Newcastle United lost 15 Premier League games last season, whereas Liverpool had lost 15 in four seasons combined. The Reds have finished above the Magpies in 10 successive campaigns, ending up an average of 10 places above them over that period. Going into Saturday’s clash between the two sides at St James’ Park there are five spots and nine points separating them once more.
Only this time, the fortunes have been reversed as Newcastle’s major injection of cash from their Saudi owners begins to take hold at a time when Liverpool fans and neutrals alike are wondering whether the 2020 champions’ era of success under Jurgen Klopp might be tailing off.
To the untrained eye, Liverpool supporters might be wishing they were the ones watching Eddie Howe’s team preparing for a cup final and battling for a top-four spot right now. But that would be to disregard what the Merseysiders have achieved in recent seasons and, moreover, ignore what the club stands for.
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Bill Shankly, the manager who laid the foundations for what the modern Liverpool Football Club is, was somebody who prided himself and his teams on honesty, hard work and pulling together. And whatever your take on some of the mouthpieces for the Reds in the 21st Century or of Klopp’s sometimes-confrontational demeanour on the touchline and in front of cameras, fundamentally this remains a club built for the working class and run with those principles at its heart.
Even in its modern times of foreign ownership, the fan base has worked hard to hold the club to account. When George Gillett and Tom Hicks took over and ran things so badly that they were soon racking up debts and falling out with supporters, their manager Rafael Benitez and even each other, fan groups held protests, they organised forums, arranged meetings with the owners. They held them accountable, they made it be known that this was not becoming of Liverpool Football Club.
While Liverpool have been incredibly successful under Fenway Sports Group led by John W. Henry over the past 12 years, collecting a Premier League title, a Champions League win, the FA Cup, League Cups, Club World Cup and Uefa Super Cup, there have still been episodes when their fans have stopped the board in their tracks.
There were the plans for £77 match tickets, the decision to furlough club staff during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the agreement to join the European Super League. All of them sat badly with the fans who have always prided themselves on the moral compass of their club, whether battling for justice or simply putting an arm around the needy. And on each occasion the supporters forced a climbdown.
So would Liverpool fans have railed against the ownership of Mike Ashley were they in the shoes of their Newcastle United contemporaries? Absolutely, they would. Are they the sort who would have encouraged him to sell as quickly as he possibly could rather than continue to run the club on a shoestring and pocket the big profits made from running a Premier League organisation? Definitely.
But would they have danced in car parks with tea towels strapped to their heads at the news of the investment from the Saudi Arabia PIF? Would they be heading to social media en masse to trot out whataboutery at the first sign of any criticism of their new overlords? How about their response when their owners’ – or at least the nation whose sovereign wealth fund fills their club’s coffers – deplorable human rights record is compounded by news of secret executions for minor, non-violent offences?
Of course, this is a hypothetical assumption but one would like to believe that the history of Liverpool fans and what they have fought for – and, just as importantly, against – suggests they would not be revelling in the questionable ownership of their club right now if they were in black and white rather than red. Do they want Liverpool to be back in cup finals and challenging for top-four spots? Of course. But at all costs? It’s highly unlikely. Are Liverpool supporters infallible? Absolutely not. Do they generally come to standpoints based on morality? Yes.
It is short-termism alone which claims that Newcastle United are in a better place than Liverpool right now. On the Premier League table they are, sure. But the Reds are a bigger club, with a better sense of what the institution really stands for and believes in. They are a more storied club, with European titles galore, 19 English league crowns and countless more gongs won down the years. But they have never forgotten what a football club is meant to be.
Newcastle? They might be heading for a future in which their honours board will begin to reflect Liverpool’s, but there are fewer and fewer parallels evident between the pair with each passing day. Most Liverpool supporters would rather finish ninth every season than be sponsors for Saudi Arabia.