Calls for Reds to withdraw ‘Liverpool’ trademark application, as ‘dialogue continues’ between club and ‘interested parties’

As discussed on these pages last week, Liverpool Football Club’s application to claim the word ‘Liverpool’ as their intellectual property, when used in a football context, has sparked a great deal of controversy. Such was the reaction to the news, that club CEO Peter Moore took to the airwaves on BBC Radio Merseyside to explain the club’s position.

Mr Moore was keen to point out that Liverpool FC were not seeking to penalise local vendors, but rather prevent those who would seek to mislead customers with fake products purporting to be official merchandise. However, he had to concede that even a t-shirt which simply contained the word ‘Liverpool’ on it, surrounded by images of footballs could be in breach of the club’s intellectual property, should the club’s application be successful.

While some supporters have suggested that the club is perfectly within its rights to protect its products from cheap counterfeits, pointing out that these damage the reputation of Liverpool FC and deprive it of potential income, others are deeply troubled. They argue that the club are seeking to monopolise something that does not belong to them, the name of the city itself.

I contacted Liverpool Football Club for comment, and a spokesperson told me:

‘We are applying to register ‘Liverpool’ as a trademark but only in the context of football products and services. We are not and wouldn’t ever, seek to register ‘Liverpool’ across the board. This application is strictly to protect the club and supporters from those benefiting from inauthentic products. The benefits to the club to have this protection in place are to ensure all revenues from official products and services are channelled back into the club and this is reinvested into the team and supporting infrastructure.’

They were also keen to make clear that, only if the club felt an organisation was benefiting from inauthentic products or services which were being sold to supporters, would it consider taking action.

Liverpool FC already hold the intellectual property rights to a number of other words, phrases and symbols. For example, they have trademarked ‘This is Anfield,’ ‘YNWA,’ and the Liverbird image, in the context of football. In relation to the latter, the club was refused the right to trademark the emblem of the city, in the UK. However, they went on to make a successful application to the EU.

Many argue that club has already done enough to protect its interests, and that attempting to trademark the name of the city is a step too far. Ian Maloney, the Liverpool born founder of Love Follow Conquer, an independent clothing label, argues that if the club are successful in their application, it will give them the right to police who is allowed to produce football related clothing with the word ‘Liverpool’ on it.

He points out that the club’s application includes reference to classes ranging from apparel to podcasts, broadcasting, education and catering, and argues:

‘If LFC are successful in their application trademark law states the holder of a trademark must enforce their trademark. They won’t be able to pick and choose when to enforce it otherwise the trademark could be challenged by others.’

This potentially challenges the argument put forward by the club, that they will be able to pick and choose which independent producers they pursue. I don’t possess the legal expertise to comment on the above, but a cursory internet search suggests that an organisation is at risk of losing its trademark, if it fails to use it after it is granted.

However, for Ian, there is a deeper issue at stake. And, his concern is one shared by many of the people who responded to my original post. That is, an objection to the club attempting to have ownership and control of something they didn’t create or invent – the word ‘Liverpool.’ For many of us, it is simply unfathomable as to why trademarking ‘Liverpool FC’ wouldn’t be enough to protect the club’s brand. Why seek monopoly over the name of a city?

Ian Maloney picks up the point, suggesting that unless the application is withdrawn, it could drive a wedge between the club’s owners, the city and its supporters. He argues,

‘The City of Liverpool is a community and has been a cultural centre for over 800 years. Liverpool FC wants to be part of that community and because of this it can’t own the community it wants to belong to. Liverpool FC shouldn’t have the right to trademark the word ‘Liverpool’ in the same way any other business shouldn’t. The word ‘Liverpool’ belongs to the people of Liverpool, not to any corporate business.’

Liverpool City Councillor, and leading figure in the Fans Supporting Food-banks charity, which the club supports, Ian Byrne, feels that the move jeopardises the futures of independent traders, and adds his voice to calls for the club to withdraw its application, saying:

‘The importance of the independents who do so much to add to our fan culture cannot be over-estimated. They are fundamental to our current success on and off the pitch, and the club have previously embraced their role. This plan will place them in danger. FSG should cease with the trademark idea, which also endangers the huge bank of goodwill and optimism built up last season.’

Of course, the independent producers and traders aren’t the only stakeholders concerned by the potential trademark. A number of local amateur football teams, such as AFC Liverpool and City of Liverpool FC (COLFC) also use the name of the city. One of the directors of COLFC, Peter Furmedge, told me:

‘City of Liverpool FC has a number of concerns about this trademark application, particularly as it would give LFC effective ownership over the word “Liverpool” in every conceivable football related context.’

Peter explains that his club is committed to the principles of common ownership and community wealth building. Central to this, is the fact that ‘Liverpool’ is part of a shared identity, an identity that represents significant social capital that has been built up over many generations. He continues:

‘Such a shared asset, and the social capital it has accrued, belongs to all of us within the “Liverpool” community. We contribute to its value daily, just as previous generations have done, and future generations will do. A shared community asset, like “Liverpool”, should never be appropriated into private ownership. At “fair value”, nobody could ever afford to buy it!’

To Peter, the value of the name ‘Liverpool’ has been created by the activities, efforts and sacrifices of countless generations. All of us, as citizens of this great city, continue to contribute to this ‘social capital’ daily. Liverpool FC are just one component of that community, as are Tranmere, Everton and others. Sure, they have also contributed, quite considerably in fact, but does that entitle them to monopolise it in any context?

While there is no suggestion that Peter Moore is acting in bad faith, when he states that the club would never seek to act against City of Liverpool FC or others, there is an objection to being placed in a subordinate position to the club, if the trademark is granted. And, there is a concern that organisations, like COLFC, would be required to ‘get the nod’ from Liverpool FC, in order to continue to use their own name.

In addition, others have argued that, even if we accept the club’s assurances today, there is no guarantee that FSG’s intentions won’t change in the future. And, there is a real fear that potential future owners could use the power of the trademark to shut down all competition. As Peter points out,

‘This is something that could occur in any number of realistic scenarios. For whatever reason, future owners of the club may not be willing to accept the presence of other football related activity taking place with the word “Liverpool” involved. Liverpool supporters will remember the antics of Hicks and Gillett, and the infamous “sons of strikers” dossier on supporter activists. Imagine that lot, and Christian Purslow, with these trademark rights to play with!

‘Unfortunately, rogue football club owners and executives are not uncommon. In my 30 years involvement in the football supporters’ movement, I have met many supporters’ groups at clubs with ownership regimes that would not hesitate to use the trademark rights that LFC has applied for as a weapon against perceived local rivals.

‘Regardless of the expressed best intentions of the current LFC ownership, they cannot guarantee that somewhere down the line the club will not have owners that will use these trademark rights in ways that LFC currently assures us they won’t, but the wording of the trademark application clearly allows.

‘A further concern of ours is that LFC may sell, or transfer, the trademark rights to a third party, such as a commercial partner. LFC has previously done this, when the Moores and Parry regime transferred rights to Adidas. That severely restricted LFC’s ability to develop its own brand. As things stand, if the trademark is granted, there is nothing to prevent a third part from using the rights as leverage in raising their brand awareness – this being the whole point of commercial partnerships after all.’

Another independent trader shares his concerns. Hat Scarf or a Badge have been producing Liverpool FC related apparel close to Anfield for many years. Their products have been worn by supporters and ex-players alike. Indeed, their designs are inspired by and continue to inspire supporter culture. I contacted them for comment, and found they share many of the concerns raised above. A spokesperson told me,

‘We are concerned about how these trademark rights may be used by future owners.’

Transalpino, who take their name from the epic trans-Alpine trek taken by Liverpool supporters on their way to Rome in 1977 have similar concerns. A spokesperson told me,

‘The main concern is that ‘Liverpool’ belongs to the city, I totally get that they are a business and they have to protect their brand. I can accept them trademarking ‘Liverpool FC.’

‘Peter Moore said on BBC 5 LIVE that it wasn’t the small local vendors they were after. but he then went on to say that a red shirt with ‘Liverpool’ on surrounded by footballs would be viewed as alluding to be official merchandise.

‘The club will do what they want, once they have the trademark. They’re a US multi-national who want to take ownership of the name of our city, what happens once they sell to unscrupulous owners?

‘When I learned of this, in protest, I made an application to trademark ‘Manchester’ in a couple of classes, I will be monitoring it to see if we succeed. I will make a big song and dance about it if we lose, especially if Liverpool win.’

Another group of creators and innovators, who could potentially be affected by this move, are the various fanzines, websites, podcasts and other online content producers. It is via these mediums that fan culture is often propagated.

Indeed, there is something of a symbiotic relationship at work, in which the club latches onto supporter content and vice-versa. In my view there is nothing wrong with this, and it should be encouraged. However, the attempt to monopolise words associated with the club dangerously shifts the balance of power in the direction of the club.

I discussed this with Dave Usher, founder and editor of The Liverpool Way, a popular fanzine and website, and Chris Pajak, co-founder and presenter of The Redmen TV, a supporter generated show that broadcasts daily on YouTube. Both are concerned about the club’s attempts to trademark the city’s name.

Dave told me that, while he felt the club would eventually back away from the idea, he has been angered by the move. He’s even more irritated, though, by supporters who he believes are supportive of the club’s application. He told me,

‘Frankly it’s appalling that some suit in a marketing department thinks they have the right to monopolise the word. But, what bothers me even more than that are the fans who are attempting to justify it.

”The same thing happened when they wanted to put the ticket prices up. There were fans out there saying it’s ok because it means more money in the transfer kitty. I mean really? The hundreds of millions they get from sponsorship deals and the unprecedented revenue from TV isn’t enough?

‘Worse than that though are those fans who can’t seem to differentiate between FSG and the club. As far as owners go, we could do a lot worse, but let’s not forget who they are and why they got into this. They are a group of rich American fellas who made a shrewd overseas investment.

‘They aren’t ‘the club.’ They just currently own it. Yet some think it’s ok for them to prevent anyone else from using the word ‘Liverpool’ in a football context? It baffles me, to be honest. It’s actually scary how some people see the world.’

Meanwhile, Chris Pajak doubts whether anyone, anywhere in the world, who purchases unofficial merchandise, outside of an official club store, does so believing it to be the real deal. He explains,

‘It’s a bit of a stretch to say they are protecting people from buying inauthentic products. To me, it looks like a land grab. Liverpool FC want all the money that’s spent on Liverpool FC. With no unofficial merch [sic] on offer, then revenues go up. Simple as.

‘As far as independent retailers go, I can see it affecting their livelihoods. 90% percent of the scarves sold outside the ground will have the word Liverpool on them. What does the club expect them to say – Merseyside Reds? Give over. The word Liverpool does not belong to a football club, it belongs to the people. And, that’s that.

‘This is a foot through the door and, once they own it, there’s no going back. If they own it, they’ll want to protect it. Otherwise why do it in the first place. Even if FSGs intentions are pure, who’s to say the next owners will feel the same. This needs to end before it reaches a point of no return.’

In my conversations with many of the stakeholders affected by this move, it is clear to me that the club’s reassurances have done little to assuage anxieties. Irrespective of the legalities many are sceptical of the club’s intentions, and even those who are willing to believe they are acting in good faith, fear the repercussions under future ownership structures, if this trademark is granted.

With all of that, I remain astonished that Liverpool FC have embarked on this path. It is one that risks reputational damage and could undo much of the goodwill earned in recent years.

There is hope, however. Both City of Liverpool FC and Spirit of Shankly have told me that there is continuing dialogue between the club and interested parties. Peter Moore has described those discussions as ‘congenial and intelligent.’ While Peter Furmedge described them as ‘friendly and constructive.’

It is hoped that the owners will now reconsider and continue to engage in meaningful dialogue with a view to reaching a compromise. There is certainly a willingness on the part of the directors of COLFC to find a sensible solution, with Peter Furmedge telling me:

Notwithstanding our concerns, COLFC recognises the genuine issues that LFC wishes to address. We are looking forward to meeting with LFC at some point in order to negotiate a solution that addresses the concerns of all parties, a solution that respects community shared ownership of “Liverpool” while affording LFC the brand protection they seek. However, the trademark application as it stands must be withdrawn by LFC or, failing that, stopped through public objections.

It seems that the ball is now in Liverpool FCs court. They have the power to step back from this move. I hope they take the opportunity to negotiate on the basis of the shared interests of all involved.

Monetising the word ‘Liverpool’: A spectacular own goal

Liverpool Football club have made what The Independent refers to as a ‘bold move’ at the Intellectual Property Office. They are seeking to trademark the word ‘Liverpool.’ Sounds absurd doesn’t it? It is.

However, the club are not alone. Southampton and Chelsea have also successfully monetised – or monopolised – a word that predated their existence. To be fair, Liverpool FC have claimed that the move has been made to protect the club’s profits and supporters wallets, as no longer will we be ripped off by ‘inauthentic products,’ they say.

You know the ones they’re talking about, right? The ones that are cheaper than those on offer at the official club store. So, the club is seeking to protect us from having access to cheaper and independently designed products from places like Hat, Scarf or a Badge, and instead we will be free to pay much higher prices for official merchandise.

There is so much that is wrong with this idea, I barely know where to start. The response to it from supporters groups, like Spirit of Shankly, echoes the views of many grassroots followers of the club and mine. They have issued a statement saying:

‘After a magnificent summer of optimism and celebration for LFC – it is hard to contemplate such an ill-thought out move by FSG. It is one that will alienate the entire fan base.’

With the club’s owners about to enter their tenth year in charge at Anfield, hopes were high that they had overcome their earlier mistakes. The most notable of which was a ticket price hike that provoked a mass walk out during a Premier League game, against Sunderland in 2015.

FSG hardly need the cash either. In recent weeks, the newly crowned champions of Europe have entered the top 50 in a list of the most affluent sporting organisations in the world, having been valued at $2.5 billion. A string of lucrative new sponsorship deals have been announced and the club has earned vast sums of prize money from both UEFA and the Premier League.

FSG are investing heavily in training facilities at Kirkby. And, just this week, there has been talk of an improved and enlarged planning application to the city council, for the expansion of the Anfield Road end of the stadium. This will undoubtedly drive up revenues further.

In short, the club is in rude health. So, you may ask, with so much revenue flowing into the club, why do FSG need to embark on such a highly controversial course of action?

It has always struck me that for all its talk of free trade and apparent love of competition, business does love a monopoly. Football is no different. Consider our club’s history. For that matter, consider any club’s history. Once a community sport, played by people on a park and watched for free, the game has now grown into a multi-national operation fine-tuned to extract as much profit as possible.

From the moment local businessmen enclosed those pitches, erected stands and began charging admittance, they had succeeded in monopolising a community pass-time. Of course that has brought benefits, such as modern stadiums and, for some, the chance to see world-class talent playing live each week.

However, it has also brought sky-high prices, exorbitant merchandising and the gouging of supporters by travel operators and hoteliers during away trips. Those handing over sponsorship cash to clubs then mop up tickets that could easily go to ordinary supporters, which creates scarcity and drives up the price of tickets made available through unofficial sources.

I’m reminded of Robert Noonan’s book, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. The book is over a century old, and is a critique of capitalism and something of a bible to socialists everywhere. In it, the author, writing under the name Robert Tressell, describes how the owners of capital are driven to monopolise everything in order to maximise profit. One line in particular comes to mind,

‘The only reason they have not monopolized the daylight and the air is that it is not possible to do it. If it were possible to construct huge gasometers and to draw together and compress within them the whole of the atmosphere, it would have been done long ago, ‘

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Noonan

Well, we haven’t quite reached those extremes yet. But, we are now presented with the the monopolisation of words. The club’s attempts to portray this as being about protecting supporters from unscrupulous traders aside, who really benefits from this move?

It’s certainly not the independent traders who have been the lifeblood of the streets around the ground, or their customers. It is not yet clear what impact this will have on amateur football teams, like City of Liverpool FC.

What we can be absolutely certain of, is the fact that the club will benefit from this massively. Some supporters may well argue that it is in our interests for Liverpool FC to maximise revenue. It will allow them to invest in the playing side and the club’s infrastructure, they might say.

That’s true, of course. But I come back to my earlier point, do they really need this. Is it so necessary to bleed yet more money from the ‘brand’ that the owners are prepared to alienate current and future supporters by attempting to claim the word ‘Liverpool’ as their intellectual property?

I’d argue that it simply isn’t. It’s a foolhardy and completely unnecessary move. It’s one that stems from businesses misunderstanding of the nature of football and its connection with the people.

The owners may well want us to win. I’m willing to accept that. And, I can see that they have done a lot of good at the club. But, their problem continues to be that they cannot see that Liverpool FC is a community asset.

Clearly, it is possible to monopolise it. That is self evidently true. FSG have managed this to great effect at two sporting clubs either side of the Atlantic. However, in the process, they risk killing the goose and depriving themselves of future golden eggs – to torture a metaphor.

It is the community of independent thinkers, creators and, yes, entrepreneurs, who gravitate to Liverpool FC, who generate the unique vibe around the club. ‘This means more,‘ the club says, and it is true. It does.

Liverpool FC, in fact the word ‘Liverpool’ itself, means far more to its people than pounds, shillings and pence. We don’t sing our songs or create our banners in order to increase the power of the brand. We do all of that because we believe the club is something special, different – exceptional even.

Think of Jamie Webster and the Boss Night movement. Consider the wonderful songs containing the word Liverpool and recorded onto CDs by supporters, the edgy designs on t-shirts created by unofficial outlets and loved by supporters. Will all of that now fall under the intellectual property of Liverpool Football Club?

If the efforts of supporters to be different and always authentic become just another revenue stream for the club’s commercial department, then FSG risks killing the originality and creativity that has become synonymous with our supporters. ‘Liverpool’ is the intellectual property of its people. The owners must rethink.

After our historic win against Barcelona, at Anfield last season, Arsene Wenger described Liverpool as ‘the city of music, the working class and football.’ He continued, ‘That is why they keep creating miracles.’ It is an astute and insightful observation. And, it is one our club needs to take to heart.

Many supporters share these concerns. So it is a shame that the club didn’t engage with them more before embarking on this scheme. If they had we could have saved them from scoring what is a quite spectacular own goal.

Alan Ball and a letter to Mr Shankly

Alan ball broke my heart, but a letter from Glenbuck put it back together

Sit down, grab a cuppa. Let me tell you a story, a Sing Fong story. Some of it is real and some is not. But, if you look hard enough between the lines, and let the words transport you, you’ll see it doesn’t really matter in the end.

Sing Fong stories are fragments of lives woven through moments in time. There are loads of them. Somehow they all got lost, until now. Come with me, while I retrieve them piece-by-piece and hold them in the light for you to enjoy.

This one’s about that glorious Spring in 1967, when Alan Ball broke my heart, but Mr Shankly put it back together.

Ever wanted to bottle an instant in time? I have. If I could, there’d be two moments I would want to keep forever. Firstly, I’d bottle the few hours I spent in Stanley Park with my mate Jack, on the 11th March 1967 as we waited for time to creep by and let us go to the game. I’d also bottle the hours after the match was over. More of that later though.

That was some day. I don’t have much affection for matters on the pitch of course. Thanks to Alan Ball for that. But still, If I had a bottle full of that day, I’d be drinking in those memories until my last gasp.

It was a Saturday, derby day. But there was added spice. The Reds were going to take on the Blues at Goodison Park, in the 5th Round of the FA Cup later that night. In normal circumstances that would have been enough but this game was special for a whole other reason.

It would be watched by the largest derby-day crowd ever, thanks to what I suppose Mr Wilson, the Prime Minister, would call the ‘white heat of technology.’ That night, at kick off, there would be 65,000 people at Goodison Park and 45,000 would watch the same game at Anfield, on giant screens erected on the pitch.

That meant 110,000 people watching the same game, live as it unfolded. We’d never seen the likes before.

It would be a magnificent experiment, and the first time ever that a football match would be relayed from one ground to another, live. In an age were one man had already encircled the earth in a tin can, and plans were afoot to put two on the moon, I guess it wasn’t much to write home about.

Still, it was the stuff of science fiction as far as I was concerned. Though, as exciting to me as all of that was, It couldn’t hold a candle to the way those glorious hours in the park felt, before the game got underway.

In the few hours before kick off, in any game, there exists a magical hinterland between joy and despair. Nothing is decided and everything is still possible.

Neither Jack nor me had to face the reality of the result, just yet. So, we simply revelled in the warm grass beneath us and the sunshine and wind on our faces. The air was also warm but blowy. Its gusts chased fluffy clouds through a blue sky and in the distance, I could hear kids laughing as they chased a kite across the park.

This game was going to be a clash between the champions of England – Liverpool, of course – and the winners of the FA Cup, Everton. Eternal glory awaited, along with weeks of gloating. At least it would for one of us.

Jack was an Evertonian but I supported the best team in the world. A team that played in red and who had the greatest manager ever, Bill Shankly. I’d sent Mr Shankly a letter a few weeks before the game. He hadn’t replied yet and I was starting to worry that he wouldn’t. I knew he was busy like, but I wanted him to write to me so badly, I got this sort of funny feeling in my stomach every time I thought about it.

I’d get home from school and, not wanting to ask if it had arrived, for fear of being disappointed, I’d instead stare longingly at my mum. Without uttering a word, and seeming to read the question on my mind, she’d simply shake her head. Every time it happened, it was devastating.

The thought of him, sitting in his office reading the words I had written, even better writing the words ‘Dear Peter,’ as he penned his reply, that was almost too much. If he did eventually write back, I though I’d frame that letter. I’d read it every day for the rest of my life.

Jack had called round to our house just after I’d finished my breakfast, which consisted of a solitary boiled egg. Still, I couldn’t finish it. I’d gone to bed thinking about the match and the same nervous anxiety had been waiting for me when I woke up.

Jack was sat on his bike, one foot on the pedal and the other steadying himself on the street outside our front door. He was wearing his black school shorts and a blue shirt. His knees were still scuffed from playing footy in the street the night before, as were his shoes.

‘Playing out?’ He asked.

It was either that or sit around the house waiting for the tension to build and getting on my Dad’s nerves. Mum was in the kitchen sorting out tea and the smell of pea-wack-soup and bacon ribs bubbling away on the stove was already starting to fill the house.

‘Yeah. Alright.’ I said.

I didn’t bother telling my parents. To be honest, I doubt they’d have noticed I was gone anyway. My Dad wasn’t exactly the most communicative man in the world. He barely spoke to me, unless I was in trouble. And then he tended to speak with the back of his hand.

By day he was half man, half armchair and by night he was in the pub at the bottom of the street. On the rare occasion I was still up when he crashed through the front door, I’d just leg it upstairs before he had chance to see me.

He wasn’t an angry drunk, really. He could be a pain in the arse though. Mum would greet him with a cup of Ovaltine. Then she’d just guide him to his favourite chair next to the wireless, speaking softly and chiding him gently.

He’d just drift off to sleep listening to music. Sometimes he’d be there all night and I’d see him in it, when I got up for school the next day. The Ovaltine would usually survive the night too.

He’d always make it into work though and my mum’s housekeeping money would always be on the mantelpiece at the end of the week. So the rent got paid and there was always food on the table. It couldn’t have been much of a life for her, but somehow she made it work.

I had no real problem with him. I just stayed out of his way. Besides, I had Mr Shankly. I learned more from him than I ever did from my father or at school. He was the gear. John Lennon was too. But Mr Shankly was better.

I grabbed my own bike from the cupboard under the stairs, stuffed an Eagle comic down the back of my pants and off we went to the park. Jack had a duffel bag over his shoulder and in it he had packed some butties and a lemonade bottle he’d filled with water.

We’d fight over who got the first swig and the winner always made it a long one. The first slug from the bottle was always pristine. Each one you took after that, would be full of breadcrumbs.

‘Why do you read that stuff,’ asked Jack, nodding towards my comic and taking another bite from his jam butty.

‘Dunno.’ I replied. I did, but I didn’t think Jack wanted to know the whole story. I was wrong.

‘All that space stuff,’ he continued, ‘I used to think it was daft like, but it’s real now isn’t it. Well, most if it like. Don’t fancy the idea of little green men much.’

He laughed but it was a nervous one. He wasn’t alone. I’d thought about that too and it kept me awake sometimes, to be honest.

We’d both been the pictures to see movies like King of the Rocket Men and we loved Flash Gordon, but the idea that people would actually go into space was just, well, stuff that happened on the big screen. Real people didn’t go to outer space, we had thought. So we could enjoy the fantasy of it all, and had never let the monsters in the films bother us too much.

Now we knew that men, or one man to be accurate, had actually done it, all bets were off. I never told anyone but ever since Yuri Gagarin had taken his spin in the heavens, just five years earlier, I’d been looking out my bedroom window nightly and worrying about what was up there looking back at me.

I wasn’t as much concerned about there being Russians and atom bombs out there in the vast blackness, as I was about the possibility of there being Daleks. The adults and the newspapers were paranoid about the red menace. I was obsessed with the green and the robotic one. Clearly, so was Jack.

‘Me neither,’ I replied with a shudder. Then I laughed to chase away the thought. ‘We’ll soon be on the moon though, and then who knows what will happen, maybe Mars next.’

‘You reckon? My Dad says the Rusky’s will be there first. He says they’re already out there, watching us. I don’t believe him like.’

We both looked up into the blue sky and imagined a cosmonaut staring back down at us. As if the Kremlyn were concerned with the musings of a couple of Scousers in Stanley Park, on derby day. Jack broke the silence.

‘Hey, if there’s an FA Cup on Mars, yous might be able to win that one.’ He laughed at his own gag and I rolled my eyes.

‘Yeah, you lot would be better with Captain Nemo as your manager.’ I replied.

He looked puzzled, but there was an expectant smile forming on his lips. ‘Go ed, what?’

‘Nothing. Just there’s 20,000 leagues under the sea. Sooner or later, you’re bound to win one of them.’

This time the two of us were laughing. And with that, the football had chased away the darkness of the world, both the real and the imagined one. It could always do that, footy. It still does.

We’d been there for hours now and I realised there wouldn’t be time for tea. I’d have to make my way to the ground and join the queues. I had a ticket for Goodison and Jack, the Blue, was going to our ground to watch it on the screens.

My ticket cost 8d and his was a few pennies less. But that wasn’t the only reason I was jealous. It seems odd to me now, but I’d have gladly swapped my seat before the live action, for a chance to be part of something so new and seemingly futuristic.

The Weekly News had described the game as ‘the cup tie that is out of this world,’ and it was difficult to argue. Though there was plenty of debate in the letters section. One Red had written in, saying that Tommy Lawrence could take the day off, as Everton’s strikers wouldn’t get near Liverpool’s goal.

A Blue wrote, that the Reds strikers lacked the guile to breakdown Everton’s rearguard. With the likes of Ball and Young upfront, who was worried, he gloated.

We dropped our bikes off and I walked with Jack to Anfield, before I doubled back through the Park to Goodison. I wanted to sample the feel of the place and take in some of the excitement. It was still light and the crowds were already gathering.

The queue for the Kop turnstiles stretched along Walton Breck Road, down Kemlyn Road and eventually reached the houses at the start of Anfield Road. It was no surprise. This was the biggest derby since the Reds got back into the first division, in 62.

I saw Jack into the throng and said my goodbyes. ‘Hope you lose,’ He shouted with a wink. ‘Same goes, I shouted,’ and off I went. The temperature had dropped a little and the wind was up, in more ways than one. So, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the cap my Nan had knitted for me.

It was red, of course, and she’d stitched the word LIVERPOOL in white piping, just above the brim. I placed it on my head and strode off with pride.

We were packed into Goodison like sardines. The noise as kick off approached was incredible and I could hardly hear myself think. I felt confident, I really did. We were the champions and we had the likes of St John and Hunt upfront and Smith and Yeats at the back. I didn’t think we could lose.

I was in for a shock.

The first half was even. That shouldn’t have been a surprise to me. These were the two best sides in the country, after all. But, on balance I thought Liverpool had done enough. Then Everton launched an attack.

To my right were two lads who seemed to be mates. They were probably about the same age as Jack and me, and one of them, the one with a red and white scarf around his neck, screamed something I couldn’t quite make out. Whatever it was, his mate, who had a blue rosette pinned to his jacket, didn’t like it one bit and he shoved his friend right into me.

A little scuffle broke out, and we all missed the fact that Alan Ball, who seemed to have drifted too far to the right of Lawrence’s goal, had flashed a right footed shot into the net.

There was an almighty roar, and at first I thought Liverpool had scored. Then, when I saw the delight on the faces of Blues all around me, my heart sank. The kid with the rosette was laughing now and his mate was fuming. So was I.

The Reds huffed and puffed throughout the second half, and as the final whistle approached the sense of dread in the pit of my gut grew. We were out of the cup, and worse still, I had weeks, maybe months of torment to come.

Jack would be merciless and he wouldn’t be the only one. The walk home was gloomy. The street lamps were on and I could just make out a few stars in the night sky. In my head I begged the Emperor Ming, the Russian Cosmonaut or whoever was watching, to just put me out of my misery. No release was forthcoming.

I walked past the pub at the bottom of our street. The lights illuminated the paving stones beneath my shoes. The atmosphere inside seemed huge and it too escaped the confines of the bar. It was raucous and good-natured.

Above the clink of glasses and laughter, a few songs could be heard. They toasted ‘St John’s body’ and promised to ‘hang the Kopites one-by-one on the banks of the royal blue Mersey.’

It stung. There would be worse to come though, as the Evertonians refused to pass up this golden opportunity to rub our noses in it. In the days that followed, fake funeral cards were handed out by the Toffees to poor unsuspecting Reds.

They read, ‘In Memory of Liverpool FC, who died in shame at Goodison Park,’ or something like that. Jack brought some into school on the Monday after the game. And he placed one on my desk, ready for me to find. I didn’t see the funny side. This one hurt. It hurt badly.

As I neared my front door, I noticed Mr Giordano, our neighbour, smoking a rolled up cigarette as he sat on his doorstep. The Giordanos lived in the terrace next to ours. He was a nice man. My Dad always referred to him as an ‘eye-tie.’ I was thirteen years old before I realised that meant he was from Italy.

His wife was English though, and I later learned that he had been a prisoner of war, in a camp in Halewood. They had allowed the POWs out at weekends if they had behaved themselves, and Mr Giordano had met the love of his life at a church dance.

On summer nights, I’d lie on my bed, with my bedroom window open and listen to the weird music coming from their yard. It always featured some fella singing in a funny language and a really deep voice or a high-pitched woman, but it was strangely soothing.

Once, I had kneeled on the ottoman in front of my bedroom window and sneaked a peak into their yard. It was filled with flowers, growing out of buckets dotted all around. Light from their kitchen window bathed the petals and in its glow I could see the two of them, dancing slowly as the music wafted into the summer evening.

I was only a kid, but somehow it affected me. I remember thinking, ‘so that’s what marriage should look like.’ Anyway, I knew it would take more than a bit of Italian opera to lull me to sleep that night, or any of the of the nights that followed.

‘Goodnight Mr Giordano,’ I called, as I passed his door.

‘Ah, ragazzo,’ he called out to me, blowing smoke into the air.

I had no idea what that meant but I waved to him anyway. he must have realised my mood, because he called out again, this time in English.

‘That Alan Ball,’ he said, ‘he’s some player, eh, ragazzo. You’re still campione though, eh?’

He was right. We were. But the FA Cup meant so much then. It didn’t help. I smiled weakly and pushed open our front door and disappeared inside.

To my surprise, my Dad was in and still up. He was sober too, and sat next to the wireless listening to the news. My mum was on the couch, knitting. She looked up as I entered the living room and her smile was full of pity.

My Dad turned off the radio and turned to me. ‘Bad night lad.’ He stated, in a matter of fact tone. But his face said he shared my pain.

I was so surprised to hear him speak to me, much less show some sympathy, that I almost didn’t answer him. Instead I just slumped on the settee next to my mother.

‘You could say that,’ I managed eventually.

‘There’s soup in the pan on the stove, and potatoes, cabbage and ribs, if you’re hungry son,’ she said. Mum always thought of our bellies in times of crisis.

I told her I wasn’t hungry and thought about going to bed. Then Dad did something that changed the whole complexion of the night. He handed me an envelope. It had already been opened, and the seal was all jagged, I could see the letter inside. My heart soared and my stomach began to flutter.

‘What’s this, Dad?’ I asked, but I knew already.

‘Sorry son.’ He started. ‘It came in the second post yesterday. I only saw it today. Your mum had put it on the mantelpiece and forgot all about it.

‘I’m afraid I opened it already though. You’ve never had a letter before, and, well, I just thought it would be for me. I didn’t read it all, I promise. But, what I did read, well I reckon it’ll cheer you up a bit like.’ He smiled.

I tried to remember the last time I’d seen him smile, properly. I couldn’t. It lit up his whole face and I felt a tear find its way to the corner of my eye. I looked down at the letter in my lap and proceeded to withdraw the paper inside.

At the top of the page, the words LIVERPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB were emblazoned above the club crest. Underneath it was fancy lettering that said Athletic Grounds Co. Ltd. I felt like I was handling some kind of precious treasure, and of course, I was.

It was from Him. Mr Shankly. My heart rate quickened and I felt short of breath, though I was just sitting down. I read his letter in silence, my lips moving as my eyes darted along the page. It said,

Dear Peter,

Received your letter regarding your loyalty to the team and myself, thanks for the same.

It gives me great pride to have so many loyal men like yourself behind us every week in the Kop. I can tell you that your support gives us the belief to win. We hope we give you similar belief. I can tell from your words, that we do. And that is worth more than all the money in the world to me.

We need to keep building ourselves up and up. It won’t be too long before we can give you even more to be proud of.

Yours sincerely

B. Shankly

Manager

I actually cried when I read that. Whenever I look at it, it still brings a tear to my eye. It lifted me out of my morass and it helped me face the Blues in school. The pain of defeat never completely went away, but I could handle it because Mr Shankly said we’d be winning again soon.

It’s 1973 now. I’m 20 years of age and I’m getting married soon. But, every time I set foot on the Kop, I still feel like a kid full of wonder. No matter the score, it’s a magical place.

It took him a while, but Mr Shankly was as good as his word. We were too, and we kept believing. The rewards came, eventually. We’ve just won the league, again and I’m on my way to the UEFA Cup Final, against Borussia Moenchengladbach, in Germany.

I’m so excited. We won the first leg at Anfield 3-0. I was there too. I’m certain we’ll be lifting another trophy before this night is out. Thank you Mr Shankly. Thank you for everything.

If you enjoyed this experiment in short form faction (a mix of fact and fiction) you may like my novel, Stanley Park Story: Life, Love and the Merseyside Derby.

The men who built Liverpool FC: George Patterson

Photo by Colorsport/REX Shutterstock (3036813a) George Patterson (Liverpool secretary) taken in 1925/26

For many of us, when we think of the history of Liverpool Football Club, our thoughts rarely stray beyond the arrival of Bill Shankly and the 1960s. This is entirely understandable. After all, Shankly transcends his role as manager, and his ethos and philosophy came to define the club for generations.

However, while it is true to say that the great Scot rebuilt a club languishing in the second tier of English football before setting it on a course to becoming, to use his own words, a ‘bastion of invincibility,’ focusing solely on on his achievements does a disservice to the many men who steered the club through its formative years, and who created foundations that have stood the test of time for over 127 years.

One of those men is George Patterson. Born in Liverpool, he served the Anfield club in various roles over many decades, before going on to live out his days in the shadow of Anfield, before passing away in May 1955, at the age of 68. George was living in number 21 Skerries Road at the time of his death – just two streets away from the football ground where he had plied his trade.

It was perhaps fitting, for a man who had given his whole career to the football club, that he would end his days within earshot of the mighty Spion Kop. If I close my eyes, I can imagine him making his way to the stadium on match days, walking among the supporters and sharing a few words with them. maybe he would have joined them for a tipple in the nearby pubs.

Fans queue at the entrance to the Kop on the corner of Kemlyn Road and Walton-Breck Road, in the 1950s. Skerries Road and the home of George Patterson is just yards away.

The role of manager has evolved considerably over the years. In the early days of the club, what we would call a manager was referred to as club secretary. And, the role did not involve picking the team. That job was the responsibility of the board.

Patterson joined the club as Assistant Secretary to the great Tom Watson, in 1908. Tom was a visionary who secured two first division titles and a second division championship. He won the clubs first top flight title in 1901. We’ll feature Tom on these pages soon.

Watson sadly passed away in 1915, and it would be Patterson who the club turned to, to fill his shoes. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War I delayed his managerial career by three years, and he was officially unveiled at the cessation of hostilities in 1918. In the intervening years, he would guide the club through the various inter-war competitions.

Patterson would use this period to bring through many players, such as Harry Chambers, who would go on to serve Liverpool with distinction in the 1920s. Chambers became something of a goal machine, and a key figure in the famous ‘Untouchables’ side, who dominated English football between 1921-23.

Following his formal appointment in 1918, the news was met positively in the local media. A reporter, named Bee, writing in the Liverpool Echo, had this to say:

 ‘I (Bee) am glad that Mr. George Patterson has been appointed secretary of Liverpool F.C. He is a practical man, unobtrusive, and shows wisdom with pen and in football matters. He is following one of the best in the late Tom Watson, but has been well schooled, and will make good. In his football days he played a deal of football with Orrell and other clubs, but from an Army point of view his big frame is useless – he has an extraordinary number of wriggling bones that have been broken. Here’s to him!’ 

Liverpool Echo. Quotation sourced at http://www.lfchistory.net

George would leave his role after just 18 games in charge, immediately returning to the boardroom. He was replaced by David Ashworth in December 1919. Patterson had won seven games and Liverpool were 18th in the first division.

Still, he must have been considered a valuable servant, as the club continued to use his administrative skills for years to come. They would also call upon him once more in 1928, after Matt McQueen moved on.

Sadly ill health meant that he would resign in 1936. By this point Liverpool had faded as a force and George would once again take up his role as club secretary, before finally retiring in 1938. The Sunderland Daily Echo carried a tribute to his career at Anfield on the 5th October 1938.

Thirty years an official of one football club! That is the proud record of Mr George Patterson, secretary of Liverpool F.C.

Mr Patterson has served the club in several positions, assistant secretary, then secretary-manager, but latterly, owing to the increasing duties and a rather severe illness he had to give up the managerial duties which were taken over by Mr George Kay, and confine himself to acting as secretary.

During Mr Patterson’s long stay at Anfield Liverpool have won practically every honour except that of cup winners.

Many players who by their performances on the football field have become famous owe their position to Mr Patterson, whose foresight and ability to see the potentialities of young players was responsible for their becoming footballers.

Sunderland Daily Echo. Cited on http://www.playupliverpool.com

Following his death in 1955, Patterson was interned close to home, at the nearby Anfield cemetery. His funeral cortege left from 326 Anfield Road and would have weaved its way slowly past the stadium where he had worked tirelessly for three decades. Then, past the streets where he had spent most of his life to his final resting place.

There he remained, in an unmarked plot at Anfield cemetery until 2019, when a group of supporters from the Liverpool Historical Group, headed by Kieran Smith, collected the funds necessary to have his grave marked with a headstone. It now stands as a fitting tribute to a great servant of the club.

Photo courtesy of Brian Spurgin

Kieran and the group began a ‘crowdfunder’ in April 2018, and after an article appeared in the Liverpool Echo in the following October, funds started rolling in. They reached their target in March 2019. Thanks to these dedicated supporters, the final resting place of one of the club’s most devoted servants has finally been appropriately marked. Smith said,

George is something of a misunderstood figure in the club’s history, yet he played a key role in its development all those years ago. He was also involved in player recruitment, helping to secure the signings of players such as Jack Balmer, Tom Bush, Berry Nieuwenhuys, Tom Cooper, Ernie Blenkinsop, Phil Taylor and Matt Busby. George served the club for over 30 years and deserves to be remembered.

Brian Spurgin, great nephew of Tom Bromilow, who captained Liverpool in the 1920s, believes George Patterson’s contribution should be celebrated today and recognised by modern supporters. He said,

I read the sad story regarding George Patterson on the Liverpool FC Historical Group Facebook Forum. The idea that a former Liverpool Manager is laid to rest in a grave with no headstone just a few hundred yards from the Club he had served with distinction for over 20 years saddened me. It affected me more so because of a family connection, George was at the Club at the same time as my Great Uncle (Tom Bromilow) George became our Manager in 1928 and one of the first things he did was to make Tom Club Captain. Maybe George wasn’t as successful as other Liverpool Managers but it is important that we pay our respects to a loyal Liverpool servant.

Kieran, Brian and the Liverpool Historical Group aren’t finished there though, and intend to ensure that another Reds great is similarly honoured. Bobby Robinson, a Liverpool player who was part of the 1905 title winning team, is also buried in an unmarked grave at Anfield cemetery, and there are plans to raise funds for another headstone.

Jurgen Klopp, speaking recently at a charity match arranged for Stephen Darby who has been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease, remarked that it didn’t matter whether a player had played one game or 400 for Liverpool, they’re all part of the family. It’s great that in 2019, there are Reds supporters who are the living embodiment of that spirit.

George Patterson will always be part of the family. YNWA.

Houllier’s complicated legacy

My review of the 2000/01 treble season, published on This is Anfield, prompted quite a reaction on Twitter. Many people agreed with my argument that Gerard Houllier deserves to be celebrated more on the Kop, for his achievements, with dozens of replies and more than 650 likes.

However, some can’t forgive errors in the transfer market and in particular his decision to sell Robbie Fowler. For me, Gerard made errors. That’s beyond debate. But, I would argue that his achievements far outweigh the mistakes. Houllier deserves a more positive legacy. Do you agree?

Chatting about We Conquered All of Europe with Chris Pajak on RMTV

Video

Jeff Goulding on Redmen TV talking about writing and his latest book We Conquered All of Europe

Here is the interview I did with Redmen TV, talking about my new book, my old books, writing and this website.

On this day 45 years ago, Shankly stunned football and resigned as Reds manager

On the 12th of July 1974, Bill Shankly delivered the news to a shocked city that he was retiring as Liverpool manager. The reaction was akin to grief and mourning. He left behind a legacy of greatness and his vision lives on today.

He had delivered two FA Cups, the UEFA Cup and three league titles in 15 years. More than that, though, Shankly created the foundations, the ethos and self belief required for Liverpool Football Club to go on and dominate European football. He made the people happy.

Read my season review of the year Shankly dragged the Reds out of Division 2, on This is Anfield:

An hour or two with Redmen TV

How boss is this, Red Odyssey has a regular slot on the multi-award winning Redmen TV

Everyone loves a day off work. It’s a chance to recharge, catch up on jobs around the house, get some writing done or, as I did today, while away an hour or two in the company of some great Liverpool fans and award winning vloggers. So, it was an absolute pleasure for me to join Chris Pajak, Ross and the team from Redmen TV to review last season, Liverpool’s plans for the summer, and also discuss the website and my upcoming book, We Conquered all of Europe. There was also a discussion about what the Sing Fong chippy and the Albert Pub would say, if they could talk. Confused? You will be.

That show will be out soon, but if you can’t wait that long, here’s are some clips of me in conversation with Chris about Red Odyssey and Stanley Park Story form earlier.

My debut on Redmen TV
More from my debut on Redmen TV
Jeff and Chris discuss Stanley Park Story

Oh, I am a Liverpudlian

I was born in 1967, so I am kinda old now. I’ve seen the Reds win everything. Nevertheless, I missed Shankly’s first great side and that incredible first FA Cup win. By the time I became consciously aware of football, Shanks was in the process of rebuilding his second great team. The Reds were not winning things – Liverpool went six years without a trophy, between 1967 and 1973.

As a kid growing up in Liverpool in the 1970s, I faced a very simple choice; was I Red or Blue? Obviously, I chose Liverpool. My mum and dad were massive Reds, as were my grandparents, aunts and uncles, but I had lots of Blue mates. If I’m honest, I can’t really say it was parental influence, I’d have chosen Liverpool anyway. And it was because of one man.

If I was going to pick the best side on Merseyside at the time, I might have decided to support Everton. But Everton didn’t have Bill Shankly.

Shankly was like a God to my family. His influence was pervasive, like the unofficial Prime Minister of Liverpool to us. The people who mattered to me, my family and mates, just believed in him. And, I believed in him. If he said we would be winning things again soon, then that was it. Enough said.

The first big game I remember was the 74 FA Cup final against Newcastle. I watched that at home on the telly and I’ve written about this before, but the reactions of the people I loved, to that game and that win, will live with me forever. I would say my all-consuming love of the club can be traced back to that day.

By the time I was starting to go to games on my own, Liverpool were the undisputed Kings of Europe. In 1978 they retained the European Cup and I thought they were magicians. They were something akin to the the Harlem Globetrotters of football. Or maybe the Harlem Globetrotters were the Liverpool of basketball.

Of course, they could be beaten and did lose from time to time, but in my childish mind they could do no wrong. I was so convinced of their infallibility, that a defeat would be met with bemusement more than anger.

Anfield was a magical place, where miracles happened far more regularly than in the the other two cathedrals at either end of Hope Street, Liverpool. There was nothing special about the bricks, mortar, steel and concrete of course. The Kop was austere and the atmosphere was raw, gritty and working class. The Anfield Road end was just as raucous and the people who frequented that part of the ground were as proud and loud as Kopites, who they often referred to as ‘gobshites,’ long before Evertonians did.

For all its primitive trappings. I loved the place. I still do. Especially during a night game, when the grass looks so green and the lights so bright. The feeling of being in a crowd that feels more like a community and being swept up in song and draped in banners is second to none.

Anfield has changed, of course it has. The ground has been evolving for more than a century, along with the team and the people they represent. Yet, somehow the ghosts of those heady days of my childhood and adolescence still linger, whenever I take my seat.

There are countless stories and memories burnt into the fabric of that football ground, and in the streets around it. Some are deliriously happy tales, others are sad, even tragic. Anfield Road has been trodden by countless Reds down the years. Everyone of them carried hope in their hearts and had dreams and songs to sing.

We are Anfield, and Anfield is us. It’s more than a football stadium. Liverpool is more than a football club and this city is more than a place to stay, to me anyway. My city, its people and the team I follow have helped shape my politics, my writing and ultimately they have come to define who I am.

That’s why I care so much. For me, there’s no other way to explain my obsession with the fortunes of 11 men I don’t know, kicking a ball around a field, unless I accept that being a Liverpudlian is about being part of something bigger than myself. I am not religious at all, but perhaps my affinity with Liverpool, the club and the city, is as close to a religious experience as I will ever get.

It is irrational, joyous, despairing and often life affirming. But, it makes no sense when you sit down and try to analyse it. Is that religion? Maybe. All I know is it’s my life and I will be a Liverpudlian until I die.

My politics is the socialism of Shankly. I believe in collective effort and communal reward. I am unapologetically left wing. I don’t subscribe to the notion that politics and football should be kept separate. Heysel and Hillsborough, Thatcher and the doctrine of managed decline have taught me that politics is life and life is political.

So, I write about all of that. My team, my loves and my passions. I hope you stick around on these pages, read, enjoy and join in the conversation. And, if you fancy it, pick up one of my books or all of them, if you like.

You’ll never walk alone.