WHATEVER club you support, we all have our pre-match routines: attire adorned, stomach lined, bets placed, mates met, ale sank, turnstile clicked, adrenaline pumping, form forgotten, writes JOEL ROOKWOOD.
With kick off imminent you become consumed by the impending contest, and everything is as it should be. Then you notice a group of lost-looking souls who have found the combination of row and seat number printed on their tickets a challenge too far.
As they shuffle awkwardly between rows searching for seats your eyes are drawn to the identical, pristine scarves around their respective necks – with half of each scarf dedicated to the colours of the day’s opponents. You just want them to put the scarf in the bin, find their seats and get behind the team.
Whatever team you’re playing and whether or not you wear a scarf yourself, you may well feel your ritual has been punctuated and your traditions violated by the sight of the halfy-half scarf. That sense of desecration connects to some deep historical and cultural roots.
It might be a humble garment in and of itself, yet there can be something deeply symbolic about a football scarf. In the celebrations following the 1973 league title win at Anfield, Bill Shankly responded defiantly to a policeman’s mistreatment of a Liverpool scarf by declaring “that’s somebody’s life”.
The practice of displaying team affiliation around the neck is almost as old as professional football itself. As with most football traditions, it is of English invention; a culture more than a century in the making.
Early versions were a response to the pervading climate. They were simple, block coloured and hand knitted, usually by a relative – and were often therefore, to reference Shankly again, “precious”; sacred to the individual.
Bill Shankly at Anfield, wearing a scarf thrown to him by a Liverpool fan, 1973. pic.twitter.com/SNjQRuKjkW
— History In Pictures (@HistoryInPics) 20 September 2013
So significant was this simple symbol of club colours, that relieving a rival fan of their scarf came to represent a trophy of desecration for some, forcefully acquired as a badge of honour and supposed superiority.
The meanings associated with wearing your club affiliation around the neck has evolved considerably, as have styles, variations and modes of production. The practice has also long been diffused throughout the globe. In over a thousand games across six continents, I’ve never been to a match and not seen a scarf.
At Liverpool though the cultural connections run particularly deep. A scarf held aloft between outstretched arms has been the recognised accompaniment to You’ll Never Walk Alone for decades, a visual integral to the anthem. Even if you don’t do this yourself these days (and you probably don’t), you’ll sit near someone who does. These traditions established during the last century at Anfield have been extended since.
One of the few (just about) surviving cultural legacies of the Gerard Houllier era is the celebratory waving of scarves around the head in a circular motion – which looks mesmeric as a mass ritual. Originally enacted to the tune of anything that rhymed with “Allez Allez”, it was later adapted to and replaced by The Ring of Fire, just as the Houllier regime itself became engulfed by the cult of Rafa Benitez. For once actions spoke louder than words, and the rhythmic motion combined with European success helped solidify the place of the scarf in the mind of the modern Liverpool fan.
There has, however, been some notable regression since: Half-Liverpool-half-Manchester United scarves are sold outside every corner of Anfield and Old Trafford respectively in recognition of a league fixture between the clubs. This has become commonplace at most matches and at grounds across England (also extended to display opposing managers and players).
The invented tradition is borrowed from the culture of European fixtures, where combined scarves symbolise something memorable and unique, exotic contests that brought with them dreams of European achievements. Opponents were usually from another league and therefore neutral in the context of football rivalries.
Like many of my generation, my first European away trip with Liverpool was Roma, the 2001 edition. One of the first things I did on that pivotal day was exchange a scarf – with a Lazio fan (which reflected the legacy of antagonism with Roma and Liverpool’s polarised reputation in Italy, but did not indicate sympathy with any local political identities).
In all 60 European away games since, I’ve come home with a scarf — either bought or, where possible, swapped with a local. From Slovenia to Bulgaria, Russia to Romania, “scarf” became the first and often only word I would learn of the local language. The compilation now sits at home with the ticket stubs (in a box these days, as I’m too old and normal and married to have a scarf collection displayed in my bedroom).
Some have opted for half-Liverpool-half-whoever-in-Europe scarves for the more memorable continental contests, which are at best coveted and at worst acceptable in the eyes of most Liverpool fans. Yet for those schooled in the club’s history, surely an equivalent for an all-English tie in any competition represents a corruption and dilution of cultural tradition.
I saw a colour-clashing Liverpool-Wolves scarf on The Kop last month – from the Roy Hodgson-inspired home defeat in 2010; probably the exact counterpoint to AC Milan in 2005.
The typical intended market for Premier League versions is obviously the day tripper/tourist fan: Scarves as memorabilia tailored for the individual, one-time visitor to Anfield; making a spectacle out of the ordinary – symptomatic of what those with business interests might call the “experience economy”. This issue is about the protection of culture and tradition – it is not intended to sound dismissive of the legitimacy of tourist fans, who should be welcomed in Liverpool.
On his trip to Maribor for the recent Champions League fixture, local author John Mackin tweeted a picture of his 1970s-style European matchday scarf which featured a Liver Bird stood on a globe and the embroidered words: “Supporters all over the world”. That scarf represents a celebration of our global heritage from a pre-globalised era, a reminder that we should be proud to attract fans from across the planet.
The ingrained almost nomadic Scouse culture of travelling great distances to watch football can enhance an understanding and appreciation of others doing the same. I have been a day tripper in 120 British grounds, and a football tourist in 100 countries, “experiencing” some of the most volatile and sterile fixtures in world football, and I’ve made films on football cultures the world over.
Whenever I’m wandering through distant lands, I search out local marketplaces (because you learn so much about people by observing their street trading interactions), and I always hope to see football stalls selling Liverpool shirts and scarves.
In the last year or so I’ve seen Liverpool tops sold on the streets of: Rwanda, Algeria, Greenland, Palestine, Gabon, Abkhazia, Barbados, Bosnia and Turkmenistan – and that is despite the recent lack of options for world-class names to print on the back. This cultural dissemination is evidence of status and popularity; shirts worn by fans who dream of just one experience of what we would consider an ordinary matchday.
Scousers who travel for football however also know what it is to be a football local – the cultural heartbeat of a club – and most of us will try to be sensitive to local traditions. I don’t think it’s too much to ask those visiting Anfield as tourists to do likewise.
To reference the recent words of another local author Kevin Sampson: “I love the fact that we have supporters from all over the world… I want Liverpool to have a diverse and inclusive fanbase. But the big core value – the locality from which the club takes its name – has to be protected and encouraged.”
Football tourists should be welcomed, but a club’s culture should be protected and directed by locals. This is an argument that transcends Liverpool and football – for the same could be said of Cork, Melbourne and Pittsburgh, with their respective more dominant national variants of football (that have led to “soccer” being deployed as a reference to ours), and their associated sporting cultures crafted continually for more than a century.
As with other cultures football fandom is not static, but fluid, and can change relative to contemporary conditions and experiences; and yet certain core values, attitudes and behaviours remain.
Even in this globalised era of modern football – where local communities and traditional cultures are being marginalised and neglected by the prioritised and ruthless pursuit of new revenue streams and attempts to extend and exploit the fanbase manipulatively framed as a family – even now there is power in the collective, organic social movements with a local heartbeat.
Consider the response to Tom Hicks and George Gillett’s poisonous ownership, £77 match tickets and proposed Christmas Eve football as examples. Liverpool fans could make halfy-half scarves disappear peacefully and permanently, without offending or alienating day trippers and tourist fans.
The most obvious approach might seem to be direct to the consumer, to those who buy the scarves. This can be as straightforward as striking up a conversation, explaining politely but passionately why a scarf that is dedicated to the red of Liverpool and blue of Chelsea in equal parts is not in keeping with The Liverpool Way. This could be followed by the suggestion that the next purchase should be one of the other 50 variations of the Liverpool scarf typically on offer on stalls from Church Street to Arkles Lane. You might be surprised how receptive people can be to such forms of exchange.
The second approach though – and this won’t be popular – is to go direct to source. Before you worry about increasing regulation for working class street traders, just imagine for a moment the uproar if these scarves originated as official merchandise sold in the new club shop. For all their faults, at least Liverpool only sell Liverpool-related products.
One of the reasons this trend of bipolar memorabilia has developed, seemingly without opposition, is that they are sold on the street. Scousers, to their credit, have a natural inclination not to restrict or criticise working class enterprise. An inescapable reality however is that demand is fed by supply, and the product in question is countercultural.
The sight of home supporters wearing half-Liverpool-half-United scarves taking pictures of Jose Mourinho from the Main Stand does not help create a partisan atmosphere that intimidates the opposition. The Liverpool sign doesn’t say “Welcome to Anfield”; the Liverpool scarf shouldn’t say “Manchester United”.
We all like to pass street traders selling merchandise outside the ground. It’s part of the match routine, something that makes us feel that football still belongs to us, that we remain co-creators of our culture. Approaching stalls in Anfield and the city centre on matchdays and asking those who run them not to sell halfy-half scarves does not have to involve confrontation and would not mean putting them out of business. All-Liverpool matchday versions with the game’s date on could still be sold if the market for those continues to thrive.
If enough of us had those persuasive conversations, rather than shaking our heads in silence at the sight of red-blue scarves on The Kop, we could ensure that every game was played against a backdrop of only untainted memorabilia, protecting our unique heritage in the process.
It’s time to reclaim the Liverpool scarf: infused with historical significance and cultural resonance, equal parts red and white, and dedicated to the club; so the people can hold their scarves up high and say “We are Liverpool”.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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Good piece. I’ve not got anything to back this up but I do wonder if the majority of half and half scarves are sold to people who simply don’t know any better which could be for any number of reasons. I think the fear for most fans travelling from outside the city (I’m one of them albeit never been one for half and half scarves!) is sticking out for the wrong reasons. Unfortunately buying one of these scarves usually achieves exactly that.
The difficulty is when fans travel in, their main point of contact may well be from the club where they have bought their ticket. I have thought in the past that if the club could engage a bit more with fan groups on this to give people from outside the city who may be on their first trip, a few pointers on what to do and what not to do, it might help with this sort of thing. It’s not about imposing one groups set of rules on everyone or creating an in crowd mentality that anyone who steps outside it is wrong but just helping people who don’t know any better how not to stick out for all the wrong reasons.
Before I start to comment on this article, I hva to say I am a Liverpool fan for more than 25 years. But also: I am Belgian. Which means automaticly I am a tourist when I visit Anfield, the city, the local pubs and record stores, the street shops where they sell scarves, the traditional fish and chip shops around the stadium, The Beatles Museum, the Cavern Club… And yes, I spend a lot of money on those travels. Only the travel itself takes me a couple of months to save me the money. So how much I’d like to do it more, I can only do this three, four times a season. I became a Liverpool fan during the 1989 Cup Final I was watching on the BBC with my dad, my uncles and my granddad. That team in red played the kind of football I liked and the love never went away. I was 13. And it took me another 20 long years to see them for the first time at Anfield, simply because it was impossible to get tickets for a young Belgian fan.
In 2009 I found a Belgian Liverpool Supporters Branch, became (and still am a proud) member and have been at Anfield more than 20 times already since, visited different parts of the city and even went to European away games. Still, everytime I come over I feel like a tourist. How much I’d like it to be otherwise: I am not a born Scouser and I will never be one. But I do not feel like ‘the tourist’ that is described in this article. Everytime I come over, I do my very best to live in the tradition of Liverpool during the days I spend over there: the city, its people, its tradition, its football club. It’s not easy for someone who is not from Liverpool, because Liverpool is a complex city. That’s what my several visits to the city teached me. But at least I try. At least I only buy red and white blocked scarves and matchday shirts, I try to spend as much time in local pubs as possible, go out in the city at night and learn the tradition and history about this wonderful place and its wonderful people. And not once in my mind I even have thought of buying a half and helf scarf or take pictures of the opposite manager! But even then, you still often get the feeling you are not a real passionate Liverpool fan, because you are not Scouse/local/English. Even after 28 years of support and almost 8 years of 3 to 6 visits a year.
I totally agree when you say tourist fans should addept to ‘The Liverpool Way’ more often. And the halve and halve scarf market is everything waht is wrong about modern football, not only in Liverpool, believe me. But it works both ways, in my opinion. Local fans should sometimes be more open and respectfull to fans like me who travel over from a foreign country few times a season (I even went to fucking Hoffenheim in the summer, it was only 440 km from home and only a 4 and a half hour ride!), scream their hearts out for the team, learn the songs the locals sing for ages, learn about Hillsborough and what it still means in the local area and have bevvies in the local pubs before and after the match. Believe me, if I could come over the whole year, I would. But it’s impossible, mostly financially. However, just the mention of ‘Belgium’ is enough for most locals to take their noses up and look at me like a Japanes with a massive camera around my neck. Or worse: like I am Simon Mignolet’s half brother… That as a fact is as wrong as halve and halve scarves, in my opinion…
100% agree with this.
Bad fellas are bad fellas – whether they’re from the city or not. Great supporters can come from anywhere.
I’m not a fan of half & half scarfs but they’re not at the top of the tree in sliding traditions for me. I wonder how many locals were involved in giving Lovren the kind of shit he’s been subject too over the last week or so? So much for the tradition of “You’ll never walk alone”.
Stijn, supporters like you will always be welcome at Anfield.
Dont let the moaning gets drag you down, unfortunately there are loads of them all round the ground.
We should all have to watch the new Shankly film…the great man’s principles are still relevant today.
Not sure half and half scarves are really the main concern at anfield at the moment but hey ho. Cultures and traditions change and adapt with time surely. Why should a fan from outside the city feel what someone else wants them to feel about a match day?Its up to them to feel as they want. Oh, the liverpool way.. perhaps you should release a guidline book for everyone to follow your idea of that. Especially to be read by tourists for fear the may stray off path. Heaven forbid. People might actually know they are not pure bred Liverpudlians. Is this article serious or a piss take?
I’ve still got my uncle’s knitted red and white scarf from 1966 and my own shiny ‘modern’ one from 1973- complete with hot dog tomato sauce stain. Full pint for me. Never half and half. Thought of a LFC MANU one makes me sick!
could not agree more about the half and half scarves . I detest the sight of them,was really pleased
that at long last somebody has spoken out .i am a day tripper from carrickfergus from 1971 may be 3 or four times a season.love the match day Buzz .the people and the city.
ynwa Colin bell.
Glad i pay 5 pound a month to be told how to support my club. I find this really disappointing by TAW. How bout focusing on uniting the fans instead of encouraging this divisive crap. Really really disappointing
It’s one thing to criticise but what I like about this is you’ve come up with a solution, and a good one at that. As a kid I collected everything under the sun. Obviously I kept things like ticket stubs but even the tickets of the local bus into town I took. As an 8 year old I’d be standing outside the sorting office waiting for the postmen to return from their rounds to give me their elastic bands. I collected anything and everything. So, I can understand the collecting aspect of the scarves but if I was a collector I’d much prefer a Liverpool scarf with the opposition and date printed on it. I think it’s a great idea.
I’ve never worn a scarf though and never will. In my teens we used to call people with scarves scarf heads and it’s never left me. Just out of interest in case anyone things I’m an eBay hoarder, I’ve gone the other way now. I have almost zero possessions. I’m constantly looking for things to bin to the extent I binned our microwave recently because I thought you can hear on the stove. Whenever the kids come home late for their tea and it can’t be heated up I get grief over it, haha. Geography is my passion so I found this interesting. Good article.
Even as a wooley back I still sometimes feel a tourist even though I’ve been going to Anfield since I was 13 (now 45). But that doesn’t bother me so much, my opinion is I’m lucky to be accepted mainly by some wonderful people in a wonderful diverse unique city. My favourite city in the world!! And I’m privalidged to support their city’s team. Ultimately it is their city club. However this is not 1970 and the majority of fans at home games are no longer local. There are many reasons for this the “universal digital game” , also local Enterprise with ticket sales including season tickets. However the traditions of this unique club should always be upheld they should never be forgotten. If forgotten then our club will become just another corporate, soul less premiership club with loss of values. There are not many real clubs left!! There is no problem with out of towners, tourists or day trippers supporting the club. We should embrace how popular we are. We are loved all over the world and I see us as a family and it’s part of our uniqueness. And without these supporters we would be an Everton or Newcastle. No History or success and as such being supported by just locals. And that is not the answer. I completely agree with the article it is up to us supporters wherever we are from who understand the Liverpool way to have a polite word and educate the less knowledgeable. Not swear, moan or shake our heads ( and me and my mates are guilty) but let’s be pro active and work together instead of being like every other club and accept it. Acceptance, we have never been good at that!!!
I’ve never personally bought a half an half, but don’t have anything against them really. I find just them cheesy.
Ive never bought a scarf of a street trader, as I’d rather the money go into the club. Although I’ve never bothered to ask any trader if they sell in accordance with the club and pay royalties. I doubt they do, but I maybe wrong in my ignorance.
Speaking of rituals, I’ve wore the same Liverpool top now for about 6 years, though these days I’m too old for footy tops, so it’s usually covered with a fleece, and I worn the same scarf for the last 2 years.
My scarf lives on my parcel shelf, as I drive to the game, and my last one was probably 10 years old but got lost when my car was hit 2 years ago. So a new one had to be had.
My daughter (9) got the ‘normal one’ scarf at klopps first game, with the hat and specs on it. Although she doesn’t really like the footy, so only comes once or twice a year, when she decides she now ‘does like it.’ Evey time she sits in the stand just looking for cctv cameras, and moaning she can’t see. She can be a little strange. Lol.
I bought a half and half scarve a few seasons ago against Besitkas. Balotelli wins it with a late penalty. The decision to buy the scarve was typical of a wool like me but this particular dilution you speak of is the least of your problems. When I’m amongst that kop I don’t see passion, I don’t see people wanting to make a prolonged racket, I just see sheep following other people’s predictable and boring chants. Every time I visit Anfield, it is the locals who look down on me for trying to create an atmosphere and start a few songs with my wool mates. Apart from “Stevie Heighway on the wing” hardly anyone else knows the words to that song. If all wools were like me, you would have a red wall, not the library you currently possess. Yet I am made to feel like an outcast for it. Football is dead. All the best traditions have been diluted beyond recognition. Other teams do have better, louder and more passionate fans than us. I can hold my head high in saying that I’m not one of them.
The idea that locals should have “persuasive conversations” with the rabid tourist lest they buy the wrong fucking scarf…..nice one TAW. Have you checked with LFC what their official stance is on the subject? I get it…you want the tourist to assimilate so that you can maintain traditions and in so doing, you can maintain a certain level of atmosphere in the stadium. And I take it (I’m sure you have the evidence), that this atmosphere will help us win more. We haven’t won the league in 27 years…if only halfie scarves didn’t exist! Please TAW, this article is just divisive drivel supported by anecdotes at best. Instead of complaining about tourists and the unwanted benefits to the local economy, I would like to see something substantive on subjects that matter more….like….
1. Why LFC, supporters and everyone linked to the club should find death threats on players and their families unacceptable – no matter how horrid the performance. TAW, you have to say something and write something about the Lovren situation.
2. Do a piece on Michael Edwards. Work hard to get an interview. Write an open letter to the club. Get answers as to why LFC has bungled transfer window after transfer window.
Just to let you know the club do in fact sell official half and half scarves.