How do I be a Liverpool fan AND an England fan this summer? The weird current relationship with the national team - that's getting MURKIER 🏴 🔴
It's all a bit.. confusing, isn't it?
International tournaments were always really, really exciting - and although it’s not the cool thing to say as a Red - I ‘ll say it unapologetically.
I was eight-years-old in 1998 when Michael Owen did what he did against Argentina. I had one of those books from the supermarket where each England player had a coin and you stuck it in when your mum got you ‘em. I can’t remember exactly, but I think they were at petrol stations too. £10 of fuel for ma and Nigel Martyn in my coin book - what a time to be alive.
Football was fun before this, I remember, but 90 minutes is a long old slog for young kids - especially when a lot of the time you don’t exactly know what’s going on. After France 1998 though, I was hooked - and the instructed love I had for Liverpool became much more consensual!
From then on, Euro 2000, World Cup 2002, Euro 2004 and so on - summer tournaments were just about the most fun thing. Lessons got cancelled at school so we could watch England games on the massive 1970s tele that got wheeled out of the cupboard on special occasions .
As a kid, you didn’t know much about the managed decline of Liverpool in the 1980s - you didn’t hold grudges against the establishment - you simply liked things that were fun…
In 2018, I went to Russia as a reporter and loved almost every minute of the World Cup. I’d previously only really worked at Liverpool games, but this was my first international hurrah. The mix of cultures descending on these crazy cities - meeting people from South America, Asia and Europe. One conversation sticks out. I went to a dingy St. Petersburg nightclub and spoke to a gay lad about what it’s like being a homosexual in Russia. (At the time, and still now, there was huge controversy and discussion about their rather outdated laws - which include the outlawing of gay propaganda.) He told me it was all nonsense and he’s extremely happy - and has nothing to fear living openly as a gay man. I was pleasantly surprised, and eager to retell the story to friends at home - before I saw him approaching other groups of travellers and dropping the same lines he did to me. It felt very much like he was dishing out some state-instructed propaganda of his own!
But I digress. What stood out most to me the month I was in Russia, was England fans. Most, were sound. Most, were decent lads (the overwhelming majority of the English brigade were men, not women) - but without fail - in every city in which England played, there was a bar that a large portion would descend upon and mark with flags. It was wholly territorial.
‘No surrender to the IRA,’ would be hollered after beer no.2. ‘Ten German Bombers’ would come out next. Every time. There was a lad no older than 17 absolutely screaming abuse about the Pope. I bet he couldn’t even name him.
Footy trips are fun - and boozy. You always get idiots who tarnish a group of supporters. Remember that Liverpool fan who pushed a local into the fountain in Barcelona? Horrible. But this felt different. It was very territorial - it was ‘this is our bar, stay out’. It was so unnecessarily intimidating for everybody else. And it wasn’t one occasion - it was every time. I was embarrassed by it all - as was the lad I travelled with.
There’s probably been a nationalistic, right-wing element of England support for a very long time, but it was only when at an international tournament that I saw it first hand.
Since then, the divide between Liverpool supporters and the rest of the country, especially ones with England flags in their Twitter bios, has grown. Part of it was that Liverpool started winning - which naturally makes everyone hate you - but it was this combined with the traditionally socialist support-base on Merseyside and a louder, more aggressive right-wing conservative movement - all the noisier following Brexit - more comfortable in voicing their displeasure at each other. Social media, of course, provides everyone (on both sides, in fairness) an outlet to spew bile.
Euro 2020 (held in 2021) is about to start, but the back-pages are filled with multiple stories about fans (not everyone, but a big chunk) booing the taking of the knee before kick off. It happened in both England’s friendlies v Romania and Austria.
I can guarantee you the England fans I saw pitching up outside McDonald’s in Kaliningrad three years back - and getting on like they were about to go into war - are the same idiots booing the players taking the knee. It’s not rocket science. Nigel Farage has obviously come out and sided with the booers - Boris Johnson hasn’t even condemned it.
The players are taking a knee because they’re sick and tired of being racially abused. That is their reason. It has nothing to do with them wanting to appropriate a Marxist regime and the end of capitalism. Yet, they’re being booed for their decision to protest racism. It doesn’t even feel real typing it, but that’s what’s happening.
As a Liverpool fan, how do you cheer on a team with a large base of racists who identify with the Three Lions and link the success of the football team to English superiority and past colonialism? Doesn’t every group of fans have idiots? After all, it’s not the player’s fault, is it? The England team seem like a decent bunch of young men - even if Jordan Henderson is the only Red to make the 26 since Trent Alexander-Arnold’s withdrawal from injury…
The truth is, it’ll be hard not to get swept up in the fun of it all. International football tournaments do still unite a country - they give everyone something to talk about. People who don’t care about football for two years suddenly have an opinion on Gareth Southgate’s use of wing-backs and whether he should field no.10s or wing-forwards either side of Harry Kane.
But the increasingly toxic element of Ingerlund fandom leaves an uncomfortable taste in my mouth - and I’m finding it harder to separate that and the team (through no fault of their own). Will I have a beer and cheer with the rest of the pub when Phil Foden scores? Not like I would Liverpool winning a corner in the 88th minute, but, Yes.
The emotion I’ll feel then, however, won’t compare to the numbness when watching hundreds, maybe thousands, booing the decision to take a knee before games - and neither should it.
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