I’LL come clean.
I’m writing this after a good couple of hours with Red or Dead, David Peace’s behemoth novelisation of Shankly’s life. It’s a remarkable piece of work. Some say it highlights the constant repetition of football life. From game to day off to training to midweek game to day off to weekend game. Others may wonder how you can dress that genius, wit and verve in such prosaic terms. You can’t pull dullness and routine from to a man who dragged an entire football club and half a city from mundane lower league mediocrity to European glory (I’ve just got up to the 73 UEFA Cup Final) in fourteen years, a man with THAT personality. I’m somewhere in the middle. It makes a good point but it shouldn’t feel like the chore it is.
There is also a confession here. I’ve been drinking. In the interests of full disclosure I have to volunteer that.
I’ve been out with a Blue, a Chelsea fan and a Charlton fan. Immediately you can probably imagine those three people. All three are native to the cities of those clubs as I am to mine. All three argued their corner and, in that odd way that is peculiar to football fans who have been supping from Bacchus’ teat, we somehow found a common ground between the three of us.
For example, I don’t like Chelsea but have to admit that I loved Zola and think that people, possibly Chelsea fans, incorrectly appreciate Lampard more than Drogba who could be unplayable. I cited his goal against us in 2006 when he turned and smacked the ball past Pepe. I was directly behind the goal and had there not been a net I would have taken the ball full in the face. Pepe didn’t see it either. Drogba was that quick, that strong.
I don’t like Everton but they were my Dad’s team and it was the first ground I visited back in 1978. I really like horrible, shoddy grounds and you don’t get shoddier than the away end. Stadia should not resemble cinemas with their comfy seats and access to salted snacks and Wi-Fi. I like that about them.
Then I spoke to the Charlton fan and wondered…wondered…well, what’s it like to support a team who you know are never going to do anything in terms of trophies and laps of honour. How do you get through season after season knowing that there are going to be more draws than wins or losses? Few highs, fewer moments of unbridled joy.
Then I staggered onto the Tube and got back to David Peace. I pondered the love of Shankly, the love of clubs, the love of which feel alien to my love of mine, how other fans cope and why I’ve drunk so much in such a small amount of time.
Last week I unsuccessfully tried to see AFC Wimbledon v Portsmouth thanks to a combination of an international weekend, nothing to do and the ticking off a new ground. I expected to pay on the gate and sit next to a few bored middle aged men who would go through the motions. I expected players called Deano who were a little bit better than their pub side. I expected Cup-a-Soups and pools of water in the centre circle. I didn’t expect an all ticket lower tier sell-out. How often does that happen? I went home defeated, as did Portsmouth.
The same Charlton thought hit me. Both Wimbledon and Portsmouth nearly evaporated thanks to lack of funds and too much mismanagement but the hardy few dug in. How many home fans in that ground were at the 88 Cup final? How many inside were at the Portsmouth Cup finals? Obviously there would be more Pompey fans thanks to changing demographic and twenty five years since Lawrie Sanchez had his moment but what was impressive was the entire lack of glamour attributed to those sides. Wimbledon, in particular, are a drab club. A child in, say, Norwich isn’t going to wake up one day and decide that he’d rather not watch the Canaries but feels an affinity with the children of the Crazy Gang. No. If 1988 was their zenith they did little to cash in on an emotional level and gain out of town support, if that’s what they wanted.
Portsmouth are slightly different. They fell quicker but have a home, a history and, being a port, settlers who want to watch local football. They also carry the residue of recent success and, to the envy of many of us, stepped in when the last managerial promise evaporated and did something about their club. That’s laudable but it doesn’t make a trip to Wimbledon on a freezing November afternoon any more palatable. They sold out their allocation and got battered 4-0. They’ll all be back for the next game too. It’s what football fans too.
So, what relevance does this have for LFC? Well, we’re spoiled. Even the most barren season has the odd bit of interest. A trip to Anfield means you’re going to see Suarez, Gerrard and Sturridge for a start. Even if we don’t challenge for the League and exit the Cups we’re still going to have the derby and the United games. It never gets dull, or ‘that’ dull.
There was a time when we were Charlton. Pre-Shankly there was a cowfield of a pitch and the threat of relegation. Going to the match was a routine rather than an expectation of glory much as lower league supporters have now. It somehow feels more pure, more valid. Course, we have no choice. Supporting anyone other than Liverpool isn’t even worth considering but there are times when I wish I could stand next thirty or so mates rather than have them dotted around stands. There are times that I’d like to decide to go or not go at half two on the day rather than weeks of planning and exhausted online patience. There are times when a routine home win should make your weekend rather than just being a part of it. There’s a glamour in supporting mundane clubs. I kind of envy that.
Yet there are fewer fans at that end of the scale. How many Lincoln fans have you worked with? Darlington? Cheltenham Town? Not many. Even if you know a few they may have a Premier League club they ‘don’t mind’ so they can experience the other menu. That’s a real shame. I like it when people have the same love of Yeovil that I do of Liverpool, people who go misty eyed at talk of late winners in the modern equivalent of the Watney Cup.
Yes, I know this is all coming over a bit Ron Manager but next week I’ll be casting an eye over the Hull City fans and wondering if they’re happy now they’re here with the name changes and all-seater stadium or do they still think about the days when only a handful of their mates loved talking about their own private pleasure before having to share it with everyone else. The more your club is successful the more the simple pleasures fade. Sometimes ambition robs you of your happiness.
Anyway, just a thought.
Incidentally, the hangover was a beauty.
I grew up a Liverpool fan from the Age of 5 ( It was the ’86 Cup Final that did it for me), even though I grew up in Kent. My Dad had long since stopped going to matches (too many racist idiots) and so in order to get to see any football as a lad, my choices were Gillingham & Charlton. My best mate was a Charlton fan, so that made the choice easier.
As much as it hurt watching Liverpool lose on Match of the Day, and my Red shirt was worn on every single “own clothes day” at School, there was something special about going to the Valley, sneaking into The Crown with my mate’s older cousin, sitting in the North end choir with the Big Boys, singing your heart out at 3-0 up or 3-0 down. My pure enjoyment of football as a spectacle was born in those days at The Valley.
Those first few years in Division 1, with no hope nor expectation of promotion, were the perfect antidote to the false hope of the Roy Evans era. As it turns out my time as a Charlton regular happened to co-incide with their best team in decades, and I was at Wembley to see the greatest Play-off Final of all time (c). That day, and many parts of that 1st year in the Premier League, are some of my best football memories, despite moving to Liverpool roughly 6 months before Istanbul.
The ironic part of it was that many of my Charlton-supporting friends would complain about the years of mid-table Premier League mediocrity, as if just being in that top league sucks the pure enjoyment away and turns it into a serious business where balance sheets are as mentioned as often on the terraces as bicycle kicks. They were restless for improvement, and it could be argued that was their downfall.
I have only been to one Charlton game since moving North, but I still follow them avidly, and think about the old days every time I hear us outsung by the away fans at Anfield.
Hull would be a good comparison with Charlton, having come back after their first top-flight adventure looking to consolidate. I suspect the name change business has made more of the fans focus on the corporate side of football more than they’d like, but I hope they do get a chance to soak it in and make some real memories.
PS apologies for the comment longer than your post!
So this hit on something for me.
Why do we end up supporting the clubs we do? Why are we their through thick and thin willing them on and hoping this year is going to be the year?
I’m not from Liverpool, but I was lucky enough to go to University there from 82-85 (and work for Littlewoods for another 7 years after that). So during that time I got to see some of the best football in Europe from both the Liverpool and Everton sides of the time.
But in the end there’s never really been any doubt in my mind which of those sides I support. Every time I stood in the Kop I felt part of a community that understood football, and would applaud any team that played the game “the right way”. Even when Liverpool lost, there was always recognition of the qualities of the other team, and most frustration released by humour. I even managed to watch Tottenham beat Liverpool for the first time in 74 years, standing in the Kop next to the biggest Cockney Spurs fan in Liverpool, with no problems.
On the other hand every time I went to Everton (and my sister married a Toffees fan so this could cause some problems), while the football was great, the atmosphere that radiated towards the away fans and teams always seemed unnecessarily aggressive. And ultimately that coloured my perception of the experience and the club.
So now 20 years on I live in the USA. But my experiences on the Kop, and the appreciation of the game shown by Liverpool fans mean I will always support Liverpool. After all, there’s only one team where YNWA is a song, a philosophy for playing football, and a way of life.