I READ with interest Richard Felton’s emotionally-charged piece on TAW yesterday about how he’d made the life-changing decision to eschew his love for Liverpool Football Club and instead follow non-league Marine.
Such was Richard’s evident disillusionment with the modern game that he felt that despite a lifetime of going to Anfield and beyond that he had finally had enough.
What’s consistently surprising to me, as a lifelong Liverpool fan myself, was reading across all our fan media the discussion around Richard’s piece and others like it I’ve been reading on and off for 10 years or so.
I’m taking the gloves off now. I’ve sat on my hands on this one for too long. I’m angry at the creation of a false paradigm. A groupthink that is trying to claim the moral high ground and establish as a given that “modern football” is rubbish or rather, much worse than “pre-modern football”.
My eldest lad is 16 and has been going to the match with me for 10 years now. He doesn’t think modern football is rubbish. Nor do his mates. They think it’s brilliant.
They know that not all of them can get to every game, but they know they can engage with the sport by watching all the big matches, all over the world, live on TV or online — something we could never do growing up.
Additionally, they feel a part of the process in a very modern and ‘virtual’ way via FIFA or Football Manager — we might think that is stupid, but what was Subbuteo? And what is this but a different — and better — version of Subbuteo?
They can engage with other like-minded fans chatting endlessly about their beloved team on social media and forums. There is endless copy out there via online articles and blogs for them if they want it. They can also still talk to their friends.
My lad read Richard’s piece and, puzzled, said to me: “I don’t get this, Marine are just as much ‘modern football’ as Liverpool FC.” He’s right. They are. Modern football has superstars and super clubs. It has aspirational clubs, it has giant clubs from far foreign lands and it has minnows. With their pies and their Bovril and their cheap ticket prices. Modern football has the complete spectrum of football. As did old football.
Old football had clubs run by unscrupulous capitalists who charged the most money they thought they could get away with charging. There were no philanthropists about in the golden age. The only reason they didn’t charge the amounts we see today is because the demand wasn’t there. In the 1982-83 season as Liverpool FC swept to yet another title they played in front of Anfield crowds averaging about 33,000. Then modern football came along and spoiled everything by making the game much much more popular and spoilt the fun of those who went when it suited them. Because let’s make no mistake — there were no 20,000-long waiting lists for season tickets in the 80s. Simply, not enough people were arsed. Or they weren’t arsed often enough. I’m not shedding a tear for them.
Because not enough people were arsed, the majority of England wasn’t arsed that those of us that did go to games then had to put up with unsafe stadiums, unsafe standing, the constant threat of hooliganism, and the omnipresence of racism, sexism and homophobia. We also had to put up with tiny rations of football on TV, and (by today’s standards) meagre print media coverage.
If you wanted to watch football you had to go to the game, but as above, not many really did. If you did want to watch football you got to watch one game — by going — or maybe two with the second on telly if you were lucky in a weekend. That’s it. That’s your lot.
Oh, but the atmospheres in the grounds back then…. Rubbish. The best atmosphere I experienced in a football ground (and I’ve been going to games since 1977) was at Anfield in 2005 for the Champions League semi-final match against Chelsea. Then, next on the list, Anfield for several games in 2014 when it looked like Liverpool might win the league again. Atmospheres in the 80s? Some belters, but plenty of afternoons were whiled away in what the cockneys like to call the ‘Anfield Library’. Yes, we had terrible chants from away supporters back then, too.
What else? That players cheat now. They feign injury. They always have. Cheating is part of football. Ever claimed for a throw-in that wasn’t yours? Cheat. The idea that cheating and gamesmanship doesn’t happen at Marine is ridiculous. If you aren’t looking for every advantage while playing football you aren’t doing it right. I’m sure they are at Marine.
The crux of the matter, I agree with. I completely understand the gripe about how expensive it is to watch football these days. It is mad and it is wrong and it should be getting urgently addressed. However, it is also really expensive to go to gigs. Entertainment in modern rich western countries is broadly getting dearer and football is far from immune to it.
The problem is that more and more people want to go to football now then they did 30-40 years ago. How very selfish of them. Shame on modern Britain for having a vastly larger football-supporting demographic than it had in the 70s or 80s when we were treated like scum regularly enough to put most people off.
Richard Felton was gutted he couldn’t get a ticket for his lad to go to the match with him. I feel for him. I also feel for all those other parents who can’t go or who can’t take their children. So who should give their ticket up? You are in Anfield. On the Kop. Ask the person next to you to give their ticket up so your child can go. Feel a bit awkward? Yep, there aren’t enough seats. Our ground isn’t big enough for all the people that want to go to the match now.
Liverpool supporters and Liverpool Football Club is unique in the issues around the game that currently impact us. Where Everton have to sell half-season tickets because they don’t sell enough whole ones or they this week put tickets for derby on general sale, Liverpool could sell their tickets many times over.
For Liverpool ticket prices and access are two different, contradictory problems. For most sides in the country that don’t sell out often enough, you can argue that the prices should be pulled down for that reason along with the moral reason. However, for us? It is of course reasonable to want a reduction in ticket prices. Who doesn’t want that?
So, they halve all ticket prices tomorrow at Liverpool. What happens? That waiting list for season tickets doubles again is what happens. Life doesn’t get any better for those that currently feel disenfranchised. Those lucky enough to make the cut in what would simply become a lottery for tickets are obviously delighted, but happiest of all are the online ticket touts who will now be charging day-trippers from far and wide more money (because the overall demand for tickets will have increased) for less cost.
None of this is to say it isn’t a sadness for lifelong fans, now my age and beyond, who now find a hobby they once enjoyed for a certain amount now costs them substantially more. So much more in many cases that they simply can’t attend as many matches as they once did. There is no doubt people have been priced out of football stadiums. That is a sad truth and only vastly bigger stadiums would help.
My own optimistic hope is that commercial and TV revenues will continue to increase to dwarf matchday incomes for clubs (as is the trend) and that clubs will eventually see that ticket price reduction as a PR cost worth absorbing. However, that doesn’t happen if clubs aren’t on TV, if kick-off times aren’t moved, if travelling away supporters aren’t inconvenienced by “modern football”.
I know what I’d rather have — more people in grounds and more people paying less money to be there.
From our point of view as Liverpool supporters going to Anfield, cutting ticket costs is only a fully worthwhile exercise if it is accompanied by a comprehensive plan to deal with online touting and an increase in capacity. Let’s get more people in the ground and more sitting with their mates. But it is ego to think Liverpool’s problem is everyone’s problem. It really, really isn’t.
In Richard’s piece he echoes sentiments you’ll hear commonly enough these days from Liverpool fans of a certain vintage: after Istanbul it all started to fall apart. Hicks and Gillett, the Athens ticket fiasco, the chop for Rafa…
Really? A generation lived through Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough. Lived through going to grounds where the National Front could get away with selling their racist literature outside of football grounds. In a time where the police treated football supporters like animals, and you could get your head kicked in just for wearing your team’s scarf (never mind full replica kit).
Are we really reduced to wanting to ‘jack it in’ because we had some really dodgy owners who we managed to actually get rid of? When wasn’t dodgy owners the case in football? Everyone has had and will continue to have dodgy owners. Rafa being sacked by them pales compared to what fans of Derby County had to go through in the 70s when their board sacked the greatest manager that club (and one or two others) will ever have, in the form of Brian Clough. Stupid owners have always sacked good managers. Why the hell should that make someone give up a lifetime of love of a club?
Richard admits the main issue for him choosing to swap Liverpool FC for Marine FC was the cost of match attendance. That’s a very valid reason. If that’s how people feel then say that and only that. It is our right in a bloody consumer sovereign democracy to vote with our wallets and say ‘enough is enough, someone else can have my money now’. I have total respect for that.
What I’m not having is the disingenuousness around the subject though. Just because they overcharge us doesn’t make the sport or, more importantly, the loving of Liverpool Football Club, a worse thing, a negative thing, a drag.
It would be more convenient if ticket price increases also correlated to less safe stadiums, worse facilities, lower quality of players, less opportunities to watch football on TV or to read about it in the media, or to make the police at football more aggressive, and the risk of getting beaten up greater.
But none of those things have happened as the game has become more expensive. The opposite has happened.
Many of the negative issues around football — owners/the police/authorities in general treating us badly and patronising us (ID requirements for the Spion Kop 1906 lads is ridiculous. As it was when it was originally mooted for all supporters in the mid eighties) — have remained the case since the year dot, but mostly the modern game is an improvement on what has gone before.
So sure, let’s vote with our feet if we feel strongly about being overcharged, but let’s do so without telling today’s generation that what they’re experiencing of football — be it in grounds, on TV, or online — is a bad or diminishing thing. Let’s not patronise and insult them. If you are enjoying supporting Liverpool less then that is probably as much down to who you are as a person as it is anything to do with the game itself. You have probably grown older and realised that this is all a bit ridiculous. You go with my best wishes, I haven’t yet realised how ridiculous I am.
For me, loving Liverpool remains the most brilliant thing in the world and being a football supporter has got better over the years, not worse.
I spend too much of my time on it. I spend too much of my money on it. But I’m not going to be spoken down to because of it. “Modern football” has its problems. “Pre-modern football” had its problems.
I know which were bigger and I know which of the two is more enjoyable.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo