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John Henry’s first words as Liverpool owner coming true after FSG keep promise – Ian Doyle

When John Henry, the owner of what would eventually become known as Fenway Sports Group, gave his first public address after the takeover of Liverpool, he delivered a missive that supporters, sceptical after the horrors of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, viewed with a hefty dose of cynicism.

“We regard our role as that of stewards for the club with a primary focus on returning the club to greatness on and off the field for the long-term,” said Henry.

“We are committed first and foremost to winning. We have a history of winning, and today we want supporters to know that this approach is what we intend to bring to this great club.”

Fast forward 10 years, and it’s difficult to argue FSG have gone a long, long way towards realising those aims.

The European Cup and Premier League trophies that sit proudly at the new Axa Training Ground in Kirkby are testament to that.

That the club’s transfer record has been consistently broken – while demonstrating an enviable knack of extracting top dollar for players who are no longer required or want to leave – further underlines an organisation in tune with what is required for success.

But there are other ways in which the owners are returning Liverpool to greatness.

The revamp of the Reds’ commercial business has seen them move into the top 10 most lucrative clubs in the world.

However, arguably the most effective statement of FSG’s commitment has been in bricks and mortar.

The announcement today that planning permission is set to be submitted on a proposed Anfield Road End redevelopment, expected to cost in the region of £60million, will take their investment in infrastructure beyond £200m and increase the stadium’s capacity to 61,000.

After the £110m upgrade of the Main Stand and the £50m new first-team training complex, it is the next step in FSG safeguarding the club’s future for years to come.

The owners, while undoubtedly guilty of missteps and mistakes on occasion, have earned the trust of supporters with their ability to deliver on previous such pledges, Liverpool fans having in the past grown accustomed to fancy designs that never left the drawing board.

Now there is genuine excitement at a further 7,000 seats being made available for each home game, the majority of which will be for regular fans.

There was surely a temptation to bump the potential capacity up even further and smash the club record crowd of 61,905 for the FA Cup fifth round tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers in February 1952.

However, design restraints and regulations meant the proposed new size is realistically as much as can be eked out without redeveloping other areas of the stadium – the Kop, arguably the most famous stand in world football, now set to become the smallest in Anfield.

And FSG have convinced the local residents and businesses who will be affected by the increase in capacity that the redevelopment is a good thing for the area.

Indeed, the plans to redevelop the Anfield Road Stand were originally raised last November and have been the subject of two stages of public consultation.

Over 800 responses were received from the first round of consultations, with more than 90% of those attending in favour of the proposals to bolster the stadium’s capacity.

As part of the application, Liverpool will also be seeking permanent permission to hold concerts and major events at the stadium, having held several in the summer of 2019.

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The greater capacity also opens up the mouthwatering possibility of Anfield hosting major European finals, while further internationals – such as Brazil’s clash against Croatia in 2018 – are another potential avenue.

The extra seats in the proposed new stand also provide an opportunity to be imaginative with ticket prices and encourage more younger supporters to attend.

That, as much as anything else, will safeguard the club’s long-term future.

FSG won’t be Liverpool owners forever. There will come a point where they decide to sell up, and pass on the stewardship to someone else.

But for all the success on the field, an Anfield fit for the modern era and beyond will surely be their lasting legacy.

A version of this story was first published in November 2019.

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