By Tony Attwood
Some Arsenal supporters will, I hope, remember John W Henry, chair of Liverpool, for his infamous “What are they smoking at Arsenal” jibe. Of course the jibe itself didn’t matter – some people do that sort of thing, it becomes a habit and they probably don’t even know they are saying such things. But what was annoying was that throughout the affair which involved the possible transfer of Suarez to Arsenal, John W Henry lied, lied and lied, and then had the gall to boast about his lying in a subsequent speech.
He treated Arsenal and the English media with utter contempt. The media might have deserved it, but Arsenal didn’t, and it is to the eternal shame of the footballing media in the UK that they will still deal with the man and take anything he says seriously.
What happened, as you may recall, was that Arsenal made a bid of £40m plus a bit more for the Liverpool player Suarez on the grounds that Suarez had a release clause in his contract if such a bid came in. Henry laughed at that, said there was no clause and asked, “what are they smoking at Arsenal?” – an insult against the club and against Mr Wenger which of course the media relished.
It was a singularly foolish jibe because people who boast, tend to boast and boast and boast and he was later caught boasting in a sports conference in the USA that (as Untold and a few other media sources had revealed by going back through what had been said previously), there most certainly was a £40m buy out clause for Suarez.
But when Henry said, “What do you think they’re smoking over there at Emirates?” on 24 July 2013 everyone laughed at Arsenal. Even when the following March he admitted that he lied repeatedly and that there was indeed a buy out clause of £40m in the contract, the media took Liverpool’s side, ignoring that revelation, laughing at Arsenal.
Of course people who lie in that way tend to think they can do anything and have anything they want, and so it seemed was the case later as Henry and his club got caught in a tapping up scandal in July 2017. At least that time the Telegraph had the grace to call the scandal “Appalling”.
Liverpool were accused of ‘submitting a “falsified” document to the Premier League when trying to lure a 12-year-old schoolboy from Stoke City.’ Henry’s success it pulling the wool over the media’s eyes in the £40m case probably made him think he could get away with it again.
And it appears that philosophy crept all the way through the club as revealed when Liverpool FC faced legal action from the boy at the centre of the scandal. The court revealed Liverpool tried to tap him up, and in that botched attempt, left the boy “unable to play academy football and his parents in thousands of pounds of debt”.
Worse, it then turned out that Liverpool were also accused of falsifying a document in the case meaning they fixed the evidence. And then it emerged that Liverpool also had to withdraw from their bid to get a Southampton player, because they were attempting to tap him up as well.
Then in Parliament Damian Collins MP who ran the Culture, Media & Sport select committee. said he wanted to examine what he called this “appalling” case. saying that “no-one is standing up for the victim and the victim is the boy.”
As media consultant Jonathan Hartley is quoted as saying, “The public has a strong sense of natural justice and the fact that a young lad has been left unable to play football after his family correctly blew the whistle on tapping-up doesn’t sit well. Add to that the suggestion that the Premier League is said to be using its financial might to issue legal threats to the 13-year-old and his family and the whole situation will be viewed as quite unsavoury.”
Then when Southampton accused Liverpool of yet more tapping up in a similar case, Liverpool said that non-dating of documents (which was at the heart of the matter in this and the 12 year old’s case) was “standard practice” suggesting wholesale corruption in such matters. It appears that it was about this time that the League then threatened to take action AGAINST the boy and his father! But eventually sense and justice prevailed and Liverpool were banned signing schoolboys who had been registered with a rival academy during the previous 18 months.
Now the man who was in charge of Liverpool through the Suarez lying fiasco and the schoolboy scandal is coming to the Premier League with a plan to re-organised it, and not surprisingly quite a few people do not want him touching anything to do with the League. He has been shown to be a man who boasts about tricking another club by lying, boasting about his lying, and being in charge of a club that was found guilty of acting illicitly in terms of a 12 year old schoolboy.
Liverpool fans may like to have him in charge of their club, but does the rest of football want him in charge of the entire Premier League and handouts to the Championship.
Thankfully some Premier League club boards are now angry with Rik Parry the chairman of the Football League for negotiating secretly with Liverpool with their chairman of ill-repute, and they want him out.
The problem is also that if the Championship clubs are given more money they will in many cases spend it all at once paying off last season’s debts, and then build up another load of debts. And if the Liverpool chairman is involved, people will remember the way he lied, lied and lied again about Arsenal’s transfer bid and some won’t believe a word of his promises.
Supporters of a number of the larger clubs, including Arsenal, have issued a statement that included the words “we are totally opposed to concentrating power in the hands of six billionaire owners and departing from the one club, one vote and collective ethos of the Premier League.”
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