Sunday, 17 October 2010

Anfield Trauma A Familiar Tale

Did you get a feeling of déjà vu this week? The ongoing saga of the sale of Liverpool certainly rang a few bells!

There've been so many elements of this story which resonate with our own problems over the past decade that it's untrue. In fact I must admit to turning into the water cooler bore last Friday, pigeon-holing a Liverpool-supporting work colleague at lunch and ranting on about the situation, using my "unique insight and experience of the situation" to shout the odds about an affair he knew a lot more about than I did! He's a top bloke and didn't deserve to be the victim of such an out-of-control ego, but at least he took it well!

It's been morbidly fascinating to follow the story via the Guardian's excellent live blog coverage, and there have been points where recalling what happened to us has given Wrexham fans an ability to read between the lines. For example, when we were waiting for the High Court judgement and it was broadly expected to be merely a stage in the process which would be appealed against by whoever lost, I was thinking back to how the judge in our case denied Alex Hamilton the right to appeal, which was essentially what happened this week.

The confusion over what would happen if Liverpool went into administration was also reminiscent of our plight. It seemed nobody was quite sure what would happen as a consequence, and when we became the first club to suffer a points deduction under the Football League's rules the situation was similar.

The ten point penalty was a completely random one, the amount pulled out of the air, and we were constantly exasperated by the FL's failure to give quick, clear answers to our queries when new problems arose. They simply hadn't thought it through, and used us as guinea pigs! I have an image of them retiring into a huddle in the corner of the playground, like kids trying to decide which of the unathletic children they'd be forced to pick for their team in P.E., before coming up with an off-the-hoof solution!

Let me give you an example: there was an arbitrary limit on how many players we were allowed in our squad (indeed, there were lots of extra, illogical punishments imposed willy-nilly on us as they saw fit after the event, some of which were quietly ditched). Any experienced player on our books counted towards that figure, and we were only allowed two keepers. Imagine our delight when the FL dictated that one of those "experienced" keepers was Michael Jones, who at the time was an 18 year old who, two years earlier, had played 45 of a first team game! Thankfully they backed down on that one, and seemed to go easy on the interpretation of the emergency loan as we were given some leeway to compile a squad.

Of course, one key difference is the scale of the clubs in question. There's a strong suspicion, well-expounded on the EPL Talk podcast, that a club the size of Liverpool could never be allowed to go out of business as their scale means there'd always be someone willing to make the necessary investment. I think that's true, and it certainly couldn't be said of clubs like us- just look at what happened to Chester. Mind you, if the club's support is vibrant a rebirth could be a good thing; hopefully Chester will show that as Newport and Wimbledon already have. Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to take two forwards.

My assumption that Liverpool would be invulnerable to liquidation’s got a negative side for them though; while there will surely always be a bidder for them, there’s no guarantee that those people would have the good of the club at heart. The Fit and Proper Person test the Premier League apply loos as absurd as the Football League’s. After all, the former let Hicks and Gillett in, and the latter didn’t halt Alex Hamilton. I wrote in my Leader column at the time that, according to the Football League’s test, Fred West, Saddam Hussein and Nick Leeson were fit and proper people to take control of an FL club!

Liverpool might never disappear and have to be reconstituted, but the example of Leeds is one their fans have rightly been heeding: I hope Manchester United’s supporters wake up to the fact that when their fall comes, and it looks like it’s merely a matter of time to me, it’s going to be worse than Liverpool’s because the figures they’re playing with are even greater! It seems that the final nudge the leveraging house of cards needs is a downturn on the pitch. Stop me if I’m wrong, but did the home game against West Brom not quite go as planned yesterday?

Liverpool aren’t out of the woods yet. For us, the real killer was the aftermath of our problems. The anxiety of an imminent threat to our existence passed, but the hangover of years of trauma was harder to shake.

We wouldn't be in non league football if Hamilton had never happened; I'm sure of that (not that it was inevitable; I'm equally certain we'd still be in the Football League if Denis Smith hadn't been dismissed.)

I think our inability to get over what has happened to us is tied up with the nature of our entry into administration. We didn't do it to avoid paying our bills, the reason the points deduction was introduced. We did it to regain control of the club and save it.

That should have been recognized when we appealed against our punishment, but it wasn't because politics was Brian Mawhinney's game and he wasn't about to introduce a flagship piece of legislation then see the first club to come under its jurisdiction evade punishment. However, the fact that we hadn't artificially constructed a team by spending more than we had, then wiped out the debt, meant we came out of administration in a worse state than the ruthless sides the punishment was introduced to deter. At least they clung onto some of their ill-gotten gains; indeed, some prospered despite their punishments.

I’m sure Liverpool’s travails are a temporary state of affairs, although they do have one amusing consequence in my house. Like so many schoolkids in a small town, my lad supports two teams: his local side and a Premiership one. However, for the first time in five seasons, he’s actually enjoying following Wrexham more than Liverpool!

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