I wrote this a few years ago. It was intended as part fiction/part reflection on what football means to us all. More so, I guess, what our particular team means. It's part of a fair bit of writing I did back then intended for a book I've never quite managed to get around to finishing. I've sat on it for so long I've almost forgotten about it but in the light of what's been happening and amidst the heightened emotions that are so manifestly evident right now - the seeming watershed of principle our club now seems to be at - it seems quite appropriate and relevant to post it as it paints a backdrop to much of what E2K was driving at in his wonderful post [now in the opinion section of the site]. It provides no answers but may provide further food for thought about the direction we appear as a club to be heading and just how desirable it actually is. Perhaps when it's had a chance to be seen and read by those interested, the mods will put it in the opinion section where hopefully it will complement some of the outstanding posting currently taking place there.
A PILLAR OF THE COMMUNITY
Liverpool, late autumn 1968
It was the one part of his job that really did fill Jack Growney with dread. Standing by his open front door, he glanced anxiously at his watch whilst checking hurriedly that his case had all his paraphernalia. Then, as Mrs Doherty fussed him one final time with her ever-ready clothes brush, his long dark overcoat swept past its fawning assailant and he was gone into the November night that instantly enveloped both him and his dread.
Quickly turning the corner of Hogarth Street, he set down his briefcase for a moment to light up a cigarette, drawing on it as if it were his last. Striding on, he was soon at the front door of the Cotton’s house. He hovered outside for a further moment or two to snatch a few more precious drags, gazing pensively as he did so at the neighbourhood bonfire dominating the bombed wasteland across the street.
From where Jack stood its jagged silhouette of untold pyre and lumber seemed to claw twice as high as the surrounding terraced rooftops that lent it a dramatic moon-sheened backdrop. Jack’s expression betrayed his admiration for the youthful endeavour that had erected it. Tonight however, its ever burgeoning outline could do little to provide him with any comfort.
Nicking his half-smoked cigarette, Jack shrugged and turned to mount the gleaming brass-nosed front step into the Cotton’s vestibule. Breathing in deeply to drum up some extra composure, he twisted the knob of the vestibule door and let himself into the front lobby.
The Cottons were the sort of folk who never had more than two halfpennies to rub together, yet would offer their last one to a complete stranger. Either that or else toss it into the poor box. It was a paradox that defied logical explanation. It was also one whose underlying spirit Jack had grown to cherish over the years. Now, though, more pressing matters demanded his attention.
Re-focussing on the task ahead, Jack raised his eyes heavenwards for some reassurance, before devouring the entire length of the lobby’s runner mat in two strides. He tapped gingerly on the backroom door and proceeded to enter as unceremoniously as any overly apprehensive ten-foot tall missionary of God ever could.
“Evening Father G.”
A wave of what could only be termed collective Scouse melancholy greeted him as he ducked below the door head.
The backroom was dotted with family and neighbours sat cradling their cups of tea and shots of whisky. Familiar faces all. It was a scene reminiscent of the family do’s he’d attended there down the years. The difference this time was the mournfulness etched on those same faces.
For a moment, it crossed Jack’s mind he’d arrived too late, before his better judgement promptly dismissed the notion. Even so, he still felt somehow responsible for the cloying aura and wished dearly he could think of something appropriate to say to alleviate it. Instead all he could muster was his usual display of courteousness to those around him…the dutiful shaking of hands and reciprocal downcast look as he traipsed backwards and forwards across the garish brown lino to lend comfort to some of the older dears present.
Mag Cotton hurried downstairs to greet her parish priest. Her eyes sparkled briefly, finding fleeting relief in his arrival before succumbing once more to the grim reality of what still lay in store.
“Father G ...thanks for coming so soon… would it be alright if some of the family came up for...?…”
Her voice tailed away.
Jack sighed inwardly. Part with empathy for a dear friend; part at this informal confirmation that those final few drags of imbued fortification hadn’t rendered him too late. Yet part also with that unyielding dread that he still had to perform his duties. He hid his emotions, relieved, as it happened, that her faltering approach had at least afforded him the opportunity for a snatch of self-assertion amidst the prevailing despondency.
“Margaret, my dear, the entire street can come upstairs if that’s what you’d like.”
The freshly reassured warmth of her smile, surfacing for a moment above her fear and heartache, tugged at his heartstrings. He swallowed hard and placed a consoling arm around her shoulder, before motioning her to lead the way. They climbed the creaking stairs in tandem to see her Bill. The others followed in respectful silence.
Bill Cotton had never been a big man. Now and again he’d even filled in as an altar boy and been mistaken for the real thing. Tonight he was like a porcelain doll. Perhaps more delicate. The so-called silent killer could not have made more commotion with its latest prey had it proclaimed itself on Pathe News. The poor man was ravaged. Life might indeed be precious but denuded to this form its finality was long overdue.
As Mag knelt down by her husband’s side, she kissed his forehead and took something from under the pillow on which he lay. Turning her head, she addressed Jack.
“Could I ask you something else, Father?”
Sheepishly she beckoned her parish priest nearer so she could whisper in his ear, positioning her right hand upright at the corner of her mouth so as to mask her mutterings from her husband. Jack stooped to reciprocate her discretion, reaching across and clasping her hands firmly between his. Then he nodded and smiled at her, just discernibly enough for her to detect his approval to her request.
Slowly loosing go of her hand, he turned away discreetly to open his briefcase and take out the garments and sacred oils he needed for the ceremony. Kissing the gold and silver laced purple stole, he placed it around the shoulders of his stark black cassock and turned back to commence Bill’s Last Rites.
Mag Cotton, meanwhile, sobbed quietly to herself as she lovingly wrapped Bill’s faded red and white bar scarf around her husband’s turkey neck.
For a good many years I really did believe it was The Beatles that had put Liverpool on the map. Of the many little pearls of wisdom tossed nonchalantly into the Sixties air by my sagacious elders, that achievement of John, Paul, George and Ringo was the one that stuck most firmly in my impressionable young head. Nor is it difficult to understand why.
Fact was the impact of The Beatles was guaranteed to capture any imagination. It was a legacy simply breathtaking in its scope. Incredible, peerless music. A seemingly endless stream of hits. The conquering of popular culture. First Britain. Then Europe. Then America and the rest of the world. And still somehow managing to help out the Merseyside branch of the Ordnance Survey!
Was nothing beyond those fellas?
Above all else – from the confusion caused by a throwaway metaphor right through to its intended realities – I wanted any feat concerning The Beatles to be true. Like every other Liverpudlian, I was immeasurably proud of the Fab Four and what they had achieved. They had been ours, after all. It seemed to follow quite logically that any fame that Liverpool attracted should be down to them. If not them, then who else for God’s sake?
Frankie Vaughan? Billy Fury? Adolf Hitler’s Luftwaffe perhaps?
Of course, in the cold light of day it simply wasn’t the case. None of it. On a worldwide scale, Liverpool had achieved comparable if not greater prominence and notoriety some centuries previously. Long before even Cunard had established its international headquarters at the Pier Head, Liverpool was as notorious a seaport as any around the globe; a mecca for every sailor, salt and seadog known to Neptune. The thing was harbouring countless deckloads of rambling seamen was a sure way of spreading anything you desire. Be it a good name, a bad name or anything else you might care to name. In Liverpool’s case, examples of all three sprang readily to mind.
That dirty robbing no-good Maggie May was not simply the title of a popular shanty. Nor the guide to a good time on Lime Street. Rather she was but one manifestation, one symbol as it were, of the thriving, bustling entity that had become the port of Liverpool; the second city of the Empire and Britain's nautical gateway to the world. Liverpool had looked to the sea. In reciprocation the sea had given Liverpool its unique maritime lifeblood.
Equally – precursing any of the albatrosses that were one day to hang so doggedly around its well-wrung neck – Liverpool had long since achieved global infamy, too. As the European apex of the nefarious Slave Trade Triangle, the name of Liverpool was writ large in the history of the New World. Much of its early wealth and architectural splendour had been built on the riches accruing from that trade.
When you threw in the city’s enterprise as the principal embarkation point for the remorseless European emigration to the United States throughout two centuries, its pivotal role in the 1940’s Battle of the Atlantic and never forgetting, of course, its distorted domestic infamy as the hub of British political militancy, a clear picture emerged. Namely, Liverpool was one place that most certainly did not require its own icon – even one as internationally renowned as The Beatles – in order to alert the world as to its existence. The city – ships, tugs, trackie bottoms, Derek Hatton's great, great grandfather, warts and all – was known just about everywhere.
And yet in actual fact, such monumental achievements were scarcely necessary. For a place-name to become embedded within the geographical cognisance of the population at large did not actually demand any reverberating accomplishment or notoriety. Fact was, in Britain any town or city boasting a namesake football team that, week in week out, was transmitted via one media format or another into the nation’s households had the need for any formal introduction rendered superfluous. Entry into the national consciousness was already assured, be that place Accrington or Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Whether its football team be defunct or the dog’s bollocks.
So whichever way you viewed it – globally or nationally – and no matter how appropriate it may have seemed at the time, the prognosis of those wise old souls from my younger days was in fact miles off beam. Even when it concerned the very place in which they lived, their emphasis on the significance of The Beatles was misplaced.
What was of significance, however, was why the defining of their own home city on the map mattered to any of them in any event. People have to live somewhere, when all’s said and done. Deep down in the murkiest orifices of the human mindset, should anybody really care where that place just so happens to be?
And, if so, then why?
In Invisible Republic, his insight into Bob Dylan’s and The Band’s Basement Tape legacy, the American writer Greil Marcus offers us a vision of America as a single broad community to which all Americans belong; either willingly or otherwise. He views it as a part of the American Dream accessible to any American as well as one to which many of that nation’s romantics allude.
What Marcus infers is that from the inhabitants of every hicktown community to the sophisticates of every neoned metropolis, every American from cradle to grave is fed – and has an inherent right to be fed – with the need to feel American in order simply to exist.
Now this may be a rather crude over-simplification of Marcus’s intricate prognosis. It may be, too, an even cruder over-simplification of what is an overtly complex and highly sophisticated state of existence. After all, we are talking here of two hundred odd million souls – a good many, indeed, exceedingly odd – not to mention countless sub-cultures scattered across zillions of square miles bridging two great oceans and spanning several time-zones. Generalisations, frankly, can be rendered ludicrous; presumptions invalid.
And yet Marcus’s sentiments do capture nicely some essence of what it means to be American. Sure, it may exist merely as an ideal as far as many Americans are concerned. Sure, too, its sense of some universal rootsy American belonging may present a rather bewildering homely paradox to the overwhelming might and potency of the American nation and the sheer lunacy of some of its inhabitants.
Nevertheless, that same elusive homeliness really does give Americans something – however nebulous – on which to focus and aspire towards being a part of. Consciously or otherwise. Indeed, it may even be that the unconscious nature of such focus and aspirations in many cases lends an almost spiritual emphasis to the notion of being American, bequeathing it a panorama that to the outsider can seem both romantic and mystical.
A youthful John Lennon gazing over the stern of the Mersey ferryboat towards this – and his own – land of dreams was surely one such aspirant who felt this surge of wistful attraction to a place to which he had never been other than in such dreams. Of course, whether in John’s particular case, he was merely puking up the remnants of his previous night’s bender we shall probably never know for sure. Likely he never even knew himself.
No matter. Whatever the reality may happen to be, one thing would seem irrefutable. This underlying sense of attachment – this virtual 'mother earth' American identity – is something we British do not appear to possess. There would seem to be no corresponding epic-scale British equivalent to that broad American community.
Sure, we have those British who are patriotic. Some jingoistically so. The repeated cycles of brouhaha over whatever happens to rank as our latest fleeting glimmer of Bitish triumphalism be it a Golden Jubilee or Jonny Wilkinson’s golden boot more than reinforce the existence of that particular characteristic. We also have the whole Celtic thing with its heartfelt yearnings that on occasions can approach almost a sense of desperation. And, of course, we have some regions with identities as strong as the national one; possibly stronger. The Geordie; the Liverpudlian most certainly.
Yet such identities – whether parochial, heartfelt, jingoistic or just plain conventionally patriotic – lack the sheer depth and scale of their American counterpart. They can find no real parallel with that all-embracing homespun American ethos that Greil Marcus finds so fundamental to – and so conspicuous within – his countryfolk’s Americandom.
Yet, as if to balance it all, we British do still happen to possess something of our own – with, indeed, a rootsiness all of its own – to which we can cling. Something of which we all can be a part that is perhaps intrinsically more substantial than ourselves.
For over a hundred years in this country, football clubs have provided huge swathes of the British people with a connection. Demonstrably, such connections may be nowhere near on the same cinematic scale as in actually belonging to America. Certainly, too, they lack the corresponding dramatic impact to compare – although it might be interesting all the same to have seen just how your average American would have coped with the tension of a penalty shoot-out featuring Chris Waddle. But let us not be churlish here. Chris Waddle, after all, has always been a British problem.
The bottom line is, of course, not even the most demure follower of, shall we say, Watford AFC can ever possess quite the same dramatic aura or street credibility cool as a denizen of the Bronx or some aspiring mid-western James Dean in blue jeans and white T-shirt. Regardless of however many times Elton John sprouts a fresh head of hair that Watford supporter will simply never be able to pull it off. The same – we would hope – goes for the hair.
And yet, emerging from out of it all, there is still that sense of attachment. And it is an acute and significant attachment. Perhaps, some might even submit, vital. Indeed, in a country that in recent decades has seen any sense of the real community it developed throughout the first seventy odd years of the previous century being eroded year by year, a connection of such unifying emotional intensity might well be far more significant than anybody cares to recognize. Or concede. When all is said and done that inherent human craving for attachment is not just confined to the bloody Yanks. Nor, for that matter, Elton John’s follicles.
A simple phrase perhaps?
“See d' match, la?…”
On the face of it a seemingly innocuous truncated utterance round these parts. Merely a straightforward enquiry from one person to another. Hardly meriting a second thought let alone any scrutinising. And yet beneath the superficial ordinariness of the words are there not, for better or worse, oceanic depths of our modern age embedded therein? Is it not a question that actually embodies a cavalcade of shared knowledge and understanding? A definitive and defining mutual experience, in fact.
Whether we are ensconced by it or not – and, via family, friends, work colleagues or media intrusion, these days very few from any class or denomination remain totally unscathed by its ramifications – this very basic communication opens the door to a huge yet under-acknowledged cornerstone of our modern folk culture. Indeed, since it first entered our lives scarcely more than 200 million years ago the simple game of football has managed to carve out what has become a pivotal niche within our common existence throughout the length and breadth of these islands. Well okay then certainly down the bottom end of our street, where there’s been a goal painted on the O’Neill’s gable wall since before Roman times.
Of course, the particular identity and spirit of our football teams and our attachments thereto varies considerably. At opposite poles, the feted glamour of your Manchester Uniteds and Liverpools lies a million miles away from that of your Rochdales and Tranmeres. In perception; if not in actual crows flying. Yet each, no matter how big or small, retains an identity and integrity of its own, affording each a uniqueness so cherished individually yet so vital collectively to our everyday British existence.
In recent years, as monetary considerations have come to envelop almost all others in how the professional game is run – and, indeed, how most of us view it – perspectives have altered dramatically.
More than ever before we are witnessing the accentuation of a culture of haves and have-nots; the front-runners and the also-rans. Just as crucially we are also seeing more than ever before the unprecedented exaltation of those same haves and the virtual denigration of the have-nots.
Whilst there has always been a natural tiering – clearly not everyone can be at the top – the starkness of today’s distinct streaming has unleashed a divisiveness that few could surely ever regard as desirable. Unless you are at or near to the pinnacle of this new footballing pyramid, you no longer seem to count.
Starkly, it is one of those Americanisms that do not fit well within a British context. And let’s not forget, even in the United States such jungle law has begun to be challenged. As for here? Well, it is simply not cricket. And nor will it ever be. Certainly not as long as the ball we use continues to be the size of Joe Royle’s head and with Freddie Trueman now gone to those Pontefract Brylcreem trials in the sky.
Yet, increasingly – and worryingly – it is no longer deemed sufficient just to be part of the overall equation; merely to be taking part in the game. Nowadays, the hierarchies of certain clubs crave a clear and defined distinction from lesser mortals in preference to their being viewed as just another part of the same broad entity of football. They appear to lose sight of the fact that, at heart, that is what they are. In fact, that is all they are. One part of that very same entity. Quite simply they are football teams; the same ones they have always been ever since their humble beginnings. Ones that just so happened to become a bit more successful; a bit bigger than others. Perhaps, in the case of some, a bit bigger than their boots.
Rochdale may well be crawling around in the undergrowth and Manchester United flying higher than Ronnie Wood after a crate of Red Bull. The fact is both are still, at heart, just footy teams. To a Rochdale fan, Rochdale will forever be just as vital as Manchester United to a United fan. And vice versa. We should never lose sight of that. Even after a night on the Red Bull.
If, at times, it seems as if Manchester United – or for that matter any other of those higher echelon clubs – have some underlying agenda to set themselves apart from all the rest, then that is their problem. The reality is they never will. They cannot.
Despite the elitist climate, the entire thing remains balanced. More unevenly balanced than ever before, perhaps. Yet balanced nonetheless. Any attempt to exist outside of that equilibrium would be to challenge the very ethos of the game itself. For Manchester United to completely isolate themselves from the very thing that begat them, is linked inextricably to them and, ultimately, remains the entity that sustains them, can serve no useful purpose. Well, apart from the obvious humanitarian service to mankind, of course.
Perhaps more insidious than even the ever-widening polarisation of the football clubs themselves is the growing trend of extreme selectivity that would seem to be leaching its way down into the bedrock of football support.
In some quarters it is becoming more evident than ever before that the sole criterion for supporting a club has transpired to be the coveting of its honours board. Nor are we simply talking of those fetching solid mahogany ones with the gilded lettering. That, of course – in a quaint model railway enthusiast sort of way – would be alarming enough in itself. The fact is, though, many fans today really are lured solely by the glamour attached to a club’s current or potential roll call of honours.
It is a by-product of the tiering process that would seem to bode more ominously for football’s long-term well being than any corresponding streaming of the football clubs. When all is said and done, a club without top-flight status is still a football club. On the other hand, one without fans – its veritable lifeblood – would cease to be a football club at all.
It is to be hoped then that such elitism proves to be but a passing trait. One that, in the course of time, will right itself naturally. Mercifully, as we on Merseyside know only too well from our own experiences during the seventies and eighties, once in a while the process of natural adjustment does turn out some wondrous interventions. Forinstance, who back then would have believed an entire bank of 28,000 curly perms could have disappeared almost overnight? An event almost akin to the demise of the dinosaurs. So, who knows, football’s newly found elitism and its accompanying complacency may find they actually have less of a shelf life than might first have been thought. Let’s face it, if a coiffeur of the magnitude of Terry McDermott’s never made it into the new Millennium, then anything’s possible.
Of course, as far as the genuine supporters of any club are concerned, in the overall scheme of real fandom things such as fancy honours boards, whilst proudly proclaimed, are actually trifling matters. The allegiance of the genuine supporter is not determined by the pre-requisite of glory or glamour. To the genuine supporter what is crucial is that underlying sense of identification each retains with his or her team. Poor deluded fools such people may be. At least, however, they are genuine poor deluded fools.
To them, in the ultimate analysis, the degree of glory or glamour that may be attached to their clubs simply has to become incidental. However else could they be expected to retain their insanity? Sure, a glory ride is a more than welcome addition, but never is it really at the core of things. The identification and core attachment will always exist outside of any glory.
The problem is that in recent years much of what qualifies as genuine support has become obscured. Bandwagoning is now endemic. And this flies directly in the face of what constitutes that genuine support. The composition of the active fan-base of attractive clubs like Manchester United or Liverpool has found itself radically transformed. A full-house at Old Trafford or Anfield in 2003 is an entirely different proposition to one just fifteen or so years earlier. So, too, the composition and extent of the armchair entourages of those same clubs. So, too, the armchairs themselves.
Indeed, yet another of football’s paradoxes may be said to exist here. If the reason for the initial attraction to a club is the success of that club, then in some instances it can be argued that it is not the actual club itself but rather its success that such fans support. Without that success the bond may never have been forged.
As if in mitigation for this, some of those living remote from any established football club understandably contest that there simply has to be a catalyst of some sort for their initial attraction to a particular club. If that trigger happens to be from, say, exposure to a club’s televised success, then so what? Some, more stridently, point to familial origins as the catalyst. Others, in increasing desperation, justify their attachment virtue of the most tenuous of estranged links. A distant cousin is a distant cousin, after all. No matter where they may happen to reside or however much of a pain in the butt they may happen to be.
Whatever the actualities may be, sensitivities certainly run high amongst fans on these issues. Understandably so. They have become the most delicate of areas for any close scrutiny. And when all is said and done, how many of us honestly enjoy having our delicate areas scrutinised?
‘Identity crisis’ may well be too dramatic a term to capture what is happening here. Nevertheless, the coining by football fans themselves of such mutually derogatory terms as ‘gloryhunter’, ‘tourist’, ‘day-tripper’, ‘woolyback’, ‘out-of-towner’ and ‘superfan’ suggests that in the wake of these current trends not all in the garden of football support is quite as rosy as the new-wave gloss would have us believe.
In the ultimate analysis, there can be no definitive answer to the conundrums posed. Each individual fan/club relationship stands or falls on the genuineness or otherwise of its own attachment. Only the individuals themselves can know deep down the real extent of their devotion and how it will stand up to that close scrutiny.
Nonetheless, whatever such self-analysis may reveal what does become incontrovertibly clear is that the fickle age of the clubhopper is most certainly upon us. The flat cap, rather sadly, is no more. Except, of course, in Ashton-in-Makerfield and some of those more remote parts of Wigan that were known only to Fred Dibnah and his steamroller.
Meanwhile, in the broader sphere of global football club support, the incidence and pull of name or brand attachment has become even more endemic. In Far East countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and now even China the absence of established football clubs of any renown brings this whole issue of conscious selection of the most popular European and – more pertinently – British clubs into acute focus.
Followers of football in such faraway places are faced with limited choice. Their loyalties, in the first instance at least, can only ever be based on superficial attraction to whatever it is they have been presented with. Those once traditional dishes of the Orient now come resplendent in contrasting Premiership colours.
What it all means is that the vast bulk of those current legions from the Far East who have bought into the respective Liverpool/ Manchester United deals being touted across the globe are an entirely different breed from the more traditional fan. They can never really be the same as those core Liverpool and Manchester United fans whose loyalties have been passed on from one generation to another.
That is not to decry those from such faraway places. Nor, conversely, is it to extol the virtues of their Lancastrian cousins. Those oriental folk are, of course, free to be attracted to whomever or whatever it is they choose. And the best of British to them all. Their enthusiasm for and allegiance to their selected team will no doubt be as heartfelt as it can possibly be given the circumstances of such remoteness.
In the final analysis, however, it is in most instances a commercially induced attraction. As such it must remain doubtful whether it could ever be as intense – and certainly not as natural – as that more instinctive devotion that would tend to evolve within the same folk in favour of, say, an equivalent Thai team or Thai players that were to emulate the repute and glamour of their European counterparts. Only then could a true analogy exist. Only then would we have a true Thai dish to set before the King…of er… Thailand, presumably. Yul Brynner anyone?
In the meantime, it may well be that those original Liverpool or Manchester United fans are actually more akin to each other than we think. At heart, each may have more in common with their counterparts at the opposite end of the East Lancs Road than with their newly found country cousins from the Far East – no matter how exactly their shirts may match those of their new Oriental kinfolk.
Respective rival red throats may well continue to be mutually throttled – metaphorically speaking or otherwise. Likewise, red identities can never be shared. Yet the principles underpinning the loyalties and ties of both Lancastrian allegiances – their crucial steeping in the base doctrines of the game – most certainly are.
They are principles that require some digesting. Moreover, they are principles that remain just as vital, if not quite as widespread or overtly evident, as ever.
They are, perhaps, thrown into sharpest focus at the time of giant-killing cup runs of lowly teams. At such times the entire identity concept runs amok. It is here, perhaps, we find the closest link to that ‘down-home wholesomeness’ of the American ethos we spoke of earlier.
When the Yeovils or Crook Towns of this world embark on such romantic journeys they are accompanied physically by huge chunks of the local population; spiritually and emotionally by the entire town. True, there is a bandwagon effect at work. It is of a different sort, however. It is one characterised by an awakening of latent loyalties that run deep within communities. It appears to be at once both compulsive and intoxicating to the populace at large and would seem to be an overt symbol of the strength of this identity phenomenon.
Indeed, who is to deny the very real possibility of it dating back even to ancient times? To man’s earliest clan gatherings. Cave against cave. One settlement against another. True the base feelings of community and identity engendered back then may have been a mite less inviting due to their rather more violent overtones. After all, if it were to come down to a choice between a whack across the back of the head from a stone club or being called a Scouse wanker by some spotty Cockney wannabe it is inarguable which option most would plump for. Nevertheless, the point is the broad context is much the same. The tribal connotations and connections appear to follow similar routes.
It is such almost irresistible compunction to be attached to a team and its heroes that constitutes perhaps the base human ingredient of supporting a football team. That and a deep-seated tendency towards masochism, of course.
At heart, too, it is what the football clubs and those heroes themselves are – or should be – all about. It is what embodies their underlying function within the place and community in which they are located. Any glamour and glitz are merely the trappings, the proverbial icing on the cake. The fact they exist at all – and most crucially where they exist – is the cake itself. Whilst room will always exist for those more remote yet genuine attachments to flourish, the fact that they sit most comfortably, most naturally, within their own homespun environment is undeniable.
In today’s prevailing isolationist humdrum, so characterised by the insatiable thirst for instant gratification, such three-way attachments can often seem to be as near as we ever get to those far off primeval urges to belong. In some ways it is our peculiar – though far from exclusive – British brand of that broader American community ideal.
At those times and in those places it manifests itself particularly strongly this attachment can be, at once, a rather curious and beguilingly affecting phenomenon, straddling both past and present. One would hope, too, the future. On occasions the crucial roles fulfilled can seem almost humbling.
Nowhere is that more the case than in the birthplace of Liverpool Football Club. Perhaps nowhere is the bond and commitment between fan, hero and club more intuitively understood.