F*** Gary Neville, We Need A Proper Conversation About Anfield's Atmosphere
by Gareth Roberts
WE’VE had the swivel-eyed analysis of Gary Neville, someone we should definitely always listen to about Liverpool given his objective stance on the matter (cough).
We’ve had discussions in the local and national media. It’s discussed in perpetuity on social media anyway and minds have been refocused as the capacity at Anfield has crept up to in excess of 57,000 in the last two matches.
Liverpool fans talk about it. People at the club talk about it, too. There have even been suggestions of a protest out there this week. About what exactly wasn’t made clear.
And now Jurgen Klopp has piled in. Is the atmosphere at a football ground discussed more at any other club?
I’m glad it is, by the way, because it shows people care. And it comes from a place where many with a stake want the atmosphere to be the very best it can be; including the manager.
We all know of the amazing nights of atmosphere – stands shaking, ears splitting. Many of us have been part of them. Less discussed is that unremarkable nights have been far more common, certainly in my 30-plus years as a match-goer.
It is though a dizzying debate so circular that I could probably cut and paste something I wrote on the issue 15 years ago. Rarely does anyone want to talk about it properly.
Instead, it’s finger-pointing at a demographic. Local v out of town. Young v old. And so on. Many will call for drastic reform without considering logistics. Boring I know, but reality for the people tasked with making it happen.
I posted some thoughts on Twitter this week to see what came back. It only served to emphasise the point.
Just casually glancing at Twitter since Sunday I’ve seen the following suggested around atmosphere at Anfield:— Gareth Roberts (@robbohuyton) December 19, 2023
- A 2023 reboot of The Boys’ Pen
- Scrapping season tickets
- Organising a protest about ticketing
Would always take people giving a shit over apathy but think…
Some suggested we should scrap season tickets, thus improving the chances of tickets for a younger crowd. Funnily enough season ticket holders aren’t too keen. Would you be after 20 years on a waiting list you had to pay to stay on to secure one?
It also doesn’t feel like the most workable or intelligent move to piss c.28,000 people off. Those “legacy fans”, eh?
Age is referenced on the regular. What policy could possibly be built around age? Should I stop going now because I’m 47?
There should be more opportunity for younger fans to get in there, enjoy it and take up the responsibility for ramping up the noise. But how? What subset of fans is giving up tickets, or “their seat” in their preferred area to make it happen?
That it is a logistical nightmare founded in demand outstripping supply and muddied by the talons of touts ALWAYS finding a way whatever the club does is rarely discussed in these debates.
Banning mobile phones was mentioned, which again is clearly not enforceable.
I agree that it should be easier to move tickets. I’ve found it incredibly frustrating myself at times. Klopp wants people to give their tickets up if they’re not up for it. Plenty try to and can’t because of the current system.
I doubt it’s something he is aware of. He’s probably unaware, too, of the growing corporate offer at Anfield, or indeed just the general reinvention of football since the 1990s.
Those running the game – and the big clubs, including Liverpool, in behind them – wanted football to appeal to all classes and all countries. They collectively moved, aggressively, to make that happen. And what we have now is a result.
A young, rabid, local crowd that can walk in together off the street, stand together and sing, scream and shout is, as people rightly identify, more likely to pump up the volume at Anfield. But how do you make that happen within the modern incarnation?
We’ve had (and have) the 306 section of The Kop. No offence everyone, but that’s not “young” is it? We’ve had (and have) a small amount of £9 tickets for local youth. By common consensus that is often hijacked by touts.
Is an honest - warts and all - conversation had often enough about all this by all parties involved?
When people say ‘target the touts’ what do they propose? Some tickets that appear online at exuberant prices never exist in the first place. Touting is also closely affiliated with organised crime.
There appears to be a whack-a-mole aspect to trying to fight some aspects of it, not to mention a personal risk for those doing it. I've had people express surprise that they have seen touts operating around Anfield using burner phones and so on and stewards haven’t intervened. Would you for £10.90 an hour?
Could the police do more? Undoubtedly. I doubt it’s anything close to a priority for them though.
Again, not much of this crops up in some of the idealistic chatter that goes on. On the subject, I’d love something to happen that cuts through the bullshit. We speculate about the impact of touts. Or how many people sell on tickets. Or that there are a lot of different faces in season ticket areas for the games against Manchester United and Everton.
Imagine if the club laid out what they knew. At the very least it might improve the quality of the conversation.
Then there’s the membership scheme. Plenty think it’s unfair, or a waste of time. What are the numbers around it? What is the actual picture?
The ideas that are kicked around regarding singing sections, areas for young people, what are the barriers to that? Could they be communicated? Can we have a real discussion? Could we get friends to sit together more? What stops that?
Even, and here’s a big one, is there an actual problem? How have the acoustics been affected by three huge stands now dwarfing The Kop? Has that been looked at? Tell us…
Plenty of times (I’m in 304 on The Kop) I return home thinking the atmosphere was absolutely fine only to read plenty out there thought the complete opposite to me. Is the sound from The Kop carrying?
My point is, I’d love to hear something new on all this. Something constructive. Something that isn’t just coming from a position of banter, bait, idealistic romanticism or one-eyed assessment based on a type of person you don’t like.
Imagine a real, informed, debate about all this.
I heard from a long-standing Manchester United fan this week who has seen it all supporting his team. He was in the away end last Sunday and wondered about the empty rows in the Anfield Road and the impact on noise.
He also said: “From our point of view the atmosphere was little different from most years - last season you scoring seven meant it was better - but no worse this year than any other and no better.
"For us we couldn’t hear ourselves and so we were just pockets singing. And don’t forget the game was flattened by a tactical display that was designed to quieten the crowd.”
Ah, honesty. More interesting than the same tired old “banter”, isn’t it?
I don’t even think there is consensus on what the “atmosphere” we want actually is. For context while a culture of flags and banners remains at Anfield, some fans actually complain about them. So that’s why they come out on The Kop, are flown for a while and then go away again.
Do we want drums? Loud hailers? Incessant – but manufactured – noise that has no connection to what is happening on the pitch? I wouldn’t think so. For one it’s never been that at Anfield.
I could go on. You could go on. This will go on. Doing something different about it would be amazing.
In the meantime, Arsenal. A Saturday night just before Christmas, 5.30pm kick off, and a chance to go top by beating the current league leaders? I get why he did it. But I think we already know, Jurgen.
Up The Reds. Have a boss Christmas.