I DON’T read enough books. I use the excuse that I don’t have enough time but, in reality, if I add up all the time I spend reading newspapers, magazines and Twitter, I could probably polish off War and Peace in a week. Often a trip, even a ‘working’ one, is a good chance to rectify that, with the trains, planes and automobiles involved.
We have an extensive selection of football books in the office so, because I’m as disorganised as I am boring, I grabbed some of those. One of which was El Macca, the story of Steve McManaman’s four years with Real Madrid. Despite my aforementioned poor reading form, I’m still surprised I’ve never got round to it considering it came out in 2004. I probably still had a bit of a cob on with him for leaving so couldn’t face it. But time, as well as lots and lots of top Liverpool players leaving since, is a great healer. So I decided to get stuck in.
It’s great, if you haven’t read it yourself, or it’s been a while. It’s brilliantly written by Sarah Edworthy, who gets great access to Macca and his superstar teammates, who clearly adore him. It’s a fascinating insight into the mind and talent of McManaman, but also into Real Madrid as a club. There are many surprising things that come out of it, not least the amount the players drink (or did drink then) the night before big games. It was also a surprise to me how easily supporters got access to players, despite their profile.
This is Macca on training at Real Madrid: “Training at Ciudad Deportiva is usually open, which means fans are watching the very first steps of our working day. The mood of the last game’s result hangs over training. If you’ve been beaten badly, the fans let you know in no uncertain terms that you performed miserably. They’ll shout, ‘You load of rubbish’ or ‘you lazy things’ — nothing terrible…. more typically though, we’ve won and the fans are shouting encouragement. If it’s been a very hard game, few people will actually go out and train — so you might have hundreds of people turning up to watch three players jog slowly round the pitch three times and then go back inside. It’s surreal.”
“Of course the fans are there…even when you’re bleary eyed and trying to stagger into the dressing room to get into your kit, they’re shouting at you, wanting your autograph, pointing a camera….I’d hate to see some of the photos in fans albums!”
Sounds a bit different to Melwood, doesn’t it? Where Range Rovers with blacked out windows drive past fans waiting outside in the vain hope one of them might stop and through into the heavily guarded training complex. I mentioned this to Neil, who is reading Jurgen Klopp: The Biography by Elmar Neveling (we really need some other hobbies). He said it was similar at Borussia Dortmund, with fans given access to training sessions there, too.
You may have noticed that Dortmund and Real have been reasonably successful, so coming into contact with the great unwashed doesn’t seem to have done them any harm. In fact, it may even have helped spur them on. It felt to me a shame that Liverpool don’t give access to their fans in a similar way, even on a less frequent basis. But then logging on to Twitter the last few days, you realise they do. Just not so much when they are in Liverpool.
You’d have to be pretty dead inside not to enjoy pictures of young Liverpool fans beaming with excitement at meeting their heroes. But it’s also tinged with of sadness when you think of how many kids in Liverpool would love the same opportunity, but can’t get it. The club seem pretty strict with fans coming into any sort of contact with players, especially on match day. Fair enough, you might say, they have a job to do. But surely there is a balance to be struck here.
I mentioned this on Twitter last night and an American Red actually replied to me and said it crossed his mind when at the event how his children got more exposure to Liverpool players that day than their cousins ever had who live in the city. How is that right? I know Liverpool want to push themselves as a brand and get more fans worldwide, but what about the ones they already have? They shouldn’t be ignored.
Of course American Liverpool fans don’t get a great deal overall. Overpriced friendlies every two years, getting up at 4:30am to watch league games and, if they are lucky, a very occasional trip to Anfield for a low-key game they can get tickets for. Maybe those of us who live a stone’s throw from Anfield should realise, as we are often told, how fortunate we are.
Even in Liverpool, it’s very difficult for everyone who wants to to get access to The Reds to do so. Tickets are expensive and seats are limited. Positive moves have been made by the owners to help both of those matters, but demand still outstrips supply, especially for families. For too many football at the top level is still a thing that happens only on the TV.
Maybe Liverpool isn’t set up like other clubs to host regular open sessions. Maybe a culture of more openness with fans is difficult to introduce when it hasn’t been there for so long. But it does feel like easy wins are there if the club want to kick the ball into the empty net. Would occasional sessions at Anfield, even with a small charge, be that hard to arrange? Even just in quieter times?
Liverpool can’t guarantee success. They can’t guarantee titles. They can’t even assure top players. But they can make fans feel included, valued and closer to their heroes. All fans. Not just the chosen few.
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