A FEW weeks ago on The Anfield Wrap’s Gutter show I semi-glibly suggested that, if Liverpool were compelled for whatever reason to sell Philippe Coutinho and the time left in the window meant that landing a suitable replacement was too problematic, then one way that the club could appease the fan base would be to take the transfer fund surplus created by the sale and spend it on capital expenditure.
The notion that Liverpool cannot afford to further expand the stadium to north of 60,000 seats during a football boomtime is something that troubles me. They turned down over £100million for one of their very good football players. They apparently offered over £80m for other very good footballers. They wanted to be part of the conversation to buy Kylian Mbappe for €140m. But they can’t countenance arranging the finance for an extension that could allow Anfield’s capacity to overtake West Ham and, as of next season, Tottenham in terms of stadium capacity. Because, to quote the former CEO, it doesn’t make business sense.
The Premier League is awash with cash – not just from the TV companies pumping billions in for the rights to broadcast, but also the eye-watering sponsorship deals. There are clubs who are switched on to this trend and have their own official tyre or power tools partners. Also, the appetite to entertain corporate guests is as popular as ever. Global brands will even pay millions just to have their logo on a shirt sleeve or a training kit.
Meanwhile back in L4, we have only a very fortunate minority of youngsters getting to attend matches and get into the habit of actively supporting Liverpool in the stadium rather than in front of television sets, streams and social media.
Mike Nevin’s recent column piece on The Anfield Wrap sparked a lot of online debate about the benefits of a local vociferous support for the mid-week matches under the lights. Many sought to regress into a locals versus out of towners discussion.
There are many out of towners who over the years have established a network around attending Liverpool matches and are as much a part of the fabric of Liverpool’s support as anyone. In fact the concept of out-of-town support is far from new. Liverpool have always enjoyed support from across the country and many have become regular faces at the ground.
Liverpool Football Club is open for business and actively attracting visitors from further afield. Either through the partnership with Thomas Cook or over in the US where charter flights are also arranged. If you live outside of Liverpool and would like to treat yourself to the match-day experience and you are able to finance such a trip there are plenty of options for you.
However, if you are a schoolboy in West Derby, from a low-to-medium income family, where money is tight and perhaps the certainty of income for your parents isn’t there – the idea of attending Liverpool for a football match is fanciful.
The club have made some strides in the area of availability – in the shape of the Red Neighbours scheme, which has given schools in the area the chance to nominate youngsters to attend.
The club have also introduced the £9 restricted view local ticket general sales. After initial teething problems with touting the club are tightening up on these, and the ticket user has to collect the ticket from the window in advance with photographic ID and proof of address. This is still not infallible but is ensuring more tickets are going into the hands of local people. And hopefully giving the chance to some people for whom £53-59 per match is simply out of their league.
But – there are only 500 of these lower priced tickets, they are as far away from the pitch as you can get and demand exceeds supply. In spite of the new measures for collection there is still some evidence that once collected they can still be spun on for a profit.
Put another 10k on the ground capacity and all of the new seats for Merseyside based fans only. Tickets capped at £20. Coutinho fee funds it
— upsetter (@chedbanger) 30 August 2017
The above could be a brilliant idea – particularly if the money the club gets from player sales, if not reinvested into new signings, were to go towards expanding the ground and reducing ticket prices.
Offer the bulk of the increased capacity to under 25-year-olds from within the Merseyside and Liverpool City region. Some will debate the borderlines but it’s about the principle of giving local youth the first chance to buy tickets at a price that is more likely to be within their grasp.
If the club could increase its capacity by nearly 20 per cent — and that 20 per cent be young, full of energy and scouse pride — then perhaps the types of atmosphere we enjoyed as The Reds dispatched Hoffenheim could become more the rule than the exception. We are all convinced that a vociferous home crowd could be a potential source of advantage for Liverpool. This could arguably be a better long-term investment than the latest continental starlet.
Some will argue that being born in Liverpool and its surrounding area shouldn’t give you a monopoly on supporting Liverpool – it is a global club and just being born there doesn’t make anybody more of a fan. I agree 100 per cent.
The Reds have a fan base around the world who get up at all times to watch them in action. Liverpool Football Club is a product of this city and its success, its attitude and its style was formed here – it is unique. That uniqueness is being diluted as the scouse voices in the ground get older and fewer. People’s behaviour in football grounds is dictated more by social media and the Soccer AM culture rather than traditions passed down from father to son. Outsiders are more than welcome and the club has lots of options available to enable supporters from further afield to experience a matchday.
Residents of Liverpool City region on average earn between 10-15 per cent lower than the national average and, in spite of the economic improvements, unemployment and poverty are still significant social issues for the region. When the club has to encourage foodbank donations for local resident, expecting the same community to find north of £50 a game is not realistic. Liverpool is and should be a broad church – but the options for those from further afield are in my opinion well catered for. The club has it within their gift to address the balance.
Obviously not being from Liverpool doesn’t mean you’re loaded, but if you can afford to jump on a train, plane or in your car for a long journey to the ground – the ticket is not the dominant cost of your day out. If you are lucky enough to be able to afford to do this regularly then that’s great. Enjoy your day – once again, there are plenty of options for you to support The Reds.
Finally, some will say it’s dead easy to make a suggestion like this if you already have access to the football club through your season ticket. I completely get this argument and I think it is a fair criticism – I waited the best part of 20 years for my season ticket in my own name.
Sadly, the debates around tickets and access are often posited from a selfish standpoint. I bet someone who cannot get on the season-ticket waiting list would suggest getting rid of season tickets altogether while someone who has just got one after 20 years like me would fight for it tooth and nail.
My friend had his first son born this year – he has had a season ticket since 1986. Sadly under the current regime he cannot put his son on a list for a ticket at all. (The season-ticket waiting list was closed in 2011.)
The wider issues of access are being addressed by the newly-appointed supporter liaison officer Tony Barrett. It is a thorny issue and it would be remarkable if he can find a solution that makes everyone happy, but we must find solutions that are in the long-term interests of Liverpool Football Club.
Liverpool have an opportunity to defend themselves against the valid criticism of positive net spends on transfers by taking any monies in from a sale of a player and creating a genuine legacy for the city and its youth for generations to come.