The Euros are over, the fixture list’s out and Brendan Rodgers has finally had chance to meet a few of the players.
There’s no denying we’re now firmly in pre- rather than post-season. Football matches, proper serious football matches, are fast approaching.
We have a new manager, a new philosophy, a blank canvas.
It’s the blankness that’s killing me. Having been broadly in favour of a change of manager, and hugely enthused by the man we’ve appointed, I’m now wondering if I was horribly misguided.
For what, right now, can I write about? With no solid evidence to go on we can only make presumptions about arrivals and departures, playing style and realistic expectations.
Aside from a general sense that this could be extremely exciting, there’s not much to build on right now.
So let’s talk about food. It’s a conversation worth having.
As it stands, the food on offer in the concourse kiosks for general ticket-holders at Anfield feels like a huge missed opportunity.
The idea, such as it is, seems to be that the kiosks offer traditional fare. Pies, crisps and tea, with hot dogs providing a dash of the exotic.
In many ways perhaps this is to the club’s credit. This is football food, in the raw (although not – quite – literally).
The prices too, though not always what you might term reasonable, are not exorbitant.
Offering affordable food inside the ground’s a good thing, yeah?
No. I don’t actually think it is. Not for the football club, nor for the community around it.
The current food available and the prices it’s served at are a miserable compromise. A grab for the lowest common denominator which can only offer diminishing returns.
As John Henry pointed out in his recent reply to the Anfield Wrap’s questions, revenue per seat is an important consideration, particularly if we are to stay at Anfield.
Now food concessions might be a drop in that particular ocean, but it’s hard to see how the current menu is helping the long-term goal of making cash from match-goers who need to be increasingly monied even to afford to make it through the turnstiles.
Does anyone buy two pies? A pie and a hot dog? Maybe some do, but offering such a paltry selection hardly encourages people to spend big and keep coming back for more.
Of course, the sensible fan on a budget joins a queue outside one of Anfield’s fine chippies.
Yet from the point of view of the many food businesses around the ground which depend on matchdays for the bulk of their income, the status quo must be far from ideal.
Head in either direction from the Kop when there’s no match on and you’ll see many of the chippies are closed. Without football it’s barely worth their while opening up. The abandonment or demolition of residential streets across L4 has seen to that.
The football club, by offering food which competes directly in terms of style if not quality or price, is sucking yet more cash from a community which has little left to offer up.
There is an alternative, and it may take some explaining to fans if it were ever implemented. But hear me out.
What if, instead of carrying on in the same vein, the club opted to increase the price – and quality – of its kiosk food?
We’re not talking about lobster bisque and cheeseboards here, just the kind of subtle gentrification we’ve seen in pubs across the land.
How about some of the PieMinister pies you see in discerning pubs and bars? How about some decent quality burgers, or sausages which don’t chill you to the marrow of your bones at the very thought of them?
If we were getting a bit outre we could chuck in nachos, meatballs, maybe some potato wedges. Let’s say catching up with the Happy Eater circa 1994 would be a realistic first-season goal.
Give us football food. Comfort food. Nothing to scare the horses. But food you’d eat by choice, somewhere other than inside a football ground. What could be worse than gulping down stuff likely to increase your chances of heart disease, bowel cancer and a thousand grisly fates without actually enjoying the taste of it?
For this kind of stuff the club could comfortably charge £6-8, with a bit of the captive audience surcharge we’ve come to expect but a vastly improved experience for those who choose to buy food inside the ground.
Because it is a choice – unlike ticket prices, nothing compels you to buy from the kiosks. By paying more for a pie which is at least no better than one you could get in a chip shop two minutes away, you’re already choosing to be fleeced. At least enjoy the experience. Let’s at least get gentrification right
The decision would be clear – pay the club the kind of amount you’d happily hand over to a bar or pub owner for a product of similar quality, or go for a fast food option outside the ground and support a local business.
Meanwhile, the club should stop charging ridiculous amounts for known value items like Kit-Kats and tea which leave fans feeling more ripped off than ever.
The same thinking should apply to alcohol. Sure, there’s a commercial deal which requires the sale of Carlsberg. But would it really be impossible to at some stage negotiate a guest ale in parts of the ground at least?
Perhaps something locally brewed, offering fans from further afield a taste of Liverpool while providing those of us who simply like to enjoy what we’re drinking with something to appeal to us.
The outcome would in all likelihood be no decline in Carlsberg’s sales – plenty would still gulp down their dismal brew, while those of us who’d normally do our drinking either side of the game in pubs might be lured in for a half-time pint of something acceptable.
None of this should be considered revolutionary, yet it does seem hugely unlikely it would ever happen.
As in so many areas, when it comes to the food on offer to fans the British football industry is deeply conservative and risk-averse. Given Liverpool was among the clubs which helped create and ingrain that culture, perhaps it’s asking too much for us to lead a major change in thinking in this area.
For the foreseeable future it looks like Scouse pies and hot dogs all round.
Follow Steve on Twitter @steve_graves