Walking Alone

26 Sep

With Liverpool’s humiliating elimination by Northampton Town in this week’s League Cup, coupled with yet another installment in their stuttering start to their League campaign against Sunderland yesterday, perhaps it is time for us to begin a re-assessment of what this famous club’s purpose is in the modern era. The instability of Liverpool’s ownership situation continues to rumble on but Liverpool’s decline as a football club has been long-standing and can more or less be traced back to the abandonment of their much-fabled Boot Room ethic, that appointed managers from within the inner sanctum of the club’s coaching staff, with the hiring of the divisive figure of Graeme Souness in the early 90s. With the renouncing of the ideals which formed the foundation of the club’s imperious domination of the game in the 1970s and 1980s, Liverpool Football Club has lurched from one transitional crisis to the next in the intervening years and despite having achieved such an improbable victory in the Champions League in 2005, a generation of fans has grown up viewing the club’s devouring of League titles as a fast-receding dot in the distance.

Liverpool has a long history as a city of opposition to the repressive dictats and policies decreed by the centralised, Goliath of Westminster. As Margaret Thatcher began her systematic dismantling of the fraternal bonds that held the working-class together in the early 1980s, Liverpool was at the frontline of the class war having one of the highest unemployment rates in the country leading to mass departures and 15% of land being left either vacant or derelict. As a response to government plans to reduce funding for local services, Liverpool City Council fought a prominent campaign of opposition to the draconian policies which would have ravished communities already ravaged by the consequences of factory closures. Out of this climate of fear and loathing came some of the most impassioned and critical cultural beacons of the time with the likes of Alan Bleasdale and Carla Lane articulating the plight of the city’s working class in televisual landmarks such as Boys From The Blackstuff and Bread. From this, the image of the ‘Scouser’, for better or for worse was formed and has continued to resonate with us ever since from the docker’s strike of the 90s to Harry Enfield’s lampooning for a mass audience.

Liverpool Football Club’s current predicament mirrors that of its city. By losing the very essence of what it stands for, it remains mired in a cultural timewarp, unable to choose a path which would serve the twin purposes of re-capturing the glorious achievements of its past whilst also competing in a football world which has had to disengage with its roots in order to compete in a world which holds market forces and brand-awareness in higher regard as a pathway to success and growth; Chelsea and Manchester City, perhaps providing the most evident examples to this less esoteric non-ideology.

What perhaps is providing the biggest obstacle to Liverpool’s evolution is the sense of entitlement that pervades the mentality of the club’s fans and the media’s reluctance to admit that Liverpool cannot, in their present state of metaphyiscal limbo, hope to reach the giddy heights that they once reached. Whilst Liverpool have stagnated, Manchester United became the pre-eminent club of the last two decades and it is telling that whilst the ‘local’ fans all seemed to support Liverpool in the 80s, the casual fan tends to plump for United, Chelsea or Arsenal these days. Of course, this is a sign of success and a back-handed denouncement of the ‘glory-hunter’ but it also shines a light on just how much Liverpool’s stock has fallen. Liverpool have no divine right to sit at the game’s top table and the emergence of far more credible challengers to the much-coveted fourth spot has only made this even clearer to the observer.

However, it is ironic that events in the world at large seem to mirror what is going on in the world of football. Ed Miliband is now the Labour leader. And with his election, the death knell in the New Labour project is more than likely to come about. The Labour Party, having narrowly rejected the prospect of his brother David, has hinted that it is eager to re-engage with the ideological principles that once laid the foundation of what it stood for. Although David seemed to have been the heir-apparent to Tony Blair, the evident lack of a clear purpose other than the pursuit of power which saw New Labour rise out of the ashes of Thatcher’s class war has shown that there is an appetite for the politics of conviction which so many commentators were keen to dispel. As the coalition government continues with its policies of austerity, it would seem that we are headed towards an era which may yet rival the 80s in terms of societal divisions. And out of this adversity, with a sense of conviction, the city of Liverpool and its club may just be able to thrive once again, on the field and culturally, as it did in its heyday.

The problem with such a proposal however, is the fact that Liverpool as a football club is devoid of the foundations so meticulously laid by the great Bill Shankly. The media likes to hold up Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher as examples of how the club has remained loyal to its roots but all they really serve to do is show how far the club has come away from what it once was. Their purpose is to show everybody else that the club retains its ‘Scouse’ spirit but in the end, what truly matters for Liverpool fans is the collection of trophies. If the battle for the club’s soul and identity is not resolved soon, the Shankly dynasty will be something that is re-told as a brief moment in history. Alan Bleasdale would surely relish and despair at such a challenge.

Further Reading:

The Rise and Fall of New Labour

Dispatches guest spot on www.just-football.com: A Matter of Opinion

One Response to “Walking Alone”

  1. rachycakes December 30, 2010 at 13:32 #

    Great piece, Greg. Very interesting seeing the parallels between the decline of the city as a whole and that of the club. Even as a Liverpool supporter, I have to agree that it’s time we fans changed our attitude and accept that we’ve a very long way to go before we’re even a patch on what we ought to be. Galling as it is to admit it, that’s where we’re at now. A new manager would be a fantastic start.

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