Before we start this, I’ll caveat with the following:
I knew exactly where this piece was going; I’d been thinking about it for a while. But, then, as I was waiting for my brother after the sheer joy of Watford, the 2:15pm kick off meaning that we were meeting in daylight for a change, I noticed something that countered my original argument. You’ll know that moment when it arrives, it will be near the end. For now though…
I’m slightly jealous of my wife. Of my youngest son, too. They’re Evertonians; you may be aware of this, I’ve documented this fact on numerous occasions. That’s obviously not what I’m jealous of; not at any point that I can recall and quite definitely not as I write as we sit, justifiably, atop the Premier League as clearly the best team in the country.
What I’m jealous of, what I’m very specifically jealous of, is the connection that they have over the game, the enjoyment that they can share, the commiseration when needed. I don’t have that. I have the fact that I return home, after victory, after defeat, to two of the three people I love most (the third being at Bangor University and not at all interested in football) both of whom are feeling exactly the opposite to the way that I do. They hate us. That’s okay, I’m fine with that, they’re supposed to.
Don’t get me wrong, following the Watford game J was happy for me, happy that I’d seen a victory of such conviction, such a statement of intent. She’s not happy for any of you, not for anybody reading this, but she’s happy for me. And you wouldn’t have it any other way would you?
My youngest son is as blue a blue as you’ll ever meet. Gwladys Street season ticket holder, 15 years old and going to away games with his mates, having the time of his life. Absolutely hates us. Again, fine. I have no problem with this. He had to watch us with Luis Suarez in the team; hated him, hated us. We didn’t raise him to be a Blue, we didn’t raise him to be a Red, we left him with a choice to make on his own, in his own time. He made the choice, he chose my wife’s team, the team of my wife’s family. He’s Blue and he hates us.
But that doesn’t mean that he’s not reasonable. He’s willing and more than able to have a sensible conversation about where Liverpool are now, what Liverpool is now. We spoke recently about how we were currently the best team in the country, he not only concurred but argued that we were one of the best in the world right now; argued that it was all down to the effect that Jürgen Klopp has had on the squad, that – basically, I’m paraphrasing a longer conversation – Klopp has made Liverpool as a team far more than the sum of the constituent parts. You can’t argue with that. I’m not arguing with that; our Matt knows his football. And, let’s be honest here, most of what I know of football I’ve learned because of him.
I came to football late. I was a studious kid, geeky long before it became a fashion statement and was something that could get you a kicking for. The match was for the other lads, the lads who were good at sports instead of maths and actually went to the game on a Saturday. My brothers were into it though and, obviously, so was my father, who had held a season ticket for decades. I didn’t play, I watched the glory of the ‘70s from a distance, only half interested, never really committed. I grew toward the game as I grew through the ‘80s but if you had asked me to choose between football and music there would only be one winner – in fairness, there are points in the mid ‘70s where, if you had asked me to choose between football and the X-Men, there would only be one winner, and that was 20 years before the latter became widely acceptable. I thought this was a choice that you made. Thought that you could have football or music, thought it was an either/or situation, didn’t realise that the two could, and did, quite beautifully, exist. Didn’t think that terrace culture was something that would apply to me. I know, I know. As I grew older I became that bit less stupid.
My knowledge, my understanding, my genuine, utter, love of the game came with age, came with experience. And, despite loving the Reds long before, everything that I know about football, every grasp of nuance, everything I could convincingly say that I actually know, every statement that I make on the Tuesday Review while I try my damnedest to sound informed, comes from one thing, two things, three things.
Everything I know about football, about the way it works, about the shape, about the pressing, about the practicalities of football, as opposed to the philosophies and passions and narratives of the game, were learned through my youngest son. He was kicking a ball, genuinely, honestly, I know so many claim this but it’s true, before he could walk; playing in a team before he was five because he was good enough to. In his first game he picked up the ball in defence, ran the length of the field and slotted home. We knew he was good. He had the passion. He was born with the passion. And the innate understanding. He had/has vision and saw/sees the ship of a game, sees a pass, knows the right touch for the right pressure, the right weight. Obviously gets it from his grandfathers, it’s not from me.
He was in teams from the age of nearly five. And he was watching games, any games, all games. And he was playing FIFA. I don’t think he genuinely beat me until he was about nine. After that all bets were off. I approved of FIFA, approved of the fact that it helped his understanding of the shape of the game, helped his understanding of tactics. And helped mine as well. My understanding, my real understanding, of the 4-4-2 and the 4-2-3-1 and the diamond came from playing FIFA with my son and from the playing fields of Buckley Hill.
Being a father on the touchline is a magnificent thing. You have the involvement and the passion to win; you want, more than practically anything, for your son’s team to win. You know all these kids, you’ve seen them train, seen them build friendships, seen them develop their abilities. You know how important this is to them. And, yes, for some, sometimes, that crosses over the line into the negative behaviour that we’ve all seen but when it’s right? The joy that there is in a win can be equal to the joy from a Liverpool win. So, as a parent, you start looking for the things that might help, you start looking at the things that others do, you look at situations on FIFA and you ask your son what he would do in this situation or this situation. You look for ways to build answers, you look for ways to build understanding, you look for details and you apply them. And so, if you had never really thought about formations and tactics and shapes before, you start to, and your understanding grows.
My understanding grew. My son played and I grew to know more about the game and I spotted the subtleties that I had never really noticed before. And I grew to love it more by the day. I came to it late but late is better than never. I came to it late, I fully appreciated it even later. But later is better than never.
I know that I missed out. I may be regular now, I may hold a season ticket but I missed out on the 15-year-old/16-year-old experience, the experience of doing all those things for the first time; going to away games with your mates, being out on your own as part of a community of like-minded individuals, watching as the older lads passed down the rituals. Our Matt is having that experience; he was at the Chelsea 5 Everton 0 game, he was separated from his mates on the tube, negotiating the path from Euston to Victoria to change for Fulham to get to Stamford Bridge, he was talking to Spurs fans on his journey, he was leaving the game at 55 minutes so that he was sure of the last train home, he was seeing his team on the wrong end of a hiding and having the time of his life around that fact. Thirty years earlier, Keith and Kevin did that; they did the hard miles, they had the good times, had the experiences. I had a paper round and worked for Kwik Save, started bands and read books.
What I wasn’t seeing was that there was a fine history, a fine culture, of music and football intertwining to create an attitude, combining with a distinctive and specific approach to clothing to create an identity. I wish I’d realised that earlier. Others that I didn’t know then, others I’ve met since, they realised; Mike Nevin realised, Kevin Sampson realised, Peter Hooton realised, many others realised. I didn’t. Even reading The End I’m not entirely sure that I spotted it, I think I only noticed the music and the comedy. I think there were days that I ‘got it’; the ‘Merseyside’ final, the first one, that was key, that was the attitude, that was the statement; we were taking London for the day, taking it as ours because they had Thatcher and we had everything that mattered. We had the football, we had the music, we had the attitude. And that attitude, even eight years after the event, was the attitude of punk, of post-punk, of natural working class rebellion combined with a specifically northern, specifically Merseyside refusal to accept London-centric government; a statement of who we were as a team, as a city, as a people.
I attended a panel talk in the summer, a panel hosted as part of the ‘From Erics to Evol’ celebration of the 40th summer since the birth of punk; Pauline Murray of Penetration, John Robb of the Membranes, Craig Pennington from the excellent Bido Lito, journalist and author Paul Du Noyer and Pete Wylie. I felt for Du Noyer. Normally loquacious, he never stood a chance of getting a word in on a panel with Robb and Wylie; few would.
And, in a room filled with many of us of a certain age, the conclusion was convincingly drawn that punk could never happen now, that everything was too fractured, that there were no tribes, no reason for tribalism, that everything was too available and nothing meant as much. Which is what you’re supposed to believe if you’re over 40. If you’re my age, our age, the age of many of us, then you believe that the last possible rebellion was punk, that the 1988 second summer of love was simply the last gasp of punk, that it owed everything to punk in its spirit and all that followed was partying. You are supposed to believe that punk can’t happen again.
And, if you’re my age, you listen to Drake and you go, “Jesus, it’s bloody Kool and the Gang, where are the guitars? Where’s the anger?” and you mutter about the lack of passion and lack of rebellion.
Punk happened again. Punk’s happening now. We don’t recognise it, we’re not supposed to; it’s not for us. It exists on iPhones and clips of Fire In The Booth, it exists in lads making videos of themselves rapping over home made beats and throwing them on YouTube for the world to see. It exists in all the lads our Matty’s age knowing exactly what’s going on but us having no idea of how they know. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the clips, I’ve been made to watch them. I’ve seen the clip of Skepta covering Drake in a small club, the entire audience holding phones aloft, all unaware that Drake is about to enter and join in. I’ve seen that clip redefine the meaning of ‘going off’ and, for anybody my age, I assure you; it’s punk. It’s their scene, it’s possibly the scene of quite a few of you reading this and you’re thinking, “Yeah? And?”
For some of us, it’s a revelation.
It’s a scene that we don’t understand, not in our 50s, but it revolves around the things we understand, it revolves around the things that the lads who weren’t me, who got it earlier than me, understood in the ‘80s; it revolves around music and clothes and the match.
Matt and his mates are having the same time that the lads who weren’t me were having in the ‘80s, that others of you probably had in the ‘90s; it’s just the labels that have changed. Adidas Samba and semi flares and tweed jackets and wedges are now Nike one-tens and Moncler and D-Squared and Ketwigs and North Face. The Jam and The Specials and The Clash and The Bunnymen are Stormzy and Akala and Rihanna and sometimes even Adele for some reason. Don’t ask me, I’m not supposed to get it. But it’s the same. It’s lads who care about how they look and what they listen to and going the game.
And I know this because of Matt and his mates. I know that they won’t sit down when they’ve got old blokes telling them to, and I know that they start songs and I know that they change words and I know that they mumble so that my band-damaged hearing can’t hear what they’re saying and then it can, they’re speaking in code anyway so there’s no point trying. I know I won’t understand it, I know I’m not supposed to but I also know that these 15-year-olds, soon to be 16-year-olds, are simply doing what the 15-year-olds of 1981 were doing, they’re carrying on the legacy. Everything is different, nothing has changed.
Apart from the fact that they’re doing it for Everton and not us. Because the accepted argument is that the young lads aren’t getting into Anfield. Anfield is full of blokes in their 40s moaning that it’s not like it used to be. We’re paying the price of decades of success, the place is full of tourists clutching their bags from the souvenir shop instead of kids who will start the next decade of songs, who will carry the flags and love the team in front of them because it means more to them than anything else. Well, that and their clothes and their music. Liverpool doesn’t get those lads anymore (and I’m not neglecting the fact that it’s not just lads who like football, my wife loves football, remember? It’s just that I’m the father of lads so that’s what I know), Everton gets them. Everton gets them because they can get tickets and they can sit with their mates and have a laugh and try to get older lads to buy them a pint. Liverpool don’t get that, we’re a victim of that European glory, we’ll lose that next set of fans, we’ll never replace them. I’ve argued that myself, that’s the accepted argument. Just like ‘punk can never happen again’ is the accepted argument.
I stood outside Anfield after the Watford game, basking in the fact that it was still light and that this Liverpool team that we are watching may well be able, at some point this season, to be justifiably compared to the team of 1987-88, and I looked around me, in daylight for a change.
The concourse in front of the Main Stand, the wonderful renewal job that has been carried out, that has transformed a major part of Anfield, was packed. As you would expect. And it was packed with a substantial amount of lads in their teens and 20s. It was a young crowd, younger than I would have expected or have come to believe.
And that’s where the argument in this piece changed. I thought I would be writing this lamenting the fact that Matt’s generation will support Everton because they can see Everton play and they can’t possibly see Liverpool play, not in the flesh. That’s the argument that I’ve used with myself so may times. It’s not true, it doesn’t appear to be true. Perhaps it’s the cheap tickets for locals, perhaps it’s that some of the season tickets created by the Main Stand filtered down, perhaps it’s family tickets but the idea that Liverpool will never recapture the younger fans? Looks like it’s wrong, or at least not as bad as we thought.
My son loves Everton because he loves Everton, that’s all. And that’s fine, I love his passion and I love that he’s carrying on a legacy, it’s just that he’s chosen my wife’s and not mine. It doesn’t matter, he’s taught me all I know about how football works.
Everything is different, nothing has changed.