Out In The Cold
By Sandra Ireland
From Issue 46, Spring 2000
I am a shareholder. The behaviour of the Liverpool Board shames me. It acts in my name, and what it does is just the same as if I were doing it myself. How would you feel if persons you trusted to act on your behalf had, without your knowledge and certainly without your consent, behaved shamefully towards a respected, honoured group of people who had already suffered much?
I hope you never find out, but I did in March 1999 when I was horrified to discover that the Board of LFC were totally refusing to deal with or even acknowledge the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. That stance is a continual source of distress to bereaved families and survivors who see, in the H.J.C., an organisation that they feel gives them the kind of help and support they so badly need. In October 1998, members of the H.J.C. met with Rick Parry to ask for recognition. They have had neither response nor acknowledgement from him or our club. I was so appalled that I wrote and spoke to Peter Robinson and Rick Parry, asking that the matter be referred to the Board. In May 1999, Mr Parry confirmed that the Board had decided to continue to ignore the H.J.C., while again not having the decency to advise them of this stance.
I could not believe that this shameful decision would be acceptable to other shareholders and I was determined to raise the matter at the Annual General Meeting. On a freezing cold December evening, Steve Dooling (a survivor) and John Glover (a bereaved father) stood outside Anfield, handing out leaflets asking shareholders to persuade the Board to deal decently with the H.J.C. It is sad that only ten years after Hillsborough, our club has no qualms whatsoever in freezing out a survivor and a bereaved father – indeed, reducing them to standing outside like outcasts or beggars, braving the elements.
At the AGM, Peter Robinson answered on behalf of our club. And what an answer it was; astonishingly, on what anyone would surely understand to be a sensitive issue, his manner was aggressive, offensive and brutally dismissive. He said that this was not an appropriate matter for the AGM, and that our club could not be dealing with groups which were “springing up all over the place”. He said they could not deal with two groups that had similar or overlapping views, and in any case he could not understand why the Family Support Group had split and why there had to be two groups anyway!
I felt I had to interrupt this flow of arrogant nonsense. I told him this was precisely an appropriate matter for the AGM, because it reflected on the good name of all shareholders and of our club. It was ridiculous to suggest that groups were springing up all over the place – this was clearly untrue, since there are only two. He knew perfectly well why the FSG split: because the Straw/Stuart Smith whitewash was the last straw for people who had long been calling for a proactive stance. He also knows full well that the two groups could not happily blend back together because the FSG had expelled the H.J.C.’s founder members! As for saying Liverpool FC was incapable of dealing with organisations of similar or overlapping views, they do this routinely every day as part of their normal business. In recent years, Liverpool games have been screened live by the BBC, ITV, Channel 5, SKY, Eurosport and numerous foreign networks – apparently, they can deal with different groups if there’s money involved………
Ignoring all of this, Robinson blithely restated the Club’s position and, after a somewhat stunned silence, David Moores moved the meeting hastily on. No comment, no explanation. Despite Moores, Robinson and the rest of the Board clearly hoping the matter would go away, I was delighted to discover after the meeting that the views I expressed were shared by so many other shareholders present. I was with two members of the H.J.C., Sheila Coleman and the chairman Kevin Robinson, and throughout the remainder of the evening we were continuously approached by shareholders expressing their concern at the situation and their support for the H.J.C. – two were also survivors and they were particularly upset at the Board’s stance.
Why has the present situation arisen? Why is the Board behaving so badly? All the H.J.C. are after is an avenue of dialogue with the club, space in the programme from time to time and basically to receive the same treatment that is afforded to the FSG. Oh, and a signed football – the club couldn’t even give them that when asked. As several shareholders said, somewhat incredulously, “Is that all?!” Yes, that’s all – not a lot really, is it? Our club’s rejection wounds and distresses members of the H.J.C. deeply. Its acceptance would mean a great deal. There is no difference between the bereaved of the FSG and the bereaved of the H.J.C. – they have all lost the people they loved. Why should only one group be welcome at Anfield? In October 1998, Rick Parry maintained Liverpool’s impartiality; this does not square with the Board’s current stance.
The H.J.C. have never asked our club for money – they are self-financed, well-run and well-managed. Volunteers do all this. They have a large and growing membership. They do proven excellent work. They have never insulted or attacked our club. I have heard nothing but silly and fatuous excuses from Rick Parry or Peter Robinson, and I am at a loss to understand why the Board has got itself into this position or what good they think it does our club. Peter Robinson has stated his concerns about the H.J.C. being “political” (whatever that may mean) – does that really excuse their refusal to deal with them? I seem to recall that at one of the Memorial Services at Anfield, Trevor Hicks said the Family Support Group intended to “remain within the political arena”. Indeed, Phil Hammond once threatened to stand against George Howarth in Knowsley in protest at the Scrutiny/Whitewash. Since the FSG has on more than one occasion declared itself to be “political”, and our club maintains a supportive relationship with them, why is this a perceived obstacle to a similar relationship with the H.J.C.?
What happens now? Well, after the AGM many angry shareholders said they would be contacting our club. David Moores said the Board would be discussing the issue again, so let’s wait and see! What can you do? You could contact the H.J.C. or even join them – all are welcome. You could contact our club and tell them what you think. I know I’ve used that phrase throughout this article but that’s what it is: our club. Board members come and go, but supporters are supporters for life. We are its’ lifeblood and it ours’. Why should we allow any Bereaved Families or Survivors, who still suffer from injustices inflicted by those outside Anfield, to suffer more pain from further injustices inflicted by those inside Anfield?