Comment of the Month: September 2016

Comment of the Month: September 2016
October 3, 2016 Daniel Rhodes
In Comment of the Month, Free

Selected by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes.

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Graeme Riley on the history and future of football

The future of the game from an economic perspective is certainly an interesting one. For many years (since the game turned professional in the 1870s even) there have been cries that money will ruin the game. With its roots in the working class heartlands of the country, there was a constant supply of willing youngsters who shunned the mines in favour of the short-term security and glory of a life with a professional club. When the maximum wage was lifted in the early 1960s, everyone believed this was the death knell of the game as the salaries would spiral out of control. Similarly, when broadcasting came to the fore in the late 1960s, club chairmen were convinced that this would deter people from attending the matches and so finance would suffer – a common theme in the following 50 years. At one point it was even suggested that attendances would be so drastically impacted that the only way to generate an atmosphere inside the stadium for broadcast games was to pay spectators to attend.

Fortunately none of this has come to pass, but football is, I believe, at a crossroads. In its early days it was a distraction for the overworked labourers and a mere plaything for the local business men who owned the club. With the advent of the information age however, leisure time has increased significantly for all members of society and with more security inside the grounds and all-seater stadia in the UK, it has become increasingly a middle class pastime, with ticket prices beyond the reach of many of its traditional fans. As more money enters the game and is paid out again, either to agents, players or other clubs, the rich become richer.

Or do they? From a purely short term financial markets model they certainly do, but like a drug-addict they are now purely looking for the next fix. Football clubs are comparatively small, with even the behemoths of the Premier League turning over less than an average, city centre located, supermarket. What is the underlying business model to support this? The three sources of income are broadcasting, matchday receipts and merchandising. Matchday revenue is reasonably assured in the medium term, but this is probably a symbiotic relationship with the tv companies, where tv needs the interest in the club internationally to feed the financial needs of the clubs, but the clubs need the local interest to fill the stadia on a regular basis. One without the other is now almost unthinkable and it is this co-dependency that will probably ruin the game in the long run. Can tv continue to pump billions of pounds into the game indefinitely? We have already experienced problems little more than a decade ago with the collapse of the tv deal between the Football League clubs and ITV, Setanta etc. On the other side, will local interest wane as increasing leisure time is focussed on other pursuits instead? With society becoming ever more sedentary in its outlook, will people be bothered to get off their sofas and go to the matches? Or even to the local pub, where a pint can be shared with like-minded fans – only for the pub to close through lack of revenue at other times and consolidation within the brewing industry (John Houlding’s ghost must be smiling down at the irony of this point in particular).

Which leads us to the third leg of the trinity, merchandising. Within the local market, the sales are generated through affiliation with the local club and its success, especially in the national market. Internationally, where the big bucks are still to be mined, the attachment is more fleeting. Leicester’s merchandising revenue in the Far East will probably be akin to a mayfly – blink and you will miss it as they crash out of the Champions League and disappear from the radar altogether. I hope for the Foxes sake that they have not built a business model which relies heavily on marketing worldwide, as their appeal is likely to reach as far as Melton Mowbray in less than a couple of years.

Take away one leg of this trinity and what is left? A very unsteady milking stool with an uncertain future and underperforming cash cow. With no tangible product and a potentially fickle fan base, the whole structure resembles the bubble of the late 20th century immediately before the burst. But rather than this being a global phenomenon, this is a very English affair. Real Madrid, for example, are too big to fail – the Spanish government would not allow this to happen as it represents the country throughout the Spanish speaking world, nicely counterbalanced by Barcelona in the local market. This despite the fact that they continually have financial worries and every few years have to sell another plot of land. In Germany, the business model is much more well thought out, with financial guarantees in place for all the clubs – don’t expect Bayern to implode any time soon. Other countries are either too small to have ballooned in a similar way, or they have felt the first rumblings of what will ultimately happen in the Premier League. Most notable amongst these are Italy, where stadia are rarely filled and international on-field success has largely disappeared, possibly never to return, and Scotland, where the collapse of Rangers has had a direct and inextricable link to the fortunes of Celtic.

So back to England. The glory years of the mid-2000s seem a long distant memory now. Where once we had 2 or 3 Champions League Semi-Finalists every year, we are now lucky to see anyone get to the Quarter Finals. Leeds United are a classic example, successful on the pitch, with little substance off it and a financial collapse as a result. Fortunately for the game in this country, there are plenty of other clubs able and willing to step up and fill the breach.

Have the financial convulsions already started without us being able to sense them? With BT and Sky competing for market share, this may continue for some time, but ultimately one will win out and the price will be driven down again. This is not like the parochial battle between BBC and ITV in the 1980s, this is about big money and will be cut-throat. When this happens, the international markets may well turn their backs on the Premier League. As the other markets develop socially to reach the same standard of living as the western democracies, the interest of the Premier League’s fans in those countries will be teased away as their leisure time becomes focussed on the next big thing, be it a spectator based sport or on-line gaming, or perhaps Pokemon Go. What will be left for the Premier League then? The bloated giants who have gorged themselves at the table of subscription tv will no longer be able to sustain their operations at the same level and the game will resemble a pool full of frenzied piranhas, attacking not the prey but each other.

Liverpool Football Club does things differently. We have been there and got the t-shirt. But we learned to be more prudent. Fortunately, we are Liverpool. Financially, the future is bright, the future is red – and in the black.

CPEdwards on his experience of the new Main Stand:

It had been a fairly cloudy day on Merseyside but the sun was out as kick off approached. Walking up Walton Breck a chunk of the new stand is easily visible above the terraced rooftops and the Twelfth Man. The area behind the new stand isn’t finished, still cordoned off awaiting redevelopment. Stewards were on hand offering to take your picture in front of the stand, the atmosphere was good.

Approaching the new stand the first thing you notice is that it is big, like really big. Clean and modern, but solid, it looks like Anfield should. In front people sat and mingled on the grass amid the newly planted trees while other stood on the terrace overlooking the city as the sun began to dip. The Hillsborough memorial sits beneath the terrace in its new home, surrounded by a small crowd paying their respects.

Entrance to the new stand is via the terrace, the ground floor entrances are for press, directors, catering etc. There is a lift, should the stairs be a problem.

Anyone who frequented the old stand will know it was like a rabbit warren. Narrow, cramped corridors, queues for everything and decent chance of cracking your head on the ceiling in the toilet if you are over 5′ 6″. The new stand is a revelation, open spacious with some nice touches. A couple of black monoliths bearing a silver liverbird great you as you enter, a section of wooden seating from the old stand has been retained and used to make a small seating area. The Paddock Bar appears to be just that, a bar without food and runs much of the length of the stand, flanked on either side by the food and drink outlets.

There were a few glitches, no water in the taps in the toilet, and the food and drink outlets all suffered a power outage for 10 minutes (causing me to have a mild panic attack as the prospect of cold beer before the game looked to be in jeopardy but thankfully normal service was quickly restored). On a side note the guy on the till was obviously struggling a little, I think likely he had Downs syndrome, but someone was supporting him and it was good to see the club giving equal opportunities to all.

The match itself, well you will have seen that for yourself. The atmosphere was pretty much business as usual, a rousing start with the club anthem and then a little flat as games like this tend to be. Leicester ran through the usual repertoire of predictable songs that small clubs always sing (and probably think are really clever) – what kind of fans have songs lined up for when they are losing?

Things picked up after about 33 minutes during a brief break for a Leicester injury, Poetry in Motion broke out and most of the new stand were up and joining in. We were winning, looking good and Anfield was one of the better places to be on a late Saturday afternoon. After that atmosphere was generally better, with the main stand occasionally joining in with the Kop.

As we filed the sun was setting, affording those of a more artistic nature to take pictures of the sun sinking behind the wind turbines on the docks. A bag of chips, rice and curry sauce on the way back to car rounded things off nicely, a good day out.

So is the new stand any good, yes a definite upgrade. Acres more space behind the seating for food and drink (did I mention it even has windows now)? The seating is more generous and the old wooden seats have gone. Those four pillars holding up the old roof (and conspired to make virtually any seat ‘restricted view’) are consigned to history. I was fortunate to be sat on row 12 near the middle of the pitch so had a great view, I’m not sure what it was like in the rafters but I’m on row 87 for the Hull game so I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Was the atmosphere any better, difficult to say. Anfield only really rocks for the best games, like Dortmund last season. The atmosphere is definitely better when the team is playing well, which judging by today’s game should be most of the time!

AnfieldIron on his experience of the famous night against St Etienne

I travelled down early to Liverpool from Huddersfield to watch the St Etienne game.  Along the way I stopped at Burtonwood services, near Warrington, for a cuppa.

At the time, I had an Escort van festooned with Union Jack stickers on the sides and ‘Liverpool’ emblazoned across the front in large white letters.

I’d reversed into the parking space and was sat in the van drinking my tea when two Renaults, decked in green and white drove into the car park and proceeded to park either side of me.  Oh flip, I thought, or something like that, here comes trouble.

How wrong can you be.

That day, I met eight of the nicest blokes you could wish to meet.  Wanting only to know the way to Anfield, they asked if the could follow me.  My original plan was to park at my Mums house in Halewood and go to the match from there. The plan was abandoned.

After an argument between themselves, about who would travel to Anfield in my van, off we went.

We reached Anfield, and because it was early afternoon, we were able to park in the main car park, directly across from the players entrance.

They wanted pictures of me and the van.  They produced from one of their tiny Renaults, the biggest French Flag I’ve ever seen.  So pictures of this huge French Tricolor, draped over and above my little van, were taken.

Whist this was happening, who drove into the car park? None other than Kevin Keegan.  I cannot put into words the excitement this caused  amidst our Gallic friends.  I managed to get a word in with Kevin and explained what was happening.  To his great credit, he spent the next fifteen minutes having his picture taken with each of them individually, with all of them as a group, and with all of them plus me and my van.

After everyone had calmed down, they asked if I would show them around Liverpool town centre and take them to the pub the Beatles used to go to in Matthew St.

How could I refuse.  Much fun was had and much beer was consumed.  It was one of those unplanned moments in life that just happen, and stay with you forever.

The day, however, ended in panic.

Arriving, somewhat unsteadily, back at the ground, horror of horrors, the Kop was closed.


I joined the marauding group of fans desperately trying to get into the ground. I went around to the Kemlyn Road and noticed people walking through the outer gates, passing the stewards by showing their blue match tickets.

Armed with Dutch courage, I folded a big blue fiver in half and walked through the gates. It worked.

At the Turnstiles it was chaos. I was not the only one to have had this idea.

Suddenly, one of the little red doors along the stand opened. Out popped a Scally, “come ‘ead lads”.

Not needing a second invitation, I was in just in time to see Keegan get the first goal.

God knows how may people were in the Kemlyn Road that night. I was sat on the aisle steps when a great big copper asked to see my ticket stub. “Fuck off ” I said, and he did.

The rest is History.

I met up with the lads after the match, waved them off, abandoned the van till the day after and spent the night at my Mums.

What a day! What a night! I still have most of the pictures, but I have all of the memories.

St Etienne or Chelsea?

No Contest.

JoeA likes Klopp’s collegiate leadership style:

The strength of Klopp as leader lies not just in his charisma, but I think his humbleness. He believes in the Collective strength – no arrogance, no egomania, behaving like a dictator, but valuing the people around him.

He has around him, Buvac and Krawietz (and possibly Linders) whom he values and respects. People with licence to give opinions and help shape the decisions made by Klopp.

It is like the old Boot Room again – sharing of ideas, with several pairs of sharp smart eyes reporting back on what they have observed, hatching a plan, finding solutions, and putting in place a consistent philosophy – Klopp charismatic like Shankly? Buvac unassuming, quiet and in the background but highly respected through sheer smart thinking like Paisley? Maybe I’m getting carried away a bit here but my point is that there is a genuine team there and respect as equals.

There is a chance that they can establish something special here at Liverpool, perhaps build a dynasty again

I know very little about Mourinho’s back room staff, but the impression I get is that they are his henchmen, Yes men and Rotweillers, simply there to do as he tells them, listen out and weed out the non-believers to satisfy his paranoia. There is only one way and it’s his way….bye bye Giggsy, you never had a chance there.

This is just my perspective on things but possibly the ‘best’ crop of managers right now I suspect operate in a similar collective model to Klopp i.e Guardiola and Conte.

My impression is that the likes of Wenger and Rafa, whilst not beingtw@ts like Mourinho, operate on a model where there is less collective input.

Bobbypits made this powerful call for supporting the team rather than the individual:

I’ve always been a fan of the team! I’ve always been more of a Lennon & McCartney man than a die hard fan of either individual. I’ve always been more inspired by human’s capacity for working together, for ‘blending’ talents rather than admiring an individual’s ability – especially in a sport like football. Yes players like Ronaldo and Messi are exalted as superior individuals with exquisite talent capable of defying perceived limitations – but both play a team sport. I’ve always warmed to the more unassuming Messi over the brash Ronaldo and not just because he plied his trade at old trafford.

I know everyone has favorite players – it’s a natural and legitimate past time of any football fan which seems to have been exacerbated and indulged by the fetish heavy transfer window. This short termist financial maelstrom is a joy for Real Madrid and its assembled galacticos, an opportunity for both Manc clubs to ‘rattle their jewellery’ and for Russian oiligarchs the world over to play sugar daddy to greedy agents! It promotes the idea that their can be a quick fix and that an individual piece plucked from someone else’s team could be the final piece in our jigsaw.

In an age where greed abounds it is nice to see my club concentrating on a philosophy which has long been instilled in the DNA of the club. To feel a genuine return to the team being regarded über alles is a thing to be enjoyed.

I have never wanted us to go out and spend 100m on a ‘pogba’ especially if we’d sold him a couple of years previous. I’ve always wanted us to look for talent and to nurture it, to give players something bigger to play for than just their pay packet.

Money the world over is one of the biggest examples of confirmation bias – our culture is habitually obsessed with it and a power to purchase is rampant but there are other ways to achieve happiness and yes success!

It is no coincidence that securing the first significantly improves your chances of obtaining the latter. But the challenge is ratifying cost and value in a modern world obsessed with price tags.

People need to feel ‘valued’ and in our modern world there is an unhealthy obsession with the individual. It prevents us from striving for a higher purpose and achieving bigger goals. The team on the other hand properly marshaled and drilled, with reward AND consequence as consistent and timely reminders, can achieve great things!

Playing for the shirt, playing for the fans, playing for the club, playing for the manager – none of these trite sound bites actually get close to the route cause of exceptional performance because in truth it is the sense of playing for ALL of them AND yourself,  all at the same time, with a singularity of purpose, which is powerful.

And this is the role of the manager.

It is his job to create that singularity – the point where everything converges and clarity can be achieved.

Klopp (in my opinion) values this! Everything he says drips with it, his actions resonate with it and his face glows with it. He is consistent, calm and considered. This team is about that narrative – a philosophy, a religion, a way of life. And these were the very reasons that attracted me to the club in the first place – I couldn’t verbalise it at such a tender age but everything this club stands for is built on those principles.

Shankly talked in much the same way. I’m convinced Klopp is the right man for this club there could be no-one better matched to our DNA – this is not an infatuation, nor is it a dalliance this is proper LOVE!

It’s not love built on false tits (Pogba) short skirts (Mourinho) or money to throw about (Man City/Chelsea) this is about that inescapable feeling of home – he gets us!

The team is growing and whilst it might not achieve greatness, watching it come together and perform is a real treat we should be thankful we have the opportunity to witness. So win, lose or draw, as supporters of this great club we have a duty to ourselves and each other to enjoy this, because for the first time in a long time, we can relax as someone is in charge and they clearly have a plan!

Comment of the Month: September 2016 (Vote once)

  • Graeme Riley on the history and future of football (28%, 37 Votes)
  • AnfieldIron on his experience of the famous night against St Etienne (24%, 31 Votes)
  • Bobbypits made this powerful call for supporting the team rather than the individual (22%, 29 Votes)
  • CPEdwards on his experience of the new Main Stand (16%, 21 Votes)
  • JoeA likes Klopp's collegiate leadership style: (9%, 12 Votes)

Total Voters: 130

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