Anfield Road ran a story last week in which we reported how we had been told a mural depicting Rafael Benítez and players celebrating the victory in Istanbul had been removed. We had been told it had been removed by Paul Tyrell, the club’s head of press, and that the suggestion made to us was that he was acting on the orders of Liverpool’s MD, Christian Purslow.
Although the club’s hierarchy have made no attempts to contact us directly, despite having our details, we have since learned that they have issued a number of denials. One example appeared on the club’s official message-boards. Questions were being asked and the staff asked the club for a response, which was posted as follows:
“The image that was removed from the stairwell at Melwood wasn’t about Istanbul. It was a big picture of Gerrard, Torres and Carra in colour in front of a host of legendary players from the 70’s- 90’s all wearing Carlsberg strips with Rafa again in colour at the back alongside Robbie Fowler.
“It’s a great image, but the players were all wearing last season’s strip with the Carlsberg logo plastered all over it. As we have just changed our sponsor to Standard Chartered, the design team is preparing a new image to go up with players wearing the new Standard Chartered kit. Rafa will be part of the new mural alongside the Cup won at Istanbul. LFC is and has always been proud of our amazing history and there’s absolutely no desire to remove Rafa or his achievements from the club.”
Obviously that was the explanation provided by the club to those who manage the official forums. They can only reproduce what they have been told, but had the club contacted us about the story we could have explained straight away the image referred to in their denials is not the image referred to in our story. And it’s unfair to try and ‘blame’ the official website or TV channel for anything in this or the previous article.
When we were first told that a picture of Benítez had been removed from a display of some kind at Melwood we didn’t instantly write a piece about it. After all, we’ve just changed manager and sponsor and there could have been a perfectly valid reason for the removal of the image.
What we were told initially was that the picture in question was one of a number of iconic pictures featuring Liverpool’s past managers, however we hadn’t been given a great deal of detail. We were told that the order had been given to remove the picture featuring Rafa, and only that picture.
There was little doubt in our minds that the story was true, that an image had been removed, but we felt it was vital to ensure nothing of importance was missing from the story. There could always be a simple explanation.
One explanation might be that the club were exchanging a picture of the outgoing manager with a picture of the new. If managers such as Houllier and Evans were already missing from the display then it would almost certainly suggest that the display was one featuring selected former managers plus the current incumbent. It makes sense in that case to replace the Benítez picture with a picture of Roy Hodgson.
So we asked which managers featured and the response that came back was that most of the managers since Shanks were on there. Souness was missing, we were told, but Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans were included. In other words replacing a picture of Benítez with one of Hodgson wasn’t the reason for removing the former boss’s picture. Hodgson should be added as an extra face to the display.
The other explanation we considered was that it could be related to the change of sponsorship.
Standard Chartered became the club’s main sponsor at the beginning of July. There’s some dispute as to whether or not the deal is performance related, but there’s no dispute that they committed to paying up to £80m in return for having a lot of exposure from the club. Just about anywhere we used to see Carlsberg we should now expect to see Standard Chartered.
It doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of Carlsberg on official club output. Standard Chartered are the main club sponsor, but Carlsberg remain an official partner, alongside Thomas Cook, 188 Bet and Bank of America amongst others. The key for Standard Chartered is that they expect the prominence of being the main sponsor, but they haven’t told LFC to remove Carlsberg completely – otherwise Carlsberg wouldn’t have done the deal that made them minor partners. Old photos of actual games with players wearing Carlsberg on the front are hardly likely to be banned from the club. If they were then photos of old shirts with Hitachi, Crown Paints and Candy on would be too.
The answer came back quite quickly and categorically that the removal of the image was not related to the change of sponsorship.
We asked and waited for clarification of what exactly what the picture was and how it was displayed. And perhaps that’s where the most confusion kicked in.
The initial description wasn’t very detailed, just a number of pictures of the club’s managers displayed somewhere in Melwood. This was later expanded to confirm the names of managers that featured and to confirm that the only manager removed from this display was Benítez.
As we awaited more details we drafted our article, and waited to put it live. It was quite some time before more confirmation came through. We were then given the extra information we had been waiting for. We were told it was a large collection of images and that is when we chose the word “mural” to describe it. We were told the image of Benítez was Istanbul-related and wasn’t just of Benítez.
We hold our hands up to two mistakes in this story. First of all we misinterpreted the description of how the images were displayed – we referred to it as a single display, what we termed a mural, of images. Secondly we lost sight of what had been an important point in the story from the off, that the display featured the other managers. Rafa and the players celebrating Istanbul was one part of a large collection. We apologise for those mistakes.
As always we do not want to publish anything we believe is untrue. If we were ever in any doubt about the truth of a story we would make it absolutely clear what our doubts were. Whenever we are shown that we have made a mistake in a story we are always willing to put it right.
There is no gain to be made in the fight for the club’s future by getting dragged into a smear campaign against anyone, be it the owners, members of the board or anyone else deemed not to be acting in the best interests of the club. It is far better to stick to the truth because anything else gives them an excuse and a means to divert attention away from all their real failings.
To that end we’ve sought further clarification since the publication of the story, and it has been confirmed to us that the image of Benítez and his players was Istanbul-related and it was part of a larger collection of other historic moments in the club’s history featuring other managers including Gerard Houllier.
If the image of Benítez was removed for sponsor-related reasons then a number of the other images would also need to be removed.
Although we haven’t been able to source a photograph of the display before or after the changes, we feel sure the club would be in a position to do so if they also maintain that this change was made to adhere to the terms of their agreement with the club’s new sponsors. We have found some mentions of the collection in various articles elsewhere.
From the club’s own official website is an article entitled “Rafa: Sammy idea an inspiration” in which the former manager discussed what his assistant had done. The article refers to “the installation of iconic images from the club’s past around Melwood, as well as quotes from the likes of Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff and John Terry waxing lyrical about the Kop.” It then quotes the former boss: “This is a good message for the players – to see the legends when they are at Melwood. It can be an inspiration for them. Sammy has brought the spirit and mentality of the former players who know everything about the club.”
Benítez spoke again about the display last December when it was the fiftieth anniversary of Shankly’s arrival at Anfield (“Rafael Benítez vows to uphold the spirit of Bill Shankly”). He said: “One of the things we did after Sammy came was to change a little bit of decoration at Melwood. We now have a lot of photographs of former players, the legends and the managers and quotes from different people. We have been trying to bring this spirit. It is much better now. When people come to training now, they can look around and it is an inspiration to them.”
Vice-captain Jamie Carragher also referred to the images, in what he described as a “montage” in an interview in the Daily Express (“Carragher is still fighting in the red corner”). Carragher spoke about the introduction of a bust of Bill Shankly and the European Cup to Melwood: “They are brilliant and a lot of credit goes to Sammy Lee for introducing them. There is a montage round the back, too. A list of all the players who played for the club, with pictures of all the legends on the wall.”
Whatever the correct term is for the collection of images, it’s quite clear that there will be a mixture of shirt sponsors and, for that matter, kit suppliers. If the club are able to explain why it’s only the picture featuring Benítez that had to be removed for the sake of the new sponsors we’d be delighted to pass that explanation on. Because try as we might, we genuinely can’t think why that would be the case.