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COMMENTARY

At Liverpool, there's no such thing as giving up

The English football club has a strong family spirit that unites supporters from all around the world

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The atmosphere at Anfield can be described as genuinely authentic, as you feel you are part of a family rather than a large and cold business organisation.

MAKTUB. This is the only word that came to my mind after watching Liverpool's impossible victory over Spanish side Barcelona at Anfield in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals last Wednesday.

This Arabic word - which means "it is meant to be" - fits nicely with the text on the shirt that Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah wore at the game, which read "Never give up".

While winning is what matters most, it is the spirit of the family that prevails, especially at a football club like Liverpool with its unique history.

As Suren Daniel, a teh tarik seller at Ghim Moh Market, remarked: "Liverpool is not a football club. It is a way of life. We are not Liverpool fans - we are family, unity, brotherhood and determination. You'll never walk alone."

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The non-Liverpool fans will certainly cry wolf and think this is merely a ploy just to sell more jerseys.

Factually, although it is true, Liverpool is probably the club with the most heartbreaking of stories in its history.

Memories such as the 1989 Hillsborough disaster help to anchor a huge sentimental value among the fan base over the years, while relishing the good old days of winning trophies.

Of course, the fans' goodwill cannot be taken for granted and even current Liverpool CEO Peter Moore once said that this is the most popular club in the world yet to win the English Premier League.

Twenty-nine years is indeed a long time and I was about my son's age when Liverpool last won England's top league in 1990.

The long-suffering fans are so patient and loyal that I always joke that my children (who are all Liverpool supporters) should only marry a fellow supporter because if one can be so stubbornly faithful to one club only, certainly one can be just as loyal to our spouse.

While all credit should go to manager Jurgen Klopp and the players for playing their hearts and souls out, one must also not forget the hard and soft infrastructure that is built around the team that is key to the club's successes today.

The business of sport and media is fascinating even for an investor like me who has gone through different asset classes and business cycles over the last 20 years.

From a business perspective, one must be wondering how Liverpool has been able to transform themselves when, not too long ago, the club's financial situation was in a shambles.

The nadir for the Reds must be when even Manchester United supporter Peter Lim was willing to bid low for it when the club was up for sale.

Over the past few years, even after American businessman John Henry successfully bought the club, I have been approached by a few bidders who wanted to to work with me to buy Liverpool.

However, none of them are fans and they are looking for purely profit motives. As such, I have very little motivation to help them dismantle the brand that is in the midst of being rebuilt.

A lot of credit has to go to both Mr Henry and Mr Moore, for their work behind the scenes over the last five years as Liverpool goes through this transformational journey.

On match day at Anfield, there is a children's section beside the stadium for families with young kids to roam around and play mini-football games.

There are concerts for fans who have arrived early. There are special priority entrances and exits for fans with disabilities. There are shrines built for fans who have lost their lives at tragic stadium accidents.

The atmosphere at Anfield can be described as genuinely authentic, as you feel you are part of a family rather than a large and cold business organisation.

Of course, with revenues of £500 million (S$886 million), the club must also have the right structure and discipline to run a tight ship.

Mr Moore and the team have over 100 people working for him, including many young data scientists to supplement the decision-making of Klopp and his coaching staff.

Tapping on the network of Fenway (Mr Henry is also owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team in the United States), the infrastructure and marketing support have been built quietly and this is to me, a foundation for how well Liverpool has been playing.

The turning point was the hiring of Klopp and the bold sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January 2018 which finally allowed the management team the space and time to be creative and think longer term.

Getting the anchor sponsor Standard Chartered on board and retaining it was a strategic decision that benefits both parties too.

I had the privilege to be cheering for Liverpool from the director's box at Anfield for the final game of the season against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday night, joining about 40 other Singaporean fans.

This season - and the relentless title chase with Manchester City - must be one of the most heart-stopping since my father introduced football and Liverpool to me back in the 1980s.

With the recent successes of the past few seasons, more younger supporters will come on board and cheer the club. As the slogan goes: "We are Liverpool. This means more. Welcome to the family. You will never walk alone."

  • The writer is a CEO of a multi-national company who, despite being a lousy football player himself, has been trying to use sports to teach his children about resilience and to never give up.