1-5: Liverpool: Rebellion and Resilience
football's political city
Liverpool is a political football city like no other. It’s also swimming in just as much money as the rest of the game. This week, Goldblatt heads to watch his beloved Tottenham Hotspur take on Liverpool FC; but also visits the activists from Spirit of Shankly and Fans Supporting Foodbanks, who do their work outside the stadium, in his quest to find out what it means for him to be a fan.
one more thing...
I have fought for high-end halftime canapés with the press pack at international tournaments, and sat in a box at LA Galaxy’s stadium eating watercress and mandarin salad, but the closest I’ve come to high-end commercial catering at football in England was the dismal chicken tikka that I ate before Chelsea slaughtered Tottenham in the League Cup final at Wembley in 2015. Barely as good as a supermarket microwave meal, for three times the price.
Now my usual rule of thumb—and it is one based on a lot of empirical evidence—is that when attending a football match in England it is better to go hungry than to eat what is on offer.
It goes without saying that all meat products—hot dogs, burgers and pies—are not to be trusted. There are clubs, particularly in the north of England, where the pies are local and commendable, but I just can’t go there anymore.
I’ve also sated myself on third-rate fries, salty snacks, branded confectionery and grotesquely overpriced tea enough times to know that it isn’t going to help anything. And don’t even start me on the issue of coffee.
So, when I was offered a ticket—indeed, a whole match day experience and three-course meal at The Boot Room at Anfield—to see Liverpool versus Tottenham Hotspur, the prospect was, as they relentlessly say in football commentary land, “mouthwatering.” The game promised to be an open, attacking, but closely-balanced duel; the food, given the hefty ticket price, would surely be a feast; and perhaps best of all, I had never been to see a game at Anfield before.
On the other hand, the ticket cost a lot of money, around five times as much as the average season ticket price. It’s about a week’s income for someone on the minimum wage in Britain. It is also the only way, illegal touts and the secondary market aside, to jump the queue; even in the newly-expanded stadium (now seating around 55,000) seats are very hard to come by.
I paid up.
On match day itself the new plazas and public spaces around Anfield are generously provisioned with street food vans; pubs and takeaways on the high street are busy, and in the family fan zone at the Anfield Road end of the ground you can choose from a dozen different food stalls. However, next to one small green van, a group of Liverpool and Everton fans were not doling food out, but instead collecting it. In fact, Fans Supporting Foodbanks, created by the clubs’ fan groups Everton Supporters Trust and Spirit of Shankly, have three collection points and together are keeping North Liverpool’s food banks well stocked. And, as they told me, they’ve only just begun.
It puts the cost of the ticket in perspective when you realise that each week thousands of families, right here, are relying on food bank donations. It was also a reminder of the potency of football as an agent of social organisation and change, its capacity to draw on great webs of solidarity and local identity, and the fact that Liverpool, of all football cities in Britain, has the political history and energy to make it happen.
In fact, as you’ll hear in the show, that collection was just the tip of an iceberg of all kinds of social and political activism around football in Liverpool, from connecting with the mosques of Birkenhead to protests over ticket prices; from challenging club owners to feeding the homeless.
By the way, the food at The Boot Room was, in the end, pretty mediocre. The game itself was scintillating. But nothing left a better aftertaste than the football fans of the city and their acts of practical humanity and simple kindness.