I FIRST remember all this back in the Comprehensive days. The scrunched-up face and scowl from a kid who was too cool for school: “You’re an armchair, lad.”
At the time, aged about 13, I was. Violins out, but I’ve never been to a match with my old man. He’s not into the footie. And he wasn’t happy to let me go by myself. I eventually ignored the parental rules a year later and went anyway. You could walk up and pay in then, albeit that you had to get there two hours-plus before kick off to ensure you got in for some games.
My first match was in the Rumbelows Cup. A 5-1 win over Crewe. And I was one of only 17,000-odd at the game that night.
But when the armchair shout first came, it was accurate. Because that was the only place I watched the Reds.
So ‘the rules’ go, if you watch on the telly you’re not a ‘real’ fan. Circumstances might not allow it — money, distance, rules, family, work — but that matters not. Armchair. Not a real fan. Could go to every game home and away if you really wanted to. You don’t, I do. So I’m better.
Sounds childish doesn’t it? It’s not just for kids though.
Later in life, when I was regularly going to Anfield and the odd away, work thrust upon me one of the bitterest Bluenose bellends you ever could imagine. A man who, especially with a pint or two down him, was obnoxious, unreasonable and always ready to rain a shower of shite on the nearest Red. Even decent Blues (there are some) frowned in disapproval at his behaviour.
He regularly trotted out a similar line to ‘Go the game blue’ above. It might even be him. We didn’t stay in touch. “Real fans go the match, Kopites go the pub.”
The weaselly wind-up merchant, who once took things too far with a bit of classy Heysel ‘banter’, even had a little song about Liverpool fans being telly clappers. He didn’t care what the red shite says of course but he used to sing it to me anyway, even though I went the game (this isn’t him by the way, but it illustrates the point…).
A glance through social media and the forums will show this line from our Merseyside rivals continues. The club itself even adopted it for an advert for season tickets — “We’re Evertonians. We go the game. That’s what we do.” All conveniently ignoring that it’s both cheaper and easier to secure tickets for Goodison Park than it is for Anfield.
There are no half season tickets on this side of the divide. Even the forthcoming derby over there is on general sale. Meanwhile, there are games on Anfield Road that could sell 100,000-plus tickets according to those inside the club if the stadium size could match demand.
The average attendance at Anfield last year is listed as 44,659 against an official capacity of 45,276. From 1981 to 1987, according to European Football Statistics, the average attendance was below 40,000, dipping to 31,000 in 1984.
Much has changed. The season-ticket waiting list is now closed and the club is regularly roundly criticised for members’ sales. The system has many flaws but the truth is a way to sell tickets at Anfield that can satisfy everyone, such is the demand locally, nationally and internationally, probably doesn’t exist.
The new Main Stand will take Anfield’s capacity to 54,000 by 2016/17 but “around half” of the expansion will go to corporate hospitality, according to the club. Outline planning permission for a proposed Anfield Road extension to take the ground to 59,000 has been granted but the club’s website doesn’t sound particularly hopeful stating the Main Stand will be completed and “then, and only then might we take a look at the Anfield Road stand”.
So in general terms, demand outstrips supply, certainly for the ‘ordinary’ fan.
Which takes me to the next point. I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend just gone in New York as a guest of NYC Kopites. After talking to Reds at both ‘the Bootroom’ at The Irish American Pub and Carragher’s New York, it was clear the people religiously watching every Liverpool game over there — a mixture of ex-pats and locals — all share a love of the Reds, are all knowledgeable, all know the words to the songs and respect and continue the fan culture Liverpool supporters are so desperate to preserve on this side of the pond at the match.
These Reds discussed how ridiculous the Kop flags spat between fans and club had been, how more kids should have access to tickets, what difference the new stand would make and so on and so on.
The conversations were no different to thousands of others you’ll hear in and around Anfield this weekend. They aren’t the bucket listers arriving loaded with shopping bags and talking through the game for 90 minutes while sporting a half and half — they get it. It was a similar experience when we went over to Australia and enjoyed the company of the Melbourne and Sydney Reds — Spirit of Shankly badges, Hillsborough banners, Adidas trainers….
So should they be written off as ‘telly clappers’? Frowned at and sneered at? Dismissed as armchairs? It’s 3,307 miles from New York to Anfield and 10,500 from Sydney to L4. What are these supporters supposed to do? Should the Liverpool-supporting Norris Green girl who coaches footie over there not watch the game on the telly? Should she not try to visit Anfield when she comes home? What about the Scouse mum who lives with her American husband? Outcast now, never to return into Red arms? Waved away as ‘not as good as us’?
And what about the Americans who have fell in love with our club through watching it on the telly, reading about our history, buying into the culture? The Premier League is plastered all over the screens in the US, with the Manchester United v Liverpool game shown on terrestrial TV. They make a day of it over there — the early kick off, the 3pm and the late match providing quite the opportunity for a piss up.
If they want to experience Anfield and contribute to the atmosphere once or twice a year — recreating the passion shown for Liverpool in the New York bars — is that as bad as another unwritten rule of fandom suggests? The one about out-of-towners?
Like the idea that someone who watches a game on the telly is a nailed-on ‘lesser’ supporter, it seems to be an outdated concept — out of tune with the reach of the game, and Liverpool, and the quality of the coverage in 2015.
To turn it on its head for a moment, one of the Anfield Wrap travelling party, Phil Blundell, a home and away Red, was glued to the coverage of the American football while we were over there. He easily held his own talking about the game to the locals while trying to deliver a crash course to those of us at TAW who don’t know the first thing about NFL (me being one).
It’s fair to say he knows his stuff, yet he’s never set foot inside an American football ground. He’s an NFL telly clapper. An American football armchair fan. Does it matter? Should he ever go to a match in the States, or should he leave it to the locals? Does it make him less of a fan either way?
For many Anfield regulars, going to a match will always top the telly for the rituals, the mates, the experience and the atmosphere. But to blanket all those that tune into the box as second-class fans is bunkum given how the game has developed.
It’s not just because of fans abroad, either. With ticket prices continuing to rise, demand remaining strong and opportunities for young Reds to pay a reduced price limited, the telly is the only option for many Liverpool fans close to home, including those priced out or those who have never been able to afford it in the first place.
Even of those who do go, the all-in fan, home and away, England and abroad, every week, every season, is surely dropping in numbers with every dawn of a new August. I only have the anecdotal evidence of people I know, but facing a four-figure, even five-figure, bill, I imagine most fans pick and choose now, swerving the cups, or the aways, or the trips to Europe to suit their budget. Following your team religiously is a huge financial — and logistical — commitment.
We can point to the role of Liverpool, and the Premier League, in aggressively marketing the game, the club and ‘the brand’ around the world to create the current ticket situation, but none of this is the fans’ fault. Wherever they’re from. Or whatever their age.
You’re not allowed to watch it on the telly? In 2015, you probably have to. The armchairs are everywhere.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo