It was long before 77 minutes when defiance and the unmistakable feeling that something major was going to unfold filled the air. As the steel structures of the new Main Stand hovered over Anfield, it was the steel of those disenchanted by Liverpool’s ticket prices for next season that dominated inside it.
Ahead of kick off against Sunderland on Saturday afternoon, the trademark kaleidoscopic banners on the Kop were replaced by unyielding black flags. Littered throughout the ground were different messages – ‘football without fans is nothing’, ‘£77 DISGRACE’, ‘supporters not customers’ – which all fed into the same thought: enough is enough.
On the morning of the matchday, it was hard to guess just how substantial the first walkout protest in Liverpool’s history would be. By the time you took your seat though, it was clear that a major statement would be made on L4.
Around the 70-minute mark, the volume of the crowd amplified during a stirring rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. That was followed by echoing chants of “you greedy b*stards, enough is enough.” As the time edged closer, the mood grew increasingly unshakeable. The clock struck 77 and you could hear the mass clunk of seats being exited as supporters flooded forward towards the outlets and towards their goal.
An estimated 10,000 departed. Liverpool were 2-0 up with 13 minutes to go. Liverpool drew 2-2 at the final whistle. The scoreline felt irrelevant though as history was being made. The timing of the walkout was aligned with the highest ticket price of £77 in the new Main Stand next season, but the protest was not about this singular cost alone.
Forty-seven per cent of existing seats at Anfield will carry an increased fee in 2016-17. It’s easy to get lost in numbers. It’s hard to do the math. In simple terms: many people are already out of pocket by religiously going to the match. Many, many more will join that list. As it stands, too many face the unthinkable prospect of no longer watching Liverpool live. Too many have already had to make that choice. All for an extra £2 million in matchday revenue for the club under the new pricing structure. That figure makes a minuscule difference to the Liverpool, but a mammoth one to its people.
The protest was not, as some insisted on framing it, about the right or wrong way to support the club. It was about every fan actually having the opportunity to support Liverpool at Anfield without having to wrestle financially to make it happen.
Nineteen days ago, those in the stadium were on their feet applauding Jon Flanagan – who grew up 200 yards away from the ground in Utting Avenue – following his return to action after a spell on the sidelines of 20 months.
On Saturday, they rose to their feet so that young Liverpool fans – as the full-back was – have the chance to regularly attend games in future without worrying about dire economical consequences later down the line.
They walked out so that families can continue walking in without being hamstrung by the affordability of one ticket, let alone the cost for an entire household.
The fight against escalating prices is not just restricted to locals. There is a misconception that supporters from far afield can easily afford inflated prices. A sizeable amount trade their life savings to make the trip just once. One pound currently costs 23 rands, 98 rupees, 169 yen, 288 nairas…
Equally, the fight against escalating ticket prices is not simply Liverpool’s battle. And the noise that the protest was pointless is just pollution. The fact that Saturday’s exodus prompted the club’s owners to hold emergency talks with a potential review of the structure in the pipeline proves as much.
And the idea that those who didn’t leave early were ‘sh*thouses’, ‘scabs’ or ‘Tory b*stards’ is also absurd. Some simply did not understand the specifics behind the demonstration, others could not reconcile with the idea of not supporting their side until the very end, some made the trip to Anfield for the first time and for some, those 90 minutes provide the only chance to escape their daily concerns.
Those who walked out should rightly be commended. Those who stayed should not be chastised. There is no need for division when there is a unified belief that the cost of football to the ordinary fan is exorbitant.
Saturday showed Fenway Sports Group that PR spin and limited measures aren’t the most appropriate cure to the above.
There may never be a shortage of demand for tickets at Anfield, but a shortage of passion and authenticity is just as damaging.
Liverpool is a most remarkable club, in a most remarkable city, with a most remarkable fanbase. It would fittingly be most remarkable if the first walkout protest in the institution’s history leads to a watershed decision on ticket pricing in the near future.
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