For decades Anfield has been synonymous with flags, colour and song. The Kop in full cry is probably the most marketable image for the club as it advertises the passion and uniqueness of the Liverpool support. Everyone has their own favourite flag, be it ‘JOEY ATE THE FROGS LEGS etc.,’ the more recent and classical ‘WINE FOR MY MEN, WE RIDE AT DAWN’ or the downright surreal, and my personal favourite, ‘THIS IS A SHEET’. No clubs do fans quite like Liverpool.
It came as a surprise then that in the run up to the West Ham game the club announced plans for all flag bearers on the Kop to show some level of accreditation – something the club has not done since the first flags appeared on the terrace.
The reasons for this are still unknown as the club has yet to confirm just why they’ve changed a workable policy. The media have all but announced that it’s the result of an incident between a Liverpool supporter in the disabled section and Jonathan Poulter – a 20 year old Liverpool supporter from Anfield. The allegation is that a dispute arose over a flag said to be blocking the view of a disabled supporter, and Mr Poulter is alleged to have been abusive. The Liverpool FC Disabled Supporters’ Association made the initial complaint to the club, who forwarded the matter to the police. Mr Poulter has denied the subsequent charge and the matter is set for trial in November.
So, how does this incident affect those who fly banners on the Kop?
As yet no one is really sure, although the press seem adamant that the Palace game was a factor. The official Premier League guidelines for Liverpool (they differ for every club given the stand layout, attendance etc.) are as follows.
Flags and banners must be non-offensive. They are permitted if they have a current fire certificate. Flagpoles are not permitted. Larger flags must be stored prior to kick-off. Stewards will check all flags and banners on entry. Contact the Supporter Liaison Officer on [email protected] for further information or to discuss permission for larger flags.
Spion Kop 1906 – the group who organise the larger flags in the ground – comply with all these regulations and yet the club wants to exercise further control. One argument has somehow led to the inconvenience of many others. Clearly something happened at the Crystal Palace game which led to the incident. Today, Spion Kop revealed the problems of set up on their website.
“The display for the Crystal Palace game was for Gerrard’s last game. The club contacted us and we worked together to create a mosaic and flag display for the game. Unfortunately, this was not properly communicated to the ground staff and is where we believe problems may have begun. We were at the ground from 8am the morning of the game and were fully cooperative with the stewards. However, unknown to us, the stewards who work during the game had not been made aware of the mosaic and how it would affect other supporters, including the disabled supporters. We worked with the staff in the ground so all fans could enjoy the experience and came to a compromise to suit all involved. We believe this issue has come about after the failings of the club to communicate the plans before the game to those who had working responsibilities on the day.”
If there’s been a misunderstanding between the stewards and the club, isn’t it best to simply work together and improve the lines of communication rather than issuing blanket draconian measures? After all, we all want a vibrant Kop to inspire the lads on the pitch, but the club seem keen to formalise that spirit with the inclusion of a form of accreditation.
As yet, they have been hazy on the details of what this actually entails. Would it mean that members of the group wear lanyards? Steward-like tabards? No one is really sure, but even if such a decision was made it comes with its own set of problems. Firstly, there is no membership as such. Spion Kop 1906 is run by a dissolute group of Liverpool fans. There are no meetings to decide who does what. There is no inter-group accreditation. These aren’t card carrying official flag wavers. If you turn up and can help, you’re in. This isn’t like organising D-Day. In fact, Spion Kop 1906 regularly takes to Twitter to ask for help from anyone and everyone.
We’ll be back at the front of The Kop on Monday night. Any help is, as always, much appreciated. Up The Reds.
— Spion Kop 1906 (@SpionKop1906) August 15, 2015
How do the club hope to police that and, furthermore, why would they need to?
Also, what happens if the court acquit Mr Poulter? Are the club still going to ask for all flag bearers to appear on a checklist? The stewards already know the main people who have been putting the flags and banners and storing them as per the regulations and have done for years. What would such an order serve?
Furthermore, would the existence of a lanyard prevent the alleged Crystal Palace incident? ‘These things happen’ may sound rather glib, but…well, they do. A lanyard may make people more identifiable but so does CCTV and there’s plenty of that in the ground and there have been no recorded incidents of any wrong doing from those responsible for the flags.
It would be a sorry state of affairs if the fans decided that in an age of extortionate ticket prices and already dwindling atmosphere, that this is a step too far and decide not to jump through an additional hoop for the right of supporting their club. It’s just a further element of control that we can all do without and although nobody wants to see situations like these, it has little to do with the people who have carried flags for years without incident. Let’s hope that common sense prevails and we can all get back to vociferously supporting the players rather than add a ludicrous and unwarranted administrative process.