IN the wake of Jürgen Klopp’s moment of feeling “alone” last Sunday, when disappointed Liverpool fans exited Anfield with a full 10 minutes plus stoppage time to play, there has been plenty more comment on these pages — and elsewhere — about the Anfield crowd and the atmosphere in general that accompanies the Reds’ home games.
While the exodus triggered by Crystal Palace’s late-ish winner has re-sparked the debate, for me it’s nothing new; something of a red herring as part of the crowd discussion. Plenty of reasons and excuses have been proffered for this “disloyal” early dart; flight times, preference for a pint, bus queues, warm cars….to name but a few, but no-one has suggested that fans react in this way — and always have done — to a crushing late goal, because of acute disappointment realised in a misleading show of dissent. Not everyone who makes for the gangways at this critical point in proceedings is disinterested, half-arsed or neutral.
For many, conceding that crucial goal ruins a weekend and it’s just too much to bear. We’d all like to be able to count to 10, but how many of us have walked out the house in the midst of an argument and slammed the door on the way out? At the root of is pain; and underlying the pain is passion.
Klopp might well have felt alone but among hundreds of fans leaving at that precise moment, many will have shared his distress. Those consoling pints will be been downed in one, bus conductors eyeballed with a snarl and many a car dashboard battered to an inch of submission. By home time a fraction of the sadness has worn off but the cat still gets it.
If I was Klopp I would be more concerned by what preceded the communal exit and by what he has experienced of Anfield thus far. I’d have felt more alone for the 81 minutes of, now commonplace crowd disengagement, which came before Palace’s winner. Hopefully, it won’t be long before his outspoken nature references the awful backdrop against which his players have to perform week in week out.
Last month, I wrote that Liverpool is the nation’s most dysfunctional club — with the supporters a facet of that. Valid arguments in response were put forward to suggest Newcastle, Leeds and other clubs in boardroom or financial turmoil at least rivalled us for that dubious honour. In the stands though, Liverpool FC and Anfield stands alone as being almost beyond repair.
The crowd at Anfield is a putrid mix, but as far as those in attendance go, in reality it is nobody’s fault while at the same time being everybody’s fault. If there is a collective to blame, it is Liverpool Football Club, whether that means David Moores, Rick Parry, Hicks and Gillett or FSG. This isn’t or shouldn’t be a Scousers versus Wools versus Tourists issue. Instead, this is the legacy of the club’s own short-sighted making, which can be traced back 30 years.
With a much bigger ground — a la Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester United — we could fit everyone in and, in theory at least, be one big happy family. At Anfield though, and the new corporate-filled Main Stand won’t change a thing, it is total exclusion and zero inclusion for a new vibrant generation; one which could generate an atmosphere that is lacking in the extreme.
We can’t fit everyone in, so when the Premier League tourists — happy to pay for their once-a-season £50 tickets or vastly inflated prices sourced from agencies and greedy local touts — turn up in seats vacated by our old mates who have already jibbed it, or our kids who have never lived it, then anger, resentment, and depression fill the air. These people have been actively targeted, marketed and encouraged by the club to fill a local void that has been created by those rising prices, costly memberships, “loyalty” schemes abused by a touting culture and online ticketing to the exclusion of sales made to local people at the ground.
The well-heeled international and middle England visitors — attracted by the notion of a “Twelfth Man”, a swaying Kop and You’ll Never Walk Alone — are probably wondering why we’re dressed as wannabe mountaineers or sartorial relics of the 1980s and not head to toe in Red and White, while playing guitars, singing our heads off and cracking jokes. It is the most awkward juxtaposition of people imaginable. Where else in society would you see such jarring of personality? We’ve got nothing in common with them, they’ve got nothing in common with us and it creates a bad vibe. Sorry, but it’s true.
It’s important though to make a distinction here between tourists boasting no real connection with City and Club and the more empathetic, longer standing out-of-town support Liverpool has always enjoyed; those who live and breathe Liverpool FC to the same extent as any born-and-bred Liverpudlian.
The team, currently, isn’t good enough to bring any common bond. Klopp’s charisma, universally loved by one and all right from the outset, isn’t enough to bring about any group hugs on the terraces. It is early days for Klopp. If he ever manages to bring such a diverse a group as the Anfield crowd together, it will be greatest managerial achievement since Bill Shankly turned second division also-rans into Champions.
At the risk of sounding too parochial and overly superior, us locals, we lifers who have watched and fought for Liverpool FC down the decades, have been through the lot — together — with this club. While thousands of our comrades have been priced out and our kids never considered or encouraged, those of us that remain feel like we’re a last bastion of everything the club once stood for.
Committed fans who went everywhere, week after week, defending and representing not just the name of our club but the City and the community we exist in are fast becoming the pariahs. Liverpool as a City and as a football club has always welcomed visitors — we like to show off, be warm, to protectively send a positive message out beyond the boundaries — but now we’re swamped in our own home by a new cult. A breed that wanders the Liverpool streets in a weekend trance, without any true affection for the City we play in or any real understanding of an advertised Liverpool terrace culture that is dying on its arse.
Now, here’s the thing about us — the majority of locals. We’re not perfect either. We’re a bunch of miserable, hard-to-please old bastards. When the Kop was seated in 1994 we were 21 years younger. Those of us with the key of the door, we’ll never be 21 no more. We’re 42 now. Some of us are 48 — the average age of your Kop season ticket holder.
We’re too mature and embarrassed to sing and chant; to get behind the team consistently; to scream and shout at the ref and opposition for 90 minutes. We do our best but, yes, most of us are past it in that sense. I reference the Kop, but the same applies to the majority of Main and Centenary Stand patrons, too. I won’t include the Anfield Road End in this as it is already bereft of any real local presence.
Remember too that 48 is an average age; some Kopites, who have witnessed St John, Yeats and Shankly, as well as Barnes, Dalglish and Suarez, are a lot older than that. They’re liable to turn up in a “funny” mood. It could go one way or the other, but you can guarantee Simon Mignolet is getting it in the neck.
In days gone by we’d have retired gracefully from the middle of the Kop to cast our critical eye from the outer reaches of the famous old terrace or the stands at the side. We might have picked and chosen our games and turned up when we felt up for it. Have a look at attendances in the 1980s and 1990s. Gates went up and down like a fiddler’s elbow, reflective of the importance of the game. Now though, there is nowhere for us to go; no room for match-by-match manoeuvre. It is the football equivalent of locked-in syndrome.
Perhaps you can understand the “entertain me” attitude, the aggressive folded-arms stance, and at least some of the moans and groans from people who once offered unconditional support every week. We’ve seen an awful lot of football over the years — probably too much in some cases. You’re probably thinking we should fuck off and make way for someone fresh?
No. Sorry. This was our birthright. It might be a while yet before we’re forced to ask the last remaining Scouser to turn out the lights on the Kop.
I might be slightly less angry on all of this if I was sure my space, and those of thousands of others like me, were to be taken up by younger supporters in our former image. The tragedy is that our local young fans — the right ilk to fill that void and infuse the ground with the energy it needs — have got used to watching Liverpool on television. They have been systematically frozen out by a deliberate price-driven policy to discourage teenagers going to Anfield in groups. And, very few fathers have been able to afford a pocket double-whammy through the inflexible structure of ticket access and concessions for children.
A generation for whom Liverpool still means everything has already been lost. Once the Anfield elders finally go by the wayside, sadly there will be another EPL tourist, another passionless neutral, another vacuous middle Englander in our place not someone who, like us, grew up with Liverpool posters on their bedroom wall.
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