Michael Mongie discusses the stigma against tourists going to football games in the UK and dispels the myth that locals have a greater affinity for the game.
I’ve heard people compare their first match-day to the day that they lost their virginity and while I can’t confirm this belief I totally understand. When I went to Anfield for the first time it was something I could never have quite appreciated how special the occasion is.
My first view of the legendary stadium was like something out of a picture-book. We had pulled into one of the most full parking lots in the world and I immediately jumped out of the car and into a muddy puddle. I barely noticed. While all I could see was the new truss atop the stadium in preparation for the expansion I knew it was immense.
Typical of the weather in Liverpool it was dark and gloomy with clouds that looked set to drench us all. Yet, nothing had ever seemed as bright in my short existence. With Stanley Park on my right and Anfield before me, my soaked shoes were irrelevant. With my mother’s warning that I needed shoes that wouldn’t cave at the slightest hint of moisture a distant memory, I headed towards the stadium I had yearned to visit for the better part of a decade.
When I was there the Shankly Gates had been removed and the Hillsborough memorial relocated temporarily in order for work to be done towards the stadium expansion. We went and paid our respects at the temporary location of the memorial and it was in that moment I was formally inducted into what can be referred to as the Liverpool family.
It is difficult to stand in front of a plaque with the names of 96 people who went to a football game and never returned without shedding a tear. I stood there embroiled by emotion as the injustice of the Hillsborough disaster washed over me. There is a common misconception that what sets Liverpool apart is the disaster that robbed the club of nearly 100 unique supporters. What really sets Liverpool apart from any other club is the manner in which the club fought for the last 27 years to achieve justice.
I walked away from the memorial with a sense that if Liverpool lost that day I had accomplished something far more significant than the three points at stake. Even if the lads were playing league leaders, Leicester City.
When I reached the top of the stairs leading me out into Anfield my first thought was: I’m home. The stadium was far from full but I could already feel the atmosphere that Anfield is renowned for.
When it neared kickoff and the ground was nearly full the singing and chanting began in earnest. I believe there is a stigma against tourists attending live football matches with the belief that the less local supporters there are the less people there will be to add to the atmosphere.
As far as I am concerned, I’m not sure this is true. It was my first day attending a game and I knew the word to every single song or chant and I probably sang louder than any person in the stadium. As it was my first game at Anfield, and I knew I wouldn’t be coming back for awhile, I relished every minute – apart from Christian Benteke’s late sitter.
I think the reason Anfield’s much touted atmosphere is not at the peaks that it is famous for may be due to a lack of appreciation for what it means to be able to watch Liverpool week in and week out. Supporters, who only have the opportunity to see Liverpool every few years have a far more intense appreciation for what it means to go down to Anfield and watch the games.
It’s not a case of a lack of appreciation, but rather a loss thereof. I’m not pointing fingers but it’s high time everyone pitched in. Tourists and locals alike. It also needs to be said that it is somewhat pointless to only go all-out for big occasions like the second leg performances in the Europa League against Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal. It is no wonder we lose to Crystal Palace all the time; their home and away support is superb and ceaselessly so.
If Jürgen Klopp is to be successful he is going to need the Kop behind him 100% just as Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley did. Klopp has succeeded already in partially restoring the swagger and arrogance that comes with playing at Anfield. What needs to happen is for this to be carried into the away games and those which are seemingly unimportant.
If you’re reading this and you live in Liverpool, do it for the fans who can’t go to Anfield for each home game. Do it for those who wish they could stand on the Kop and belt out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Do it to restore the glory days and take England back from the smug Manchester United fans we all despise.
Alex Ferguson once said:
“My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f*cking perch. And you can print that.”
Manchester United are suffering a similar fall from grace. It is time for England’s biggest team to return to where it belongs, the top. Klopp is show all the signs that he can be Bill Shankly’s successor. It’s really just a matter of time before he delivers the goods.
All images – Michael Mongie