I’ve been planning to write something for two weeks since my last piece here on ATX Reds Press, but in these harsh times for me and for us all, life just keeps getting in the way.
‘It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it’, a popularised phrase attributed to Spock from Star Trek. I’m not even sure it is life, as we in Liverpool enter another full government lockdown. We’re the only ones; the only city region in the draconian prison of Tier 3, a restrictive status a friend of ours from outside Liverpool, said feels like the Tories’ effort to bury us in the bottom corner and complete their “managed decline” of the 1980s.
We all know the rationale. But no, most of us aren’t having it. The word on the street is this one.
No pubs to meet our friends, no gyms to work out and look after remaining mental marbles, no betting shop for an escapist flutter and some community and of course, still no real football. And all that in a week leading up to the Merseyside derby with Everton top and Liverpool trailing but only just.
I was going to let another evening pass by without writing. Then I listened to my mate and fellow LFC author Simon Hughes on The Liverpool Connection Podcast, the show in which I appeared a week or so before Simon. It was me that got Si to talk with Daz and Steve at “TLCP” and talk he did with his usual aplomb.
Simon, in his latest career chapter, is lucky to talk and write more now on the social side of football, veering with The Athletic away from match reporting towards longer extensive, investigative pieces that do his proper talents justice.
While doing his wittering away on the pod, Simon mentioned the recent LFC US Tour, which landed in Boston, Massachusetts. He alluded to a city with a feel for an event, a city that cranked up its excitement in the 24 hours before the Reds played there. Though a pre-season friendly, there was a sense of occasion all day as North American fans painted the town red. It was the same in Dublin in the summer of 2013 when Liverpool v Celtic had the carnival vibe of a very Gaelic European final.
Liverpool, Celtic, Dublin, Boston.
Obvious linkage there which in the main dates to the impact of Famine on Ireland that saw Liverpool and Boston (and New York) infused with fleeing Irish blood. And of course, to bring this to date, Liverpool’s ownership also resides in New England (or should it be New Ireland) with Fenway Sports Group.
Liverpool does not identify as English; the Liver Birds on a seafront that is an actual and metaphorical landing stage for immigrants, and Liverpudlians generally, look not inward and inland towards England but out to sea and the New World. To a far foreign land where Scouser Tommy perished and to overseas climbs were not just the Thomases, but the Michaels, Anthonys, Lukes, and Stephens of Liverpool watch the Reds abroad.
We’re not English; we are Scouse.
As per, I have digressed. I promised ATX Reds Press I would write about the importance of LFC traditions for their fanatical American market, a following thirsty for content about our beloved Liverpool Football Club. Simon correctly points out though that LFC is an extension and expression of the great City that sporns its name, so let’s explore a few old habits that die hard pertaining either to City and/or to the Club.
First up something purely cultural – we stand our ground. No room for mingebags in this place, with a heavy emphasis on shared generosity. Everyone mucks in, we all do a shift, we help and we listen and we get the ale in – at least when they don’t shut down our pubs, lives, and livelihoods.
I’ll let Bill Shankly take over here with his notion of socialism and an ideal that should ring true for all to this day.
“The socialism I believe in isn’t really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it’s the way I see football and the way I see life”.
So, Shankly links football to life, and more famously so in his football is more important than life and death quote. It isn’t of course but it does matter and it matters because it connects people.
That’s why I said earlier in this piece that, at the moment there’s no real football. It’s all totally artificial and if you want proof look at Everton sitting there at the top of the league. And look at the good, tight ship Liverpool all at sixes and literal sevens.
It is just not real and it won’t be until the fans are back. Even Sunday league football is played against the backdrop of the one man and his dog and the nauseating whiff of the dog’s shit. For someone who obsessed over the sanitization of football through price exclusion of the common man, I never realised just how cleansed this sport could be. Bring back the great unwashed ASAP even if some of them are a tad middle class or local lads – with a fistful of fivers – made good.
When we gather down at Anfield, 50 if not a hundred thousand strong (another song in there for the uninitiated) we are traditionally fierce, bastions not just of invincibility but of home advantage. That’s Shankly’s lasting legacy; a set of loyal, true “professional supporters” who proclaimed themselves Shanks’ Red Army. They live on to this day through either aging hearts and souls or through the fiery young passion of their progeny.
More tradition, then.
We try never to boo our own, though it has been known. The Kop can turn nasty but when it does it hates itself for weeks. We all say things we don’t mean and the Kop is no different but its default position is unconditional love for its own. Families bitch and argue but it’s all predicated on love and some of us need reminding that things said in the heat of the moment can and should always be forgiven as long as there is an apology. The Kop is no different. Life, love, illness, and death exist on the Kop as much as it does in any close family.
But, as fierce as the passion is for the Reds, the tradition is that we are fair too. Sometimes we have been too fair and actively supported the opposition when the Reds have taken the piss out of unfortunates not even half a football team compared to the boys in red. Big European wins have seen the Kop chant for minnows like Stromsgodset and Oulu Palloseura, but we would never afford the same sympathy to Everton or United. No, we would twist the knife until their hearts bled and their souls crumbled and show them the way to go home.
Traditionally we like and admire our goalkeepers.
We would actually love them and always inspire them to either greatness or comic deeds and that applies to our own as well as the visiting keeper. Before my time Leeds’ Gary Sprake threw the ball in his own net and was instantly serenaded “Careless Hands”, while Joe Hart of Man City and a lesser-known Ian Andrews of Leicester City have defied gravity in front of my very eyes. And that’s a microcosm of flaps and heroics in equal measure across many decades.
There’s one main tradition – my absolute favourite – that is sadly now a little on the wane; the man in their net getting applauded into the Kop goal he has to defend for his life. A task he will tackle in front of baying, formerly swaying masses who will – during the next 45 minutes, normally of the second half as we traditionally attack the “home” end, swap genuine respect for naked passion with a bit of hate thrown into the mix.
All the saving greats have received rapturous welcomes from the Kop; Banks, Shilton, George Wood of Everton, Jennings, Parkes, Corrigan, Seaman, Schmeichel, Cech et al and most touchingly, our own Ray Clemence when he first returned with Spurs the day we would win our 13th league. If this piece restores or at least keep our fans home and abroad aware of this unique piece of Liverpool behaviour so that we can preserve it, then the time taken will have been worth it.
Of course, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is pure tradition, the last record before kick-off just as it was in the sixties when the Kopites took its rising and falling strains to their hearts and demanded its constant return once it had dropped from the hit parade.
It’s played as late as possible these days, displaced by the Premier League fanfare, and no longer precedes the ritual chanting of our players’ names, a habit that has sadly withered on the vine. But this is no lament and the recent return to a consistently noisy, bullish, cocky Anfield is the greatest return to type of all.
Sadly, though in life all is still not well.
Our fires still burn but our guns have fallen silent again as we retreat into our homes and hospices once again locked away by authority. There will be more time for reflection and more time to write and share those reflections. And when we do, we will resume another Liverpool tradition. We will hit back hard; on and off the pitch, inside and away from Anfield, bursting from inside and out our family bubbles and our football bubble.
And we’ll burst out laughing again soon.
Liverpool will always be the City that dared to fight. A tradition that doesn’t need preserving because it’s in our immigrant blood.
About the Author
Mike Nevin is the Director of Lobscouse Media and freelance writer for Anfield Index Pro, The Cricketer, and ATX Reds Press. He is also a contributor at The Liverpool Connection Podcast, based out of Austin, Texas.