AFC Liverpool: An interview with its founder

AFC LiverpoolDisillusioned by the greed of the Premier League in general and upset at how Liverpool have been run since the debt-laden takeover of the club by George Gillett and Tom Hicks, supporter Alun Parry decided to do something to save the ethos of the club he loves: see if there was interest in starting a new, grassroots version of Liverpool FC.

So this week, after much discussion with Liverpool fans, Parry launched a website to see if there was interest in founding a new supporter-run non-League club. As we reported yesterday, he called it AFC Liverpool Grassroots and despite a low-key launch, it’s already attracted considerable attention. Similar supporter-run ventures by those sick about the development of football at the top of the English pyramid and the treatment of their club in particular, such as FC United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon, have been successful.

Pitch Invasion spoke exclusively and at length with Parry about his reasoning behind the idea, its relation to Rogan Taylor’s Share Liverpool FC buy-out plan, and his plans for the future.

Q. Why did you decide to float this idea?

A. Football has changed hugely from the game I grew up with. One can probably date this back to the inception of the Premier League. But the last 12 months have been particularly interesting. LFC was sold to people who don’t appear to have the club’s best interests at heart. Then the Premier League eclipsed even that issue with their 39 game plan. It seemed that the fans, the local community and even the competition were irrelevant in the face of moneychasing.

For a while, I’ve felt that while I still love Liverpool FC, and while football at the highest level has many things to offer, there are many things that it cannot. The traditional values of the game seem now to be beyond it. Many fans miss them, as do I. I’ve idly mentioned the idea of a lower league version of LFC, run by and owned by the fans on football forums that I post on.

Recently I took it a step further and posted a poll on an LFC fans site asking how many fans (who live local enough for the question to be worthwhile) would go to watch such a team. 38% said they would.

The Premier League plan merely made me want this additional club more. People will paint this as a response to Hicks and Gillette in the way that FC United was a response to Glazer, but in fact it isn’t really. It’s a general response to the fact that money rules in the Premier League, and we need more than what the Premier League can offer.

I raised the issue again with fellow fans to a generally supportive response in the aftermath of the “39 Game plan”. I decided that the only way to move the idea a stage forward was to offer something concrete. So I created the website and posted details.

I have kept it deliberately low key at this stage to ascertain the level of interest without something spiralling out of control and without a non-story turning into a story.

So that’s a general run up to the thinking behind this. I’d like to specifically point out, though, that this is not an anti-LFC idea. I remain a passionate Liverpool supporter. I just need my old school buttons pressed and it’s now obvious that the Premier League has different motivations than I do.

Q. Who is behind the effort exactly? Has the launch of the site generated much interest so far?

A. The interest has been steady, but low key. That’s how I’ve initially kept it. The site has only been up a matter of days. However, since the story hit your site it’s become clear just how big the interest is for something like this.

My name is Alun Parry. I’m a singer songwriter based in Liverpool and a Liverpool fan. I lay no claim to any special expertise other than good organisational skills, but I have a history of DIY projects musically, and I know that once you bring people into an idea that it brings with it its own pool of talents. I am now at the stage where I am canvassing amongst those who have signed up to the mailing list to find those keen to form a planning group to get things up and running.

Once this planning group is established, I’d expect that the next step is to research the ins and outs of setting up an IPS and then call an open meeting amongst Liverpool supporters to introduce the concept to everybody, and set up some form of trust or body.

I have emailed Supporters Direct which I believe was set up by the government so am hopeful that we get some handholding from them.

There is also a number of fan owned or fan run clubs at various levels who can be approached for advice and to hear their experiences.

Q. Any thoughts on where you’d play?

A. Not yet no. Maybe when Everton are in Kirkby we could take Goodison Park over (joke!). Seriously no, I’m really not at that stage yet. It would probably be a bit arrogant anyhow at this stage to bandy names about. I’m sure those who currently play at those grounds wouldn’t appreciate that!

Q. Do you think the example of FC United of Manchester, set up by supporters of your biggest rival Manchester United, is a help or a hindrance?

A. It’s true that some Liverpool fans have been switched off the idea by the example of FC United for two reasons. One, they see it as copying Man Utd and the rivalry means they don’t like that. Two, they perceive (rightly or wrongly) that the FC United project as an anti MUFC project in its inception, and so they extrapolate that this must be an anti-LFC project.

Of course, it isn’t, and the circumstances and motivations are very different. Anyone reading the website properly can see that this is not against Liverpool Football Club, who I remain an ardent supporter of.

However, I think many people will rightly see the example of FC United as a help. My own view is that FC United have done grassroots football a great service. They, and other fan-led projects, have proven that fans can own and run a football club successfully. I think we should view their example as something to borrow from.

Yes, there is a rivalry between clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United, but in my view, two football fans will always have more in common and more to unite them than a fan and a money man. Football is our game, and anybody who asserts the role of the football supporter should in my view be congratulated and thanked.

Q. Will you be approaching Rogan Taylor about your idea? What’s your view on his idea and could you work with it?

A. I have a huge amount of respect for Rogan Taylor but have never met him personally. I’ve not considered approaching Rogan with my idea. Perhaps I should. I’m sure he could offer some wise words of advice.

I think he’s frying bigger fish, though, as he is attempting to put Liverpool Football Club itself in the hands of the supporters. It’s an alternative project but one I fully support and hope he succeeds in. I can’t think of anyone I’d trust more to own LFC than its own supporters, can you? I couldn’t afford to invest personally given the figures I’ve read so far though.

I believe that the only way to safeguard the game and our clubs is to put the fans in charge, and Rogan’s idea is one way to do that if he can pull it off. If the owners of LFC at the moment were our own supporters then the club would be in a much safer position than it is in the hands of the current owners. It’d also be telling the Premier League the right answer to their 39 Game plan too, as the club would be expressing the voice of the supporters.

Football belongs to the supporters. Anything that turns that from the theoretical to reality has my unwavering backing.

If it became the norm for clubs to be owned by its supporters then the need for something like AFC Liverpool would not be there. If the supporters ran the clubs Richard Scudamore would have been laughed out of town when he walked in with his 39 games plan. We might even have football matches every Saturday at 3pm. Certainly the focus would switch back away from the constant grabbing for cash which is tarnishing many people’s enjoyment of football at the moment.

In the meantime, there is a need for projects like AFC Liverpool. So here we are.

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For more information about AFC Liverpool, visit their website and sign up for their mailing list.

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