On January 22, Liverpool FC unveiled plans for a new 18-person supporter consultation group that it hopes will allow fans to help shape the club's future through regular and constructive dialogue with senior LFC officials.
Almost 4,000 applications were received by the Club and a seven-personal selection panel was formed to review every application and jointly agree the best 18 candidates for the Liverpool FC Supporters’ Committee (http://www.liverpoolfc.tv/news/latest-news/lfc-supporters-committee
On Friday May 20, the 18 fans who have made it onto the Committee will be unveiled on this website.
Ahead of that announcement, this is the story of the selection panel in their own words. Click here to watch a free video of these interviews>> http://alturl.com/fttd2
Sue Johnston, Season Ticket holder and actress: I've thought about why I was on the Committee quite a lot. I think I'd sort of come into several of the categories that were there - obviously the female one, over 60s, I'm a season ticket holder and have been a Liverpool fan since I was a child, and now I have to travel to games a lot. I have a great understanding for an awful lot of those categories, and I think that's perhaps my input. I also travel to away games, I go a lot and so I meet fans and there's nothing better than being with the travelling Kop when they're playing away. I feel as though I do genuinely know the fans and I was really proud to be picked to choose the fan base.
Dave Boyle, CEO, Supporters Direct: In my day job I am the Chief Executive of an organisation called Supporters Direct and because we're not connected with the Club, or any of the groups at the Club, we were asked if we wanted to be an independent body on this panel to help select these people. As somebody who is not a Liverpool fan, it's another set of eyes, a bit more distance and another point of view, but somebody who deals on a day-to-day basis with fans' rights and fans being involved in, and being consulted by, clubs. We've got a professional background, which is helpful.
Jack Stopforth, CEO, Liverpool Chamber of Commerce: In my day job I am Chief Executive at Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, so of course I spend most of my life in fairly heavyweight business meetings either with clients, our own organisation or with other boards and panels. I think what Ian Ayre was hoping I could bring would be a degree of that business expertise and a background working in those sorts of environments because although this is about the fans, it's about what the fans can do for the Club, so it's very much a type of business proposition.
Karen Gill, Teacher, Author and Granddaughter of Bill Shankly: I thought it was an incredible idea. I was really impressed by the owners' willingness to commit to something like this. It's something innovative and I'm really glad I was able to be part of it.
Dave Boyle: I've been doing this job at Supporters Direct for 10 years and this is the first time a top-flight club - not just any Premier League club, but one of the top club's in the country - has been on the phone to us and said, 'Can you help us out?' That was big of the Club, it doesn't happen every day, and I've been enormously impressed with not just the personal interactions I've had with the people at the Club, but from start to finish the diligence of the people on the panel has been matched by the way the Club have supported it. As somebody who has another job to do, I've found the way the Club have helped me do my bit of the job has been fantastic. It's just been serious from start to finish and there's no way anybody could say that this is somehow a half-hearted process or there are some flaws in it. It's just been great.
Sue Johnston: I thought it was a tremendous idea. I think it's a great idea for any club and I love it that we were the first to think of it. I was very proud that it was happening to our Club because we've got such a remarkable fan base. I also feel it's something the fans really appreciate, mainly because we all want to have a voice - we all want to think we have a voice that's going to be heard. In this way, we can be heard. Even if you're not selected on the Committee, you have a representative who will speak for you. The response to it and the applications have been so overwhelming, that it's obvious there was a need for it and I think the fans really appreciate the fact we're forming this Committee.
Dave Boyle: I'm well disposed towards the Club, but I'm not a Liverpool fan. I've not got any axes to grind and I've not got any role within the Club, so having somebody who is just there to look at it and say which of the applications look better than the others, that's certainly the view I've been putting forward, as has everybody else on the panel to be fair.
Ian Callaghan, LFC record appearance holder: It's been a huge process. There's been over 4,000 applicants, so the panel have had to go through all of these - and fantastic applicants they were too. So to get it down to just 18 people is just unbelievable.
Karen Gill: The long-term goals are to repair the damage that's been done over the last few years and also to give the supporters the chance to voice their opinion about things that really matter. In that way, they will get reward from that - but so will the Club as well. I think it's a two-way thing; something the fans will absolutely get something out of, and also the Club as well.
Dave Boyle: It's a great idea and the Club deserve a lot of credit for bringing it forward. I'm not aware of another club in the Premier League who has taken this kind of initiative. There have been fans' forums and there have been meetings occasionally where you'll get the chief executive meeting fan groups, but actually setting up a group which is going to have its own support, going to have people in the Club who are going to be paid to support the people in doing what they're doing and are actually going to listen to what this group says, I think it's a first as far as I'm aware at this level of football in this country and it is to be very much welcomed. I hope other clubs pick up and run with it themselves.
Ian Callaghan: When I was asked to come on the Committee I was very honoured. Having been a Liverpool supporter before I even played for Liverpool, and still certainly a supporter now, I thought it was great they asked me to be on Committee along with the other people.
Karen Gill: For me it was very emotional because a lot of the applications mentioned my granddad's name - so many of them - and a lot of them were very touching and emotive, it made me feel very emotional. Amazing humour again came through in all of the applications. Liverpool supporters are famous for their great humour and it was actually enjoyable. It was hard work, but it was enjoyable and rewarding at the same time.
Dave Boyle: I think everybody was really surprised by how successful this initiative was. Nobody ever mentioned how many applications might be expected, but certainly nobody was talking about 4,000 applications. What has been really heartening is that everybody has read them. There has been no sense of 'I'll just pick out a few' or picking out a mate - nearly everybody's application has been read by everybody. For some of the groups there were just too many and we divided them up amongst ourselves, but every person who has submitted an application, it has been read by somebody. That means the people who we've chosen and the people who have gone forward are there because we know they're the best people for the role amongst the people who applied in that category as we've been able to weigh people's pros and cons up and say whose experience, skills or background makes them most suited. There has been a lot of reading and a lot of work at weekends and in the evenings for people who have got very busy lives as well, but I think that is a testament to the seriousness by which this panel has conducted its business.
Everybody who applied was pretty much a die-hard Liverpool fan, that's absolutely clear. If you're going to represent Liverpool supporters, as it would be with any other club, you've got to be a supporter of the Club. A lot of people spent a lot of time telling us how much of a big fan they are, but I took that as a starting point rather than the end point - I wanted passionate fans who also had something to bring. In some cases that might be their background and experience made them really well-qualified, they're people who in a professional or other capacity know about representing fans, they're good communicators or know how to solicit opinions and consult. Or in other places, it might be because their application showed they were already thinking like a Committee member; they were thinking about what ideas they could bring to the table about places maybe the Club wasn't getting it as right as it would like to and how they think that could be improved. So there are different criteria in different categories, but in all cases there was definitely a sense that this person is going to bring something to this group of people.
Jack Stopforth: By definition, they're all crazy, mad Liverpool supporters and almost every application had a little bit of reminiscence in it. Things like, 'I first came to the game when I was five years of age' and that kind of thing, which was great to read and it's good to see it's coming from very passionate people. Above all, that was all well and good and we took it as red, but we wanted to know what they thought the issues might be - what the issues a supporter from overseas or out of town might encounter, somebody who is on the ever-lasting queue for a season ticket. What did they think the issues are we need to think about as a Club and how can we make things better for the fans? We wanted to see applications not just saying 'I love Liverpool' and 'I'm Liverpool through and through', but also saying 'There are a number of issues the Club need to be aware of and think about.' They're the people we have chosen.
Sue Johnston: We've tried to make it broad and we've got people from all sorts of cross-sections of experience that can articulate and be good in committee situations, and are good at listening and also very good representing - they are a voice for their group, it's not just their opinion. They've got to be able to think as a leader of a group, it's not their voice only. I think we looked very hard and long at all the applicants to find those qualities and it was very difficult because there were so many great applications. It was very hard to pin them down - we could have chosen each category over and over again, and you feel very sad for the people who came very close but have not made it, but the standard was extraordinary so people should not be disappointed if they've not got in because it was amazing.
Ian Callaghan: It's been a long process because we've had to read through the letters and they were of a very, very high standard. It's been a hard process but I think the Committee has done fantastic. We've all seemed to get on well together and all have LFC at heart, so it's been good.
Jack Stopforth: I was amazed by the quantity - over 4,000 applications was just breathtaking - and then the quality. Category by category we could have chosen 10, 15 or 18, which was the total number we were looking for, for each. It was really extraordinarily difficult.
Karen Gill: I was absolutely overwhelmed by the standard. People were so articulate and passionate, and they expressed themselves so well. I wish I could have had everybody on the Committee - it would have been fantastic!
Dave Boyle: I've always taken the view that among the fan base of any club, the level of talent is just astonishing, but it's always quite surprising when you see that on a piece of paper in front of you. There are people who applied for this who are very successful in all different walks of life, and I'm not just talking about business experience, I'm talking about people who've got 30 years' community experience in terms of representing residents or been councillors or involved in charities. It’s across the board and what comes through from all of it is that there are people, who get paid an awful lot of money, who would love nothing more than to do something for free for a football club they love.
Sue Johnston: For the international fans, I found it very hard to hone that down because there were some extraordinary letters and that was the biggest group. I found in the lesbian and gay community, the standard of letters was extraordinary and very hard to pin down and also in the over 60s because of the history they bring because of being involved with the Club since they were small and their wealth of experience in the outside world, the standard was phenomenal. They were quite tricky to find.
Dave Boyle: From personal experience, the category of over 60s was really difficult because there were an incredible amount of people who have lived incredibly interesting lives, been successful, or were very diverse and had amazing experiences, and so you thought you could have picked 18 people out of that category alone. It was such a tough job. For the category of international fans, we're talking 1,000 applications from all over the world and which one is better than another? It was really, really hard. The under 18s category was incredibly hard because there were some fantastic young people who had put themselves forward. In all of these cases, we've selected not just one person, there are other people in case - we've not just picked 18 people, we've probably picked about 40 people in total and every one of them will be able to make a difference and a real contribution. That's a real pleasure - you don't want to be in a position where there was only one person who wasn't much cop, but they'd do. In every case, somebody's on there beating somebody else, who could have easily done the job just as good, to get to that position. That's a really nice position to be in.
Ian Callaghan: Everybody's been very friendly and very supportive. We've listened to each other and I've really enjoyed it. It's been a long process, but an enjoyable one.
Dave Boyle: Everybody's been very respectful. Everybody's been asked to champion the people they think and everybody has engaged with that. There's been no shouting, no animosity or rancour - if somebody has made a good case for somebody to be on this panel, everybody's considered it with respect. I was a bit nervous before the first meeting about how do seven people who don’t know each other decide 18 people out of a pool of 4,000. It could have gone very wrong, but what got through was a real commitment and diligence by the panel, both individually in terms of how they conducted their work, and collectively the meetings have been incredibly smooth. I wish some of the meetings I had in my own organisation ran as smoothly as these ones had.
Ian Callaghan: Obviously they're going to represent the supporters in the categories. Everybody has quibbles with the football club, whether it be season tickets, prices or anything. These people we have selected are going to bring this to the table, and the football club are going to listen to them, which is great for the Club and is fairly unique. It’s never been done before and I think it's a great idea.
Sue Johnston: I feel quite excited that now we will go forward and actually can't wait to meet them because they're a product of all this hard work, and we're going to see this Committee up in action. We feel very confident we've chosen some excellent people who will bring a lot of value to the Club.
Jack Stopforth: I think success would be a realisation amongst the wider fan base that the Club really does care about their opinions. This isn't a stunt, it's not a PR gimmick. This is a genuine attempt by the Club to reach out to its fan base after a very, very unsettled few years. Let's face it, it hasn't been the happiest period in the history of our Club and this is a chance for the fans to feel confident that they're not being ignored or overlooked.
Sue Johnston: I hope what they bring is that we will feel part of this great Club and that our voices will be heard, not just by the board, but by the owners and we won't be so pushed out as we felt over the Hicks and Gillett period. It was shocking how the Club was so disparate, so I think this is a great move to bring it all back.
Karen Gill: Unfortunately a series of events led to the fans feeling disjointed that they didn't have a voice, and I think this is one way the owners can bridge the gap that appeared. I think he'd (Bill Shankly) definitely be behind anything that gave the fans a voice. Working with Spirit of Shankly really opened my eyes to how disjointed the fans did feel. The supporters felt as if they'd lost a voice. I think it showed by working together, organising and having a voice and arranging events that you can actually get things done. This is great because this is taking it one step further - it is a great initiative.
Jack Stopforth: It says so much about the new owners and about Ian (Ayre) as the new MD. I think the Club is absolutely in the right the direction on the field, and now off the field as well. It is very, very encouraging.
Sue Johnston: I feel very confident we have actually made a very good selection. It's very hard from a letter to know if it was the absolute best but you feel hopeful and because we've discussed the final few in great depth, we do feel confident.
Jack Stopforth: If we've done our job properly - and I certainly believe we've done it as diligently as we can - then we ought to be able to look forward to a real contribution towards the Club going forward.
Dave Boyle: From a professional perspective, I'm always pleased when clubs give supporters a chance to make an input into the Club and I just hope these people who are selected come together and add some value to what the Club are doing. I don't want the Club in two or three years' time to say, 'That was a nice idea but it didn't work.' I want other clubs to be doing this as well - and the best way they will take it on board is if they hear people from Liverpool saying, 'We get real value from this - we do things and we've changed things to make this Club's experience better for the fans because of this Committee.' I hope they can fulfil what the Club actually wants from them, which is to provide some really serious input, a sounding board and a way of communicating with fans that just makes the Club even better.