There’s the faithful, the traditionalists, the in-the-knowers, the Fatties, the auld arses, the Urchins, the wools, the Football Managers, the Irregulars, the connoisseurs, purists and the knee-jerkers.
Deep down, they all have one common bond. And that is that they mean well. In their own minds, they want what is best for Liverpool Football Club.
Over the years though, there has been a new group developing. Spreading like bacteria.
The ‘I told you so’ers’, the revellers. The self-righteous and the arrogant.
And - if I’m totally honest - I’d be lying if I said I could never have been accused of falling into that category in the past. I’d say we all have. And don’t get me wrong. There’s a great satisfaction to surveying the scene with the benefit of hindsight and saying, ‘if only you’d listened’. I'm not sure of the psychology behind it, but it is gratifying on some level.
With that said, though, there is a certain grace with which you execute this particular endeavour. And it’s one that most of us learn as a child. ‘Far worse than a bad loser is a bad winner’.
But what does a supporter 'win' by being smug that their pessimistic prophecy came true? Somewhere along the line, the idea of being a football ‘supporter’ has become obscured. The reasons why are complicated – it’s like a jigsaw box tipped out over the floor. From afar, it makes little or no sense at all. Pick up individual pieces, however, and you might encounter the words ‘SKY’, ‘Italia 90’ and ‘safe standing’. Today, not only is the concept of ‘support’ archaic, it’s actively sneered at by certain quarters. Don’t believe me? Check Twitter any time we don’t beat a side 6-0. Maybe these people deserve their own category. The ‘too cool for schoolers’. Individuals who form a sub-sect, appearing apathetic to victories but who crawl out from under their stones when things begin to go wrong, retweeting 132 year old tweets from themselves.
Liverpool fans were often painted as being blindly loyal. I’m not sure how accurate that assessment is anymore or why most of the country ever saw it as an insult. For me, getting behind the team and manager was always part of that very indistinct notion of ‘The Liverpool Way’. Times do change. We don’t need reminding of the fact. The Roy Hodgson ‘era’ for me was summed up by a sole Kopite standing to his feet toward the end of a comfortable 3-0 win over Aston Villa and ironically chanting “there’s only one Roy Hodgson!” Cue schoolchild giggles from those in his vicinity.
I guess one could argue we are still in a hangover period from those rather grim days. But what was the excuse for booing off the side that just went top of the Barclay’s Premier League table in December 2008? Our values have been distorted and have been since the march prior to a Champions League home game versus Porto in November 2007. Back then, all we wanted was the league title. Now all we want is fourth. Fans’ minds have been scrambled by having success they didn’t deserve taken away from them. Anfield is a place where the confused congregate fortnightly, as the woman behind my seat in the ground who, without any hint of irony, will shout “Carroll’s shite!” and “get behind the team!” within thirty seconds of one another will testify.
At Anfield today, there is an unwritten, vaguely telepathic, ranking system. The side always has its Officer Cadets. And if say, for instance, one of these Officer Cadets tries a forty yard pass that surrenders possession, they will usually be met with cries of derision from the stands. If, on the other hand, the same ball had been played by Steven Gerrard, the side’s Class 1 Warrant Officer, he’d be met with a distinctively different response.
To hear the coveted words – “Unlucky lad” – after such a pass is the crowd’s way of letting that player know he is finally making his way up the ranking system. At Liverpool, you either grow thick skin quickly, or you’re best getting on the next train leaving Lime Street.
Stadiums across the country in 2012 are filled with a very different type of person I grew up in awe of. ‘Consumers’ sit and sneer where the working classes once stood and supported. And, as consumers, people have inevitably begun to demand a right to a certain standard on show. A “value table” that weighs up the price of a season ticket against the amount of goals scored and the cost of pies and programmes is now released annually that would have previously not looked out of place as a satirical magazine filler piece in the 80s.
Football is a pantomime. We boo the villains and we cheer the heroes. (And in the case of Charlie Adam, you’ll often hear The Kop screaming ‘He’s behind you!’ too.) But football isn’t theatre. Theatre doesn’t make or break weekends. Football is about passion. So, in this age of Twitter and phone-ins and football forums and whatever else, it is inevitable people will utilise these mediums to vent, spurt and quibble. We live in an information age where every Tom, Dick and Harry not only has their opinion, but also a multitude of mediums available to convey them on.
The only problem is that fan’s opinions and their subsequent arguments are always black or white. Never grey. Which would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that Liverpool Football Club right now are very much in a grey area.
FSG sacked their Class 1 Warrant Officer and hired an Officer Cadet. And over the next three seasons as a minimum, we need to be giving our new recruits the unwavering support usually bestowed only to our selected elite. Other sides worldwide, and indeed domestically, may point to evidence that suggests otherwise, but for us right now we must focus on the old adage that stability is key. We have an impressionable squad with a manager who is focussed on installing adaptable, modern tactics. But the fans need to buy into the philosophy every bit as much as the players.
The fans are Liverpool’s greatest commodity. The benefit of having the fans behind you is proven year-in-year-out. The Officer Cadets among the team are usually awarded four or five days off, when the big teams roll into town, and you can visibly see the lift it gives them. They’ll run that extra ten yards to stop a ball going out of play, they’ll go into tackles with that extra gusto and they’ll give that extra 10%
Next year is another one of transition, whether we like it or not. And there will be moments of frustration as we try to integrate ourselves into a new system with a new style of play. And as of now we’re either in a very unenviable, exposed position, or a hugely exciting, attractive one. It’s what we, as one, make of it.
Come on you Mighty Reds!