26 October 2009 ~ The press had far more to write about than the usual match previews in the build-up to yesterday's game between Liverpool and Manchester Utd. Firstly there was Callum Campbell, forever to be known as "the boy with the beachball", the release of which led to the goal that brought about his club's defeat at Sunderland. Campbell subsequently received death threats on the internet although not from people he was likely to encounter at matches: "When I looked close these people were from America and Australia, so-called fans who never come to Liverpool." Callum might not be quite right about that, as a survey of the daily visitors to the club's megastore in the city centre would make clear.
Nonetheless, it's likely that local supporters also made up the bulk of those who matched through the Anfield area adjacent to the ground before kick-off to protest against the club's American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Some of those involved were expressing their anger over the – relative – lack of funds made available to Rafa Benítez over the summer, a situation that may continue until the Americans sell up to one of the Middle Eastern consortiums that are assumed to be interested in taking over. "Get the sheikhs in" is a wearingly familiar cry on every post-match phone-in.
But others were also local residents, expressing their dismay over the board's failure to proceed with the construction of a new stadium in the adjacent Stanley Park that is intended to form part of a regeneration of the district. Simon Kuper once wrote about how overseas teams arriving for European club matches are often shocked by the destitution surrounding many inner-city English football stadiums. Anfield, with its streets of boarded up shops and patches of wasteground that look like Second World War bombsites, will have generated more exclamations of dismay than most.
I have relatives that live close to the current stadium that looms up above the terraced houses like a spaceship that has just landed. On Saturday their neighbours fielded questions from a couple of national newspaper reporters who were looking for some comments about the protest march. No one asked them anything about the Beatles but references to the Fab Four dutifully appeared in almost all the write-ups. As just one example among many, the Sunday Mirror columnist Michael Calvin mourned the club's decline in the customary manner: "Anfield is like the Cavern Club and Penny Lane, a relic of Beatlemania. Roll up, roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour."
Now some might say that Liverpool fans only have themselves to blame for the trite connections that are constantly made between their club and the Beatles. The first Match of the Day broadcast at the start of 1964-65 showed the Kop terrace swaying back and forth as they sang She Loves You. By this point Liverpool fans had already adopted as their anthem a version of the show tune You’ll Never Walk Alone by another Merseybeat group, Gerry and the Pacemakers.
This may never sink in with the national press but let's say it anyway – the Beatles were not particularly interested in football. They had been connected to a bohemian arts scene, including artists and writers as well as musicians, who had grown up at a time when neither of the two clubs in the city were doing well. Football was never really “cool” from their point of view. The one partial exception was Paul McCartney whose family were Everton fans. But McCartney turned down an invitation to invest in the club when it was taken over in the late 1990s by a former schoolmate, Bill Kenwright. A Liverpool footballer of the 1940s, Albert Stubbins, does appear on the montage cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper LP, but as a WSC article once pointed out, that was only because they liked his name, which they thought sounded funny.
There is plenty to be said about what is happening to Liverpool FC and the area of the city that it's based in. But too often the real story remains submerged in a tide of sentimental guff. Kevin Forbes