Watching the Reds this season has been like dealing with the Covid pandemic - it's been brutal, largely avoidable and I just want it to be over now. The major factor separating the Reds and Covid though is that I don't have to endure Boris Johnson try to explain what's happening on a daily basis, so "every cloud..." and all that.
Having said that of course, instead of an Etonian, straw-headed walking advert for another Bolshevik Revolution mismanaging a deadly virus, we do have our own billionaire owners seemingly doing their best to be as popular with Scousers as a fillet steak is at an Extinction Rebellion rally. Be warned, I've no real focus for what is about to follow but chances are I'm bound to upset someone.
Still here? Sound.
Where to begin with the debacle surrounding our beloved, former League Champions, the European Super League and the state of football in general? I would imagine we need to go back to where many Manchester United fans think that football began: the formation of the Premier League. And of course, by proxy, the era of Sky Sports.
Stick with me here, I've a tale to tell.
About eight years ago I was with family and friends at our local boozer on New Years' Eve. The band was boss (with my cousin on lead guitar), the atmosphere was sound and everyone was having a great time. As midnight approached, everyone turned their focus to the television screens dotted about the pub, as the landlord had put on Jools Holland's Hootenanny on the telly (Americans, ask your British mates) - the countdown to 12 was on.
We all watched, enjoying the moment as the little cockney ivory-tinkler bounced around the studio, ready to bring in another year - and as the clock chimed to midnight...the landlord switched the channel to Sky Sports News for the opening of the f****** January Transfer Window. At a party. And that thought stuck with me for ages afterwards. It might seem like a mad thing to complain about, especially in an article on the European Super League, but hear me out.
It had long been the case, obviously, that money had been changing the face of the football landscape for many years. Sometimes this was for the better, and sometimes not. But transfer fees steadily increased after the inception of the Premier League (an overhaul of English football's league system that was created after a meeting of four major clubs (and Spurs), and along with it wages, agents' fees, television rights and so on. Which of course meant that merchandise costs increased, as the price of replica shirts shot up quicker than Adrian Mutu.
And subsequently this has meant that the cost of going to the game has also increased, to levels that have effectively priced out working class fans and replaced the old soul of the game with a sanitised, corporate sheen. This has been happening alongside the dominance of Sky Sports as they have infiltrated every part of the game in the last three decades, with ever-costlier subscriptions to the channel a key battlefront in the war on fans and the game in general.
Now, you might think that I'm wrong to be critical of Sky and the Premier League - and that is entirely your right. But I cannot sit here in the smouldering embers of the Super League embarrassment and pretend that the game, as it stands, and the circus that comes with it, isn't rife with problems. I cannot pretend that our owners, just because they aren't as bad as the owners of Manchester United, are brilliant and that they deserve the thumbs up from me I cannot act like just because the "Big Five", (and Spurs), have had their wings clipped, the game can "go back to normal" as Gary Neville has been suggesting. Because in the last 30 years, the game has been heading to this point.
All the money, the sanitisation, the alienation of working class fans, the pandering to companies like Sky and BT, the clamour for clubs to sell up to oil billionaires and monarchical regimes just so they can spend money on players like it's FIFA, regardless of where the money is coming from and who has died to get it, all of this capitalist horror show has been building to this very moment: when one set of billionaires who believe that they own the game pits themselves against another set of billionaires who believe that they own the game. It's very much like the American Revolution, in that control of the colonies was the transfer of power of one group of wealthy white men to another group of wealthy white men who had a slightly different accent.
The European Super League mess has been coming, and as much as Sky and their cheerleaders have been suggesting otherwise, it hasn't come out of nowhere. Sky and the Premier League themselves have been as much a part of this debacle as the owners of the six clubs involved in the proposed breakaway. Don't forget that it wasn't long ago that a proposed "39th game" was mooted, to take place in the US, or Dubai, or on the moon. The amount of money that is drowning the game and removing it further and further from its core has been kicked into overdrive by the Premier League and its increasing cabal of mega-rich owners who treat clubs like their personal plaything.
City might be the worst culprits for this, but let's not forget that Chelsea's fortunes only reached their current levels after Roman Abramovich arrived. The Glazers have taken one of football's most iconic establishments in Manchester United and weighed it down with debt like gangsters tying concrete blocks to the feet of snitches. Arsenal and Spurs' owners haven't covered themselves in glory either.
And then there's FSG.
I'm not going to stand on ceremony and be nice because of the good things that have happened under their stewardship. Yes, they brought in Klopp. Yes, they have increased the value of the club after the doldrums of Hicks and Gilet. Yes, we have signed some of the most exciting players in my lifetime. Yes, yes yes. They have done these things.
But they have also tried to trademark the word "Liverpool". They have tried to increase ticket prices to £77 - incurring the 77th minute walkout by about 10,000 Reds in protest. They announced plans to furlough staff at the beginning of the Covid pandemic in 2020 despite the club being one of the wealthiest in the world. And of course, they have tried to exit the club from the European Cup and enter a "Super League" that essentially amounted to series of gold-plated friendlies that would take place across the globe. And after all of these things they have issued "apologies" - that largely amount to nothing more than "I'm sorry we got caught out trying this thing, hopefully you won't spot it next time".
The thing is, we do spot it, every time. Only lately it feels like we have lost our desire to make our feelings known in a big way. It has been years since the 77th minute walkout. The exceptional Spirit of Shankly have continued to take the fight to the owners wherever they can, but they honestly need us to back them more. Because as much as Klopp disagreed with what United fans did last week (which has made me annoyed for siding with Mancs over our manager) it did serve a purpose: they got the game called off.
They made headlines around the world. They hit their owners in the only place they can be hurt: their pockets. Regardless of whether you think it was a drop in the ocean, it achieved something of substance. It's easy to pontificate about how the Glazers are much worse than FSG - their business models are very different, of course - but at the end of the day, they are still super-rich capitalists who really don't care what you or I think.
I have also noticed a lot of hostility towards local fans of the club in recent weeks on social media, largely headed up by the usual helmets online who've never been to the city in their lives and base their entire existence on Twitter RTs, but as the saying goes, mud sticks. Not sure why the locals have come under fire for simply demanding that the club actually do something for them, rather than - as it seemed to be doing by joining the Super League - simply focusing solely on fans from across the world. We've even been called "legacy fans". It cuts the other way too - plenty of locals have been giving grief to our fans that aren't from the city region, which again is ridiculous but sadly symptomatic of how fractured we feel at the moment.
The thing is, we are Liverpool Football Club. We don't need a Super League to sell shirts, we are known across the world and have millions of supporters. Which made the Super League all the more infuriating, as it felt to this writer that it was simply cash grab. This of course made fans turn on each other online - locals rightly feel forgotten, whilst those from out of town feel that they are not appreciated by said local fans. This fractured relationship isn't helped by the farce that is our online fanbase - too many divvies filming themselves watching the game and reacting in a ridiculous fashion just for a few likes on the socials: lads, and you know who you are: you're embarrassing yourselves and more importantly, the club. So knock it off, yeah?
As you can probably tell, I'm tired. And annoyed. Cranky, is probably the best word to use. I can't be bothered with the owners, I can't be bothered with the sniping between fans online, I can't be bothered with Sky Sports, of all things, telling us that football is being stolen when that process began long ago - it's like having your house burgled by the burglars who knocked it over it the first time and were the reason why you had to change the locks on the door. I can't be bothered with empty grounds, or Jamie Redknapp. I can't be bothered with VAR and the fact that every time we score a goal I have to wait for confirmation by some nerd in Stockley Park. (Having said that, I appreciate the Reds in making that particular problem less pressing by just not scoring goals.)
I can't be bothered with the fact that we probably won't get a parade as league champions. I can't be bothered with the inevitable wall-to-wall coverage of City's title win as journalists fall over themselves to wonder just how they managed to do it with a transfer budget the size of a medium-size country's GDP. I can't be bothered with fans filming themselves watching the game like a BTEC Mark Goldbridge, and I can't be bothered with anyone with the word "prime" or "vintage" in their Twitter handle.
But will I be back ready for the Reds in the 2021-22 season watching us win the lot? Of course I will.
Football, eh? It makes hypocrites of us all.