I am delighted to announce my fourth book has been picked up by those wonderful people at Pitch Publishing. It is a collaboration with George Scott, one of Bill Shankly’s first signings. The book will be published in Autumn. Watch this space for updates.
Here’s a taster of what the book promises to deliver:
An enthralling tale of triumph in adversity and hope over despair. The story of a poor boy from a fishing village in Aberdeen, who dreamed of playing football and ended up rubbing shoulders with one of British football’s greatest, Bill Shankly. Shankly would assemble a team to rival ‘Busby’s Babes,’ his very own ‘Shankly Boys.’ With Tommy Smith and Chris Lawler already at the club, he would add a raft of young players to the squad, including Gordon Wallace, Bobby Graham and a 15-year-old George Scott – the lost ‘Shankly Boy’.
Here Scott provides a fascinating and unique insight into modern Liverpool’s formative years and Shankly’s Anfield. His is an untold story of a dream crushed and of a career rebuilt in Scottish football and taken to new levels in the South African Premier League. The lost Shankly Boy: George Scott’s Anfield Journey, is a must read for every kid who dreams of football glory. It is a never-say-die tale of passion, commitment and hard work that will be identifiable to anyone who has ever tasted the pain of rejection – only to rise again and grow stronger.
There is only so much you can drink. I had half an hour to kill before going to Davie’s for the match.
The closest place for a hot drink was Sainsbury’s. It was still open and I got a hot chocolate and plonked myself down, the only person in the café. Flipped the Mirror crossword open and tried to do it. No chance. It was just one of those days where I had now failed to get going in all three of them. Or was it that my mind was being distracted by Liverpool – that was my excuse anyway!
The sweet drink went down a treat – I can recommend it.
I contemplated navigating into a proper car-parking slot – you know, between two cars; what do they call it, parallel parking. Well, I’m sorry…
The 2019 General Election result has installed an openly racist, misogynist and homophobic man as Prime Minister. In doing so, it rejected a man of peace and a lifelong anti-racist campaigner for social justice.
The British media and those who refer to themselves as moderates have spent four years undermining Jeremy Corbyn and his manifesto of hope, and in doing so they have paved the way for Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister is a man who lies, while hides from scrutiny and who courts the approval of the far right.
I weep for our public services, for the NHS, schools and fire services. I am terrified of what the future holds for the homeless, the hungry and ethnic minorities in our country. I am also worried about the future of our children.
Scotland has overwhelmingly rejected the Tories. As a Liverpudlian, I have never understood more their yearning for self-determination. My City has also rejected Johnson and his Trump tribute act. Our city on both banks of the Mersey remains deep red.
We are unrepentantly Labour, socialist and proud. Liverpool knows what far right Toryism can do, we understand how free market ideology can hollow out cities and communities, leaving them prey to speculators and spivs.
As I walked my daughter to school and then raced to work, on the morning after the election, I saw stoicism and a gritty determination to carry on all around me. These are my people. I love them, I’m proud of them and I can think of nobody else’s company I’d rather be in, in this darkest of hours.
I saw two women hurrying along the road, herding their kids in front of them, they’re clearly running late but they’re locked in conversation and one of them is discussing the result with her child. I could only snatch a fragment of conversation, as I hurtled past on my own rush to join the daily grind.
“Nothing to do with us,” she is saying. “We didn’t want Brexit…” and then what sounded like “we’re not Boris Johnson…”
Then I’m gone. On my way and lost in thought
She was right, I thought. We’re not Boris Johnson or Thatcher or their ideologies. We’re us. That’s how it’s felt most of my life. It’s almost a source of comfort, in a world gone mad. We can always rely in each other, when the rest of the country is voting to destroy themselves. At least that’s not us we think. We’ve done the right thing.
It’s because we have long memories, I think. We recall how the Tory media manipulated and lied and we don’t listen to their crap anymore. Or maybe there’s just something in the water of this port city and cultural melting pot. Or is it in the make up of our immigrant blood. We’re from everywhere, us.
Our minds are not tied to a tiny, island mentality. We’re not English, we’re Scouse is a contradiction, I think. It sounds isolationist but in essence it is a rejection of that, I think. At least it is for me. To be Scouse is to gaze out across the ocean, to the world and all it has to offer. Not to look inward and be insular. Today that’s what Englad looks like to me. I think it always has.
Sadly many northern working class communities don’t seem to feel the same way. It appears that people whose towns and cities were once decimated by Thatcherism, have decided that Brexit and a retreat inland is a much greater priority than the NHS, medicine, education, housing and the food in their bellies.
Places like Blythe and Bolsover, Workington, Wrexham and Crewe have fallen to the Tories and Labour majorities in the North East and the Midlands crumbled amidst a pro leave wave. People like Ian Lavery barely hung in to their seats.
I may be be able to understand the deep socio-economic forces at play, that have led us to this point. But, I’m struggling to live with the consequences.
In other parts of the country there are pockets of hope. In Manchester, Labour remains strong. But Leigh, the seat of Labour MP Andy Burnham fell.
In London, the working class flew Labour’s flag with pride and in other parts of the South too. However, across England the picture is one I cannot comprehend.
As I woke on Friday 13th, I felt like a stranger in a land I simply cannot fathom. I’m not sure I ever will. I know many fellow Scousers will understand what I mean.
It feels like we are living in a cultural and political oasis, in the middle of a horrible, miserable and increasingly terrifying desert. I have felt this way for decades. However, the last four years gave me hope. Today, that hope has almost broken me.
‘Scouse, not English’ has long been a rallying cry on Merseyside’s terraces, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, often in protest. For many of us struggling to comprehend and contemplate another five years of austerity, that clarion call sounds louder than ever.
Offer me a ballot paper with a box for Liverpool independence now, and I will cross that box without hesitation. Right now I would. As crazy as I know it is – I’d sooner cut my City off from England, forge bonds with Scotland, Ireland, Wales and mainland Europe, than spend another second in this little England.
That’s how I feel now.
I’m ranting. I know I am. Right now ranting seems the only rational thing to do. I want to scream but at the same time I feel like retreating into my shell. I want revolution, then I’m overwhelmed by resignation. It’s fine-lines everywhere.
Somehow, someday, I will find my true north again. I’ll rediscover my internationalism and figure out a way to understand the English working class. However, right now that place seems so remote as to be in another country altogether.
Liam Thorpe, writing in the Liverpool Echo, has called on us not to retreat into our Scouse bubble. He argues that we are an outward looking city. We are.
Liverpool is proudly exceptionalist, but we are not petty or nationalist. I believe that we see ourselves as citizens of the world. A world in one city with an internationalist spirit.
We are also fighters. We don’t stay down, no matter how hard it feels to get up. In the coming years the blows will once more reign down us. We’ve been here before. We survived by believing that unity is strength, not through division and self recrimination.
In another overheard piece of conversation today, I heard someone mention the election. “I’m done with this, ” said a woman at the counter in a coffee shop.
“Nothing we can do. We’ll just have to buckle up and get in with it.”
“This is it. You’re right. Yes.”
Again, stoicism and a refusal to be broken. In the months and years to come, we are going to need that in spades.
That has to be the way forward. As Scousers, we may feel like strangers, in a strange land, but we will have to be the change that we want to see in it, if there is any hope for us and the future.
We will need to respond to those who would divide with a greater commitment to community and solidarity, to hate with hope. And yes, we will need to look after each other like never before. That means supporting our Foodbanks and other charities with even greater vigour and working as one city to help vulnerable communities and the homeless, and being prepared to support our public services.
Liverpool must become a beacon of cooperation and community solidarity and a model for the rest of the country. The next Labour leader must rebuild the party and the movement on these principles and ideas, and not those of the right-wing and their little-England ideology.
If England has any hope of redemption for me, it rests on the unshakeable spirit of the Mersey.
Thirty years ago British football witnessed the worst sporting disaster in its history. On the 15th April 1989, 96 men, women and children died Another victim of the crush in the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium, Tony Bland, a Liverpool supporter who was in the fatal crush, died from injuries he sustained that day, which placed him in a persistent vegetative state, died in 1993. He became the 97th victim of the disaster, but the true toll goes way beyond that.
Survivors of the disaster, the families of those who lost their lives and countless others have suffered three decades of needless torment. Some, were unable to bear the pain, and took their own lives. Meanwhile, energy that should have been spent rebuilding lives was instead devoted to fighting against an establishment that simply wanted to sweep the disaster under the carpet and move on.
Men, women and children carrying the unbearable weight of grief and loss were forced to become campaigners, study legal texts and relive the disaster in minute detail in courtroom after courtroom. It should never have taken two public inquiries, civil and criminal proceedings, two coroners inquests, an independent panel report and over 11,000 days to right the wrong that was done to these people and their community. However, despite all of that, that wrong has still not been put right.
The ‘not guilty’ verdict, delivered in a drab courtroom in the North West of England on the 28th November 2019, meant that the only man to face criminal charges for the deaths of all those people was acquitted. It also meant that families of the deceased and survivors had sat through days of testimony and evidence, much of which dredged up traumatic memories and rehashed long discredited theories and conspiracies, and all for nothing.
The coroners verdict had exonerated the supporters. It had found that David Duckenfield’s decision making and actions on the day directly contributed to the deaths of 96 people. It concluded that those who died – many of whom could have been saved had expert help arrived sooner – were unlawfully killed.
After the verdict in Preston, families are left asking, if Duckenfield is not guilty, just who was it that unlawfully killed our loved ones? The answers to that question will now have to wait. Further proceeding are pending and all of us will have to hold our tongues, something we’ve all dutifully done throughout this whole process.
Not so the internet trolls, however. This verdict has emboldened those who would once again seek to divert culpability to people whose names have long since been cleared – the supporters. As a result, the hurt and the pain is set to continue for people who have committed no crime, and who have behaved with such dignity and strength for so long. It is a national scandal.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, a healthy State would have wrapped its arms around them all. Every service and aid would have been placed at their disposal, justice would have been swift and learning would have been profound.
In a healthy State, the survivors would have been cared for from day one. They would have been offered the comfort and support necessary to rebuild their lives. Today, they and the families would be able to have made sense of the disaster and while they would never forget, they would be able to live in peace – perhaps enjoy life once more. Instead, they fight on, in needless pain and suffering.
Because, Britain is not a healthy State. Instead it is one that is deeply pathological. A healthy state treats all of its citizens equally, from top to bottom all people are equal in the eyes of the law, and institutions are accountable and act in a way that is caring and supportive when they get things wrong. A healthy state is open, transparent and holds its hand up when it falls short of the standards expected of it.
In a healthy State, government and institutions serve the people and answer to the public. The injured and bereaved do not have to fight for truth and justice. It is seen as a minimum standard, a legitimate expectation and a human right.
None of that is too much to ask. It was achievable in 1989 and it is today. The cost of delivering care and justice promptly is far less expensive than the protraction of agony, the intolerable suffering and the lining of lawyers pockets that has occurred during thirty years of injustice. Yet, to the establishment and the system it propagates, all of that is preferable to real scrutiny and accountability.
The British State is pathological, in my view, because in the face of catastrophe, it’s first instinct is to protect itself, the powerful and institutions. The need to do that far outweighs any other consideration. There are no lengths the State won’t go to in order to avoid taking repsonsibility.
Faced with the Duckenfield verdict, I am left with the seemingly inescapable conclusion that there is no equality before the law, only a pretence of it. Ordinary working people are clearly treated differently, and often with an indifference that borders on the callous.
When an anguished relative, struggling to cope with the enormity of the not guilty verdict, yelled out in court, pleading with the judge to tell him who unlawfully killed the 96, he was ignored and the court was simply adjourned. Those who have been so terrible wronged are left to pick up the pieces without succour from the State. They’re expected to find their own way in an uncertain future.
They facd yet more hardship and struggle. Meanwhile, the judge could find no words for this distraught a being, in pain, in his courtroom.
It should be beyond comprehension that the State and its institutions can be so lacking in basic compassion – yet none of this surprises any of us. My whole life has been spent witnessing evidence of the pathological State. I only really opened my eyes to it after Hillsborough, but it has been there all the time, and it doubtlessly predates me.
The list is endless, Bloody Sunday, The Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, Orgreave, Hillsborough and more recently Grenfell. In all these cases, we see the same pattern. A lack of openness and transparency, attempts to shift blame and even falsification of evidence in order to protect institutions and powerful figures. Justice is rarely served, and if it is at all, only after decades of struggle by people who lack the resources to fight.
Sometimes they struggle in isolation, often they are vilified and every obstacle is placed in their way. Only if they have the stomach to overcome all of that, can they get close to justice. However, even then, they can have it snatched from view in the final hour.
This should concern all of us, whether we are personally affected or not. For humanitarian reasons, sure, but not just that. Because the States pathology means that it never learns, things don’t improve and the injustices continue, handed down from one generation to the other.
Anyone who has lived through the aftermath of Hillsborough will have been horrified by the eerily similar patterns that have unfolded following the Grenfell fire. A complete failure to care for the victims by the government – many have still not been rehoused – compounded by attempts in the media to blame the victims and even the rescuers for the tragedy. And, two years on, many high rise buildings in the UK remain unsafe, despite evidence that they are covered in the same dangerous cladding as Grenfell. The pathological State doesn’t learn.
Its primary motive is self-preservation, and it is too remote to care about anything else. That is true today, and frankly it has been true for as long as I can remember.
The time for peace-meal reform is long past. The State is in need of fundamental reform, if not a complete revolution, which would allow ordinary people to hold the powerful to account and usher in a compassionate State. Only then will we be able to have faith in government and its institutions.
So, if you’re a Red in the UK, you’ll be all too aware that we face a General Election in six weeks time. Within hours of Parliament agreeing to go to the polls, Boris Johnson was being booed out of a London hospital, the Lib Dems were blaming Labour for almost a decade of austerity they helped to facilitate, and Brexit – which austerity helped to facilitate – and Jeremy Corbyn was asking a nation to choose between disaster capitalism or a future in which we cooperate to solve our problems.
He repeatedly asked, ‘Whose side are you on? Is it the bad bosses, who grow rich by avoiding tax while exploiting their workers? Or are you on the side of the real wealth creators, forced to compete for zero hours contracts and supplement their income with visits to a foodbank? Are you on the side of unscrupulous landlords who force tenants to live in squalor, or the media barons whose squalid coverage has polluted our politics and sewn hatred and division? Or do you side with those who want decent homes for all and a media that deals in truth instead of lies.
The Tories, meanwhile, have boldly suggested that, after they’ve spent a decade in government, ‘Britain deserves better.’ I could not agree more.
After years of failed Brexit negotiations and broken promises, three successive Tory Prime Ministers have failed to deal with a single one of the country’s ills. And, they want us to believe that all of that is the fault of the opposition, not those who’ve been in power throughout it all. It is a spectacularly brazen con, but it will be dutifully aided and abetted by their friends in the print and broadcast media – particularly those who donate millions to the Conservative cause.
By now, if you didn’t know already, you will be beginning to see where my allegiances lie, where I’ll put my X on 12th December and whose side I’m on. For the avoidance of doubt, I’ll be voting Labour.
You may feel this post seems out of place on a website devoted to my love for Liverpool Football Club. Well, let me tell you why it isn’t.
To readers who reside in Liverpool, I know you require no explanation. We have long understood our relationship with the British establishment. If the sleep was not cast from our eyes by their policy of managed decline of our city during the Thatcher years of the 80s, we became fully awake in the aftermath of Hillsborough.
In the years that followed that terrible day in 1989, we were treated to the full spectacle of the press, the police, the courts and the government acting in concert to shift blame away from those responsible for the tragedy, and on to the people who suffered most. We responded by being even more united and determined than they were in our quest for truth and justice. And, we won.
We beat MacKenzie and Murdoch and we outlasted and outfought Thatcher and her successors. That banner on the Kop – the one that says ‘Unity is Strength’ – is about so much more than football. It’s a message to all who visit the away end at Anfield too. And, it’s a lesson for life.
We can be sporting enemies for 90 minutes, but in life we are cut from the same cloth. Those in Yorkshire who remember Orgreave and those living in the shadow of Grenfel know only too well that our struggles are the same.
Manchester United fans, or fans from any other club who support their teams on Anfield Road, return to the same daily grind as those who stand on the Kop, when the final whistle blows.
In the next six weeks we will once again be faced with a barrage of lies and distortions. We will be told we are ‘leavers’ or ‘remainers,’ ‘Workington man’ or ‘London elite.’ These are labels intended to divide and convince us to vote against our interests.
Then there is the ‘people versus parliament con trick’ – the one that suggests that privileged and powerful people like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have our backs. That has frankly never been true, but it has never been more laughable than it is today.
If that fails, then the Tories will rely on the most dangerous lie of all taking hold among voters. It’s a falsehood that is already gaining traction, and it can be captured in just four words:
‘They’re all the same.’
We’ve all seen these words writ large on social media pages or uttered almost proudly in coffee rooms or on public transport. It is the rallying cry of the apathetic and a justification for disengagement and inaction. And, it is music to Tory ears.
To be honest, I almost sympathise. If you’ve been treated to scenes of parliamentary pantomime on your TV screens, to MPs in suits shouting and bawling while the country goes to rack and ruin, if you’ve watched the opposition leader struggle to be heard amidst the melee, while some posh bloke in a gown yells ‘Ordeeer!’ Then I can understand why you might think it’s all a farce and that it means nothing to you and doesn’t solve your problems.
I also understand that if every major news outlet accuses the opposition of incompetence, and worse still treachery, you could be forgiven for throwing in the towel and escaping to the make-believe world of Strictly and Celebrity X-Factor. But, that would be a terrible mistake.
Because, they are not all the same. This election is about two very different visions of our future.
In this Parliament there are those who are there to serve the interests of the wealthy, the landlords, the billionaires, the bosses and their backers – let’s call them ‘the few.’ And there are others who seek to represent the rest – we’ll call them ‘the many’.
In my view this has been the case for more than a century. Yes, it’s true that sometimes those charged with fighting the corner of the masses have let their constituents down. The current crop of Labour MPs may not be perfect on that score either. You may feel their leader doesn’t seem strong enough, wears the wrong tie, has a beard and oh, don’t they say he’s a terrorist?
Frankly though, if you won’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party because you honestly believe that he is a jam-making, terrorist racist, despite him campaigning his whole life for peace, and being arrested once for fighting against South Africa’s racist apartheid laws. Or, because he’s somehow simultaneously a terrorist and a pacifist who refuses to incinerate the planet in an all out preemptive nuclear attack, then this blog probably isn’t for you anyway.
However, if you’ve seen through all that stuff, but remain unconvinced that Labour will do any good in office, then I urge to look at their programme. Seriously, it is one that offers something radically different to anything we’ve seen since 1945 and it could transform your life for the better.
It is a stark difference to the slashing and burning of workers rights, pensions, environmental and consumer protections on offer from this government. You may have wanted to take back control from Brussels, but did you really want to hand it over to Trump and his backers, allowing them to buy up our public services and turn them into profit machines for the super-rich?
I don’t believe you did. I believe you want the same things that I and millions of other people want. You want to live in peace, you want your kids to be educated well, in classrooms that help them to fulfill their true potential. And, you want a decent home and to live in a society that cares for you when you need it and where you have the wherewithal to care for your family, instead of being one paycheck away from a loan-shark or a foodbank.
Actually, you want more. And you should aspire to have more. You should find work rewarding. It should satisfy you financially but you should also feel valued in the workplace and have a voice at work.
And, when work is over, you should be free to enjoy your leisure time, which should be affordable. People should be able to play and watch football or take part in their community or the arts without going into debt or sacrificing other things.
We should all have a voice in how our neighbourhoods or our football teams are run and served. It should not be left solely to billionaires and speculators to monopolise our free time, in order to extract profit from us.
If you’re young, you should be able to look forward with optimism, not fear about whether you can afford an education or what state the planet will be in. You should expect to leave University free from debt and look forward to a career and a life that is fulfilling.
These aspirations are not too much to ask for. We’ve been told they are for too long. The 14 million people living in poverty in the UK today, have been made to feel it’s their fault, while the super-rich avoid tax and the rest of us are asked to accept there’s no other way.
Curtailing the excesses of privilege is robbing people of aspiration, we are told. It’s a perverse logic that prefers the hope’s and dreams of those tiny few, already bloated by excess, at the top of the pile, while depriving the rest of all hope for a better life.
It’s a lie that your desire for a decent and fair life is unaffordable. This is one of the wealthiest nations on earth. The challenge for us is not one of managing scarcity, but of seeking social justice, and striving to achieve greater redistribution of wealth and power.
We can meet all the challenges facing us, if we work together. It won’t be easy but we can deal with the climate emergency, regain control over our working lives and of our communities. We can share the wealth we create and look after those who can’t look after themselves. We can do all of that despite what the media and some politicians tell us.
It’s all within our grasp. All we have to do is vote for it on December 12th. Only a vote for Labour will deliver this vision. No other Party is offering real change.
The club we follow today is built on the principle that if everyone works together we all win together. And, on the simple idea that the spoils of victory are shared by all. This was of course Shankly’s mantra but it belongs to an old and noble tradition of socialist thought that has the potential to benefit us all, regardless of who we are or where we’re from.
This is also a vision regained and held, at long last, by the Labour Party today. It’s in every word of their manifesto and the hearts of their half-a-million members.
So, in this election there has never been a clearer choice at the polls. When it comes to the political parties in this country, they are absolutely not all the same and there is no justification for apathy.
All of us need to decide whose side we’re on. Are we on the side of the many or the few? There is a bigger picture, bigger than Brexit and bigger than any individual politician.
Our collective futures are at stake in this election. A vote for the status quo will deliver only sustained decline. So, I know I’ll be voting Labour, for the many. I ask you to do that too.
Well, it’s finally here – publication day has arrived and I couldn’t be more pleased. We Conquered all of Europe: Red Odyssey II continues where my first book left off, and the journey is no less exciting.
When I penned the final words of Red Odyssey: Liverpool FC 1892-2017, an epic trawl through 125 years of Reds history, I always knew I’d be back with more. There’s just something in the club’s DNA, something that drives us on our quest for glory. I just didn’t anticipate that I’d return so soon.
Jurgen Klopp may not have delivered the holy grail of a Premier League title, but in leading the club to four cup finals in such a short space of time, he’s following in the footsteps of some of our greatest managers.
Of course the road hasn’t been smooth, and three defeats in the Europa League, League Cup and Champions League finals, allowed his critics to question his ability. However , throughout each of those incredible cup runs, something was beginning to grow at the club, and within the players and the supporters. It would strengthen their resolve and stiffen the sinews. It was of course belief.
It was the same potent brew served up by Shankly in 1959. The fire of faith established the Reds as a force in the 60s, and had sustained the club for decades, until its fuel ran dry in the 90s. Houllier and Benitez got it going again, for a short while. Under Rodgers, the flames flickered briefly again, before being extinguished too easily. Now, under Klopp, they roar once more.
Liverpool have grown stronger, not weaker, after each set back and their supporters, players and manager melded into one. Together, they were powerful enough to sweep aside the giants of Europe and it was almost enough to clinch domestic glory too. They are now the most feared team in the land and on the continent too.
Their followers are legion and occupy all four corners of the earth. We Conquered all of Europe: Red Odyssey II tells the whole story of this meteoric rise, using first person perspective on the low points as well as the highs. It is a must read for all Reds, and I’m sure all who love this amazing club will identify with the stories, adventures, defeats and victories.
So pick up a copy today. Immerse yourself in the journey, revel in the glory and view the moments of doubt with the perspective of hindsight. They were mere bumps in the road, trials on the way to conquest. After all what good is an adventure, if there aren’t a few challenges along the way.
It is also true that on this journey we paused to honour our legends, like Kenny Dalglish and former captains, like Johnny Wheeler. And, sadly, we also bid farewell to fallen heroes – players and supporters. Their stories are covered too. It makes for a compelling tale. So, enjoy the next chapter in our Red Odyssey. You can get it here or here and in many other places.
We Conquered All of Europe: Red Odyssey II charts the re-emergence of Liverpool FC as one of the most feared and respected teams in European football. In 2015, Jurgen Klopp arrived at Anfield and set about rebuilding a sporting empire. In order to succeed he would need to transform its legions of fans from doubters into believers – and, in the process, would take them on the greatest of sporting odysseys.
In this book, I chronicle the whole journey through the eyes of the people who lived it, the supporters. Also included are key insights from former players, as well as eyewitness accounts of some of the most incredible moments of the Klopp era. Relive the humbling of Barcelona’s Messi and Suarez. Absorb the electric atmosphere on the Kop as the Reds pulled off the seemingly impossible, and journey with the fans as they conquered all of Europe.
Red Odyssey II takes the reader through it all – the highs and the lows – and describes how Klopp awakened one of football’s sleeping giants.
Liverpool have won their second trophy in two months, adding the UEFA Super Cup to the Champions League. There are those who will say it’s not a major honour, calling it a ‘friendly,’ or even ‘the European Charity Shield.’ But do we care, really.
If you’re in it, then you’re doing something right as a club. And, if you win it, then for players and supporters there’s no better feeling. Winning trophies is a habit every team craves.
For so long Klopp was criticised for losing finals. Since 2012, I have listened to rivals saying “What have you won recently?” and of course Jordan Henderson had not lifted a trophy as captain of the club. Until now.
Liverpool’s win last night puts the Reds on 46 major trophies, one ahead of United. We are now the most successful club in the country. Any United fan arguing that the Super Cup isn’t a major trophy should look at their own club’s website, where it is listed as just that.
Now all of us, manager, players and supporters, can hold our heads up high. Liverpool are back on the trophy trail and back on our perch. Next up, we have a chance to add the World Club Championship, and who knows what else. I love that winning feeling.
Bill Shankly, a famously socialist thinker and miner from the small town of Glenbuck in Scotland, frequently spoke of the union between players, manager and supporters at Liverpool football Club. He described it as a ‘holy trinity.’ To Shanks, there was a common bond and football was a working class sport.
He wanted his men to be payed well, of course. One of his most inspirational quotes was about what he would do if he was a bin man. Typically, He spoke of wanting to be the best bin man in the world, with the cleanest streets. He also said that his workmates would receive the biggest bonuses, and why shouldn’t they? After all, what would make anyone think a bin man was less important than anyone else? He asked.
I believe that behind these sentiments is a philosophy based on collectivism, equality and, put simply, an honest wage for an honest day’s work. Shankly abhorred anyone who he felt wasn’t giving everything they had for the team.
“To play for me, a player has to be prepared to run through a brick wall and come out fighting on the other side,” was another immortal quote.
Nobody working for the great man could ever get away with half measures, and certainly nobody would be allowed to see themselves as a star. Shankly did talk about the value of individual reward, though he saw it as the result of collective effort.
He once pointed out that so many of his players had achieved international caps, a personal accolade. However, he would go on to lecture that it was through their collective efforts, that they had achieved individual gains. You don’t get into the national team unless you are doing well for your club, and your club only does well when it works as a team, was his reasoning.
In this respect, the boss also felt that the supporters and the people of Liverpool were also part of the collective. Their efforts from the terraces were equally important and central to the vision. While he didn’t have the power or resources to pay them, he resolved to reward them with silverware – to make the people happy and proud. They would hold their heads up high, and say ‘we are Liverpool,’ he promised.
Stretch the gap between player, manager and supporters too much, and the ties that bind might snap. The bond may be broken, the trinity undermined. In truth, Shankly could never have envisage the disparity in earnings between his players and those who stood on the terraces. Nobody in the 1960s and 70s could have.
The level of wage inflation in football since those heady days can scarcely be believed even today. We do know that Bill was often prepared to spend big on a transfer fees, if he thought the player could improve his squad. He broke a number of records in this respect during his tenure.
However, it’s about proportion. And, we have certainly lost all sense of proportion today.
Figures published by Spotrac recently, show the eye-watering amounts shelled out by the club to its stars. ‘That’s modern football,’ you might say. ‘Yes, but a player’s career is short,’ you could argue.
It is, and they are. But the disparity is truly shocking, even allowing for inflation.
What, then, would Shankly make of today’s sky-high wage bills. Liverpool’s total payroll bill of £104,780,000 in 2019/20 truly dwarfs the levels he would have been familiar with.
George Scott, one of the Scotsman’s first signings, and a man Shankly described as the “12th best player in the world,” recently sent me a copy of Liverpool’s weekly wage bill from 1960. It covered everyone from players to coaching staff, and it came to a grand total of £517:12 Shillings and 2 pence.
According to the National Archive, it would be worth £9,119.33 in today’s money. In the 1960s a sum like that could have bought you 2 horses, 7 cows, 116 stones of of wool or 86 quarters of wheat. It was also the equivalent of almost years wages for a skilled tradesman.
So, it was a big wage bill by the standards of the day. But, it is dwarfed by those of the Premier League era, even when you factor in inflation.
By now I am sure nobody is shocked or surprised by these revelations. I’m certainly not. Nor can we blame individual players for taking the rewards on offer to them. Who amongst us would look such a gift horse in the mouth.
However, it does speak to a growing divide between those who pay to watch the game and the stars they idolise. In Liverpool, like in many working class cities, there are people making incredible sacrifices in order to watch their team, and there are those who can barely afford food, let alone a match ticket. Those people will likely never even watch their heroes in the flesh, much less identify with them.
In the 50s and 60s you could reasonably expect to see a player on the bus or in the pub. Even earlier, in the 30s, supporters would chat to Elisha Scott – the club’s legendary goalkeeper – as he took the ferry from Birkenhead to the Pier Head before a game. These men were still stars, but they were within reach and identifiable.
Today’s players feel like movie stars, and those with a human touch, who go out of their way to bind with the supporters are to be cherished. Mo Salah, Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Milner, amongst many others, do leave you with the sense that they understand their enormous privilege and remember their origins.
However, for me, this is a more systemic problem. It’s obviously not just Liverpool’s problem, or even the Premier League for that matter. Though neither seem even interested in addressing it. This is of course a political problem and one that UEFA and FIFA must do more to address.
There are so many reasons why they should. For a start the current system is unsustainable. There are those who argue that clubs going into administration as a result of unsustainable wage bills is just business, a sort of Darwinian natural selection. Or, the natural consequence of market forces and poor management. The footballing authorities will hand out their punishments in response – fines, points deductions, relegation and even expulsion from competitions. And, we all move on.
But there’s a cost that goes beyond all of that. Whole communities suffer as a consequence, when their club goes out of business. Football clubs employ people beyond the playing staff and they bring hope and something to look forward to for so many. Because, as Shankly recognised, football is a communal experience. It’s more than a business.
I spoke to Karen Elizabeth Gill, Granddaughter of Bill Shankly and author of a fascinating biography of the man, The Real Bill Shankly. She told me,
My granddad was all about passion and commitment to the game. He would have played for nothing and expected his players to feel the same. The supporters, for him, were equally important in the equation. So having inflated wages for the players, which could end up with money-oriented players as opposed to football-oriented ones and core supporters whose wages might leave them unable to afford inflated ticket prices, for him, would mean the destruction of the game he loved so much.
So, when faced with the stark contrast between the football played and watched by our grandparents and their idols, and the game watch today, I won’t pretend to feel shock or surprise. I do feel that the game is slipping through our fingers though, if it hasn’t already moved completely out of reach.
I hope that’s not the case. However, if we are to reclaim even a small part of it, supporters need to become more vocal and more active in shaping the future of the game and the clubs they love. Politicians also have a role to play in influencing the direction of the game. Indeed it may take political action to rescue it.
With a potential UK General Election on the horizon, it wouldn’t do any harm to let them know.