the “brash Texas businessmen” went looking for still more financing to try to hold on to Liverpool, Spirit of Shankly members e-mailed basically every major bank in the Western world, imploring them not to give the Americans a dime.
Now the group viewed itself as a sort of watchdog, looking out for the interests of the fans. Peter, the bartender at the Albert, had promised me pointed opinions from these guys, so I was hoping McKenna would have something firm to say about the new ownership group. But he, like everybody else, was cautiously optimistic. After Hicks and Gillett, he explained, fans were apt to be more patient with Henry. McKenna and a small cadre of his Shankly compatriots had even been invited to meet with the new owners in person, and the differences were clear. “In the past, we’d met George Gillett and he didn’t listen; he always wanted to tell us how it was,” McKenna said. “But John Henry and Tom Werner were very good. They listened to us; they wanted to understand.”
Huh? What was there to understand? Wasn’t it supposed to be that Liverpool supplied the cash and the Red Sox spent it? I asked McKenna what he thought about being the little brother in the Henry empire. While it was certainly a concern whether Henry would spend enough to keep up with the sheiks and oligarchs running England’s other big teams, McKenna said he was confident Liverpool would be funded adequately. Really? How could these guys — the people who held a Fourth of July rally to kick the Americans out — come away from a meeting with Henry feeling confident? I was starting to worry about my mercantilist vision. “Obviously,” McKenna said, “the last thing we’d want is more money from Liverpool being spent on the Boston Red Sox.”
In time, a guy named Paul Gardner, Shankly’s community and youth officer — community and youth officer! — wandered by the table. I asked him what he thought about the recent coaching change. “Spirit of Shankly don’t really comment on player or manager issues,” was all he’d say. “We’re not about that.” He was pleased, though, to see Henry embracing “the Liverpool Way.”
IT WAS A FEW MINUTES before game time when I arrived at my seat in the sideline grandstand. Everton, known as the Blues for the color of their jerseys, and Liverpool, likewise called the Reds, were on the field warming up. Looking across the, ahem, “pitch,” I could see that fans were already going wild. It was King Kenny Dalglish’s first game back at Anfield, and over in the Kop, one of the giant flags they were waving had Dalglish’s face painstakingly sewn in black and white, while another proclaimed the “Return of the King.” As the players warmed up, the Kopites were chanting Dalglish’s name and singing “When the Reds Go Marching In.” In my own section, the fans were not quite so amped, but still pumped and packed in tight. With my knees jammed up against the wooden seat in front of me, it felt a bit like Fenway.