LFC Wins, Community Loses
It's the morning of Friday 10th May, 1996. There's a hesitant knock on the front door of our flat, at 22 Rockfield Road, Anfield. "Richie, are you there lad?" It's my neighbour, Billy. I open the door and he's standing there, with a tenner in his hand, shaking like a leaf. After declining my offer to come in, he shoves the ten pound in my hand, telling me to, "have a drink on me tomorrow, Richie. You know I'd be there lad, but this f***in' Parkinson's has got the better of me now. Walkin' down the road every other week, I just about cope with, but Wembley'd be too much."
Liverpool were about to play Manchester United at Wembley in the 1996 FA Cup Final. For Billy, a local man, living on his own, in his sixties, hampered by Parkinson's Disease, the club were and always had been an extension and reflection of the community in which he had grown up and lived his life. When the club reached a major final, you could taste the pride weaving its way around the streets, generated by a genuine passion and excitement for the occasion. That's not to say that people of other areas in Liverpool did not generate that type of atmosphere, but Anfield, where the club exists and the team play, is an epicentre. The local community and the club have grown together over the past one hundred and eighteen years. The community and the club are interwoven.
Six weeks later, during the Euro 96 international football tournament, I drop into the Park, a pub on Oakfield Road, to watch the Italy v Czech Republic match, which was taking place across the road, ticketed at extortionate prices. There are a number of Italy supporters, grouped together under the television, who had obviously failed to get in to the match. I approach them with my best 'wilkommen' phraseology, to find that they are from Watford. Of Italian descent, but from Watford. I ask them what they think of Liverpool. "Don't know mate. We just came straight here." So I ask them what they think of Anfield, hoping I'd receive some positive spiel about how welcome they'd been made.
"F***in' awful this place, mate," came the reply.
"Why?" I ask.
"It's a dump. Look around, mate, you've got people living in run down houses, as far as the eye can see and putting up with run down facilities, while right in the middle, you've got a multi-million pound football stadium, with the latest this and that. We might have a shit stadium, at Watford, but at least the people don't have to live like this."
By the end of that year, I had moved to Wavertree, following the offer of a larger flat. When I visited Anfield the following year, I thought I'd catch up with Billy and walked down Rockfield Road. Most of the houses were now boarded, as it was apparent that Liverpool Football Club were buying up properties on the Main Stand side of the ground, with a view to developing that side of the stadium. When I came to numbers 20-22, where we had resided, they too were boarded up. I asked someone in the local post office, which Billy frequented, if they knew of his whereabouts, and they told me that he had been "shipped off to Crocky", referring to a council flat in Croxteth that Billy had been forewarned might be his destination, if his beloved club kept up with their land grab.
Since then, countless more solidly structured houses have been bought and boarded up, as planning is sought to create a new stadium in the area. As this process continues, so too does the unravelling of the thread that binds the community to the club. The very people who have been the lifeblood of the club are not only impoverished because of a lack of investment in resources, while the corporate giant, once so reliant on the local population for income, stands almost dismissive of that fact, but there is also the feeling of disempowerment, as key decisions are made without reference to the local population. As with the people's struggle in Dingle, with the Welsh Streets campaign and on Edge Lane, decisions are made by people who do not live in a community, about how the people who do live in that community should live. People's views are undervalued and patronised through so called consultation processes, which are cute pieces of propaganda, created by people who have a vested interest in making a quick profit out of community, while not actually becoming a part of it. In Anfield, those people are the owners and shareholders of Liverpool Football Club.
I spoke to two local health workers from the area, about how they felt about the current climate in Anfield. One was not interested in the link between football and the community, but was concerned about the proposal to build the new stadium on Stanley Park, one of the few pieces of green space left in that part of the city. The other person spoke of their disgust at the policies of the club, feeling betrayed about how the match is sold to people from outside of the area, while astronomical price rises for tickets have left local people alienated from the very club that has been at the heart of local culture for generations. There is a feeling that the link has been broken.
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