Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Everton FC

Liverpool fans at the derby. Pic by Dave Rawcliffe/Propaganda


AS A child, some friends and I founded LFC. That is to say that we started a fan club. We made badges and adorned a folder with the greatest drawing of a Liver Bird you’ll ever see. Like many of the best things in life, it had rules. At some point, one has to put away childish things and the rules have disappeared into an a pre-geriatric brain drawer. The concept of rules for such things matters to me still though. There’s a listicle to be written there, but here I’m concerned with just one.

Football clubs in general, and LFC in particular, are collectives not individuals. We are us, not I. They, not it. Fans of aphorisms would be tempted to leave it there but let us put some meat on the bone:

1. SOLIDARITY: we’re in this together. Caution is obviously advisable here, after all this terminology is popular with both George Osborne and Mick Hucknall and can conjure images of slave-driven row boats. Still, a football club is a club. It’s not a team, it’s not a business, it’s not its fucking social media strategy. It’s all or it’s nothing. It’s comprised of an indefinable array of “stakeholders”, many of whom may not directly contribute revenue. Technology evangelicals say things like “if you’re not paying for it, you are the product”. Well, we are the product.

2. SOCIETY: there is such a thing as this, despite best efforts. In a world where simple narrative swamps the complex truth, we must embrace the helpful simple truth. The market wants to unbundle things to make them easier to consume. The collectiveness of football clubs must be kept bundled. Once broken down, the magic has gone. And the magic is the value.

3. OWNERSHIP: all claimed ownership of football clubs is theft. Bodies and individuals can purchase deeds, businesses and rights but the club belongs to us. Not her, him or it but us.

4. MYTHOLOGY: all clubs have useful mythologies. Ours more than most. To take just two examples, there’s Shankly as a founding father – his socialism as the kindling behind our rise from the flames. Then there’s the small matter of music. Music is literally nothing on an individual level – it doesn’t philosophically exist without at least one performer and one listener. Football without music is nothing and Liverpool without You’ll Never Walk Alone doesn’t compute.

So, Liverpool are. Having established this, let’s not let it be abused. A cynical suit might think: “Let them feel ownership whilst we have power”. There is danger here. Christian Salmon’s fine book on storytelling is worth reading. It highlights how politicians, leaders and organisations are happy to spin a narrative to help people feel part of something without ceding any power. Football clubs are plural and collective to be sure, but that also has to mean more than a dubious factor on a spreadsheet column headed “brand value”.