Sunday 23 October 2016

Anfield '77' protest is gathering steam but it won't spark change

Liverpool fans walk out after 77 minutes during Saturday’s Premier League match at Anfield. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA
Liverpool fans walk out after 77 minutes during Saturday’s Premier League match at Anfield. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA

There's a viral doing the rounds at the moment of an Irish Liverpool fan outside Anfield all but apoplectic at the idea that someone would have to pay £77 for a ticket.

He's annoyed about the price hike but he is even more vexed by the notion that anyone should have to pay such a chunky fee to watch Jordan Henderson. "I mean Jordan Henderson, for f**ks sake."

Ronnie Whelan made made the same point yesterday in the Herald. Give Liverpool fans a show to watch and John Henry might find it easier to slip in price rises.

Now, it won't be easy to stop the ball which Liverpool supporter groups have started rolling,

There is a vast untapped reservoir of angst within English football culture. Ordinary fans are being squeezed out of their seats by commerce to make room for a wealthier 'customers' who may have no connection with the local area but spend big in the club shop.

With the help of social media and some shrewd planning, the Spion Kop 1906 protest made a huge impact, so big that FSG are considering an urgent review of their pricing structure for 2016/17.

Moved on

That's the kind of talk you hear when civil servants get together. First they consider, then they review and by the time they reach any conclusions, we've all moved on.

Whether the walk-out can be blamed for Liverpool's collapse on the pitch against Sunderland is neither here nor there. It might have been a factor and that should be enough to scare John Henry and his buddies.

There will be more protests though, as one contributor to This is Anfield yesterday pointed out, the biggest difficulty the organisers will have is not to alienate the 30,000 fans who chose to stay in their seats on Saturday - a big majority.

Manchester United's legion of fans, of course, must look at the plea for ticket price restraint at Anfield with a wry smile. The only way is up at Old Trafford and many of the top clubs in the Premier League are the same.

The Green and Gold movement focused on big targets like the Glazer family and when they couldn't stop them buying the Theatre of Dreams, moved on to club debt. But the more Alex Ferguson won, the quieter the protest became until it faded away.

"We didn't fail," said Duncan Drasdo of the Manchester United Supporters Trust back in May of last year.

"What happened is we haven't yet succeeded. But if we gave up now then we'd have failed. We need an organisation to hold the owners to account."

Manchester United lost thousands who embraced the Green and Gold concept to FC United but the vast majority stayed and empty seats were quickly filled. Drasdo underlined the biggest problem with all such popular protest movements.

"There was no appetite for general protest," says Drasdo. "And really there's no point protesting unless you have a genuine alternative."

In this case, the issue is very specific and quantifiable. The protest group argue that the £5.1 new broadcast deal should allow FSG scope to actually reduce prices across the board instead of increasing them.

No American businessman would accept such a philanthropic approach to investment but FSG are in a bind. They know how to protest in Liverpool but while it might cause FSG to think again, it won't stop their long term strategy.

FSG will point to their £120m investment in the new Anfield stand as evidence of their commitment and apparently, are appalled by fans chanting "greedy b******s, enough is enough",

This is the essence of the problem. It is a clash of cultures, a clash of commerce with a deeply emotional attachment to tradition.

The Yanks just don't understand what it means to be a Liverpool supporter and to have a connection with the club forged, quite literally, in blood and tears. Even if they did, they'd still want to make money.

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