By Karl Coppack
On a recent Citytalk Neil brought up the subject of the new away kit, the one that looks like a piece of paper warped in the dying throes of a toner cartridge error, and the ‘values’ and ‘brand’ of the club or, to be specific, what those things are.
It’s something that’s interested me for a while. We tell ourselves that we’re not just any club and there is a ‘different attitude’ to the club and ourselves. We speak of our history and how it’s still relevant today. We speak of Shankly’s brand of socialism which saw the team and the club as an extension of the city’s make up. We do things that other clubs don’t do. Applauding the opposition goalkeeper as he trots towards the Kop, an act which confused many of them but has been a tradition as far back as the 1930’s, recognising a good goal against us, staying for Arsenal’s championship win in 1989, flags, banners, humour and verve. We’ve never been a club for ‘So-and-so’s red and white army’ repeated for tens of minutes or booed visiting England players for not doing well in midweek games.
This is certainly the case in some ways and we do have certain traits that are invisible in others but this isn’t a written constitution. It’s a piecemeal and organic process. Values, if that’s the word I want, change. The meaning of the badge meant one thing once and something else another time. Traditions, however, remain and are constant no matter where the club or the game on the whole happens to be at any given moment. You don’t boo your own manager. You don’t boo your players. You slag them off in the pub afterwards but you don’t do it when your words and songs can negatively affect them on the pitch. That should never change. Even Hodgson escaped that. His successor’s name was sung as early as the second month of his reign but he himself was never booed. The fans gave their verdict by silence rather than slaughter and that can be just as effective. In fact, it took decades for Liverpool to actually sack a manager, as we prefer our men to stand down once they’ve grown too old or stale or admitted they’re not up to the job. The message was clear. You know the standards we set and we expect you to do the honourable thing when those standards aren’t met. There’s a way to do things and that’s ours.
The problem with defining our values is that there is a schism between the club, team and fans. Ultimately they should be the one and the same thing but times change. On a personal level I support the team more than the general club and there is a difference between those two things. I’m not interested in Ian Ayre. I shouldn’t know his name. I don’t like John Henry and I find elements of FSG to be embarrassing when their name is connected to Liverpool Football Club or, specifically, MY version of Liverpool Football Club as we all have one. That ideal, that ethos means something different to me than it does for the club even if our goal is ultimately the same thing – namely to develop into that ‘bastion of invincibility’ that Shankly spoke of, the idea ‘to build Liverpool up and up until eventually everyone would have to submit and give in.’ That same man spoke of a Holy Trinity of players, the manager and the supporters and saw the combination of them as something all heading the same way. It’s that ideal that drew many of us to the club in the first place.
But again, these things change and the lines become blurred. When the club told us that ‘LFC encourages all away fans to respect the values of the club and stop taking these flares and fireworks to matches’ before the Newcastle game there were raised eyebrows, not because of the actual pyro as, let’s face it, setting fire to things in a confined environment isn’t always a good idea, but more because the club had used the ‘v’ word. Respect the values? Whose values? We ARE the club, aren’t we? They’ve only been here ten minutes and they’re given instructions about how to behave? If a non-pyro stance is one of our values now what are the others? Is there a memo somewhere? Neil also has trouble with the concept of ‘the Liverpool way’ as it’s a term that only arises to stop something rather than the opposite. For example, it may not be the Liverpool way to light pyro but it is the Liverpool way to…erm. Well what? Sing and support your team? That’s hardly exclusive to us.
I’m aware that criticising the club for having a boardroom that’s never queued for the bogs in the ground or stood under a leaky roof at Turf Moor may be a bit harsh as they’re not the first bunch of executives to do that but previous administrations have always seen the fans as the priority. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not coating this with a rose coloured hue of sentimentalism or a ‘wasn’t it great when we were all on the dole and half starving but we had the footy’ attitude but it’s up to the club to firstly recognise that there is a broken link between the three strands of that trinity and to do something about it. One hospital visit a year isn’t quite going to cut it. Anfield should be a cathedral for the people to mass. The club belongs to the fans first and foremost and we should be pulling together to shovel the shit we have to go through to get back to the top. Naming membership schemes ‘Belong’, as the last lot did, isn’t going to cut it either. Belong? We already do. It’s you lot that came late to the party so don’t ask us to join you. It should be the other way around. Belong indeed.
But, of course, this is seen as club bashing. On a recent article for The Anfield Wrap I was accused of ‘slating Brendan Rodgers’. His name didn’t appear once in the piece. Some are the same about the owners and club in general and nod at is with a deferential respect. There is some value in that but it’s difficult not to poke them with a stick sometimes. The owners got a lot of love when they first arrived as they were seen as the antithesis of the carpetbaggers and rightly so but, again, this is where the schism comes in. For some, the owners and the club are the same thing and how can you criticise something you love. How many of us have thought ‘I fucking hate this club at times’? I’ll say most of us. Be that through something as enormous as the non-recognition of the HJC or as simply baffling like a new contract for Phil Babb, we’ve all shook our heads on senior management decisions. The new shirt brought a similar response. Not because someone with a warped sense of humour, a rolling brush and a printer gave that design in to his manager for marking, we all have our off days after all, but because several people within the club sanctioned it. Who the hell thinks ‘that’ll do’? Okay, it’s only a little thing but even the hardiest FSG supporter must have grimaced at that. Sometimes dissent against the club isn’t just warranted; it’s downright necessary. Over-criticism? Yeah, fair enough.
This would be a lot easier if the fan base wasn’t so fragmented. I don’t mean in terms of pro/anti-Brendan or Kenny/Rafa in/out but more about the demographics of the support. For some the club is an extension of the city, for others the city has no relevance whatsoever (I’ve written before about the nose breathing anus who joined in the anti Scouse songs at Wimbledon in 1993 while sat next to me and wearing a Liverpool scarf) and it’s the club that’s the thing. Then there’s the geographical make up. Come on, come all or ‘too many wools on the Kop’. Add to that the political divides. I was once on a Liverpool forum where the word ‘socialist’ was hurled at me in insult, something that would have been unthinkable in the 80’s. Some think of Liverpool as a homogenous, socialist support massed together for the glory of the club and/or city. Some people think that politics have no place and it’s irrelevant to all this. Some think that singing about Thatcher’s death was not ‘the Liverpool way’ and the glorification of an old woman’s death was disgusting. Some think it’s the distrust and dislike of such people, people who hurt the city and almost brought it to its knees, is central to the meaning of You’ll Never Walk Alone. She tried to make us walk alone but she didn’t so let’s celebrate it. Or be disgusted at the celebration of it. Or both. Or neither.
There you go, John. Build a value around that little lot and unite us all.
Not easy is it? I wonder how many ‘What the fuck is this club about?’ meetings they’ve had. Do they see them as necessary at all? Who cares as long as we’re winning things or are at least on our way to doing so?
Ah, but people do care. Sponsors care. Global partnership deals care.
We’ve had sponsorship since the 70’s, indeed where the first club to wear shirts with logos and they’re now seen as classic retro shirts and part of our heritage because of what was achieved during the donning of those plain and effortlessly beautiful shirts that didn’t need a tyre print or a Space Invaders game on them. The club’s whoring itself out to all and sundry as, some would suggest, it needs to do in order to ‘compete’ but how are they selling it? Through the ‘brand’ of Liverpool Football Club? And what is the brand? It’s you. It’s me and you. It’s flags and You’ll Never Walk Alone and deafening away ends and Dr Fun and swaying thousands and Istanbul and no pyro. Absolutely NO pyro. You’ve been told. Behave properly or we won’t be able to flog you off. Cheers John.
Maybe that’s where the ‘values’ come into play. Maybe a value is something that can be used to sell some shirts or Mighty Red books (the money of which goes to charity so although mascots aren’t ‘my’ Liverpool way I can’t complain too much. In public, anyway.) Liverpool are for sale and have ‘brand values’. They don’t always have to be the same for everyone everywhere.
What are the club’s values? For me it’s a united, all destroying legion of demi-Gods cutting through the chaff of the entire game and putting us into the pantheon of the greatest clubs the game has ever seen and working every second of every day until we’re in that place. Ruthless efficiency and efficient ruthlessness. No waste, no shite, no deadwood. Some pyro.
The non (apologies but here it comes) monetised (sorry) values are far more important. A loud and raucous celebration of everything LFC/Scouse mixed with a respect of good football and an acknowledgement of equally loud and raucous support from the other end of the ground (the Kop singing ‘Toulouse’ a few years back when the French supporters sang stridently despite being five down on aggregate) when it’s warranted. Booing the team when we’ve gone a point clear at the top of the League. Er, no.
For others the values may not be so fascistic. Each to their own. It’s just very difficult to cater for all of those things and gone are the days when you can say ‘what Shankly said’. It wouldn’t be a bad start though, would it? Get busy, John.
Liverpool + socialism + hatred of Thatcher and the Tories… Fucking ya… I do that that Liverpool Way. Sounds wonderful…
As you know Karl I sill can never ever understand any Liverpool supporter defending Tory leaders and their polices on any Liverpool FC forum or social media… I mean lets be honest you would have to be a bit dense to even think about it, but many have and continue to do so…
Still can not get me head around that.
Great piece summing up a lot of my own thoughts and worries.
There has always been a class divide between the fans and the suits. Nobody can tell me John Smith or Orangeman McKenna were Socialists. It didn’t matter. We did our bit and they did theirs and it worked. We were both fantastic. All we want is the same again from our current owners. Get on with making the money that we need to compete. Leave the rest to us…
Karl – this is a fascinating article and well thought through. I was struck with horror though, when I read Liverpool fans don’t boo their players. I’m sorry but they do. I don’t find Anfield a pleasant experience anymore. I started going there in 1980 as an 8 year old. Due to getting free tickets for all the European games I didn’t miss one from then until the ban. In the mid 80’s a group of 10 of us would queue every Saturday and pay 75p to stand on the Kop and by the late 80’s I was travelling away to league and FA cup games including Hillsborough. I’ll never forget that ‘buzz’ of being a Liverpool fan. Call me negative but it’s gone now. Times have changed. Only success can bring it back (like it did in Istanbul). I don’t take pleasure in saying this but Anfield is full of bitter people and they’re usually the scousers, in my opinion. I’m sick of hearing them. They remind me of Yosser Hughes. Filled with hate, resentment and bitterness.
Back in the 80’s (Hillsborough aside) Thatcher was screwing Liverpool and there was a feeling of poverty and unity. Although I wasn’t of working age for most of the 80’s (that didn’t come until 2003 for me) I remember how the match felt like a release. The one thing that we all held dear in the face of adversity. Well, things have changed now. Football’s changed. Liverpool’s problems on the pitch stem from not being more cutting edge after the start of the Premier League. The point I want to make though, is that some people haven’t moved on. Their values haven’t changed. We can never be like we were in the 80’s and before. The environment was different. Yes, look out for the club like we did under H&G but all this trying to dictate every aspect of the club is futile. If you want success you have to play the game.
My view is Liverpool fans have to separate the running of the club and the team on the pitch otherwise it’s gonna be a continual cycle of bitterness and anger. H&G didn’t help matters for us but it’s led to a deep mistrust of owners that may not even be justified this time around. The only place you feel Liverpool’s values as fans nowadays are at away games. The unity and love of the club returns. There’s less emphasis on all the other bollocks. Liverpool need to look for a new niche to make their fans ‘special’ or ‘different’ but moaning about every aspect of the club is not the way.
I’m pleased to see ‘Spirit of Shankly’ leading the way against ticket prices. It’s a valid cause. I was pleased to see Liverpool fans had taken over the stadium in Instanbul. I was proud that the HJC and families stood up so ferociously against a whitewashing by the authorities. Liverpool fans are different because of the politics and geography of the city but they have to accept some changes. i.e. Worry less about Ian Ayre and FSG and the commercialisation of the club and stop referring to people as ‘bad wools’. It just makes them look stupid. Although I’m rushing this as I need to leave work and have lost my point a little, I think it was primarily, the values of the club have to change to meet the challenges of the day and until the fans respect that the enjoyment of following Liverpool won’t come back.
P.s Apologies but needed to add something. I’ve misinterpreted this debate once before with Neil Atkinson. I just want to add that I’m not saying the values of the club are only based on the 80’s or even post war to the 80’s but I think for various reasons, the identity of the club was clearer then than it appears now. I appreciate the club and the City are intrinsically linked regardless of the era and the values of the club stem from that link. Again, I’m not fully sure what my point was but it’s my opinion that Liverpool fans are losing having an identity and I put it down to not being progressive enough with the times. I suppose I feel we’re trying to grasp at the values from a time that’s gone forever. Again, I feel the only way to rediscover it is by winning the league and believing again. Putting the recent past behind us.
“Even Hodgson escaped that.”
Not really, I remember hearing “Hodgson for England” and “Fuck Off, Hodgson” chants at matches, home and away. It reached a crescendo at home to Wolves and away to Blackburn and he didn’t last very long after them games.
So while not technically booing, it’s not like he escaped abuse from the terraces during games and therefore the team did suffer from negative crowd reaction, we lost both games unsurprisingly too.
The club we love is no longer our club, you only have to spend 10 mins in the club shop to realise that. It got lost in the rush for global recognition and hasn’t been seen since. We are not alone, just late to the party.
Great piece Karl, eloquent and well thought out. Sad but true.
Club shop? What on earth were you doing in there!
James, I wasn’t at those games (watched the Blackburn game with my head in my hands) but I found it interesting that the ‘Dalglish’ chant came in as early as Blackpool and was a more interesting protest than generic Hodgson abuse.
I agree with what you say there Karl, those games were very near the end (if not the end) of his time in charge and maybe patience had run out by then but the fact the ‘Dalglish’ chant came as early as it did indicates that maybe a section of our fans have moved on to. Maybe they/we still don’t boo managers but move to a different kind of protest quicker than ever. Is this a good thing? For me, no.
I said on twitter on the way home from the Blackburn game that I was disappointed as I think, like you, the pub is the place to air your gripes, the ground is where you support the team, even with a pyro if you like (just not directly in front of me so all the smoke goes right in my face and down my throat like at Wigan!).
Sorry lads but you’re living in cloud cockoo land and the club you want would be playing in the conference at best. Don’t think Shanks ever envisaged having to compete with noisy neighbors that pay over 200,000 a week in salaries, hardly fits in with the concept of socialism.
You mention the “Liverpool Way” which I consider to be an extremely disingenuous throw-away phrase branded about as both a sword and shield depending on the political considerations of the moment. Like you have rightly pointed out, it is a hollow sentiment which can mean both everything and nothing, depending on who is using it and what their agenda is. I cringe when I hear it thrown around. Perhaps it meant something tangible in the distant past, but today it is absolutely worthless in my mind.
As an aside, I do seem to remember a very negative fan reaction during the infamous Wolves loss during Woy’s tenure. Correct me if I am wrong but I thought that included booing….Plus that new away kit is god awful. Who thought that was a good idea?
Keep the faith.
The thing I am most disappointed about is this rejection of ‘The Liverpool Way.”
This isn’t just aimed at Dave McKenna personally mate but it is people like you I highly suspect do nothing but whinge all day and then when you have an opportunity to do something about it, you turn to water and just have a pop at something maybe you don’t understand and appreciate.
And because you don’t understand it and appreciate it you politicise it to divide people rather than unite them.
And then have the temerity to sign off “Keep the faith.” Indeed.
In your mind it is worthless. Good keep it there and your opinions because there are thousands of us who will vehemently defend it until the day we die.
There is a Liverpool Way. Always has been. Always will be.
Shame on you for not protecting that. Rather than call it a hollow shell, look inside yourself and ask the real question. Who is the hollow one?
The Liverpool Way is instilled in a lot of Liverpool Football Club supporters as soon as they are born. In many, while they are still a twinkling in their old man’s ballbag.
For some of us Liverpool Football Club and all that goes with it is a birthright.
For some of us it means everything. Not a matter of life or death as Shanks never really meant it to be so serious but pretty close. I lost my cousin at Hillsborough so no need to go any further on that.
There has generally been a long lineage of support that has stretched multiple generations through multiple family trees. This support has always been brought up and garnered on those very things you mentioned.
The Liverpool Way….
Clapping the visiting goalkeeper. Do we still do that? Yes we do. Anyone else do that?
Clapping a quality goal scored against us. Do we still do that? Yes we do. Anyone else do that?
Acknowledging an away support still singing even when they are on a hiding. Do we still do that? Yes we do. Anyone else do that?
Respecting an opposition player of complete class and acknowledging the different level that they are on. Do we still do that? Yes we do.
Singing ourselves stupid in the face of adversity. Do we still do that? Yes we do.
It is up to us to protect the things which made us this institution. The fans.
If you see someone boo the players and the manager in the ground have a word. I did at Anfield when we played Chelsea and beat them 4-1 after the FA Cup Final.
I had a lady sat in front of me complaining non-stop (when we were winning 4-0 in the first half) that we were passing it backwards (retaining possession and taking the piss)… Non-stop gibbering, everything negative… I leaned towards her and just said “Come on girl, we are winning 4-0 and we are giving them a hiding. Can’t we just enjoy it and support the lads hey?”
Once you do that you gain the support of everyone around you and the loud mouth no nothing shrinks back into their tiny little world that has more to do with instant gratification and making a name for themselves than actually watching 90 minutes of combat.
Owners come and go too true. In today’s commercialist world that will only increase as the game becomes corporatised and people are motivated by profit.
But you. You weren’t motivated by anything other than getting down to Anfield or any away any time you could to follow the reds and shout yourself into silence for the next 3 days because you were raised that way.
You didn’t profit from anything except being there to witness the success of the team which you felt like you had contributed to through the unquestionable level of your support and the stories you could tell about how you got there. Selling your car. Selling everything you own just to say “I was there when we won…. ”
You paid your hard earned. You did the tours of duty to fucknowswhereville to watch a pre-season game or a euro qualifier.
The definition of fraud is creating “VALUE” out of NOTHING and then making a profit on it when people outside of the fraudulent circle enter the market based on demand and supply to want a piece of the product.
Until this occurs there is NO VALUE… when people engage in this market and then add a monetary VALUE to the FRAUD that is when the trouble starts.
People telling US how to act.
People telling US when to wave our flags.
People telling US when to use sarcasm and wit in our banners.
People telling US when to let off flares.
People telling US when to create an atmosphere and on what grounds.
I’m sorry have we become Chelski overnight??
People instilling a FALSE VALUE to attain a monetary price. It’s FRAUD of the highest nature and you allow yourselves to be drawn into it every time you attack the Liverpool Way and cheapen it.
Roy Hodgson attacked the Kop. He asked where the famous Kop support was. Do you ever think that that was going to end well for him??
Telling the fans that the derby loss against Everton was the best game we played all season… I’m sorry?? Run that one past me again… I wasn’t sure I heard that properly…
I can’t remember in my 36 years another Liverpool manager openly taunting the fans can you?
And how did it end??
Because it is US who eventually determines the trajectory of this club.
We all love this club. We are all as passionate about it as the next man. We welcome with open arms anyone who swears allegiance to the Liverbird and the blood red shirt irrespective of where you are from.
There is a common bond. The shirt.
That shirt represents the blood of the people. Never forget that.
We never ask for victory we just ask for respect for the shirt. Give it everything and if it’s still not good enough hard lines, put your hands up and admit we were done by a better team.
That is what it means for some of us to see ten lads in red and a keeper running out every Saturday. They represent us and everything about us.
If you are seeing the erosion of The Liverpool Way, stop whinging and do something about it.
Reclaim the Liverpool Way because that is all we have.
That is the difference but the longer it goes being attacked rather than being defended then you are right, we are no different from any other club.
Me? I choose to follow The Liverpool Way. I have raised my daughter on it and she in turn will raise her kids on it.
It’s there. It’s real, make what you will of it but you denounce and ridicule thousands of good reds who still believe and follow the mantra.
Perhaps it is your definition of the Liverpool Way in your own mind which needs re-evaluating….
You Will Never Walk Alone.
That actually means something too.
Sadly for us the last 5 years has seen too much infighting between good reds, passionate reds. Let’s lay down the guns and start supporting the common good again.
I’ll give you a hint.
Just like the poor Scouser Tommy as he lay on the battlefield dying, dying, dying with the blood gushing out of his ‘ed.
As he lay on the battlefield dying, dying, dying. These were the last word he said.
“Ohhhhhh I am a Liverpudlian and I come from the Spion Kop. I like to sing I like to shout I’ve been thrown out quite a lot (EVERY WEEK!) There’s a team that plays in red and it’s a team that we all know.
It’s a team that we call LIVERPOOL and to glory we will go.”
Come on you red men!!!!
Sorry my mistake on the Chelsea game. It was the second half and we were winning 4-1 not 4-0.
Shelvey had just scored. She was crying out for Sterling to come on and then when he did proceeded to unload on him for losing the ball… he was trying to take on the man and beat him to the byline…
This philosophy of a Liverpool way is a load of utter bollocks. Liverpool when they dominated was about winning games and trophies, nothing to do with social philosophies.
There isn’t a “Man Utd way” or a “Arsenal way”. Its a football club which puts 11 players on a pitch to win. It sounds simple but it really is that simple. Too many people try and complicate the sport itself when there is no need to do so as it is a game. Not a political party or political ideology.
Arsenal fan did you not read the article or the responses, most notably Kev’s?. I don’t know what traditions or culture that Gunners have but Liverpool fans see the team as an extension of the community they represent. I’m sure that comes across as Scouse sentimentalism to some outsiders but The Liverpool Way feels pretty real to me. Not saying that we’re better than other fans, just different in lots of ways. Is sitting in the Emirates library really so alienating that you had to come trolling on here?