Monday, 25 May 2015

The hierarchy of football supporters

I wrote this post about Steven Gerrard’s final game at Anfield before his transfer to LA Galaxy, ending a 17 year career at Liverpool Football Club.

It was the first real post I’d written about football, offering an opinion inspired by the outpouring of emotional disappointment, so I was over the moon when reposted it on their website.

I tend to shy away from talking about football in general because I don’t feel I have the right to an opinion, due to my low position in the unspoken hierarchy of football supporters.

I haven’t heard it formally acknowledged, but I have heard several arguments concluded with a dismissive ‘What would you know? You don’t even go the game‘ or ‘when was the last time you set foot in Anfield’, which suggests the value of an opinion is proportional to their level of support. So here’s what I perceive to be the hierarchy of football supporters.

Well, my dad supports Liverpool…

At the very bottom of the support ladder there’s the people that have a vague awareness of football, they claim to support a team because they’re born into a family of supporters, they might even be the contrary type that supports the rival team in an act of defiance because they’re simply not that interested at all but make a token gesture of cheering if their adopted team wins, or more likely, their rival team loses.

Next up there’s the armchair supporters, those that watch their team when they’re on TV and will pay attention to the score. These guys have varying levels of interest, some will watch every televised game, while others will also watch all the non-televised games by any means necessary.

When was the last time you went to the match?

In the middle of the hierarchy is the casual attendee. These are the ones that watch every match on TV, unless they can get hold of a ticket, in which case they’ll jump at the chance to go to a game. They’ve probably been on a waiting list for a season ticket for years, and gladly make use of tickets for the league cup qualifers and mid-week evening games that no one else wants to go to, but for which they need to buy tickets to guarantee their right to buy a ticket should their team make it to the final.

Then there’s the season ticket holders, and the supporters that somehow manage to get a ticket to every home game. They’ve likely been going the game since they were a kid and have more than earned their opinion, watching the players week in week out without listening to the nonsense spouted by the match commentators.

A step up from the season ticket holders are those that, in addition to going to every league home game, also go to every cup qualifier and all knock out matches played at home.

There’s a sub category here: Those supporters around the world, unable to go to the match due to their geographical location. In New York, for example, the NY Reds (New York’s LFC Supporters Club) are up at the crack of dawn to make their way to the 11th Street bar for a 7:30am kick off (12:30pm UK time). The place is full, the supporters don’t stop singing and the atmosphere is amazing. These supporters are as passionate about their team as any at the top end of the hierarchy, and shouldn’t be dismissed simply because their location prevents them ever stepping foot inside the Stadium.

It should be noted here that there’s also a snobbery about whether you support your local team or whether you’re a glory hunter following the team that tends to win more often. But should you support your local team, or the team your family support? With so many people relocating, not just within their own country but to other countries around the world, it’s little wonder that we find kids, growing up in London or New York, being raised to support Liverpool, Man Utd or even Hull City.

Where were you when we were playing Trabzonspor on a Thursday night?

Then we reach the top end of the table – the away supporters, not only attending every game played at home, they also attend the away games. These have their own hierarchy: the away supporters that only travel to nearby towns, the supporters that just go to the cup games or the big games at Wembley and then those that go to every away game no matter what.

Finally there’s the top of the league supporters that not only go to every domestic home and away game but they travel to away games in other countries.

So whose opinion counts?

Well, as a lowly armchair supporter that has enjoyed a few seasons as a casual attendee, I have never really felt that my opinion mattered. But that might make me slightly more rational and less emotional in my opinion. I’ve witnessed debates between season ticket holders with opposing views. Both opinion is as valid as the other in the hierarchy of support; neither party can claim the other doesn’t know what they’re talking about as they both have the same level of commitment to their team. But their opinions differ non the less.

So when it comes to opinion maybe it doesn’t matter how many games you go to or how far you travel. But maybe those factors effect the passion and emotional stance of a supporter. Maybe going to every game – home and away – gives you a stronger bond to the club, makes you part of the “twelfth man” and gives you an insight that those less passionately connected to the club might have.

Either way, as they say, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and with an open invitation to write more articles for, I’m no longer afraid to share mine.


The hierarchy of football supporters

Saturday, 23 May 2015

A Legendary Time

This is a short story inspired by the song I Am Legend by Loved Up Les.

And in memory of my Uncle, A.W.S, a legend in his time.

I was in that limbo, between sleep and waking. I could hear muffled sounds but I could also feel the dream world I’d been involved in. There was a beeping noise and I couldn’t be sure from which reality it was coming. I suspected both. It was like being underwater, the closer I rose to the surface the louder the noise became, but as I moved back under, everything seemed far away, almost calm. A warmth enveloped me and made me want to stay where I was.
“Come on, we’ve got to go.” I heard a voice calling through the mist. Narrowing my eyes against the head lights of the vehicle facing me, I could make out a shadow waving at me. I approached him cautiously. “Come on, Jack, everyone’s waiting.”

“Jack? My name is Arthur, I think you got the wrong guy.” I turned to walk away but he grabbed my arm.

“Quit playing around, Jack, come on it’s time to go.”

There was something familiar about him, “Stanley?” He rolled his eyes, impatiently.

“Oh man, that was weeks ago, it’s me, Alan.” He stared at me, waiting for me to recognise him, “Jeez, did you get so old you don’t remember me?”

I took in my surroundings while I tried to think. I couldn’t see much, it was dark, and misty, everywhere I looked there was a fuzziness around the edge of my vision. All I could see was Alan, the headlights behind him plunging his face into darkness. He looked like my brother Stan. But that was impossible. Stan died twenty years ago.

“Oh.” I mumbled, reality dawning on me. I looked behind me, “no, I’m not ready yet.”

“Quit messing around, Jack, get in the car. Everyone’s home already, they’re waiting for you.” He was tapping his foot impatiently. It sounded unusually loud, like a drum beat in my head.

I looked at him in surprise, “everyone?”

“Well okay, Sylvie returned but then went back in about six weeks ago. So technically we’re waiting on her before we can all be together, unless she’s out as long as you’ve been.”

I had a sense that I should know what he was talking about, but I didn’t. I wasn’t this Jack character he seemed to think I was.
“How long have I been gone?”

“Eighty Three days. That’s some record. The longest yet.”

I looked down at my hands and saw the wrinkles starting to smooth slightly. I shook my head.

“No, I’m not finished.” I started walking backwards, in the distance I could hear a constant sound, just one note, steady and slow, it got louder as I picked up pace, turning to run towards it.

“Okay well I’ll just wait here then, okay?” Alan shouted, his voice sounding quiet in the distance, almost like it had been carried by the wind.

The noise stopped and I resurfaced with a gasp. I heard a cry and a shout for help and there was movement around me. I could still hear Alan’s foot tapping, so loudly, I could feel it in my chest. My eye lids felt heavy, I tried to open them but they felt like they were glued together. I raised my hands to touch them, helping them open as I blinked rapidly.

“You gave us quite a fright there, Arthur.” The doctor said, “where did you go?”

I shrugged imperceptibly. Grabbing his hand as he turned to leave. He looked down at me, surprised.

“Am I dying?” I asked.

He seemed to think about his answer for a while, but eventually nodded, “I’m afraid so, Art’.”

“How long?”

“A day, maybe two. That depends on you, really.”

“Can I go home?”

“If you’d prefer to, but we can keep you comfortable here.”

I glanced around the private room I was in. The monitors beeped every few seconds to remind everyone I was still just about clinging on to life. Everything smelled of disinfectant.

“No offence, Doc, but this place stinks and your space is limited and there’s nowhere to park, and if I’m going then I want everyone around me to see me off.”

The doctor nodded, “we’ll send a nurse home with you to make sure you’ve got medical care on site. I’ll get the discharge papers sorted.”


“Where’s your mother?” I asked my son, he was a good lad, my youngest, from my third marriage. We didn’t last long, she was far too young and I was far too healthy. She cut her losses and took the child support. I smirked to myself as I thought it.

“She’s outside, shall I send her in?”

“Later, I just wanted to know she was here.” I turned to my daughter, my eldest, who was getting old herself, “You look just like your mother you know.” I told her, “I’m sorry you didn’t get to spend more time with her.” Her mother had been the love of my life, but she’d died young and not a day had passed when I didn’t miss her.

I had a sudden memory of Alan, what did he mean everyone was waiting for me? Was she waiting for me? My Peggy?

“Who’s here?” I asked them both.

“Everyone, Dad. We told everyone and they all came.”

“I want you to go downstairs, get some music on and crack open those bottles of wine I’ve been saving for a special occasion. The fizzy ones.”

“I wouldn’t call this a special occasion, Dad.” My son said, a tremor in his voice as he spoke.

“It is, lad. It’s my farewell party, and I get to be at it. I should’ve died hours ago, so let me celebrate and raise a glass with all my friends, my children, their mothers, my lovers and everyone that I know. It’s the last chance I’ll ever have to drink that damn wine!”


I fell asleep watching I Am Legend. I had a strange dream about a group of friends all living with different identities and pretending to be different people. I thought they were actors, but they were different. They had stories of the lives they’d lived. Somehow they all remembered each others stories as if they’d all been there. And there was a woman, Sylvie. She reminded me of my Peggy. I was sat next to her and she smiled at me, so radiantly and whispered, come on Jack, come home.”

I woke up with a start, there was a vicar stood on one side of my bed and a nurse on the other. I looked at the nurse and grinned.

“thought you’d got shut of me did you?”

“Not at all, this is your cousin simon, he wanted to pay his respects.”

I looked at my cousin with interest, “save your prayers, I’d believe in the Loch Ness monster before I’d believe in any God.”

He smiled at me, “that is your choice and I respect that. But I will still pray for you.”

I shrugged.

“Is my nephew here?” I asked. Richard was a newly elected MP, my sister had been so proud of him, when he was first elected as a local councillor.

“I’m afraid he’s at the house, but he will try to get here.”

I shrugged again, “Hmph! Get me my lawyer, I’ve a good mind to leave Richard my parking fines. He can pay them out of his expenses.”

The nurse took hold of my wrist and looked at her watch as she counted the beats of blood pulsing through my veins. She smiled down at me and I saw a familiar sparkle in her eye.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Dorothy.” She smiled.

“Do you know anyone called Sylvie?”

She frowned as she thought about it.

“I don’t think so. Why, who’s Sylvie?”

“I don’t know.” I shrugged.

Dorothy laughed, a pleasant tinkling laugh that sounded familiar to me. As I looked at her the edges of my vision began to blur as a mist rolled in. I heard a car beeping and as I closed my eyes for the final time I knew exactly who I was and where I was going. Goodbye Arthur, it was fun being you.

“Are you ready to go this time?” Alan asked, impatiently. I grinned at my best friend, looking down at my hands as the wrinkles smoothed out. I straightened up and felt the years falling away from me.

“I am. She found me.”

“Sylvie? Who is she this time?”

“She’s a nurse, Dorothy, hope she brings the uniform back with her, she looked hot in it!”

“Please, that’s my sister you’re talking about.” Alan frowned.

“So she went in twice?”

“Yeah, she was fuming when she got hit by that bus. You two finding each other so early was also a record you know, I was surprised you lasted another fifty days.”

“Hey it was a good life, I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t be sorry to meet some of those guys again.”

“Oh my god, what happened to you in there? You never want to mix with the other groups.”

“I know, but I spent eighty three earth years being Arthur, he had a lot of friends, a great family. You all left so early.”

“Hey I managed sixty days, double what Sylvie managed. Although she’s been gone another forty since then.”

Well I’m going to need a break before I go in again. Tell head office I’m going down to sit by the pool until we’re all together and then we’ll go again.

Alan pulled up outside a gatehouse.

“Are you ready?”

I nodded as I followed him through the gate and into a lift. I filed all the memories of my time as Arthur into the back of my mind and stepped out of the lift. There was a small crowd of people all waiting to greet me.

“Welcome home, Jack. Good to see you, mate.”

“Top of the leaderboard again, Jack, eighty three, what was that like?”

I shook hands with everyone and accepted the praise and accolades.

It was a strange life we lived up here in the Soul Cavern. We’d lived many life-times but what made my team strong was our own challenge to find each other on Earth before we returned home.

Arthur had always wondered about Peggy’s last words to him, they had never made any sense. But they weren’t meant for him. They were meant for me. “Wait for me, Jack. I’ll come back.” And that’s what I did.

A Legendary Time

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Why Steven Gerrard's fairy tale ending didn't come true

I’ve always supported Liverpool since I was a child. My whole family supports them, my brother has had a season ticket for as long as I can remember and despite the fact that I look way better in blue, I always knew that supporting a team wasn’t a fashion choice. We don’t stop supporting our team just because they lose a few lot of games. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are, without a doubt, the legends of my time – alongside my childhood hero Kenny Dalglish.

I was really sad when Carragher retired and hoped to see him continue at the club in a coaching capacity. But he’s also very entertaining as a pundit. Gerrard’s announcement that he would be leaving was met with mixed feelings. On the one hand, he’s not ready to stop playing, but he’s past the point where he’s fast enough for a premiership team, and despite his motivational presence, the team have performed better without him on some occasions this year. Maybe his impending departure was weighing heavily on the team, maybe their heads haven’t been in the game. But there’s been a lot of negative, vitriol all over the internet since Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, calls for Brendan Out and talk of the gaping hole Gerrard will now leave.

Despite what hardcore football fans may claim, football is just a game. It is.

In its most basic description, it’s a game, where two teams of eleven players try to get a ball between the goal posts, without using their hands. A ball. A spherical object that bounces in an apparently random way, influenced by principles of maths and physics.

Doesn’t sound that hard – although, don’t forget – you can’t touch the ball with your hands!

What makes a good player?

If the random placing of a ball is the deciding factor between winning and losing, how on earth can you differentiate between the skill and value of a player? Top players are valued at tens of millions of pounds in the transfer market and they earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a week. Top players, I presume, have an excellent grasp on the application of maths and physics – trajectory, angles, force etc in kicking a ball so that it lands where they want it to… assuming of course that they have compensated for wind speed and direction and the players around them have the same sense to anticipate where the ball might land. Of course, it also assumes they know the precise hardness of the ground and are intimately acquainted with every dip, curve and bump of the pitch so the ball will bounce in the precise direction of the player they’re aiming to pass the ball to.

And football players have a reputation for being a bit stupid…!

Maybe it’s speed, motivation, fearlessness. The fastest players reach the ball, can tear up the pitch towards the goal and, if they happen to have the right equation in their head, kick the ball into the back of the net. Maybe the best players are those that just don’t stop moving all game, they chase the ball all over the pitch and create a headache for the opposition, freeing up other players to grab the ball (with their feet) and run.

The stuff dreams are made of

One thing football most certainly is not, is a fairy tale. As soon as it was announced that he was leaving, we all thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice if he could win a trophy in his last season with us?’ Of course it would. It would be nice for all the players and the fans too. It’s what we all hope for at the start of every season.

The FA Cup final is scheduled to be played on the same day as Steven Gerrard’s birthday. So of course we had talk of fate, that it was written in the stars that Gerrard’s last game for Liverpool would see him lift the FA Cup trophy on his birthday.

Sadly we were knocked out. Maybe we were so reliant on the romance and fairy tale of it all that we forgot to actually play the game and as a result we lost. But on the plus side; at least he doesn’t have to work on his birthday, so there is a silver lining – besides, he’s already got an FA cup medal or two in his collection.

Yesterday’s game against Crystal Palace, promised to be an emotional affair. The last home game of the season, and Gerrard’s last game at Anfield. He came onto the pitch to a guard of honour, he had a speech prepared, the supporters held aloft their supplied square of plastic and created a tributary mosaic and it was geared up to be a fond farewell to the club captain and team legend.

We were destined to win that game and send him off in style. But – and I can’t stress this enough – football isn’t a fairy tale, the outcome is determined by kicking a ball around.

There has been an outpouring of anger and disgust by fans, along with absolute glee from rival supporters, those that like to dismiss his achievements by summing up his seventeen year career at Anfield as one slip and zero premier league titles. There are those that were sick of hearing about Gerrard’s emotional final game – but I’m already sick of hearing about how it was ruined for him. Yes it would have been lovely if we’d won and Gerrard left on a high. But life isn’t a novel, or a film. We can’t manufacture happy endings when the outcome is determined by physics and not emotion.

Were the players to blame? Did the occasion get the better of them? Were they feeling sad because their friend and captain was leaving them? Sometimes people have other things on their mind that are more important than the job in hand. Okay not all of us earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a week to kick a ball around a pitch, but all across the world, men and women go to work, to earn a living, to feed their family and keep a roof over their head. Sometimes they hate their job, sometimes their mind is on more pressing matters and they just go through the motion, sometimes they make mistakes. It doesn’t mean they’re not good at their job, it just means they’re human. We’re all human. Footballers included.

Steven Gerrard is a Liverpool legend. After 17 years, 502 league games and 708 senior appearances, he’s scored 185 goals and won 7 major honours. Losing to Crystal Palace in his final home game, doesn’t change any of that, and it shouldn’t cause any more outrage or disappointment than any other defeat.

He will be missed, of course, but the game goes on. Yes there’s work to be done at the club, but that is the case, with or without Gerrard in the squad. If football is more than just a game, then, for Liverpool at least, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are more than just players – they’re not the first Liverpool legends and they surely won’t be the last.

But maybe if football fans all focused on the random placement of a kicked ball and less on the imagined super powers of the men kicking them, we’d all be a little less disappointed when fairy tales don’t come true.

Why Steven Gerrard's fairy tale ending didn't come true