THE launch of a new ticketing forum along with other focus groups has led to the first steps of investigating the possibility of designated areas for younger fans to congregate at Anfield.
There are two teams looking at specific areas – one for allocation, the other for pricing – and last week, Peter Moore, the Liverpool chief executive, met with the group to discuss the logistics of moving younger fans together.
This, along with the safe-standing discussion in the summer, shows that the club finally recognises the need to have younger, more vocal fans in the ground paying a reasonable price for tickets. This will naturally have a knock-on effect for the atmosphere inside Anfield.
No-one needs to tell the manager that this needs addressing. Jürgen Klopp has, on more than one occasion, berated the more sedentary fans from the touchline when his side need more action and fewer silent observers.
Though the initiative is beset with problems, it’s a welcome and timely debate. The famous Anfield atmosphere for standard games is nothing more than a myth and though the ground can bring the noise when it’s needed, it’s more of a rarity these days. Though we can expect a noisy Anfield for the visit of Chelsea and Spartak Moscow, anyone expecting a similar cacophony for West Brom is doomed to disappointment.
It’s hard to put a finger on the reason this is the case. Any visitor to Anfield will notice that the ground does at least try to generate some level of atmosphere at kick off, following the routine belting out of You’ll Never Walk Alone, but come the 20-minute mark the ground is largely silent.
During one windy November game at Swansea a few years back, I heard James Milner slate a linesman for an incorrect call. I was in row 21 of The Kop at the time. The stand was that quiet and that shouldn’t be.
One theory about the silence stems from the lack of consistent buy-in from the variety of fan types. For example, a group of teenagers, keen on bawling their hearts out would be disappointed to find fans of my age stood with them.
Great to see the kids on the Kop. We & football generally needs to have more kids at the game pic.twitter.com/zeQ5LocT4G
— David Mac (@davemackopite) 19 November 2017
It’s hard to get things going if you have lots of frowning faces in and around you, moaning about something or other (guilty). There’s less chance still if those kids are not together at all, but are scattered among the terrace. You can’t generate atmosphere in the ground via an in-stadium WhatsApp group.
It’s easy to apportion blame for the quietness on The Kop and I’ll name and shame the guilty right here.
The problem is me.
Me and others like me.
Let me explain. I’ve served my time and was lucky enough to be able to do it in an age where I could stand with my mates and shout about everything that went on around me. Nowadays I like to stand (that won’t change) and talk about the game to those around me rather than join in a chorus.
As you get older, you start to become irritated by things around you to which you were once oblivious. Here’s an example.
At the West Ham game the girl next to me spent the first half on her phone, repeatedly telling her brother where she was. She had little interest in the songs which some young lad got going around her and she certainly wasn’t up for a few verses of “Liverbird Upon My Chest” to keep out the cold, but she was excited and would often punctuate the air with a squeal when The Reds were attacking.
And I don’t mean that as a criticism of her. After all, her entrance fee was the same of mine and, if anything, she enjoyed the game more than I did. She was shouting down her phone while I was stuck in my match-day setting of frowning at The Reds, trying to work out what the hell we were trying to do. She may have irked me, but she was certainly more vocal than I.
In simpler times there was a ready-made solution to this. The general rule was that once you were a certain age and less vociferous you left The Kop and moved to other stands. By the time you were geriatric you went to the Main Stand and complained about everything. That was the way of things.
— hoppyCOLFC (@johnhopwood1) 28 January 2017
The onset of all-seater stadia has allowed the groups to be mixed to the detriment of the “match-day experience” (shudders). I still prefer The Kop but recognise that younger, more boisterous Reds should be in there ahead of me. As I say, I’m the problem.
There are also societal changes. One criticism of allocating an area for teenagers is the health and safety factor. The club doesn’t want 12-year-olds in the ground without a parent or guardian, which seems fair enough. My first game at the age of 12 in 1981 was with my mate of the same age in the Kemlyn. His dad sat in the Main Stand. We had a great time because a) we were at the match b) there were no parents to tell us to shut up and c) Liverpool were good. We lost, incidentally.
That just wouldn’t happen today though it’s possibly more accurate to say that it probably does but the club can’t really police it.
I’m not sure I’d want a nephew or niece of mine on their own in the middle of a raucous bunch of kids jumping around with arms flailing, particularly during goal celebrations, but the ground does need to look at a way of getting younger fans in and allowing them to be, well, young. That can only lead to a more vibrant Anfield.
And how do we know this? Easy.
There’s an enormous disparity of atmosphere between home and away games. Going to another town or city representing Liverpool really makes a huge difference to a stadium. What’s more it means something to the opposition. Liverpool are here. A chance to beat the Scousers. And Liverpool travel in numbers so that’s a day out. We tend to deliver too. That doesn’t happen for home games. A mate of mine uses the term “atmosphere voyeurs”, taking photos of a crowd that is no longer there.
But it can also invigorate the more humdrum encounter. I can recall a particularly drab pre-season game at Peterborough in 2006 when the away end just wouldn’t be quiet. Our end was made up of people in their late teens and 20s who were having a great day. Some of them looked at the pitch occasionally, but refused to let it spoil their day.
It’s still early days, but at least the club are looking at getting younger fans in. They’re the next generation and if this club is proud of its support and indefatigability then they have to be catered for.
I’m off to the Main Stand with my flask and tartan blanket.