PAY or go. It’s not your club, it’s theirs. Supporting a football club is no place for politics. And so on and so forth, the same lines, same arguments, spat out from those that don’t get it, that don’t go, that haven’t habitually forked out for years, decades, generations, to follow Liverpool.
Ever since an estimated 15,000 rose as one amid a swirl of emotion and put two fingers up to more fleecing of fans from the key-holders of the club they love, the naysayers have mocked with depressing regularity, desperate to get their voices heard among a deafening chorus of approval for fans’ actions.
Liverpool’s owners have now reversed their decision on increased prices for next season. They’ve admitted they were wrong. They’ve even said sorry. Where does this leave the many that mocked?
Today alone, Matthew Syed of The Times decided to write a piece headlined “Rip off? Tickets are value for money”. His ultimately unconvincing argument was bizarrely sprinkled with allegations of intimidation at Anfield on Saturday.
Was he there? Did he see it? No. His basis for sharing this claim was a post on a forum he had read. Rock solid reason for belittling a passionate plea for sense from true football fans then.
Syed then proceeded to pick apart the words of a Liverpool supporter of long standing. One who was there. Because he knows better than someone who actually goes to Liverpool matches, it seems. How it feels, what it means. The dilemma of walking away. He’s got all the answers.
Then the usual lines. That there is a big demand. That we don’t have to go, no-one is forcing us. And the best, comparisons with supermarkets. I’m a big supporter of Asda, personally. Still waiting on a season ticket but what a supermarket. Think about it every day; obsessed by their actions. Need to know more.
Similarly awful stuff was churned out by someone referred to only as “M.J.” in The Economist. Whoever that might be proffered that Bill Shankly’s “socialist sentiment has no place in modern football”.
Amid other gems such as suggesting “this hurts for a club whose identity is built on its working-class roots in a downtrodden city that has had little else to cheer about”, the initialled one went on to explain how players and agents will have their hands out for TV cash and apparently it should be down to fans to pay. Because we should like it or lump it. Again.
“Clubs will never voluntarily disadvantage themselves by cutting ticket prices significantly,” he added. They will. Liverpool have.
It’s that kind of fait accompli talk that has hindered repeated attempts to make football prices fairer. Thankfully, significant numbers aren’t liking it. Or lumping it. As Ian Ayre and his paymasters in Boston found out.
It’s stating the bleeding obvious, but the loyal fan doesn’t view their club as a supermarket. There isn’t a choice or an alternative. And, within reason of course, they do have to go.
Supporters that have lived a life of going the match have made sacrifices to do it and continue to do so. How realistic is simply expecting us to stop?
Spin the figures however you like, and everyone does, modern football is eating into more of fans’ disposable income than it once did. It’s becoming harder to justify. Harder to go. Many have stopped. Some travel to the game without stepping inside the ground. Creatures of habit, forced outside by greed.
For many it’s the only real social time of the week. And why? Because it costs so much. Other leisure activities have to fall by the wayside for the football fix.
So when year after year the hands go out for more from the club to watch at the match and from TV companies to watch at home, is it any wonder it sparks anger? Particularly when a huge new stand sold as a solution looms over the club’s traditional home.
Liverpool the club, ‘the business’, the people making the decisions, love us: the fans, the people coming through the gate, the people making the atmosphere. At every turn, Anfield’s uniqueness is marketed. Glossy brochures showing a packed Kop waving flags and banners. Websites showing similar. Words of a copywriter pointing to the famous atmosphere in sickly sells to those seeking an experience.
It’s the ordinary fan that created that. Along with mums, dads, nans, granddads and brothers and sisters. They brought along the flags, made the banners, composed the songs and provided the shouts.
And yet the club — while seemingly proud of the legacy of the ordinary fan — was suggesting with it’s original prices for next season that ordinary fans that continued to be edged out aren’t of prime importance.
Pay or go. It’s just a product, just a business. We don’t value YOU — there will be someone else along to provide a bum for a seat. Who cares how long you’ve watched or how much you’ve paid in the past? Can’t afford it now, tough. We want the supporters who CAN. And close the door behind you.
The ticketing of Anfield isn’t easy. There is a myriad of problems associated to any so called “solution”. Any strategy must consider the needs of season ticket holders, the members, the first-timers, the young, the old, the disabled and more. The likelihood is someone somewhere won’t be happy.
That’s a given. But what last Saturday’s walk out versus Sunderland showed is that this time Liverpool had got it *very* wrong. The club underestimated the strength of feeling, the ever-growing disillusionment of fans being asked for more at every turn. They’ve recognised that now.
But twisted thinking in football remains. The theories surrounding this imaginary never-ending stream of fans willing to take match-going supporters’ places were, are, and always will be, just that. No-one can ever know who is prepared to pay what and when. What games do they want to go to? All of them? Some of them? Manchester United at home? Carlisle United at home? Premier League or Europa League? Any, all, or occasional? Midweek or weekend?
Do these fans want to go home and away? Will they sing, shout and preserve the supporter culture the club loves to sell itself on?
The angry throng turning their backs en masse was a wake-up call for number crunchers behind the scenes, and for football as a whole.
Because you can be sure that while beads of sweat appeared on the head of Ian Ayre et al at Liverpool when the thousands of seats flipped back to leave an empty space mid-match, similar fear-induced perspiration would have soaked shirts in boardrooms up and down the land.
It’s only a small section of supporters who will lobby for change, they all said. A few divvies. We can ride this out, they thought.
Liverpool have recognised their mistake and rectified it. They should be applauded for it. So should the fans that made a stand. Now eyes will turn to match-goers elsewhere to push for similar. If Liverpool can do it, why can’t we, should be the question on the lips of likeminded fans across the country (and there are plenty).
The unprecedented actions of the last eight days emphasis the validity of a phrase circulated for years among supporters pushing for change. Simplified from a Jock Stein quote, it has adorned banners, posters and badges of those who have campaigned for fairness: Football without fans is nothing.
Wages, agent fees and the rest should not, and are not, fans’ problem. There are enough structures, governing bodies and suited up executives making decisions around football governance to tackle that mess. Fleecing supporters isn’t the answer.
People who most likely don’t set foot into grounds on a regular basis, let alone understand the culture, shouldn’t tell us all is done and it’s a matter of time before we’re priced out. There’s no need to price people out.
Let those that are reductive about the most passionate pitch it however they like. Liverpool FC is more than grass, bricks and steel. It is more than a business and it is more than the people currently making the decisions.
In fact, it’s best left to a quote I’m channelling as I write. From Bobby Robson.
“What is a club in any case?
“Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it.
“It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes.
“It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city.
“It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”
We all fell in love. And that’s something worth fighting for. It’s one small victory for fans, one giant leap for football. Maybe.