The life of the top-level professional footballer today is almost uniquely privileged, yet also strikingly banal. Clubs, sponsors, agents and often players themselves conspire to create a perma-bubble force field around the stars of the game to keep them as detached from reality as possible.
It’s a false construct, a glass enclosure designed to protect multi-million pound assets rather than develop rounded young men. With catering provided by Nando’s.
Not that most players are born in to luxury. Gianluca Vialli, growing up in a 15th-century Lombardy castle, is more exception than examplar. Even many of the most down-to-earth, though, have a wedge driven between themselves and reality from the moment they sign their first professional contract.
Liverpool’s current squad are probably more grounded than most. Looking from the outside no-one could say this LFC vintage, for all its manifest faults, is made up of mercenaries or morally bankrupt chancers unfit to wear the shirt.
El-Hadji Diouf once overtook me on Scotland Road driving back from an evening game. The personalised plate disappeared almost as soon as I’d spotted it, but it made me wonder just what a multi-millionaire wanker would make of one of the most criminally abandoned stretches of the city. Did a flicker of understanding of the fabric of life around the stadium he visited to clock on and off every week ever make its way across his mental landscape?
It’s hard to escape the jarring disconnect between the extravagantly wealthy men who occasionally pay a visit to L4 and the long-term past, present and future of the area.
Not that it was always thus. The majority of the 1905-06 league title winning side lived within a ten-minute walk of the ground. Alex Raisbeck, physical and spiritual fulcrum of that great side, could stroll up for matches from his home eight streets away on Elsie Road.
Raisbeck actually travelled further than some of his teammates, with the Scotsman’s sometime understudy Maurice Parry and the reliable full-back Bill Dunlop living on Arkles Road. Take a look at Raisbeck’s place, number 16 (without bothering the current residents too much), next time you’re heading to the match. In a just world there’d be a blue plaque.
As someone who values this heritage, our club’s roots in the very bricks and mortar which surround the incongruous grey edifice we’ve plonked in the middle of it all, I feel instinctively as if I should welcome the recent announcement of plans to call off the demolition of 500 L4 homes.
For decades the city’s Victorian housing stock has by turns been bulldozed and neglected.
Homes and pubs, the lifeblood of the city, have been wiped off the map by the powerful who often see only the chimerical profits in glittering scale models of soulless ‘city living’ developments.
Walk up any of the remaining Victorian streets in Liverpool and observe the detail in the brickwork, the fine touches which speak of the care that went in to their construction.
The houses you see forlornly boarded up for no apparent reason, and others now long gone, were somebody’s once. In many ways these presences and absences reflect the country’s abandonment of the working people who once filled these ghosts of homes with laughter and life.
Unlike the (in many ways disastrous) wholesale slum clearances of the 1950s and 1960s, this has rarely been part of a co-ordinated plan. Instead it’s been death by a thousand compulsory purchase orders, entire streets of solidly-built, well-crafted homes reduced to rubble while council house waiting lists are long and options for first-time buyers limited.
Why? Nobody seems able to say. Sometimes, as with the former Labour government’s Housing Market Renewal Initiative, it was part of a misguided attempt to equalise house prices across the country. Sometimes it was commercial avarice. Sometimes you get the feeling planners just fancied knocking something down.
There’s been resistance along the way, most notably from the admirably tenacious Welsh Streets campaign, whose members are understandably sceptical about Cllr Joe Anderson’s motives given the council leader’s ambition to be the city’s first elected mayor.
Casting the politics aside for a moment, it’s good news that 500 Anfield houses will be spared the bulldozer for now. That 500 is only a tiny proportion of those already lost or still at risk is a damning indictment of years of poor planning and neglect.
That all 500, sold for the current L4 average house sale price, would fetch just shy of the £35 million Liverpool spent on a single footballer in January 2011, is an indictment of much else besides.