Football Has Let Us Down

Posted by Garstonite on August 1, 2008, 12:49:23 AM

This is a piece I've had on my computer for a while, but a mixture of Withnail's post in the Off Topic Sensible Discussion Forum and Hinesy's in the Off Pitch one has made me dig it up again...

My brother has been to more games than I could ever wish to and has probably spent more money on the club than he has on the two houses and four cars he’s had in his lifetime. One of my abiding memories I have as a child is him going missing for days, off to follow the Reds through any means he could. When he finished school, he moved out of our house and moved in with a couple of the lads he went to the games with. I always remember my Dad’s reaction when he found out he had sold a chest of drawers that had been in the family for years in order for him to fund a trip to Finland. He may have been old enough to have moved out, but he wasn’t old enough to get a clip round the ear. I’m pretty sure he received another one upon returning when we had lost the game 1-0, as well!

I won’t lie – I was green with envy when he'd tell me tales of him and the lads traveling to some far corner of the earth to see The Mighty Reds. I myself went through a period of not missing a single game over a number of seasons, but I could never match his shoeboxes full of ticket stubs that took pride of place… under his bed. The way he was so carefree about it always makes me smile but it just goes to show that it was merely ‘part of life’ for him.

He married in 1985, but still wouldn’t miss a game. His wife must have been the most understanding of women on the planet, because when we went round to his house, he lived in practical poverty and still he’d be up early on a Saturday morning either down to Anfield for a pint of seven before the game or off to be picked up by a coach to be taken to a ground somewhere in the country.

When he had a kid in 1989 things changed. He still managed to attend an impressive number of games – fortunately, he wasn’t at Hillsborough – but priorities shift in life. As his little lad grew up, he began taking him to the odd game and a picture of the two together on The Kop just after it became all-seated takes pride of place in his front room (don’t worry, I always tell him he is a whopper for taking a camera to the game).
In 1996, my Mother was diagnosed with encephalitis – a disease that, in some cases is known to have just a 30% survival rate. Naturally, priorities shifted once again. Understandably, mine and my brothers’ ‘contact’ with Liverpool Football Club during this period waned. I found out 6 or 7 results at a time as my mind was on more pressing matters. My Mum was treated in hospital for roughly seven months and thankfully survived. Since then, my brother hasn’t been to Liverpool games regularly. He moved out to Southport with his new wife (I knew his ex couldn’t take it much more) and he had another baby, this time a girl who demands more time and attention than any football club ever could!

Before the start of this past season, however, he rang me up one evening. He said he always felt sorry that his lad (now 17/18) hasn’t had the same opportunities of being able to go to Anfield like he did when he was growing up and asked me how he went about getting a ticket these days. I said he would need a fan card and that he might have to be patient on the phone-lines one morning. He agreed, initially saying ‘it’s a good idea being able to phone up’. Any of you who have attempted to attain tickets by this route will know how naïve he was.

So September comes and he rings me again. ‘I couldn’t get through on the phones’ he said, ‘but I managed to get through online after refreshing the page a thousand and one times’. I laugh, but he’s not actually speaking in a jokey manner. ‘There were no tickets in The Kop, so we’re in the Anfield Rd.’ Despite the reputation it has these days, I keep schtum. I figure it’d be funny for him to find out how what was once the ‘cult Kop’ is now a haven for the jester-hat wearing, ‘Easeh’ chanting brigade for himself. He continues, ‘Guess how much it cost?’ Considering I, quite honestly, had never bought tickets online before I take a shot in the dark, ‘Fifty quid?’ ‘Seventy-seven’ comes the reply and you can hear the astonishment in his voice.

He proceeded to tell me how much it would cost if he and his son went to every home game of the season with that cost (and because I’ve forgotten, I’ve had to do it myself now). £1,463. And that doesn’t take into account typical match-day expenses.

There is a part of me that enjoys how I’ve become the bearer of knowledge in our family now in how you attain tickets, but it’s just wrong isn’t it? This is somebody that would – and that covers past and present – do pretty much anything within his limits for this club. This is a man that worked shifts in the local grocers every night of the week just so he could go to the game. This is a man who has past the turnstiles more times than I’ve had hot dinners. Who has been there through the good and bad. More cup finals than some have been full stop. And now he goes to the game as a tourist simply because he’s priced out. And what was the game he managed to see? Liverpool 0-0 Birmingham, sat in a seat in the Anfield Rd end that cuts off The Kop goal.

Don’t get me wrong, you can possess passion while sat a million miles away from Anfield. You can feel so much pleasure sat in the comfort of your own home watching your side play, but… where has the connection gone? When did it become an honour for us to see our players rather than it being an honour for them playing in front of their fans?

The decline of English football is apparent for all to see, and what has it seriously achieved? What good has the money done? The National sides are a million miles away from the perceived ‘potential’ spoken of in the media. It seems the only English players to progress through the academy find themselves in limbo for a number of years before never matching their hype, incapable of breaking into the team because an expensive foreigner the club bought plays in his position. Maybe I’m just an old fart that hasn’t moved with the times, but these are questions that need answering.

Why does it cost £6.50 to sit behind the goal at the San Siro to see AC Milan, £9.50 to see Bayern Munich, but it is £40 minimum to go and watch Chelsea? Funny how both Italy and Germany have reached more finals since the turn of the Millennium than England have in over 40 years as well isn’t it?

Why do policemen and firefighters earn roughly £25,500 a year when Wayne Rooney – thicker than a dockers’ butty – earns £1,670 a Premier League MINUTE!! The sad thing is people don’t even bat an eyelid to this anymore. It’s become accepted and whether it’s nancy-boy Ronaldo whoring himself out to Real Madrid for more money or Joey Barton being welcomed out of prison with open arms by his new manager, I don’t know. But I’m quickly falling out of love with the game. This summer - in the break after a season of off-field tussles and political statements being published every second in the media - has just seemed to highlight the negatives so much so that I have to squint to see the positives.

In this current climate, how long will it be before people say enough is enough?

I can’t help but cast an envious eye over to German football. FC Schalke charge under five pounds for their cheapest ticket. Their former manager questioned, “How can we expect unemployed supporters to subsidize high-earning players?” People scowl at the Bundesliga. The Premier League and La Liga are the best leagues, they say. For entertainment, maybe. But what is the use in entertaining us when all we can do is clench our fists in delight in front of a computer screen or television. I declare the Bundesliga the league to watch, because it is one of the few in Europe that is in touch with reality. No Sky Sports, no round the clock news on sweet fuck all and no godforsaken kick-off times. It aims to please its fans. Good, pure, honest football as it should be.

The thing I neglected to mention about that story of my brother buying those tickets was that his lad came back with a beaming smile on his face. Football goes hand-in-hand with passion, but it’s about time we directed that away from the primadonnas and media-driven frenzies that occur with every tabloid article published and attempt to claw back the game so we are no longer pathetic sheep herded in wherever we’re told to.

We must act. Before it is too late.

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