Ticket to Nowhere: FSG, the Walkout, and Us
In one of the most surreal moments as a Liverpool fan in recent memory, an estimated 10,000 supporters walked out the ground, the sacred ground at Anfield Road, Liverpool and took a stand against what is seen as unjust business practices by Liverpool’s managing body, Fenway Sports Group. Though I understand and support the action by the fans, it was still a little strange. Like watching your parents split up and act like strangers at a parent-teacher conference, we were all witnessing a physical manifestation of a fractured relationship. As the final whistle sounded, a 2-0 lead had evaporated, along with the atmosphere at the famous stadium. The exiting fans took with them the very heartbeat of a club that has existed for the better part of 120 years, the players felt it, the fans who stayed felt it, and Sunderland felt it. The result is just a symptom of a bigger sickness in the club and the fans are looking for the medicine.
Shrouded in melancholy, I went to to Twitter (always good for a pick-me-up, eh?) to get a pulse for what the fans were thinking, and my emotions shifted wildly from angry, to sadness, to outrage. Fans were understandably upset by the result, by the ticket-fiasco and by the general state of the club, but I saw a few reoccurring sentiments that kept sticking in my brain and that I think showed a general misunderstanding of what exactly is going on, such as….
“You American fans can’t understand…”
First of all, let me get this out of the way. Any true Liverpool fan in America, or New Zealand, or Zimbabwe is going to put the club and the fans first, plain and simple. A lot of us would kill to be within driving distance of Anfield and to be able to attend every game. I know that many of us “foreign” fans, if given the opportunity, would snatch up a season ticket in a heartbeat and because of that have to appreciate the dilemma local fans are put in when the unstoppable force of their love for LFC meet the immovable object of their financial limitations. Its easy to speak in hypotheticals but when you’re forced to chose between tickets to a sporting match and keeping your lights on, the choice becomes easier. With tickets already expensive, the hike in rates was a backbreaker, any family man with a pulse can understand that, no matter what country they live in. With all that said Twitter was an especially dark place after the Sunderland game and any word about the protest from my side of the pond was met generally by something along the lines of “Piss off, you don’t know…. you’re from America…… you love your Yank owners…”. A Liverpool fan is a Liverpool fan no matter where they lay their head and these are the moments we need to stand together. However, not all of my red, white, and blue counterparts were so level-headed, saying things like….
“Look at ticket pricing in the NFL, it’s much more expensive and less games, LFC fans need to just pipe down and accept market rates…”
I saw this sentiment a few times in the Twittersphere and have a few things to say. Firstly, Americans get overcharged for everything. Football tickets, healthcare, college tuition, we pay exorbitant prices for things that cost fractions in other European countries. This is a bad argument in general because no one is trying to compare two different leagues, in two different sports, in two different countries. A better way to look at this would be to compare English football ticket prices to other European countries. A great example is Germany. A very successful and competitive league, German football has an average price of tickets around 25 euros, and have seen widespread protests when clubs threaten to raise the pricing much higher than that. When you magnify it even further and see the widening gap between north and south in the English landscape (a topic for another article), it becomes clear that you can’t charge London-prices in Merseyside. It’s a different fan base and different make up of people. Liverpool is not London, but that’s what makes its so great and something that John Henry seemed to acknowledge when he first took over the club. My how times have changed, but what about the walkout?
“The walkout cost the team 2 pts….”
This first of all is ludicrous on a few different levels. Liverpool should have beaten a poor Sunderland side with no one in the stadium, with six men on the pitch, and one leg tied behind their back. Anybody who watched the game saw it. They were piss-poor in possession and had no business being anywhere in that game. The fans leaving certainly did affect the atmosphere and had this been Man City, I might have conceded this point, but this was a poor side, down by two at home, no excuses. Secondly, I’ve seen people tweeting fan groups like Spion Kop 1906 or Spirit of Shankly and framing eloquent arguments against the protests, such as “Hope you’re happy you twats, cost us 2 pts….”. Now for the sake of the argument, let us say that the walkout did cost our team two points. So what? The league is out of reach and even if it weren’t this protest isn’t about a few league games in 2016, its about what generations of fans will have to pay five, ten, or fifteen years from now. This protest has a long view of history in a club that has been around for generations and that is something that I can really respect and stand behind. Sure 77 pound now, but where does it go from here? Like fans chanted as they walked out of the stadium with that hope in their hearts….Enough is enough.
“It’s pure greed that caused FSG to up the prices…”
I think this complaint is an instinctual one and an understandable one, but its actually contrary to the facts. As “the old Devil himself” Simon Brundish pointed out shortly after the game, the owners have been operating at a loss since they took over the club and have yet to take a dollar out of the profit. We quickly forget how much we, as fans, owe to FSG for saving our club. The have truly rescued a team that was on the edge of the brink and have brought it back to being a respectably run institution. With all that said, the ownership are obviously very good at running a business, but this isn’t any business, this is a football club, in England, and the greatest football club in the world (I’m slightly biased). The fans are literally the lifeblood of the team and part of the “holy trinity” that Bill Shankly always talked about. What FSG did is make a very poor business decision and severely underestimated the strength of Liverpool Football Club’s fan base. They set their budget for the following year and were hellbent on getting the numbers they needed, and admirable ambition for any business. However, many involved closely in negotiations with the fan groups and FSG have told us that the actual difference between raising tickets prices and not, was about 2 million pounds, a laughably small number in the dizzyingly rich world of EPL football. They could have found that money elsewhere and maintained relations with their adoring fan base, yet they chose to jack up prices and are now reaping the consequences.
Now saddled with a poor team and a disgruntled fan base, FSG have a proper mess on their hands. Should they back down or stick by their guns as competent, confident business men? Will they listen to the fan base or keep turning a blind eye to their local base? Only time will tell, but what many short sighted people don’t understand is that when the fan’s groups organized this protest, it wasn’t just with an eye on those Scousers in Merseyside and our beloved Liverpool, but also on the whole of English football. They aim to set a standard for all other fan groups and organisers across the country, and FSG have an opportunity to not only show the fans of LFC but every fan across the English isle that there is another way of doing things, another way to run a club, a way that puts fans first and profits (only slightly) second. Is it a bit idealistic? Perhaps, but isn’t that what Liverpool Football Club is made for? Dreaming?
You have support and heart from this side of the pond, you local Reds. Keep fighting and keep dreaming.