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.