Few figures in English football in recent years have been more vocal in their support of marginalised communities and social issues than ex-Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, who made causes like supporting the NHS, Black Lives Matter movement, and Rainbow Laces campaign cornerstones of his personal brand and public persona.
His decision to head to Saudi Pro League club Al-Ettifaq, a move that will see Henderson’s wages funded by a government that has set aside money for clubs to pay foreign stars—bringing with it both foreign and domestic sportswashing implications—has inevitably led to a backlash by fans who see Henderson’s move as hypocritical.
Especially for those within marginalised groups he previously supported, there are now questions as to whether the support was ever sincere or simply about burnishing his own image—using his proximity to social causes to make himself look better just as Saudi Arabia now want to use him and other footballers to make themselves look better.
That disappointment and the disillusionment that comes with it—especially for fans who live their lives as targets for injustice and discrimination and cannot simply put aside who they are for a payday—was entered into the record today by Liverpool’s official Supporters Board when the group released a statement on Henderson’s departure.
“Jordan Henderson was a true captain and true leader for LFC on and off the pitch,” read the statement on Henderson’s decision to join Al-Ettifaq and shared earlier today by Supporters Board and Spirit of Shankly chairman Joe Blott. “We know he did much to promote inclusion on and off the pitch. He stood out as a principled footballer.
“We are therefore very disappointed and disheartened by his decision and the hurt and division it has created. The essence of the LFC supporters board is to be inclusive and ensure all fans, whatever their faith, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability can attend and enjoy football. That’s what we want for fans [and] for football.”
Henderson’s legacy at Liverpool will be the trophies he lifted. But just as much, his legacy will now be of a public figure who used his support of marginalised communities to bolster and burnish his public image while at Liverpool and in England only to then abandon what he had claimed to stand for in exchange for further enriching himself.