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Being Liverpool

column-rick olivaresWHEN Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the owners of Liverpool Football Club (LFC), announced the ticketing price scheme for next season, it was met with vociferous cries of protest. In the wake of a massive television deal that ensured that no club would not go uncompensated generously on top of other corporate endorsements, the club’s supporters felt they were being unjustly fleeced.

What followed was an unprecedented walkout by some 10,000 fans at Anfield during Liverpool’s match against Sunderland. Before the walkout, the Reds led the Black Cats, 2-nil, and three points looked within grasp. Coincidentally, after the walkout, Liverpool’s play inexplicably dropped and Sunderland salvaged a 2-2 draw that felt like a terrible loss given the situation. The protests grew louder with English football legend Alan Shearer taking the side of the fans. Supporters of other Premier League sides also threw in their support. Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher was one of those who joined the walkout, while current manager Jurgen Klopp issued a message of concern and stating that this should be rectified soon unless it undo the work being done in Anfield.

The week of crushing news for this proud club didn’t end there as, a few days later, Liverpool was ousted by a West Ham side in FA Cup play.

Then FSG issued a heartfelt statement of apology and imposed not only a moratorium on ticket-price hikes for two years while offering better ticket packages for fans.

I spoke with native Liverpudlian and longtime LFC supporter Jeff Goulding, whose passionate cry of protest on fan site “This Is Anfield” galvanized the fan base to make their voices heard, as well as to walk out.

What followed was an eloquent and passionate discourse into “Being Liverpool” (my play on the short-lived reality television series during the tenure of former manager Brendan Rogers’s 2012-2013 season).

“This issue of ‘Scouseness’ is very important to locals who follow Liverpool FC,” Goulding opened. “We are defined by the culture of the city. There is a radical tradition in Liverpool, not only politically, but in terms of art and other forms of expression. Liverpudlians hate cliché and reject the generic moronic football culture prevalent at so many grounds up and down the country.”

“We prefer originality, and that’s why our songs are so unique and our banners witty and creative. People singing ‘who are ya!’ in the direction of opposing teams are frowned upon, because there’s no ingenuity to that. It’s not authentic, it’s mindless.”

“The average Scouser looks down their noses at things like ‘half and half scarves’ and jester hats because they are an expression of the mass-market culture and commercialization of our sport.”

“Conversely, songs like ‘Scouser Tommy’ and ‘Fields of Anfield Road’ have been adopted and then adapted by supporters to express their emotions and love for the club. They are sung with pride and are a million miles removed from the ‘Sky Sports’ and ‘Soccer AM’ style seal chants, that attempt to subvert football culture and monetize it.”

“Perhaps, the city’s ‘bolshy’ and creative nature is encapsulated in the music that came out of the city in the 1960s and to a lesser extent the 1980s. You couldn’t find anything more Scouse than the Beatles. Irreverent, anti-establishment, wonderfully unique and innovative.”

“The people of Liverpool are fiercely proud and have a deep sense of justice and fairness. Of course, things like Hillsborough and the Thatcher government have strengthened this, but it was already there.”

“Growing up, it was drummed into me that I should always speak up for what I believe in. Just because someone may be wealthy or in a position of power, they don’t have an automatic right to respect. They have to earn it, just like everyone else.”

“Above all, it’s important to understand the sense of ‘otherness’ felt by Liverpudlians. The banners that read ‘We’re not English we are Scouse’ speak to a sense that really Liverpool isn’t part of England. At least it doesn’t feel that way a lot of the time.”

“Many Scousers don’t follow the national team and feel more akin to the Scots and the Irish, than they do to people from Manchester or London.”

“Why am I telling you all of this? I think that in order to understand how local fans react to the ownership question, ‘out of town’ support and ticket pricing, you need to understand the psyche of the city. That’s not to say that fans from outside the city don’t feel the same, but I can only speak from my own perspective.”

“Liverpool’s collectivist and socialist [with a small “s”] ethos is completely at odds with the commercialization of football. Shankly spoke of everyone working hard for the common cause and everybody sharing in the rewards at the end of the day. He was completely in tune with the heartbeat of the city and the people. To a degree, so too is [Liverpool FC Manager Jurgen] Klopp, I sense.”

“However, this approach is at odds with the ethos of investment groups like FSG. To them the object is, of course, success, but I don’t sense there is a commitment to everyone sharing in the spoils of victory. Rather, the supporters are seen as just another means to an end; another revenue stream.”

“This is why a lot of local fans are inherently skeptical of the motives of these ‘businessmen’ running our club. Some, not all, fear that the drive toward globalizing the ‘brand’ and bringing in more ‘tourists’ to Anfield will further dilute the club’s culture [of which they are fiercely proud] and marginalize local supporters.”

“Most of us can see that having such a global fan base is positive. Actually, the city itself is built by people from all over the globe, so I don’t believe this a parochial or racist thing. It genuinely stems from a fear that the traditions and history of the club are being ignored.”

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