Thirty-three words, but so much significance. And, to put it bluntly, the kind of strong, forthright leadership that Liverpool’s owners can only dream of right now.
It started a little after 9pm on Tuesday night. One post, then another, then another. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane.
All of them.
Each post was the same, its blood red background accentuating the words which carried such weight, such importance.
“We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen,” they read. “This is our collective position. Our commitment to this football club and its supporters is absolute and unconditional.
“You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
A few hours later, their club finally spoke. Shortly before 11pm, a statement landed on Liverpool’s official website, confirming that they had “discontinued” their involvement in proposed plans to form a European Super League (ESL).
At the same time, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham followed suit. Manchester City had withdrawn earlier in the day, after Chelsea had confirmed they were preparing to exit.
And with that, the most controversial idea in European football’s recent history was squashed, dead in the water.
Well, for now at least, anyway.
It brings to an end a frenzied 48 hours of talks and briefings, of statements and suggestions, protests and concern. We’ll remember April 2021 alright; a time when football was at war, when the ‘Dirty Dozen’ threatened to tip the domestic, European and international game upside down.
But we’ll also remember the heroes of the piece, those who acted with integrity and courage, who spoke up when it would have been easy to sit in silence and who helped force these clubs, these behemoths, into this most public, most embarrassing of climbdowns.
What is it they say; the power of the people is greater than the people in power?
We have witnessed the power of football’s people this week alright. Its players and its supporters have stood tall. At Liverpool, the backlash was both impressive and immediate.
The club announced its intention to join the Super League just before midnight on Sunday, and within hours its supporters had begun to mobilise. Spion Kop 1906, a prominent Reds fan group, announced they would be removing their iconic flags and banners from inside Anfield.
“We feel we can no longer give our support to a club which puts financial greed above the integrity of the game,” they posted.
Spirit of Shankly, the Liverpool supporters’ union, said they were “appalled” by their club’s involvement, labelling the plans “embarrassing”, “shocking” and “shameless”. At Anfield, some fans hung banners on the gates of the Kop, protesting against the proposed Super League.
On Monday afternoon, Liverpool’s players left their hotel in Leeds city centre and headed out for a short walk, part of their pre-match routine for all away games.
During it, they were confronted by a handful of supporters, who hurled insults. They were called “greedy b*stards” and told to “f*ck off to the Super League”.
This continued when the squad arrived at Elland Road for that evening’s Premier League clash, the team coach greeted by a group of more than 100 fans, some of whom unfurled a banner which read ‘RIP Liverpool – Thanks for the memories’.
In the dressing room, staff found T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Football is for the fans’ on the back and ‘Earn it’ on the front, together with the UEFA Champions League logo. Leeds’ players wore them while warming up, while outside the ground a saxophonist played the Abba song ‘Money, Money, Money’ on loop as the game got underway.
Afterwards came the first signs that Klopp and his players were prepared to push back against the club’s plans. Klopp told Sky Sports his opinion on a Super League, first stated back in 2019, had not changed, that he was against the idea and that he had not been consulted prior to the story emerging the previous day.
In his post-match press conference, he sought to protect his players, whom he felt had been unfairly targeted, and insisted he would not resign as manager despite his reservations. FSG, he said, were “serious people, reasonable people, who care”, though he did say, pointedly, that “there will be a moment for sure when our owners say what they have to say”.
Then came the players. Milner, unsurprisingly, was the one selected for post-match media duties at Elland Road. “The only one who could be trusted to speak properly,” said one source, and he most certainly did.
“I don’t like it and I don’t want it to happen,” the 35-year-old said, a precursor to the social media posts which would follow on Tuesday.
Tuesday was a day of recovery at Liverpool, but the mood at the club’s Kirkby training ground was tense, and not just because of the points dropped in Yorkshire the previous evening.
The senior players, led by Henderson and Milner, but also Gini Wijnaldum and the influential Van Dijk, spoke regularly throughout the day.
Henderson also contacted the captains of the 19 other Premier League clubs, including those at Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham, to organise a Zoom call for Wednesday, in which players could discuss their feelings on the matter and, more pertinently, formulate their response.
Henderson has taken on that role before. It was he, along with others such as Mark Noble of West Ham, Watford’s Troy Deeney and Manchester United’s Harry Maguire, who took the lead in organising the #PlayersTogether charitable fund last April, which ensured vital funds were distributed to NHS charities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Henderson’s role in that initiative, one source says, was “immense” and certainly won’t be forgotten. “He was brilliant,” said Wolves skipper Conor Coady.
The same goes for his work here. Liverpool’s players were pretty much unanimous in their opposition to the Super League, and it was their captain, who is currently recovering from a groin operation, who led the way with the co-ordinated statements on Tuesday – although the wording certainly felt like a nod to Milner’s comments the previous night.
And sure enough, the house of cards soon came falling down.
Football clubs, and football club owners, may be hard-nosed, but they know when a battle is beyond them. And when you have the fans against you and the players against you, you’re fighting a losing one.
Manchester City went first, then Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool late in the day. The rest of the Super League followers have now started to give in. They all will, eventually. They have no other choice.
John W. Henry, Liverpool’s principal owner, finally apologised on Wednesday morning. “I’ve let you down,” he said, in a two-and-a-half minute video message from Boston. It was the first time the club’s ownership had spoken out.
In fact, we had heard more from Joel Glazer than Henry on the Reds’ official website up to that point. Work that one out.
We know what the players and the supporters think. They told us, loud and clear.
So here’s to you, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Jurgen Klopp, Spirit of Shankly, Spion Kop 1906.
Here’s to you Jamie Carragher, Gary Neville, Sir Kenny Dalglish, Everton Football Club, Fulham Football Club, Robbie Fowler, Ander Herrera, Marcus Rashford, Patrick Bamford, Pep Guardiola, Joao Cancelo, Bruno Fernandes, Luke Shaw and all those who spoke out against this.
Without them, the Super League 12 may very well have gotten away with it. It doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?
Need Your Help Today. Your $1 can change life.