Bill Shankly Statue Turns 21!

A socialist. A revolutionary. A pioneer. A man who shaped the future of the club he loved and one that he poured his heart and soul into. Bill Shankly arrived at Liverpool FC in 1959 and set his sights on changing how the beautiful game was played. In no less than 15 seasons, Shanks took the reds from the second division back into the top flight and delivered the clubs first two FA Cups, three league titles and a UEFA Cup whilst setting up a future for the club that would go onto reap the rewards for many years to come.

Twenty one years ago today, a fitting tribute was unveiled outside the Kop in the form of a magnificent 8 foot high statue to honour Shanks.

Sculpted by local artist, Tom Murphy, the fitting tribute has become one of the most iconic statutes not just in the UK but the world over with supporters and tourists from far and wide having photos in front of or along side Shanks.

Unveiled on December 4 1997, Murphy spent months planning then producing the mammoth monument to the clubs greatest manager. In preparation, Murphy spoke with many ex players, family members, studied photos and video footage and even consulted Bill Shankly’s tailor. A meticulously produced tribute if ever there was one.

My most endearing memory of the statue came in late September 2010 during a fan protest organised by the Spirit of Shankly organisation at the stewardship of then club owners, Hicks & Gillette. The American cowboys rode into town, promised plenty (remember the spade in the ground within 60 days guarantee?) only to saddle the club with massive debts and an utterly shite manager in Roy Hodgson. Don’t even get me started on the players from this period.

It was a day Shanks would have been proud of. The club was in decline and something had to be done. Protesters meeting at the Shankly statue seemed appropriate. The match that day was dire. It took a late Steven Gerrard penalty to salvage a point in what would turn out to be a truly dire season. Having Shanks watch over the protesters that day felt empowering. Almost 30 years following his passing, he was still having a profound effect on the people of Liverpool and the supporters of the club.

The Shankly statue shall stand for many years to come and remind people of all ages and from all walks of life exactly what our club is about. And long may it continue to remain one of the most photographed statues in the world!

Happy 21st birthday to a grand statue.

The End Of An Era? Football Programmes Are About To Sign Off…..

In early June this year, EFL clubs voted to end mandatory printing of match day programs. When I read of this not so kind news, I felt a little deflated. A little depressed even. The end of an era was in sight. Apparently the time putting them together and the costs involved were deciding factors. Many clubs also cited the advancement in digital match day programmes as the way forward. But seriously, does everything have to be online these days? Have the decision makers ever sat down inside a stadium and tried to read one of these digital format programmes on a phone? If they had, they would realise how stupid an idea it is to have digital programmes.

What the clubs fail to realise is that football programmes are entrenched in British culture. For many, it’s part of the ritual of attending the match. I know of some supporters who have being buying programmes for over forty years. They have literally thousands of old memories collected and meticulously stored away by way of these match going necessities. There are even some collectors who specialise in vintage programmes that go back over 100 years and now potentially fetch thousands of pounds on the collectors market. Others hold stalls outside grounds around the country where you can acquire those missing programmes you were unable to grab on the day for whatever reason. I know that feeling well. A few times, I have arrived at a ground only to find the match day programme sold out. You spend the first 20 minutes or so of the match disgusted in yourself for not arriving sooner. Well, that may just be me but I am sure there are others out there who have fallen foul to this predicament?

I digress.

Over the past 11 days, I have attended 9 matches. That’s 9 match day programmes. Plenty of reading material. Plenty of statistics to mull over. Also plenty of historical memories to regale over in the now customary “looking back” sections of these said programmes. It’s an experience that the posh twats in corporate boxes probably never appreciate and wouldn’t even understand if they tried.

When I read news of players earning £160,000 a week switching clubs purely to increase their earnings to £180,000 a week, I cringe. I feel sick in the stomach. I wonder how football got to a point where a player can earn more in one week than what some of us will earn in four or five years slugging away at full time jobs. Most of all, I struggle to compute how a simple fan pleasure like a match day programme can be cast aside so readily with so much money in the game.

Football is tribal. When you take away the basic needs of a football fan, you begin to take away the heart and soul of the game. Increased ticket prices and the potential decline of match day programmes are just two of the countless issues facing the modern football supporter. From the commencement of the 2019/20 season, many football league clubs will cease publication of their match day programmes. Some plan to go digital whilst others plan to include a programme as part of the ticket price like Colchester United conformed in July.

Whilst some cold hearted clubs will jump at the opportunity to kill off match day programmes, other clubs will see this as an opportunity to satisfy football fans in an age where the consumer is often left behind and continue a tradition that has been passed down through generations. A traditional part of football that I truly hope will continue for generations to come.

Joey Barton Pays A Visit To Guiseley

Sifting over the fixture list a couple of days ago, I noticed that Guiseley were hosting Fleetwood Town on a Monday night in the FA Cup 2nd round. Having not been to Guiseley before other than to have lunch with my mate Dave, I saw this as an opportunity to knock off another non-league football ground and see how well Joey Barton has set up his chargers from Fleetwood Town. The added bonus of being just one change and 45 minutes away from the ground was also a plus. I looked at the train times and prices and found a return ticket for just £7.80. The match ticket itself was also only £10 which made the whole night out a possibility for less than 20 quid! Perfect for the budget football fan like me. It would be my ninth match in eleven days and I had a rest day planned for tomorrow which, with my reasoning, made the decision to go a no brainer.

I tell a lie. It cast me £3 for a match day programme and further £6 for chips, pie and a drink so my total spend for the night would amount to just under £27. Still a decent effort when one considers a match day ticket to one of the big clubs is twice that alone even before train fares or other expenses come into the equation.

Nethermoor Park holds 3,000 people and is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Guiseley train station. You can get there via a direct train from Leeds (one stop) or a few stops from Bradford. Local volunteers man the ticket gates and food stalls. This would have been the biggest game for the Lions in some time so no doubt, all hands were on deck tonight. Even BT Sport were in attendance to cover the game which, ironically, I am watching a replay of at 2 in the morning whilst writing this very article.

One of the best features about non-league grounds and even some lower football league clubs is that there is no set ticketing or reserved seating policies in place so you can effectively make your way around the ground with reasonable freedom to catch the best vantage points. There are no grumpy stewards growling at you to stay in your seat. Blissful.

The match itself was a let down for the home side. Three goals in the space of 5 minutes were the only bag rattlers the match saw and Guiseley only managed to net one of the trio which meant they would bow out of the cup following a spirited performance. Chances did fall the way of Guiseley later in the match though the equaliser never materialised much to the dismay of the packed house in attendance.

Nethermoor Park was a better experience than I had initially expected. If another decent match crops up down the track, I will definitely be returning for more.

Liverpool Edge Closer To 100 Points But Will It Be Good Enough?

Another win. Yet another 3 points in the bag and the red men are on target for a potential 100 point season with 36 collected after just 14 game. In years gone by, a position like this would have Liverpool well on target towards a comfortable league success. However, the Manchester City powerhouse is also moving along quite nicely having collected a further 2 points after the same amount of games. It’s incredible to think as the season progresses that these two teams may both finish with 90 plus points come May yet one of them will still not have collected enough to claim the title.

At this rate, the Reds will finish on or around 96 points. A win over struggling Burnley followed by another against out of form Bournemouth and you will see 42 points notched from an incredible 16 games. There is even potential for both City and Liverpool to finish on or over the 100 point mark. A tough ask but still a dream for both teams as we approach Christmas. If the Reds continue current form, they will finish on 97 points. Imagine not winning the league with that many points in the bank?

The deceive factor will be how the league table stands in two weeks as we move into Christmas. It’s often the case that the side sitting atop when Santa plummets down chimney’s the world over then goes onto become champions of England come May. History does show that there have also been a few slip ups in recent times. Most notably was, of course, Liverpool losing the title to City after setting the pace at the height of the festive season in 2013. Immediate losses to Chelsea and Manchester City from Boxing Day sent the Reds crashing from the top of the tree by the new year though, they did manage to mount a title challenge and return to the summit with just a few games to go.

What has impressed me with Liverpool this time our has been the ability to find a way to snatch points at the death. Yesterday the team gained what one could call 2 bonus points in the derby at the death and they managed to steal a point at Stamford Bridge not too long ago. Those 3 bonus points if you can call them that are what wins you titles. After all, had those 3 valuable points not been collected, Liverpool would be sitting 5 points behind the leaders and the pressure would mount. The longer Liverpool can hang onto the coat tails of City, the more self belief in the team will build and when City slip up, Liverpool will be bang on to capitalise.

Yesterday’s late derby win was important not just because it was a win over Everton, it was equally important because it keeps a the team well in the hunt to do what hasn’t been done in almost three very long decades and places a larger gap between them and the chasing pack. Equally, the race for the top 4 now becomes a race between three (Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal) for the remaining two Champions League places.

Going to Burnley for a win is a non-negotiable. Maximum points will be required. No surrender!

Liverpool Supporters Unable To Grasp It?

It’s almost 4 am on the day after a memorable derby at Anfield in which the reds managed to scramble a 96th minute winner in front of the Kop. For the best part of the last 10 hours, I have been, as expected, in great spirits. I mean, who wouldn’t be happy with yet another 3 points taken to keep the side placed comfortably in second position. Only 2 points behind not so runaway leaders, Manchester City. However, something has been grabbing at me in the past couple of hours and I just cannot let it go.

This weekend, once again, saw clubs across the nation celebrate Stonewall’s rainbow laces project which has become a regular show of support to the LGBT community. Now, anyone from Liverpool or, for that matter, anyone who has spent a good deal of time residing in the city will understand that it’s an inclusive city that accepts people from all walks of life and backgrounds. This weekend also marked the 59th anniversary in which Bill Shankly left Huddersfield Town FC to link up and forge a bond with our wonderful club. Shanks was a man who believed strongly in socialism. He believed that everybody was part of the club regardless of their status in every day life. It’s what made him such a perfect fit for Liverpool to begin with. He understood the people and the people understood Shanks.

As part of the rainbow laces promotion, Liverpool FC updated their social media profile photos to support (as can be seen above) equality and diversity in the beautiful game. It was a deep shame to realise from comments sections that some supporters of our club are still living under a rock or, the dark ages and what’s more, fail to understand what the club and the city are about. Liverpool isn’t a brand. It’s not a product. If you support the team then you must support the ethics and morals that drive not just the team but the entire city as well.

Some people have suggested that perhaps the club should not involve itself in political statements. Possibly, these same supporters have been wearing blinkers for the past 29 years as the Hillsborough families took on multiple political road blocks on the road the justice. Perhaps, some of these bigoted and backwards supporters who are against the LGBT community and rainbow laces because of its political alignments are also completely unaware of the stance taken to support a young Micheal Shields when he was unjustly locked up for a crime he didn’t commit after Istanbul in 2005?

It was interesting to note that even The Spirit of Shankly supporters union also came under social media fire for supporting the rainbow laces weekend. Once more, similar and vile homophobic comments flooded the FB page for SoS in the hours after aligning their support for this great cause. Thankfully, as was the case with the clubs official outlets, the positive support for the cause far outweighed the negative and many out of touch fools were swiftly put in their place.

If anything, the rainbow laces weekend is a reminder that we still have a way to go before homophobia is punted well into touch along with racism.

If some supporters of Liverpool Football Club are incapable of understanding that not just the club, but the city and its people are in full support of acceptance and diversity in the community then perhaps, just maybe, it’s time these supporters moved on?

Inside Newton Heath’s Temple of Doom

It was a day that was going to eventually require an undertaking. As part of ones journey to visit all the football league and non league grounds, I had to eventually succumb and go to watch Newton Heath at The Temple of Doom. I can’t begin to describe how surreal it felt sitting in the Stretford End of the ground. Earlier, I had been standing on the platform at Huddersfield and seen two consecutive trains canceled to Manchester. Was it a sign that maybe the Gods would intervene and give me an excuse not to go? Sadly not. The 4:52 pm to Manchester Victoria arrived around 12 minutes late so I was soon on my way.

Once in the fine city of Manchester, I delayed the tram ride to the ground by stopping off at Primark to grab some gloves and a beanie. £5 all in and I call that a victory!

Getting the tram up to The Temple of Doom was a simple yet crowded experience. It takes about 20 minutes and drops you by the cricket ground meaning you have around a kilometre to walk to your final destination. As you approach, you are greeted with dozens of half and half scarf sellers. They were offering them for £5 instead of the usual £10 asked at grounds around the country. Not many people were taking up this offer aside from young kids who had pestered their dad into getting them one.

The closer I got to The Temple of Doom, the more “What the fuck am I doing?” lines of thought entered my head. To put a positive spin on proceedings, I focussed my attention to enjoying the spectacle that the Young Boys supporters would provide. And my word, I wasn’t disappointed in any way. This is their first crack at the Champions League and they have been stoic at times yet lacked the quality to deliver a consistent 90 minute performance. With Newton Heath playing out a somewhat underwhelming and average style of football, I was quietly confident that the Swiss lot might actually nick a point or even take all 3!

The security around The Temple of Doom is intense to say the least. You pass through no less than 3 barriers of security wheee you get scanned and searched. On the plus side, I kept thinking how good it is to be safe in an age where people will look for any reason to blow people up.

Once inside The Temple of Doom, I reluctantly took my seat in the Stretford End which at least gave me a great view of the Young Boys supporters who didn’t let up all night, dressed in their resplendent yellow. They bounced and sang like men and woman possessed for the entire 90 minutes and added to an otherwise lifeless atmosphere which tends to follow the not so important matches against lower opponents these days. There were many pockets of empty seats near me and in other pockets of Old Trafford. Despite going down to a general sale and with cheap ticket prices, it appeared Jose is still on the nose with plenty of Newton Heath supporters and I doubt he will be there next season.

The match day programme was a bit large and won’t fit neatly into my collection. As programme collectors will understand, clubs who try and be clever by publishing oversized match day programmes don’t understand the pain it causes us. I’ll most definitely need to confer with writer Dave Roberts when I see him next. If you are yet to read his excellent “32 Programmes” book, then you need to pop down to you local bookstore and grab yourself a copy. It’s a must read and one you won’t want to put down in a hurry.

One thing I didn’t expect was to hear songs about Liverpool. Of course, it was the usual suspects. “In Your Liverpool Slums”, “Feed The Scousers” and the Hillsborough songs a small minority like to bring out. Unfortunately, there are still some brain dead Liverpool supporters who still make plane gestures and sing about Munich. It’s always a step too far and surely it’s time these vulgar songs were put to bed?

As the Young Boys supporters continued to bounce and sing, I question my decision to buy my ticket in the Stretford End. I should have probably got a ticket closer to the away supporters. Would have been far more enjoyable. The whole experience was surreal and I have to admit, leaving with around 5 minutes to go allowed me to miss Newton Heath’s late winner and the obligatory celebrations from the sea of Mancs that had stood around me. Phew!

Well, it’s done and dusted now. I’ve done it. Ticked Old Trafford off the list and can move on from the experience and look forward to the next football league ground. The next time I ever visit Old Trafford again, it will be in the away end with the Liverpool supporters.

The tram ride back into the city was a swift one thanks to my premature departure from The Temple of Doom as I had managed to beat the masses to the limited number of departing trams. I was then swiftly on the 10:32 PM train back to Huddersfield, safe and warm.

The Football League Ground Journey Continues….

I boarded the train yesterday evening to Burnley for the match against Newcastle United. It was my 60th football league ground visited and what a great one it was. On Saturday, I had been to number 59. That was Charlton v Bristol Rovers and was won 3-1 by the home team at The Valley. Both clubs are surrounded by terraced housing and have a unique charm that resonates with a by gone era when players would hop the train or bus to the ground with the punters. Turf Moor and The Valley connect you with a rich history and a good deal of tradition. The most advantageous feature for me is that grounds like these still allow mates to sit together with affordable seating and club administrators who still (unlike the bigger clubs) understand and appreciate the supporters that make the club.

Burnley have played out of Turf Moor since 1883. That’s 135 years at the same ground. Still a record to this day for one club playing out of the same venue. Like The Valley on Saturday, the outside of Turf Moor is littered with plenty of reminders from the FA Cup success from over 100 years ago and the two league titles won with the last being the 1959/60 season. Burnley and Charlton have done so very well in setting up a community spirit that sticks with the traditions of both clubs without selling out the values of football like so many others readily do.

Making your way around the UK’s football league and non-league grounds is one hell of a journey that takes time yet provides you with fantastic experiences, great adventures and allows you to meet amazing people who, more often than not, become great friends. You get a great understanding of not only what football means to people but how the lives of many can be altered by the success and failures that come with it over time.

One of the “failures” if you could call it that is when you have to sleep in an airport for an early morning flight. It’s uncomfortable, tiring and a bit of a hassle yet, it saves you plenty of money and takes away the stress of getting up at 3 am to check out of your hotel or B&B to battle the early morning traffic on the airport shuttle if you are travelling from say, central London to Luton or Gatwick airports. There is perhaps no worse feeling for a football ground hopper than missing a flight!

Sometimes, the journeys can be quite arduous and physically draining due to the hours spent on trains and buses. It can also be financially draining due to the absurd pricing structure that is implemented in and around the U.K. You can purchase a train tick from Huddersfield to Ipswich for example 6 weeks out for £15 yet, in the days leading up to or on the day, you can be forced to stump up over £100 for the same journey. It allows for little to no room for error in any respect. The busses are not as ruthless, however, National Express can join the wallet fleecing party when they feel the need at times.

In part, these grounds are where I feel most comfortable. I love football. I love history. I love meeting new people. I love the journeys to and from the grounds. I love the hiccups these said adventures throw at you along the way. Most of all, I love doing what makes me happy and I cannot see myself ever not doing this.

Tonight, I am off to Old Trafford then it’s Ipswich tomorrow followed by Rangers in Glasgow on Thursday before having a day off from football on Friday. By then, I will have knocked up 7 games in 7 cities in 7 days and spent far too long on trains, planes and buses. Phew!