GROWING up in North Wales, a trip to Chester of a Saturday afternoon was about as exciting as weeks got – at least weeks without the prospect of a trip to Anfield.
Back in the mid 90s I had some favourite haunts which reflected my status as a particularly tragic form of small-town teenage geek. The Sweater Shop was one. Let’s never speak of that again.
A slightly cooler hangout, and another which seems like a relic of some distant civilisation, was the record shop Our Price.
Yeah there was HMV and later on a Virgin Megastore. Back in the days before file-sharing these were the great music embassies of the high street. In Chester they were barely three shops apart, as close yet somehow distant from one another as Liverpool and Everton football clubs.
Our Price was the smaller fish down the road, the Tranmere in this increasingly ugly extended metaphor if you will.
I’d yet to discover independent shops but Our Price was noticeably different to HMV and Virgin. Smuggled away down some stairs in a tiny cellar below Browns of Chester, it leant a bit of an exclusive, edgy air to my purchase of Dodgy’s Free Peace Sweet.
Those days are gone. Our Price is no more. Virgin Megastore’s vanished too. The latter’s now a clothes shop, while HMV clings on like a dowager duchess clinging to past glories and a pricing policy which sees Dad’s Army DVDs stickered up at £20 a pop.
In the same cramped little row Our Price once occupied we now have an outcrop of Liverpool FC. Opened by Aldo in 2007, the shop is home to the usual collection of replica shirts, over-priced scarves, novelty egg cups and similar such tat.
All pretty harmless, until you consider the location. In 2007, Chester had a Football League club, Chester City. They’ve since gone the same way as Our Price but have been reborn as a phoenix club, moving up through the leagues under fan ownership.
It’s this last point which makes me a bit uneasy about our Cestrian commercial venture. The LFC website is quite up front about the aim of the store – “Enabling our large North Wales and Cheshire fan base a dedicated store with in (sic) their geographical area.”
On the one hand I’m happy the club is taking advantage of a revenue stream which clearly exists. And I’m not naive enough to imagine that if we weren’t in the city, Chester would suddenly embrace its local team in a way it has never quite managed to before.
Yet somehow it doesn’t sit right with me that in the next city along we have this little enclave. It smacks of cultural imperialism – just because the money is there for the taking, is it right that we grab it?
The long-term interests of football are best served by strong clubs at all levels, rooted in their local communities but open to followers from around the world. Maybe it’s just me but a shop in Chester feels somehow less comfortable, more invasive, than outlets in Thailand or other emerging football economies.
The people of Chester have every right to support who they like. Most follow one of the Manchester or Liverpool sides, and that’s fine. But it might be nice if, just now and again, the hordes snapping up Stevie G pillowcases were reminded they have a club on their doorsteps, one a hard core of dedicated fans have fought tooth and nail to cling on to.
Maybe the answer is not to close the Liverpool FC shop but to allow a bit of floorspace to Chester. Given that tickets at Anfield this season are likely to be pretty hard to come by for newcomers, why not encourage people in Chester to see some live football by selling on tickets for the Deva Stadium?
The net loss to Liverpool FC would be nothing, and a lot of goodwill would be gained. More importantly, football as a whole would be better off with some people who may first and foremost be Liverpool fans getting behind their resurgent local side as well.
Plenty of us have a second team. Most of us weren’t born in L4, and even those of us with strong connections to Liverpool may well have spent time working away and got caught up in the magic of following a smaller side at some time or another.
Given the cost of Anfield tickets and the practical problem of a ground plainly too small for our needs, it should be no skin off our noses to nurture a bit of community spirit around Chester. It’d certainly make me feel a lot better about our presence in the city.