Ask the Expert: Liverpool FC Historian John Williams
Though he has a day job in the sociology department at the University of Leicester (UK), John Williams may be better known as the author of soccer histories. In particular, he’s written several histories involving our new sports brethren, Liverpool FC. Last fall, he published his definitive book, Red Men: Liverpool Football Club — The Biography. To learn all the team’s heroes and villains, as well as a social history of the city itself, eager new fans should look no further than these 430 pages. Unfortunately, the book came out mere months before Fenway Sports Group bought the team, so it ends abruptly with the chaos and uncertainty of the Tom Hicks–George Gillett ownership. Fear not, Williams says, a paperback version should be out in the US in August, updated to include the advent of John Henry and pals.
As we at Boston have gotten a little obsessive about our new adopted team, we couldn’t wait until summer to hear what his thoughts are on the new ownership and the future of the franchise:
MRB: How bad was Liverpool’s situation under Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and how do you rate John Henry and Fenway Sports Group’s ownership so far?
JW: The situation was very bad – the worst most of us could remember. The perception here was that the last owners did not care at all about the club, but only about establishing a ridiculous and unattainable price at which they might sell in order to balance financial losses elsewhere. There was no respect for the owners who were widely seen not just as money grabbers but as inept businessmen. The interest payments on their loans meant money which could (and should) have been spent signing players was rendered unavailable and the Liverpool players and manager had no sense of a common direction and a secure future. A number of them — Fernando Torres for one — had obviously become disillusioned and this showed on the pitch. [ED. NOTE: Torres was the disgruntled Liverpool forward who left the team for Chelsea in midseason.] This general alienation and uncertainty was also deeply felt among the supporters. Finally there was a general sense of public shame that a club with this history and stature should have been reduced to a commodity, a “product” to be hawked around potential suitors.
So far the new owners have shown some commitment and good sense – and they are benefiting from the car crash which went before. Their presence at matches is welcomed and their buyout is no leveraged deal. People are cautiously optimistic, but their willingness to invest the necessary capital will be a major test.
MRB: From a marketing and business standpoint, what are the most important things Fenway Sports Group should do to boost Liverpool FC?
[sidebar]JW: Get the team winning matches and back in elite European competition again and resolve urgently the question of stadium development. Liverpool fans are not wedded to the concept of a new stadium, but it is clear that increasing capacity and improving and extending facilities is crucial from a commercial standpoint when we look at our closest rivals. So the owners need to grasp this question and decide which route now we are going to take — redevelop Anfield or new build — and then get the process moving rapidly with a realistic completion date. This will also demonstrate that Fenway are here for the long haul.