My first time at Anfield was not a happy time…for Liverpool fans. Michael Robinson inspired Brighton and Hove Albion to upset the League leaders in a cracking 2-1 win. My brother, a Liverpool fan, was excited to be at a big match atmosphere somewhere other than Dublin’s Croke Park. Though despite not being a fan myself, I grew to admire the club, their staff, players and supporters.
Liverpool have always been different. When football was invented in 1992 they moved from club to brand and a succession of owners have cashed in on this. And FSG went a step further in gradually hiking ticket prices until enough was enough and the Liverpool faithful did something impressive – they walked out.
On Tuesday I watched as my ‘English’ team West Ham (as opposed to my favourite team Dundalk) win at Upton Park, I wondered about the thinking behind the walkout last weekend by Liverpool fans. How many would back it? Would vultures swoop in and pick up spares? When FC United of Manchester formed their own club a friend of mine was thrilled, he figured it’d be easier to get a season ticket.
On Wednesday, still feeling hungover from staying awake until the wee hours twice in a week thanks to Superbowl Sunday and FA Cup Tuesday, I read a piece in FourFourTwo that ticket price rises will mean more “tourist fans”. This scaremongering was from the Football Supporters Federation Chairman Malcolm Clarke and this is finding traction among some English journos.
His remark of stadia losing atmosphere due to “foreign tourists with half-and-half scarves taking selfies of being in an English ground” smacks of more than deluded anglo-centrism, it is exactly the sentiment that keeps the sheep being sheep. Reducing ticket prices for away fans is not a panacea, nor is paying only £20 for a ticket. This will be counterproductive for the game as a whole.
The estimated 10,000 Liverpool fans who left after 77 minutes made a nice gesture and though they similarly could have, as Borussia Dortmund fans did, thrown tennis balls, or turned their backs or simply waited outside the ground. Yet it worked, for now. But how many clubs have fans who care enough to take such a stand, especially in the ‘Greed is Good’ league.
Back in 2009 Floriana played a hate-filled derby against Valletta. We didn’t know we’d been set up to fail by one club Director who’d bet heavily against his team and went so far as to give the starting team line-up and tactics to the opposition hours before kick-off.
After a brilliant start, which saw us hit the woodwork and have a shot cleared off the line, we suffered two season-ending knee injuries, for our top central defender and our play-making midfield dynamo. We lost 6-0, despite hitting the woodwork twice more and having a stonewall penalty rejected.
It was a tragic loss, yet it changed the dynamic in the changing-room and the subsequent league break, due to forced demotion of Marsaxlokk and Vittoriosa for bribery, allowed the club to re-focus for the next uproar. But it was fan behaviour which defined the night.
Four minutes after the break Valletta netted their 3rd and I noticed to my left that the large, vociferous green-clad support were not only silent, they were taking down their flags and banners. Seven minutes later when it was 4-0 there were only a handful left, and by full-time the Floriana section was completely empty.
I had some real arguments with supporter club members and accused them of treachery. It was only after being presented with proof of betrayal out by one of our own that I cooled down. There was nothing noble in their walk-out, except to express that while they loved, the players and coach, they refused to share a stadium with him. The Director was voted out of the club and his contracts with the club cut.
So what relation is this to Liverpool and their supporters. For many years the price of tickets has forced many from the game, yet this is not necessarily a bad thing. The gentrification of football has allowed for more families at games, though not enough. Parents are more inclined now to let their kids go to games due to improved stadia and less hooliganism.
Ticket prices have had a role in this. Yet Liverpool fans objected to a mere 200 tickets which were rising from £56 to £77, what’s wrong with that? Price rises have helped open up the game and the influx of tourist fans keeps the tills ringing.
The fault that the club owners can hike prices or treat clubs like brands lies solely with the FA. They gave up their right to action when they blinked over the Premier League and the continued rise in player wages, agent and transfer fees which essentially left them impotent.
Club owners have the power to do as they wish, yet like their counterparts in Russia, yet they won’t crack down on dodgy transfer deals or player wages. They won’t, because it suits too many to leave the status quo. Better to screw over the supporters as chances are they’ll forget. The ‘sheep’ will still buy their season tickets, tv packages and merchandise.
Better yet, keep the masses believing that English football stadia are somehow better and more attractive than everywhere else, so ultimately a wealthy ‘Johnny Foreigner’ will come in quick and take up the financial slack. The fact that only seven Premier League teams are wholly British-owned is telling, whilst the poster boys for this season – Leicester City – are owned by a Thai billionaire. Hype your product to the highest, add a bogeyman from abroad and those in power remain untouched.
Yet of all the clubs in England whose fans could actually pull this off and win, Liverpool were most likely. They have, for over a quarter of a century, managed to keep sales of The Sun newspaper low in their region and the togetherness of their fanbase, they are an example to follow.
I admit that in 1983 I took great delight in Liverpool losing to Brighton. I even enjoyed their decider loss to Arsenal in 1989, despite Hillsborough. Yet Liverpool supporters need to be appreciated for their stance, they need to be followed and until they are, and en masse, the only people who can make a difference – the supporters – will continue to be treated like sheep.
Liverpool fans were jammed like sheep into the Hillsborough pens in 1989, they alone know how important it is to make a stand. They won a small battle last weekend though without all football supporters following suit, the war is already lost.