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Breaking Down John W Henry’s Apology to Liverpool Fans

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It’s as good an apology as one could hope for, but the rift caused this week by the club’s owners may never fully heal.

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Fans Respond To News Of Football Super League Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Liverpool Football Club’s principle owner, John W Henry, has apologised to the fans, players, manager, and employees after the club attempted to form a breakaway European Super League that collapsed in spectacular fashion just two days after it was announced due to the grassroots backlash.

I want to apologise to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the past 48 hours.

It goes without saying but should be said that the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans. No-one ever thought differently in England. Over these 48 hours you were very clear that it would not stand. We heard you. I heard you.

And I want to apologise to Jürgen, to Billy, to the players and to everyone who works so hard at LFC to make our fans proud. They have absolutely no responsibility for this disruption. They were the most disrupted and unfairly so. This is what hurts most. They love your club and work to make you proud every single day.

As apologies go, it’s probably the best that could have been hoped for, with Henry pointing to himself and taking the blame from the beginning. That’s in stark contrast to the rollout of the planned Super League that saw the club post quotes from Manchester United’s owners on their website while Henry and Fenway Sports Group remained silent for two days.

It’s also noteworthy Henry didn’t attempt to sidestep the issue, to apologise if people were offended but instead to simply hold up his hand and say that he and the owners fucked up. After Jürgen Klopp and the club’s players were left to face the heat on Monday after having news of the Super League sprung on them late Sunday the same as the fans, that he made the apology to them as well was also necessary.

The apparent cowardice of the club’s owners in the rollout of their Super League plans, leaving the club’s manager and players in the dark and ensuring they would be the ones targeted by angry fans and incensed pundits, was one of the most disappointing aspects of the entire sorry affair. That they have publicly acknowledged as much is worth something.

I know the entire LFC team has the expertise, leadership and passion necessary to rebuild trust and help us move forward. More than a decade ago when we signed up for the challenges associated with football, we dreamed of what you dreamed of. And we’ve worked hard to improve your club. Our work isn’t done. And I hope you’ll understand that even when we make mistakes, we’re trying to work in your club’s best interests. In this endeavour I’ve let you down.

That, though, is now a major problem: Trust. It’s difficult to think of a better start to an apology than the one issued by Henry today, and yet it’s hard to overstate just how much any trust built over ten years of hard work by the owners has been damaged this week.

Henry and FSG only came to own the club in the first because of the disastrous ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. They only came to own the club because the fans fought to help push them out of the club—because they didn’t understand it, looked to exploit it, and weren’t competent custodians of its history and values.

To FSG’s credit, they’ve worked hard over their decade of ownership—with some obvious missteps, but nothing so egregious they couldn’t mostly recover—to gain some measure of real trust, and perhaps even good will, from supporters who had been badly burned by the last owners.

Henry’s apology suggests he understands all of that on some level, and it’s likely the view of most supporters towards FSG aren’t now at the same low levels they were towards Hicks and Gillett as their time at the club neared its end, but any trust and good will seems largely gone today.

Again, I’m sorry, and I alone am responsible for the unnecessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days. It’s something I won’t forget. And shows the power the fans have today and will rightly continue to have.

If there’s one thing this horrible pandemic has clearly shown, it’s how crucial fans are to our sport and to every sport. It’s shown in every empty stadium. It’s been an incredibly tough year for all of us; virtually no-one unaffected. It’s important that the Liverpool football family remains intact, vital and committed to what we’ve seen from you globally, with local gestures of kindness and support. I can promise you I will do whatever I can to further that.

It’s a good apology, as far as apologies go. It seems sincere, as much as sincerity can ever truly be judged. Yet it remains hard to look past the reason for the apology: that Henry and the owners began an undertaking they knew would, at best, be massively controversial by hiding themselves away, by not even attempting to make their case for it to the supporters, and by leaving Klopp and the players to deal with the fallout.

Henry and FSG know the situation that existed at the club when they bought it and the role fan activism played in the downfall of the last owners. They know the backlash they have faced and had to try to work their way back from after more minor missteps. And yet here they proposed a seismic restructuring to European football that would have made domestic play an afterthought and removed any real downsides for failing to field a competitive side as though it was an afterthought worthy of a quick press release and a shrug.

It seems preposterous they didn’t envisage the degree to which fans, not just of Liverpool and the other involved English clubs but of football more generally, would be enraged by it. Which, good apology or not, leaves us sat in the aftermath of it all with shattered trust and questions as to whether the entire undertaking was launched due to malicious greed or gross incompetence.

Neither option is especially appealing. Either option leaves us not knowing if there’s a real road back. Even if Henry and FSG buckle down again and put in the work over the coming years, there will be no supporter who doesn’t always have that little kernel of doubt in the back of their heads because of the past few days.

It’s a good apology, as far as apologies go. But it doesn’t change that recent events have made it clear European football is fundamentally broken, and it’s the actions of Liverpool’s owners along with Manchester United’s and Arsenal’s and Tottenham’s and Manchester City’s and Chelsea’s that have made that impossible to ignore.

A decade ago, we might have said the road to trust for any new owners of Liverpool Football Club was through putting in the hard work to prove they weren’t the same as Tom Hicks and George Gillett. We thought, for a time, Henry and FSG had done that. Now, it’s clear the only road to real trust between supporters and clubs is in moving towards a model like the Bundesliga’s 50+1 ownership rules that would give fans direct power over every Premier League side.