That amazing, romantic Road to Kiev signalled not just the Reds’ restoration as one of THE biggest names in European football, but a bona fide return to Liverpool viewed as a football club that is followed by fanatical thousands.
Thanks to Mike Nevin for this guest post!
If Allez, Allez, Allez was the jauntiest of musical backdrops, the accompanying imagery was of young Liverpool faces everywhere. Whether dancing in fountains, scaling trees or gathering en masse in squares and parks, gangs of lads – and girls – were suddenly back on the scene.
Where for the last few years they existed only in pockets, in Rome and Kiev they began to outnumber the European away regulars. There’s a Reds banner that reads “Same old faces, different places” in acknowledgement of those who have travelled everywhere with Liverpool, but from March onwards there was a tangibly different vibe to following the team away, especially abroad but at home too.
At Anfield – particularly for League games – the average age of the crowd is still a problem; one to which the club pay lip service but an issue which isn’t going away soon unless there’s a capacity revolution. Rising prices have acted as a filter over nearly three decades so that only the well-heeled; those with disposable income can afford season tickets or memberships that give access to watching an Anfield season live. A declining atmosphere, and sometimes the angst of a fretful crowd only compounded the drift away of any remaining vestige of Anfield youth.
Away from the ground though, it is different. Young fans can’t turn off their love for the club like a tap. Pub gatherings across Merseyside became the only viable alternative – just like those in distant supporters clubs and favourite Red haunts the world over – and they would teem with Liverpudlianism. The real sense of community that once existed on the Kop resurfaced. For some groups, and I’ll use the Brighton Kop as a sole example, nominated venues became a surrogate Anfield where interest, commitment and desire were fostered.
When costs dipped for midweek cup games, when prices finally arrived for the 17-21 age group, or when season tickets were given up by those preferring firesides to cold, edgy North Liverpool at night, the weekend slack was taken up by the otherwise disenfranchised. Visits to Anfield might still have been rare for these kids but it was enough to keep the coals of passion burning.
On Merseyside, despite the dwindling numbers of match-goers in a whole generation, there was a real fightback.
The BossMag fanzine, which in the tradition of the iconic, trailblazing 1980’s zine The End, didn’t actually cover much footy but brought out the anarchic feel of Liverpool’s enduring, evolving youth culture.
Bands were covered, gigs attended, and clobber and haircuts discussed amid the nonsense that separates Liverpool’s alternative humour from the rest. How else can you explain an article entitled, “A critical review of me ma’s Chrimbo dinner.” The mag sold at the match, but also in town – from various outlets – to speak for a cohort that wouldn’t be denied a voice, even if it wasn’t being bellowed from steps of The Kop.
These were the same lads who saved their dough to watch the Reds on the road, abetted by the £30 cap on away tickets and affordable travel subsidised by egalitarian by groups like Spirt of Shankly.
The BossMag, with a strong musical zeal, eventually morphed into BossNights, filling old warehouses with a certain flavour and a nod to those who recall acid house movement. The songs, sung by proper, talented musicians were quickly adapted to give the nights a strong Liverpool FC feel.
If you’ve seen the brilliant Jamie Webster, performing in front of thousands in Kiev, or on Youtube from a vigorous bar room, it would be easy to think of him as an overnight sensation. But no, Jamie was one of those Reds who was – to start with – missing out, perhaps disillusioned, turning up at a BossNight to get his Liverpool fix.
Now, happily, there’s hundreds of them bouncing round Europe, filling away ends and feeling at home instead of always looking through window frosted by exclusion.