AN UNPOPULARITY CONTEST? | The Anfield Wrap

By Karl Coppack

A thread on a Liverpool forum recently asked if LFC are becoming hated. The opening post read…

“Ahead of today’s game Moyes had been saying that neutrals want Everton to win. Now I know he’s playing games but it got me thinking, I always seem to remember us being a club a lot of neutrals liked (even if it was secretly) but recently with everything happening around the club -from spending millions to the Suarez debacle and to our outright support for Kenny (most people just can’t fathom where our faith comes from) has this led to people outside of our support to start to dislike us? Even hate us?”

We all have our initial thoughts and feelings on this. My first response was to wonder why Moyes feels he can speak for the neutrals of the nation but I suspect the majority of other readers will raise their shoulders, snort and say ‘I don’t care if we’re hated or not.’ I’d like to look at the reasons for this. It isn’t easy to be objective as I’m a Scouser who has lived in London for years and have sat through the tiresome hubcap jokes and Harry Enfield impressions but I’ll try my best. I’ll also try not to make this an exercise in pro-Scouse sabre rattling.

Although not everyone who supports Liverpool is a Scouser you can’t take the Scouse element and the ethos of the city out of the equation. People seem to have a Marmite approach to us and either see us as nice, decent warm hearted people or a bunch of whining fuckwits who would steal anything that isn’t nailed down. What’s more we’re a distinctive group and easy to spot. The Scouse accent is an unusual one centralised to a few miles, easily mocked or impersonated and a difficult one to disguise. Some of us talk like Phil Redmond, others like John Bishop. It’s not pleasing on every ear so an assumption can be made upon hearing only a few words.

Scousers are both welcoming and stand-offish – capable of great kindness and great distrust at the same time. Alexei Sayle once pointed out that Scousers can be optimistic in the face of shocking adversity and pessimistic in times of great joy – a sense of ‘it’s not that bad’ when it really is and grumpiness at inappropriate times. In 2005 I bumped into a mate in the Albert after a pretty average Liverpool side beat Juventus 2-1 at Anfield – a result we dared not dream of the year before. I was ready to share his elation but was met with a frown and a mumbled ‘It won’t be enough, will it?’ I loved that.

This mixture of joy and gloom even made it into Beatles’ lyrics…

‘I have to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time
(It can’t get no worse)’

Scouse humour or ‘humour’ isn’t always appreciated throughout the nation. Despite his inane views of late I agree with some of Alan Davies’ ‘comic’ statements from his appearance on Room 101. There is a common misconception that everyone from Liverpool is hilarious. That’s not even close to being true. Stan Boardman and Freddie Starr both have the ‘chirpy gobshite’ look and it’s a hard thing to stomach. They’re known as Liverpool comedians rather than comedians as their accents signpost them to the city. We don’t all love Stan Boardman. When he wandered onto the pitch in his Nazi uniform during Rush’s testimonial he was shouted off by the Kop. Jimmy Tarbuck was booed off before the 1988 Cup Final when he played in a charity game. See also Carla Lane.

The funniest Scouser? Bill Kenwright. Well he makes me laugh.

Liverpool is a proud city. Maybe sometimes it overdoes that pride and appears overly boastful. This is a common trait from those who sing the city’s praises yet rarely visit (Cilla). That can be deeply irritating to outsiders, particularly if you can’t see Liverpool as being different from any other city. I’m just as guilty at this. During the ‘Madchester’ period I would roll my eyes every time I heard musicians, DJs and actors bang on about how great Manchester is. They haven’t even got a river.

What else? Well, there’s the dole scrounging car stealing scally stereotype. Boys from the Blackstuff did much to highlight the dour state of the city when this nonsense started while Carla Lane, her again, gave us Bread which re-established the typecast crooked but funny layabout. Which version is the easiest to believe? Not only are Scousers all loveable thieves, their writers are openly boasting about it on prime time telly. It’s not always a giant leap of faith to hear the word ‘Liverpool’ and have that mental image at the same time.

Back to the football. Liverpool is one of the most successful clubs ever but no one likes a smart arse who tells the world how great they are. As the game’s become more popular thanks to the relentless onslaught of the Joe 1990s we’ve suddenly become a common enemy or laughing stock. In the 70’s and 80’s there were plenty of Liverpool fans in the country’s playgrounds as it’s easy to support the most successful team. I have plenty of mates who chose to support other clubs just to be different and some of them have built an animosity towards LFC based on that and that alone. There’s a glamour to supporting unsuccessful teams. Many of us have a soft spot for a second team based on that feeling. I have a Forest mate who was born in Hastings and has never been to Nottingham. I once asked his opinion of Derby Country – ‘Scum’. It’s nice to be different. It all goes to make a world.

Liverpool won everything back then so when Sky and the Souness era came along it was great to see the tormenting Liverpool legends be brought down to earth with a bump and Paul Stewart. We kept on singing, of course, and it’s the indefatigability that irks them the more. What have we got to be proud about when Bristol City are knocking us out of the Cup at Anfield? Liverpool, that’s what.

Even when the city was on its arse we still came back. High unemployment? Fuck you; we’ve won the League again. A city rife with heroin and poverty? Have four European cups to go with them – something you’ll never ever match in your wildest dreams and we’re fucking proud of it and will out-sing and out-shout you wherever we go which will be fucking everywhere.

Well, okay a bit of pro-Scouse sabre rattling.

Liverpool FC are an insular group. We have our traditions and don’t mix well with other clubs and fans. Many have the England thing to cling onto while we shout our separatism from the rooftops. I remember being at Reading away when the ‘We’re Not English’ shout went up and seeing the locals absolutely gobsmacked. Gobsmacked and then furious. They were genuinely offended rather than appalled for the sake of it. I still get it at work when the World Cup’s on. I’ve been told ‘why don’t you fuck off back up there then?’ I will one day. Thanks for the advice. They don’t understand that we support our national team every week and it’s a credo like that that infuriates the anti-LFC brigade. The Mancs are like that too but they seem to be more palatable as they have a strong support with the Joe 1990s due to their post 1993 success. If Liverpool and United have one thing in common, and that’s one thing more than we’d like to admit, it’s that we like to sit in our fiefdom and favour the rest of the nation with a haughty stare.

Then there’s Suarez and subsequent PR nightmare. For the record I believe the club handled the whole thing poorly and that Suarez had a case to answer. I don’t believe he’s a racist and I don’t believe the club advocated racism in any way but I’m fairly sure that had this happened to, say, Reading, it wouldn’t have got half the press copy it did. How do I know this?

Because it did happen to Reading. The difference was encapsulated in one term – LFC.

Then it became the focus for national outrage leading the Uruguayan being compared to murderers by men who should know better. Had the ‘debate’, for want of a better word, actually been about racism I would have applauded but it wasn’t. It was a joyful condemnation of the club rather than the issue.

Course, it’s easy to argue that I’m being a paranoid whinging Scouser who is defending the indefensible but I’m just wondering where the media were for John Mackie who, in a similarly regrettable incident, was banned for eight matches, five of which were suspended, and fined  £3,000, £1,500 of which was suspended. I don’t recall Reading being dragged through the mud and having ‘RACIST’ headlines in 72 point font in the back of the Daily Mirror.

Yes, Liverpool is the bigger club and thus the bigger story but surely no bigger than the actual issue. It was made worse by the fact that we defended our man and refused to throw him to the jackals. Suddenly we became ‘Klanfield’ and anyone with a voice shouted the club down. I’m not saying that this was our finest hour, far from it, but anyone with an agenda came out. Jason Roberts told 606 listeners that his Liverpool supporting mates wanted United to win at Old Trafford after the non-handshake such was their disgust. Jesus.

I suspect this panto didn’t make us unpopular. It merely added to the ammunition.

Of course just by pointing this out I’m adding credence to the ‘always the victims, never your fault’ view that comes with the fans’ insularity. See, we can’t defend ourselves as it instantly becomes ‘whinging’ and ‘paranoid’. If you can be derided but not allowed to defend yourself what sort of world do we live in? We’ll laugh at your poverty, call you thieves, murderers and racists and don’t you dare complain about it. Oh, fuck off.

That’ll be us being oversensitive. In 2008 Steve Coogan reacted to a terrible one man show in Liverpool by saying ‘Us Brits can laugh at ourselves and show each other affection by taking the piss out of each other. Liverpudlians can’t do that.’ He prefaced that by saying ‘We were never going to get good reviews from Liverpool as Scousers hate Mancunians and the feeling is very mutual.’

Me, I’m always going to gigs of people I don’t like. It’s interesting that Coogan’s natural defence is to criticise his audience rather than his poorly rehearsed show. Why? Because it’s an established target and one with which he’ll be guaranteed a certain sympathy from some quarters.

Incidentally, I really like Steve Coogan and I don’t care where he was born. I also like The Buzzcocks so shoot me. Yes the two cities aren’t the best of mates to say we can’t laugh at ourselves is stupid and childish. Still, it’s ‘out there’ now so let’s add that to the list.

From one great comedian to Alan Davies. I took his comments to be overly laddy and crass but as it was confined to a podcast I wasn’t unduly bothered. The press got hold of it because they knew Liverpool would react (that’s me being paranoid again) and loved it. It gave them another opportunity to poke us in the ribs during the hardest week in the year and the comments section of the hard right newspapers dug in for more jibes.

My favourite comment was from the Telegraph accusing Liverpool of playing the ‘Hillsborough card in the same way Jews play the Holocaust card’. Well, quite. The Telegraph comments were disgusting, offensive, erroneous (‘Why don’t they play on the 29th May?’ How many games are played on that date?) and worst of all, not untypical.

Davies made a conciliatory gesture but it was too late and he had inadvertently legitimised some Chelsea fans disrupting the minute’s silence. My point here is not about Davies but more of an escalation of abuse. It’ll continue too. Some knobheads sent him death threats so the story changed. He’ll no doubt cancel his gig in September citing the threats made by ten year olds and ‘win’ the argument – and it was us who were attacked in the first place! Expect his book ‘My Liverpool Hell’ any day now. Preface by S. Coogan.

Paranoid again? Yeah, okay.

As a fan group and a city we like to shout our views but are also prepared to listen. I’ve no doubt Oliver Holt was surprised at the way he was treated by the Anfield Wrap podcasters and I’ve no doubt that Alan Davies will be treated respectfully if he chooses to appear. He may be expecting Adidas and North Face clad skinheads with knuckle-dusters but he’d only get a good argument and a damn fine cake.

That’s another thing. We love an argument. Absolutely love it. Not everyone does. Without bigging up the podcast too much it’s a good example. There’s seldom a consensus on there even though they agree about the broad strokes. The same goes for the fans and the city. We don’t necessarily respect authority and that’s not always been popular. A work colleague recently cut out Patrick Barclay’s latest diatribe from the London Evening Standard (Liverpool being from London, of course) and dropped it onto my desk with a ‘See, you really are shite’ expression. When I pointed out that he’s a bit of a tit these days I was greeted with a sour expression and ‘He’s a very knowledgeable and respected journalist’. Who was I to argue?

Sometimes we can’t win so there’s no point in playing. If we’re disliked then so be it. I’m happy with what I am and who we are. Maybe that’s part of the problem. We don’t ask people to like us; we just love people who do.

Maybe I failed in my attempt not to sound like a Scouse supremacist. We’re neither a perfect club nor a perfect fan base. We have a fair selection of cretins following us be it in opinions, behaviour or anything else but I’d like to think we’re mostly fair. We’re argumentative, disrespectful to those who don’t earn respect, insular, overly cynical and overly optimistic and always, always ready to fight the world.

What’s not to like?

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