The Out Of Town Fan

Anybody who has witnessed any of Liverpool Football Club’s recent preseason tours will be well aware of the global reach and appeal of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Fans in the US, the Far East and Australia turn out in their thousands to get a glimpse of the men in red.

These glimpses are not to be had in games of significance but mere pre-season friendlies. The lowest of the low when it comes to competitive edge and will to win. An exercise in exercise and not much more. Yet they turn up in their thousands to shout and sing and cheer for their heroes.

We are regularly informed that the all-conquering behemoth that is the English Premier League is a global brand. Within this global and well supported brand, Liverpool Football Club is arguably the most global and well supported club. A fact that doesn’t seem to have been lost on the current owners and their “commercial partners”.

This global appeal could be considered surprising, no other club is so synonymous with it’s own city as Liverpool. No other club such a physical manifestation of the hopes, dreams and values of the locality it inhibits. It is a club intrinsic to the identity and history of it’s city. The footballing equivalent of The Beatles. Liverpool Football Club is Liverpool.

This affinity and representation is worn – like the Liver bird – as a badge of honour by fans who used to proudly proclaim that just like them, Steven Gerrard was “a scouser born and bred”.

Success has helped build this global appeal of course. The achievements and history of the club speaking for itself; a trophy cabinet laden with shiny representations of domestic and European success, walls adorned with iconic images of the legends that have graced both the Anfield turf and dugout. Let’s be honest with ourselves, who wants to get up at 4am on the other side of the world to support Stoke?

Contrarily – Istanbul aside – recent major success has been lacking. Sure, there’s been cup success in both domestic and UEFA competitions and even a “treble”, but Manchester United fans will gleefully remind you of how long it’s been since Liverpool won the league. None of the trophies have come in a sustained period of success or domination – as displayed by Mourinho’s Chelsea or Ferguson’s United – that would be the usual precursor to a growth in fan base.

Nevertheless, despite this lack of domination the humongous fan base continues to expand unabated, the appeal of the club undeniable. Sucking people in from every corner of the globe and also closer to home, supporters clubs dotting the landscape throughout the UK and Ireland. Cock an ear on matchday and you can’t help but notice the varied accents that surround you. Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Dutch, Spanish, American, Australian, Scandinavian amongst others.

It’s fair to say that some of these non-local accents are held by football tourists, clutching club shop bags full of goodies and taking pictures beside the statue of Bill Shankly. Liverpool Football Club is not alone in this phenomenon. Chelsea versus Manchester United at Stamford Bridge is a sight to behold, lost Arabs and Russians wandering around the stadium, Scandinavians with Manchester United scarves asking which end is for the “home fans”. The dreaded half and half scarf everywhere you turn.

I like to think that somehow it’s different at Anfield. That not all of these accents belong to tourists who just happened to be visiting the city and got a ticket to the match via a business associate. I like to think this because I believe that many – in fact most – of the accents belong to people like me.

People who form an awkward bunch of non “scouser born and bred” supporters.

I wasn’t born in Liverpool and I’ve never lived there. You only need to hear my dulcet tones to know that I am not from Liverpool. Except in footballing terms. When it comes to football I could only be from one place, I’m very much from Liverpool and have been for the past 29 years.

Ignore the magnificent dog and look at that lovely kit!
Ignore the magnificent dog and look at that lovely kit!

My relationship with Liverpool Football Club began aged 5 when I was due to go into hospital to have surgery. My Dad made me an offer, be a brave boy and you can have what ever present you want….

I chose a football kit. A full kit, socks, shorts and shirt. With the naivety of youth I ignored the fact that I didn’t actually support a team yet. My Dad – sensing an opportunity – stated that he would get me an Arsenal kit. He grew up in that area of London and had always supported the club.

No, sorry Dad.. I wasn’t having it. Call it a rebellious streak, call it being a pain in the arse, call it being 5 years old. Whatever you call it, I wasn’t interested.

The next option laid out to me was West Ham. The Boleyn Ground – at 6 miles – was marginally closer to my home than the next nearest ground, White Hart Lane, which was never going to happen. My mum’s family were claret and blue through and through, most still living in the area at the time.

No, sorry Mum. Still not having it. Name me some more teams Dad. Some big teams and what colour kit do they wear? Because I like red.

Being the late 80’s, the teams of the day were very much Nottingham Forest, Manchester United, Everton and the aforementioned Arsenal and Spurs. They all got mentioned along with just about every other team in the First Division. Yet, none of them appealed. None apart from one. There was this one club. A club that played in red. All red. No white shorts here. Red from head to toe. That was the team for me.

Liverpool.

I never looked back.

I became a “Liverpool Supporter” just as Liverpool’s era of domination was beginning to come to an end. I was too young to understand or pay attention to the success, more interested in my nice red kit and my sticker book. Liverpool won the league in ’88 and ’90 but I was fairly oblivious to the whole thing. Who cares about winning football matches? I’m after a sticker of Jan Molby!

I have vague memories of missing out to a Michael Thomas inspired Arsenal in ’89 and very little recollection of the last time Liverpool won the title in ’90. My first real memories of being properly into football occurred (somewhat ironically) after that final triumphant league campaign and – like much of my generation – are from Italia ’90. It was hard not to have gotten swept up in that. My first real understanding of just what was at stake in a game of football. What it meant to win or lose and the heroes and the villains who would play their part.

Which is unfortunate timing I’m sure you’ll agree. Unfortunate because it meant that my first real memory of being a Liverpool supporter, somebody who followed the results and read the match reports, as opposed to just a lad with a kit and a sticker book, was seeing us miss out on the League the following season in ’91. Once again we had finished second and to Arsenal of all clubs!

What had I done? Why didn’t I just go along with my Dad? I’d be loving this. Arsenal have won the league ! Except I wouldn’t be.

The sticker book had actually played it’s part. If it wasn’t John Barnes or Ian Rush lifting that trophy, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t care for Paul Merson and Alan Smith.

My love affair with Liverpool Football Club has continued uninterrupted ever since, temptation never truly appearing to try and lure me elsewhere. Somewhere closer to home….

In my formative years of following football I was the only Liverpool supporter I knew. One of my friends was sort of a Liverpool supporter, but in all honesty he didn’t really count – later deciding to switch allegiances to West Ham when his favourite player, Steve McManaman, left for Real Madrid.

Compared to what had gone before, these were relatively barren years. Sure there was F.A Cup success in ’92 and the League Cup in ’95, but no league titles or European success. I effectively endured this alone. Nobody to share the good times or the bad. Nobody to appreciate my gold kit (remember that one?!) with Fowler printed on the back. Nobody to be the Stan Collymore to my Jamie Redknapp (I endeavoured to be like Jamie in every possible way).

I had a season ticket to Leyton Orient, went to Wembley to watch England (both senior, under 21’s and a schoolboy team containing Michael Owen) as well as the odd trip to Upton Park to see West Ham. So I’d seen plenty of live football, but I’d never been to Anfield and seen the only team that actually mattered to me. I couldn’t afford it and even if I could I had nobody to go with. It wasn’t really until the Houllier era that I even had a group of fellow supporters to watch games with on T.V.

Had I been an Arsenal supporter I’d have been to plenty of games (I know a lot of season ticket holding gooners) and tasted League success. But I wasn’t an Arsenal supporter, never had been, never would be, never will be.

The Benitez era came and things began to change for me. I now had a small group of Liverpool supporting friends and we’d get together to watch every televised game. Supporting Liverpool meant a lot to me, but somehow it began to take on even greater significance when I was doing it as part of a group. I will never forget jumping around like a loon in my mate’s living room on that famous night in 2005. A sense of shared joy that I don’t think I shall ever replicate.

On top of that I found myself with some disposable income and pretty regular access to tickets…. and I didn’t look back. I’ve been lucky enough to see some cracking games at Anfield over the years. Spine tingling European nights. League encounters with Manchester United. I’ve witnessed, Torres, Gerrard and Suarez in their pomp.

Plenty of games. But not enough games. Never enough games. My employment has been a large factor in this as I work a lot of weekends and am simply unable to make it to the game. And then there’s the cost.

When you can’t just hop on the bus, or walk to the ground, not only do you have the cost of a ticket, you have to fund the cost of fuel/train fare and hotel stay. I defy any single lad (which I was at the time) to go to Liverpool for the footy and not go out for a few drinks in the evening. It was a costly affair for somebody in my position then and still is now.

I still live down south (I’ve properly ventured out into Essex now) but my wife is from Cheshire. Over the years that we’ve been together she’s become an ardent fan and my most regular match day companion. She’s a more passionate (but less knowledgeable!) red than I am nowadays! She’d leave me for Lucas without a second thought.

Having a Cheshire base has certainly made attending games more convenient, if not cheaper as I now have to buy two tickets instead of one! It’s a far less stressful experience though as I always have somewhere to stay and the journey to the ground only takes about 40 minutes.

I have my pre-match routine and my favoured parking areas depending on if I’m going back to Cheshire or down South after the game. I’m well versed at attending matches and comfortable in both the city and stadium.

But…… I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel truly comfortable.

Maybe it’s because I’m too self aware? I hear my distinctive cockney accent and think to myself “best keep quiet here”. People are going to notice you and wonder what the hell are you doing here. They know you’re a Londoner and they’ll be thinking that you’ve got no right to shout and sing. Sit down southern lad and keep your mouth shut. Pack yourself off to the club shop with the rest of the tourists.

In reality nobody has ever said anything of the sort to me. I’ve jumped up and down hugging strangers more times than I care to remember. People are always friendly and welcoming. Liverpool (and the north in general) is far friendlier than London, trust me.

So, why do I feel that way? Is it my own prejudices and pre-conceptions? At times I look at some of my fellow supporters and wonder if they truly know anything about the club? If at times I can let my self slip into such thoughts, I’m sure so can others.

Either way, maybe in reality I’m actually the one that needs to stop looking down at the “out of town fan”. I need to accept who they are….. and who I am. Ninety-nine percent of them are no doubt just like me. They’ve had to watch from afar, feeling the same emotions as those in the ground but having nobody to share them with.

Going to Anfield to them isn’t just that thing that they do every other weekend. It’s not a normal occurrence, it’s an event, a privilege. A hefty commitment of time and money. They’ve crossed land, sea and time zones to be there.They shouldn’t be looked down upon because of geography.

I shouldn’t be looked down upon because of geography.

I’ve earnt my stripes. I deserve to be there as much as the next fan, supporting Liverpool is hard for me. It’d be much easier to just have given up and supported Arsenal or West Ham.

I shouldn’t be ashamed to sing the songs I know so well. No worry that my cockney accent will draw disparaging looks. This is my team. My history. My passion.

I’m not from out of town.

I’m from Liverpool.