By Paul Hyland (@paulhyland08)
If you’ve visited Liverpool’s online store recently, the club’s latest money-making venture might just have caught your eye. Yes, that’s right – a ‘Collector’s edition’ boxed wooden seat from the old Main Stand can be yours for a handy one-off payment of just £225. You’ve got that lying around, right? Good, because here’s your chance to, and I quote the listing here, ‘make a piece of Anfield history your own.’
Anfield history has never been yours you see, it’s theirs. Never mind that the material value of those old, folding wooden seats is presumably very low. Never mind that, even if the club sells all 12,500 of them, they stand to gain about £2.8 million when principal owner John Henry is worth over six hundred times that. Never mind that you’ve been going to the game for as long as you can remember, adding your unconditional support to the team you care about. If you want your piece of Anfield history, by God you’d better pay for it.
If you’re one of the thousands who’s worked your fingers to the bone year on year to remain part of the self-appointed ‘world’s greatest football family’, as ticket prices have skyrocketed beyond recognition, the actual, sentimental value of your spot in Anfield is astronomically higher than its material value. It’s certainly not a sentimental value shared by hedge fund billionaires from Boston.
I mean, how could they? They weren’t on the Main Stand when Fairclough dragged us into the European Cup semi in ’77. They weren’t screaming ‘Oh you beauty!’ when Gerrard rifled past Olympiakos. Nor were they united in the greatest rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone in living memory when Luis García had everyone packing their bags for a trip to Turkey.
Do you know who was? Yes. It’s the same people who are now being asked to pay through the nose for their rightful share in a living, breathing microcosm of all of those famous Anfield moments.
FSG have been custodians of Liverpool FC for what amounts to a footnote in the almost 125 year history of the club. The spaces where you sat and shared in the club’s highest highs and lowest lows, year on year, belong far more to you than to a group of Bostonian bigwigs 3000 miles away.
But the Massachusetts-based moguls have taken ownership of something that has hardly ever really been theirs. And now they’re selling it back to the ones who always had it. The ones who care about it the most. Sure, the deeds to Anfield may well have John Henry’s name on them. Liverpool could even dub the stadium expansion “The Harley Davidson Stand in association with Ian Ayre” and there isn’t the faintest you or I could do about it.
But belonging is about much more than who pays the bills. A part in the Anfield crowd is not the same as stall seats at whatever West End creation Andrew Lloyd Webber happens to have churned out this time. It’s not a Saturday night reservation at Gordon Ramsay’s. It’s not an overnight stay at the Ritz.
You don’t go to be indulged or entertained. You go because you want to be part of something much greater than you. You go because you want to share your Saturday afternoon with thousands of people who all want the same thing. You go because you want to belong. And as long as you belong to Liverpool, Liverpool belongs to you. Not just to the directors who are only there to sign the cheques.
Yes, I’m borrowing from Bill Shankly. While I’m at it, let me leave you another one of the great man’s famous pronouncements:
‘The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It’s the way I see football. It’s the way I see life.’
As Fenway Sports Group announced this February that seats on the Main Stand would go for up to £77 a pop next season, and this week put the now-defunct ones up for grabs at £200 – no small amount at the best of times – they showed little interest in giving everyone a share of the rewards.
When Anfield was left half-empty as thousands of disgruntled Scousers upped and left, they paid fitting tribute to how Shankly saw football. None of the season ticket holders on the Kop, Centenary or Annie Road would have had to pay £77 for a coveted seat on the Main Stand. Not everyone was driven by pure self-interest. As protests go, it was the mobilisation of a working class union against the dark forces of profiteering. When fundamental tenets of the club’s culture were threatened by its very owners, fans came together to see that everyone got their share.
But now you’re being asked to cough up for your share in something that was always yours. And worse, it pits fan against fan. Most often those with means and those without. And those without have to put up with having their value as a supporter assed by the crust they can earn – both by club officials as well as handfuls of other fans. If you can’t stump up the cash, you’ll have to face abandoning your place in your own community for the sake of the club’s squad-expanding commercial revenues.
On-pitch success at the expense of supporters is not what this club is about, or what it’s for. No football club can celebrate the Scotch socialist’s myriad triumphs atop the gateway to an arena of pure, unchecked capitalism. To do so is at best historically ignorant, and at worst, downright hypocritical.
When 77 minutes appeared on the Anfield scoreboard against Sunderland, a message was sent to the club’s top brass. Liverpool FC is not a mere money-making venture. It’s not a billion-dollar hacky sack to be kicked around by the mega-rich. It has, and always has been, about you. And Messrs. Henry, Werner and Gordon responded, signing off an open letter in your name: ‘Message received.’
And in the same amount of words, I also sign off. ‘Apparently not.’