The irony of rewarding loyalty in modern football

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By @Greg_Dillon

The irony of rewarding loyalty in modern football

Being a sports fan is a curious thing. As is being a sports brand. Depending on who you are and how you were brought up you may be a die hard football (soccer) fan that lives and breathes his/her team’s successes and failures or a casual tennis watcher with no particular allegiance.

With this in mind I might as well out myself now as one of the most passionate football fans around, I feel my team’s every kick, cheer every goal and mourn every loss. I have supported my team since I was four years old and have worn the team’s shirt on match days for as long as I can remember.

My team is Liverpool FC.

We football fans are used to players signing, living up to expectations, or failing dismally, then seeing the lure of pastures new with the renewed millions of £, $ or € that more will command, rarely thinking about the fans they leave behind.

Rare is it to witness ‘one club players’ nowadays, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Ledley King are probably the best examples of players who have stayed loyal.

But what about when the boot is on the other foot? The fans.

We stay loyal.
We cheer the team on.
We sing the team’s anthem.
We wear the endlessly renewed team shirts, jerseys and jackets.
We stand tall and think to next season.
Rarely given a second thought apart from the odd ‘ticket prices frozen’ email.
This season though, that has all changed.

Whilst Liverpool has not been getting too much success on the field in the last eight years, we have been picking up awards all over the place for our fan engagement and how the club, and by definition the brand, champions the fans and makes them the cornerstone of everything they do.

For example, they now have 13 international Twitter accounts, most written in the local language, in order to engage with fans in their mother tongue and to show that their voice and their narrative is as important as the Club’s English.

I was extremely fortunate to be chosen to represent my branch of the international supporters club in a fans 5-a-side game at Anfield recently, the team’s home ground in a humble demonstration of rewarding loyalty to the club.

That may not mean much to the non-die hard amongst you but believe me this is the pinnacle of what it means to be a fan.

Let me explain.

This event has never been done before by Liverpool, or any of the top clubs in England. Newcastle did a version of it last season but you had to pay to be involved, making it a commercial activity instead of a rewarding activity.

The Liverpool Way is a little different, they didn’t charge the fans, and even had giveaways for all

Liverpool decided that eight fans and twenty supporters of 24 global LFC supporters clubs should be invited to take part in a football tournament at Anfield. As part of the event each player was taken on a never-before-seen tour of the team’s training facilities, given fascinating insight into the running of the club and then allowed to make our lifelong dreams come true by playing on the turf our heroes do and taking penalties in front of The Kop, the most famous stand in world football.

If this seems like a small gesture, consider this: roughly 672 people from 24 nations got to experience this event. Imagine all the images and fan love that will have been tweeted, blogged about and talked about countless times over.

Something that struck me as I looked around the players’ changing rooms and the training facilities was how much emphasis there is on the fans being the cornerstone of the club. Sure there were large visuals of the players in iconic match-changing stances or mid-kick but there were framed quotes about how immense the atmosphere in the stadium is. It felt as if the club was deliberately trying to ground these millionaire elite athletes by reminding them why they are there and who pays their wages. A nice touch that did not go amiss.

This is brand publicity and positive mention that money can’t buy, even if given away free.

Making the dreams of fans come true is a small price to pay in order to repay a lifetime of dedicated attendance, signing and shirt buying.

This meant more to me, and to the other seven members of the LFCNY team that I was on, than if they had given me a free shirt, or free signed photo of the players, or discounts in the store. This was, as our captain said before the game, a once in a lifetime opportunity to feel like players and score like players in the place that many of us consider our spiritual home.

As the Liverpool FC anthem goes; You’ll Never Walk Alone. Thank you Liverpool FC, thank you rewarding loyalty, for showing that you care and for putting on a day that none of us will forget (although there will be a few misses we will try to forget I’m sure).

ps. My branch of the Official Liverpool Supporters Club won the tournament by the way.

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