by STEVEN SCRAGG
WHY do you watch Liverpool? What really takes you to Anfield? A love of Liverpool Football Club? That’s the easy answer, but it’s not necessarily that simple when you scratch below the surface.
I was taken to Anfield by my Dad for the very first time just over 36 years ago at the ripe old age of three. It was for the European Super Cup second leg against SV Hamburg, who had a mercurial little imp of a striker that went by the name of Kevin Keegan in their ranks. They’d acquired him in the summer just gone, the summer of 1977.
The 6-0 score line and the masterclass of a performance from Terry McDermott passed me by somewhat, and my abiding memories of that night centre around how cold it was, how small I was compared to the other people that made up the crowd of people outside the ground before the match, how suspicious I was of the polystyrene cup of black peas I’d been ‘treated to’ and how green the pitch appeared under the floodlights once we’d found our way into the ground.
If my bearings are correct, we sat high up in the Main Stand towards the Kop. I’ve looked the game up on YouTube a couple of times and it’s a strange experience seeing the footage knowing there is a little version of me – at that time younger than my own son is now – in the crowd.
This was the Liverpool Football Club I very soon came to fall for, as opposed to the Liverpool Football Club of 2013/14 that at best no more than vaguely resembles the club I first encountered in person on that cold night of Tuesday, December 6, 1977.
In three-and-a-half decades a lot has changed. Three quarters of the ground has been renewed, we have players called Raheem, Kolo and Mamadou instead of players called Jimmy, Phil and Ray. We have a media department, a global brand awareness, superstores that knock out all manner of tat for an exorbitant mark up, Moneyball-centric American owners that puppeteer our club from plush offices in Boston (the Massachusetts variety rather than the one in Lincolnshire) and who ‘saved’ us from a near state of administration that our previous maniacal American owners were hell bent on driving us towards.
We’ve had highly public days out in the London high courts as legal suits and wigs did battle for the tattered soul of the club; we have an academy, a no-parking footprint around the ground that is roughly the size of Luxembourg and a family zone that peddles fast food vans and ‘fun’ kick-the-ball-through-the-hole Soccer AM style games.
We don’t win the league title anymore; we deal in package tour holidaymakers; we have Dunkin Donuts and Garuda signing as official partners during a transfer window when we’re labouring to sign players. We have the queasy element of the club using the ghost of Bill Shankly to voice the intro of the press conference to announce Garuda’s sponsorship of the club’s training kit and we have electronic advertising hoardings that sell things in Arabic tongue to a TV audience thousands of miles away.
They can watch Liverpool on their TV in a game that kicks off at 3pm UK time, while someone who lives a few hundred yards from the ground that either can’t get or afford a ticket has to watch via an illegal stop-start internet stream or hooky satellite box.
We have ‘photo opportunity’ life-sized pictures dotted around the outside of the ground for daytrippers and camera-happy tourists to pose with; we have information points and what appear to be air stewardesses stationed at the ‘posh nosh’ entrances – those parts of the ground for people that own a tie and get a printed team sheet to go with their free match programme.
We have arsey little South American players instead of arsey little Scottish players. We have our kick off times and days of the games moved on a regular basis and, above all else, we have to pay MASSIVE amounts of money to be a part of this circus.
So it’s £850 or so for the season ticket. Tag on the auto cup scheme. Away games if you go to them and we have Arsenal taking us through the £90 barrier – the dawning of the £1-a-minute football match.
Add to this the cost of transporting yourself to and from games, feeding and watering yourself and a son or a daughter or your other half. Throw in a costly subscription to pay to watch games and it all means that for less than the price of a 38 to 50-game-a-season Liverpool FC habit you could probably run yourself a cheaper drug habit instead and still have money to spare for the associated attack of the munchies.
A return to European competition next season could mean 65 games. For the necessary outlay you would have enough for a spot of rehab thrown in for good measure.
Yet, even in the face of all this, you keep showing up, don’t you?
You would be well within your rights to proclaim the reason you keep showing up to actually be that easy and simple answer from the very first paragraph of this ramble – “for the love of Liverpool Football Club”.
But that love wouldn’t suddenly stop if you jacked in the physical act of match-going. I used to go everywhere following the Reds, but while I still take in the majority of home games, I only go to a small handful of aways these days.
While I once used to go tense across the shoulders and feel the need to breath in and out of a brown paper bag slowly at the prospect of not being at a Liverpool game, I now have a sense of ‘meh’ about the concept of missing a game. If I’m at the game, great, but if I’m not then I don’t lose any sleep. Yet I’m still gripped by the internal helter-skelter ride come kick off time wherever I’m watching the game, be it at the ground or in front of a TV.
Love of the club alone is not enough to propel you to pay out the prices you do, and put up with the thoroughly unappetising elements of modern football.
Let’s face it, if you hadn’t previously had a vested long-term interest in Liverpool FC but today found yourself in possession of new-found free time and some disposable income would you really take up the ‘pastime’ of watching a Premier League football club?
So what else is it that keeps you hooked? It can only be an emotional attachment to the matchday ritual as a whole, that sense that you’re part of something.
At it’s height for me it bordered on the realms of being an almost spiritual experience. And the people I shared matchdays with became a second family – a second family that I’d see some members of far more often than members of my actual family.
We’d cram ourselves in a car and spend hours and hours in each other’s company. The extended version of this second family made the near biblical pilgrimage to Istanbul together. Better experiences in my life than that can be counted on one hand and with a couple of fingers to spare.
The emotional attachment makes the bond impossible to break. No matter what Sky Sports, American owners, demanding sponsors, greedy detached-from-reality players, and the hideous shiny Cyclops called the Premier League do to change the club we love, we still see the soul of the club as being the same as we’ve always seen it; that somewhere deep inside the Disneyland-style outer husk that is modern Liverpool FC remains a core that still beats to a different drum.
Combine that to the surroundings of L4 and all the associated memories they bring. Of games and glories, past, present and hopefully still to come, of the people you’ve shared those days with, people who are still with us and those who aren’t. The ghosts that surround us at Anfield are friendly and comforting ones, and we like to revisit them.
That sense of belonging can still creep through the sight of the increasing number of unfamiliar faces you see outside the ground before games now. It’s easy to say we keep coming out of habit, and yes there is a degree of habit to our continued presence, but we’re compelled by an unseen umbilical cord, or more likely a retractable dog lead which drags us back over and over again.
I’m always genuinely warmed by the sight of friends old and new prior to games; it always feels like I’m coming home. Liverpool FC and Anfield has been part and parcel of my life for as far back as I can remember and my relationship with them has outstretched that of most of the people to have drifted in and out of my ‘journey’ through human existence.
It’s meant more to me than a lot of the people I share my DNA with, but I’m also increasingly repulsed at the way my view of the club I love is being distorted. The Disneyfication of Liverpool FC only succeeds in loosening my grasp on what I once felt was an entity I owned a part of as much as it owned a part of me.
I’ll never completely let the club go; it is after all still Liverpool Football Club. Just not as I knew it.
time moves relentlessly on. and it brings change. we can never go back to those days because those that aspire to success, glory, call it what you will, force us to do things differently to enable us to compete. there may one day be light at the end of the tunnel and fans can feel like fans again and not like customers but that is a long way off. i went to my first match around the same time as you an 0-0 draw at home to jack charltons middlesboro in 1976. a pretty uninspiring game, apart from the crowd and seeing my hero kevin keegan. but i was hooked from then on. i havent been since luis suarez made his debut for us against stoke. i just cant find the money to go regularly anymore. i’ll go again sometime, but its not easy to get 3 tickets off the club anymore. all that membership and fan card stuff is basically a barrier to fans who arent regulars. and yes you are right once youve got out of the habit it becomes easier to just watch it on tele or the dreaded foreign stream.
i enjoyed reading that steven thx
Yes, as much as I lament the passing of football as it was there is still plenty I love and embrace about it now. I wouldn’t cling on to my season ticket every year if I didn’t, despite proclaiming every May that it will definitely be the last season I’m renewing :) As you say the game changes but it’s not changed over night, it’s evolved to be what it is now. We turned a blind eye to the changes that occurred on a drip drip basis, then a couple of decades later you compare it to what was and you see it’s not the vision you first fell for. You still however see some of the old ingredients remain, while your love of the club is too ingrained for you to ever let it go.
Thanks for your reply and kind words.
Seems like only footy fans spend 80% of an article moaning about something they loved. And why ‘saved’ in inverted commas? FSG did save us, quite literally, from bankruptcy. I’m not their biggest fan but if it wasn’t for them you’d have an extra £800 a year in your pocket and have a completely different set of things to complain about.
You can indeed say FSG saved us without the need for inverted commas, but only time will tell us where they lead us after that salvation. I do hope for the best, yet we in the long run might find we went from the frying pan into the fire. Some aspects of FSG look promising but alarm bells ring about other aspects.
Many thanks for your reply.
It’s a cliche but it’s true: if you stand still everything changes. You only notice it as you get older and things always seemed better in the past. Clubs today relocating, changing their names and colours. However, that has always gone on, we did it ourselves. The world always changes, moves, evolves.
I’m waiting for the next big one though. A big club moving cities just like the American sports franchises. Man Utd to Essex? It’ll happen, just wait and see. Then there’s the money to be made playing competitive football abroad. A Champions League game played in the Middle East, New York or L.A? The 39th step? Our clubs are owed by big foreign businessmen. They’ll make it happen. It won’t be long.
Yes, as much as some things change other things stay the same. Out on the pitch it remains 11 men in red trying to score more goals than the opposing team. It’s what surrounds the club and football in general that bothers me, yet as much as it bothers me I know things will never return to what they were and in many respects nor should they, yet the excesses of the modern game have gone way beyond what’s healthy for it.
Appreciate your reply.
Some of them comments are missing the point, fans are being priced out of the game, last year I had to sell stuff to afford season ticket, im going really struggle this year, and if prices go up ill have to say goodbye to my season ticket too. More and more corporate fans and ‘spectators’ are filling Anfield every year and if and the atmosphere is suffering. Enough is defo enough now, with billion nicker tv deals increasing every year its about time the clubs recognized the people who make football what it is and give the supporters somthing back buy reducing ticket prices. They could surely afford this when they not even buying players and ticket money is not even that important to them. Us fans need to make a stand.
Yes, the atmosphere at Anfield has changed markedly, in my opinion since Athens in 2007 and there has certainly been an element of the support that carried us up to the end of the Benitez era which has now been lost, or at least been subdued by the Hicks and Gillett saga. The corporate advance will only increase with the additions of more and more ‘official partners’, be it Indonesian airlines, or Dunkin Donuts coming in to provide for all our donut needs. Each new partner will require tickets to games and unless the increase in the capacity actually takes place we’ll end up with the prospect of any future European nights being populated by season ticket holders, package tour visitors and sponsors guests only. I agree that the fans need to make a stand, but with a massive waiting list for a season ticket FSG aren’t going to be reducing prices. Both you and I will put a price cut off line on what we are willing/able to pay for our season tickets, but the club will just replace us with people who are willing to pay and can afford it. The longer term problem comes when people like us who would have season tickets for life at the right price are replaced by people who might pay more for a few seasons before moving on to something else.
Thanks for your reply.
“I’m waiting for the next big one though. A big club moving cities just like the American sports franchises.”
Er, is it happening to club that won the FA Cup and were in the top flight for over a decade not big enough to count?
While I’m here, I raised this on Twitter to absolutely no response, but including “players called Raheem, Kolo and Mamadou instead of players called Jimmy, Phil and Ray” in a list of and an article about what are clearly meant to be negative changes is unfortunate at best. Disappointed that AW don’t take issues like this seriously. They’d expect it of others. I’m sure it was clumsy rather than malicious, but it should be engaged with at least.
We do take issues like this seriously. I’m happy that there isn’t a problem. Frankly the author’s point is crystal clear. It’s a factual observation about changes in the game, changes to Liverpool Football Club, changes to the ground, changes to the team. That’s it. And I did respond on Twitter about this to someone who then became abusive so didn’t see the value in repeating that conversation.
It was a massive error for the football authorities to allow the relocation of Wimbledon FC. From what I’ve read the FA have at least privately reconciled that such a move will not be allowed to happen again.
As for the issue over using the names of Mamadou Sakho, Kolo Toure and Raheem Sterling in comparison to the names of Phil Thompson, Ray Kennedy and Jimmy Case, it was merely to accentuate the now cosmopolitan society English football of the present day enjoys compared to how things used to be when I first went to Anfield. It’s not my contention that everything about football has changed for the worse.
Sometimes when people try to read between the lines of an article, there isn’t always the ‘unsaid something’ that they believe there to be.
Nicely written article
THE big issue for me, is the next generation of supporters
I am in my forties but can remember paying just a couple of quid to get into the Kop, rising throughout th 80’s and 90’s but still being affordable
My lad is 22 now, in his first proper job but £50 a game is not affordable on a regular basis for him, despite him being a big red who has attended hundreds of matches on my season tickets since he was a kid
He can go to a bar, have a good couple of hours with his mates and spend £20
Whether he will want to take over my tickets in the future (1000? – £1500??) remains to be seen – and will depend on his income obviously, but it’s going to be an ongoing problem while the ticket prices keep rising
Totally agree with you about the next generation of supporters. I’d be interested to know the average age of our regular match going support. The price of attending games on a regular basis must be prohibitive for some young adults. Someone who earns the minimum wage would have to hand over at least a quarter of their wage to obtain a match ticket alone. Three games in eight days under those circumstances?.
This was part of the gist of my article. As a person who started going and became hooked by the club in an era of cheap admission prices, I still come now when prices are through the roof. For a life long staunch supporter of the club it’s very hard to contemplate letting it go. I’d say we are the pivotal generation of Liverpool support. The concept of the ‘be all, end all’ supporter might become an endangered spicies through the restriction of not being able to afford to go game in game out.
Many thanks for your reply.
The song remains the same, and so does the reply.
I’ve been a Liverpool fan since I was growing up in Somerset in the 70s, but have never been to a premier league match, even when I lived a 10 min walk from West Ham’s home ground. So I am very much an outsider. I don’t know all the songs, I don’t know if I am a ‘wool’ or what one is. I love the cultural side, but I don’t live it like some of you. So allow me this outsider’s view without feeling defensive, because I respect the fans and the city as much as I love the club.
First, two things we all know:
1) Sport has always been ‘the opium of the people’.
2) The ‘Football’ that was the workers respite in the quaint black and white/pre-Premier League era was hijacked by the entertainment industry and we let it happen because we thought it would be more exciting.
We all know why and we are all complicit in its modification. Enough said. So please, don’t whine now.
At what stage will you draw the line? When LFC demand one of your children serve as slaves for the booted demi-gods you will then be allowed to view? When your house is claimed by the club in exchange for a lifetime season ticket? Go ahead and laugh, you are the mugs stumping up a grand a season in the middle of an economic crisis. Think your granddad/great-granddad would have done the same?
Or you could send a message. Might be a message in a bottle, floating about unread forever. But if enough of us send them… well it’d be like one of those crowd mosaic things I’m always seeing you folk do on TV at the pub.
AFC Liverpool season tickets are £15 a month. OK, you won’t find a Suarez in that team, and the only people who you can share the match with would be other matchgoers like you, but you get that good old honest grass roots feeling of watching the real thing, as it used to be. Maybe if enough of us go, they can become a bigger club.
You can still watch LFC on replay somewhere, your seat will have been taken by a much richer, more zealous, less authentic fan; don’t worry, they won’t want for support.
You’ll have more cash and the satisfaction of not making the premier league’s lords and ladies richer off the sweat off your back.
Or just keep paying and moaning. Maybe if you write to Santa, he can magic it back to the 70s, eh?
Yes, you could say sport is a drug to some people, but I’d err towards it being passion instead. I also accept that its a passion that looks like lunacy through the eyes of others.
Liverpool FC and football in general has changed, but not all of it has changed for the worse. Theoretically we could all go watching AFC Liverpool instead, but realistically that’s not going to happen, as for the majority their love and support of the club is non transferable. It’s family and you’d no soon desert your football club as desert a member of your actual family.
It’s all a game of opinions, and moaning is part and parcel of opinion. Thank you for offering yours. All replies are greatly appriceated.
Enjoyable read. Food for thought. Possibly not what I wanted to read at the minute though, haha.
I say that as it’s been a strange week for me regarding going to the match. I’m a regular match goer but admittedly, I sell my ticket more and more as my lad plays football Saturday and Sunday mornings. I say it’s been a strange week due to enjoying myself so much at the derby. One would think that would reignite my passion for going to the match but it’s actually done the opposite.
I know all the Liverpool match goers in my area and due to a few of my good mates (who rarely go now) getting tickets for the derby I contacted everyone and got everyone to meet up at 6 in a pub near the ground. We had a great time reminiscing, even as far back as the mid 80’s when we’d been chased by the ICF at Edge Hill Stn (no idea to this day why West Ham were at Edge Hill but they were). I’m reminiscing here now. To get back to my point, the match was brilliant, the atmosphere was brilliant and the build up in the pub was brilliant.
Rather than reignite my passion as it had in the days following the derby, a few days on and it’s got me questioning the whole match day experience. I think it’s awakened the memories of why I enjoyed going to the match in the first place and reminded me of how much a thing of the past it is. Here’s a quick insight into my experience now. I’m always in a panic to get home from my lads footy ready to be picked up for the match. We drive over, arrive at the ground 15 mins before kick off and rush to get in. Once in, I sit on my own, watch the match and then on about 88 mins I go and stand near the exit as my mate is always keen to beat the traffic. So on the full time whistle I dodge the crowds and jog down Everton Valley. It’s hardly enjoyable. I have less deadlines to meet at work than when I go to the match. On top of that the atmosphere is usually flat. My feet always seem to get cold and the truth is, being at the back of the Kop I rarely know what happened in goals at the Anfield Road end. In the derby, none of us knew who had scored the opener and couldn’t hear Georges announcement. If I’m honest, I’d rather be getting my head kicked in by West Ham fans. At least it gets the adrenaline going.
Contrast that to games where I sell my ticket. I get every game in HD and plug my laptop through the tv. I get the fire on, make a pot of tea, make a smoke and sit with my lad. I get replays and when the match finishes I feel I know everything that’s happened and I’m immediately ready to do something else. No travelling back etc. Oh, and for someone who’s always skint I know I’ve saved at least £60. So, the brilliance of the derby has made me remember the things I liked about going to the match and made me realise how much of a chore it is going nowadays. It’s like you say, It’s just a ritual we do. I can see myself packing it in quite soon. Today’s football isn’t aimed at people from my class. It’s pointless trying to be part of it.
I can see where your coming from and some of your points strike a familiar chord, although I can kind of detach Liverpool FC from football in a way. I still feel part of something when I’m at the game, no matter how frustrated I get with the circus that surrounds the game and the way it’s now packaged and presented, which is done in a style that isn’t designed for me. I can still never see a day when I won’t prefer being at a game in person more than watching it at home on tv. The derby match fed my soul. That sharp surge of elation Liverpool can give you will be a long time missed when my last game has come and gone.
I think my reply was possibly based on the lack of transfer activity this week, followed by the West Brom game yesterday. I’m up and down like that, haha. Needed to vent my dissatisfaction of the club somewhere so aimed it at the match day experience. It was a bit hyperbole maybe. I’m alright now and looking forward to Saturday, haha.
P.s I look forward to more of your pieces on here. I think alot of people like articles that go beyond the pitch. I found it a thought provoking read.
Everyone needs to vent spleen now and then. A fair percentage of this article can be classed as spontaneous rant. It was written before the derby match and didn’t reflect my mood by the time it came to print. That’s not to say I don’t stand by all I said, as I still do. Writing this article, along with us sticking four past Everton blew the cobwebs away. The transfer window failures and the West Brom game haven’t affected that happily. Upbeat and looking forward to the Arsenal game on Saturday. The mood swings football can put you through are great aren’t they ?!.
Many thanks for your reply and the kind words.
This was a good well written article as you can see from the many comments after it’s also devisive modern football is a SOULESS corporate place which will only continue to get worse but it’s the modern day ‘twitter’ fan that are the cause of so much of the problems they want LFC to be number 1 never loose a game and when we even dare to draw its meltdown time as, like yourself, a long suffering match goer untill 2008, when my lads Footie took over, I’ve seen the decline but what to do you need the sponsors and the money to improve as it’s not coming any other way or do you keep the soul of the club sell to say a Steve Morgan who hasn’t nearly the money to rival the top 6/7 nevermind the top 4 and then keep prices down but play to half empty stadia, constant 10/11 finishes but tickets readly avilabe and we hop for a possible cup run every now and then? It’s the biggest question any LFC fan IMHO should ask themselves yes football changes but with MCFC, CFC being allowed just to keep pumping in money and getting further and further away what are LFC to do? Me I think the modern game is off to hell in a hand cart and maybe ( say it quietly) LFC going bankrupt would of been a good thing as it would of forced football to look at itself because untill one of the really really big 6 go nothing will be done
Great thought provoking article
I accept a lot of what you say there, but I worry where the club and football will be if those who care the most walk away from it.
Commercially the club is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. We can’t demand that our sponsors are all tasteful and understated. We can’t be too choosy. People forget we haven’t played Champions League football since 2009/10. It will stretch to at least half a decade if we fail to nail a top 4 spot this time around. Add to that our lack of a megalomaniac open cheque book owner or a 60,000+ stadium and we pretty much defy gravity really. To compete we have to compromise ourselves commercially.
Maybe if we had gone bang in 2010 we might have found our way towards fan ownership. Maybe we’d have been happier for it. We’ll never know now.
Thanks for the reply. it is very much valued.