Liverpool History: Fan Culture Comes To Life
The Liverpool Way, the reason why so many of us love our club, is one founded in socialism and came about with the arrival of Bill Shankly on Merseyside, well in a way at least. All that Shanks did was tap into two existing but as yet separate passions in Liverpool; football and working-class community. Perhaps “passion” isn’t the best word for the latter and indeed “passion” does not encompass the full experience of what it means to be a Red. This Liverpool Way became the foundation of rapid growth in fan culture from the 1960s onwards. The foundation of this growing passion was Shankly’s understanding of the importance of working together for a common cause. It was about truly being there for the people of Liverpool. Shankly’s collectivism gave the club not just an identity but a belief system. In no small part this is what made, or rather makes, Liverpool’s involvement in the European Super League (ESL) so abhorrent. It is completely not the “Liverpool way”, and further very much disrespected Jurgen Klopp who has always understood where this club has come from. Today, however, let’s look back at where the club we know and love really started to take form. The heady days of 1960s Liverpool…
“…[T]here’s something different about Liverpool and the way Liverpool fans consume everything to do with the club…there’s this feverish thing about Liverpool,”
Gareth Roberts, The Anfield Wrap
Where did the passion come from? Preceding Shankly’s arrival there was a love of football but not the obsession we saw subsequently. The 1960s were a time of political unrest in Liverpool, indeed across the UK, the city was being modernized and the reality of this was people’s home were being destroyed. A shift towards tourism and away from industry was also beginning to stir. Despite this volatile situation, there was also the explosion of the Merseybeat/ Merseysound. The club’s fortune too were shifting under Shanks and so to be young and working class in Liverpool in the 1960s was scary yet also deeply exciting. Shankly saw the suffering and ensured to foster a sense of belonging that people might have been missing elsewhere. Both Liverpool and Everton became key focal points during these times. Once again we can draw some parallels to the failed ESL; Covid arguably strengthened our bonds with the club, only for FSG to ignorantly and completely misread the situation.
Liverpool’s now-famous Kop stand was in its heyday during this period and the 1960s also saw the implementation of You’ll Never Walk Alone before kick-off. You’ll Never Walk Alone was not the only Pacemakers’ song that is popular with the Anfield crowd. Indeed many of the chart-topping songs from the time were sung loud and proud on the terraces. A lot of the time most, if not all, of the chart hits, were by scousers! From the Pacemakers to the global sensation of the Beatles, Liverpool’s voices were the sound of the time. Liverpool has always been a city of poetry and folk music so the music of the 1960s was the perfect fodder on which the Kop choir grew. European nights soon became akin to the nights we all know and love today, think Barcelona 2019. It was on one of those nights early in Shankly’s reign that we first saw our all red kit introduced! Shankly thought it to be “more fearsome”.
Things have never been the same since. Although we did not conquer under Shankly, it was him and that all-red kit that set the wheels in motion. Those early days under Shankly shaped us into the club we are today, into the club which we all fell in love with. That belief system began to bed in during the decades that followed.
First, there was the relatively mundane anger at the “perceived lack of media respect” for the Reds’ success during the 1970s and 1980s in comparison to “fawning” over the less success of Manchester United, John Williams noted in Passing Rhythms. Coupled with football a Them v Us mentality, there was the much more real siege mentality that developed in the city as a result of the failings of Thatcherism. It turned our mutually expressed world view as a club into politicization. The city suffered a great deal through the 1980s, only for the decade to end in the club’s greatest tragedy; the Hillsborough Disaster when police incompetence resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans. In the years which followed the fight for truth and justice brought fans even closer together and further deepened people’s ties to the club and the city.
All this transpired to create a cult-like following of our club and one that even in the years of lesser success between 1990 and 2019 the club’s support continued to grow globally. The fan culture of this great club is intoxicating and, although I am deeply biased, unlike any other. Our club is the perfect mix of “screaming glory and gut-wrenching heartbreak”. Liverpool’s barren stretch, or barren relatively speaking in our history, has only helped to foster what at times feels like a “community of underdogs” who will stick together no matter what. All around the world Liverpool has a way of sucking fans into the raw passion that is the club. They fall in love with the history, with the pain, and with the idea that no matter where you come from you can be a part of our story. Just look at our club’s song, one that is much more than just a song but rather is an anthem and indeed a way of life.
Rob Glover, a lifelong fan summed it up well; “it’s much more than a song. Liverpool just holds that little bit of mystique. It’s a mixture of football, music, humour, and all these things coming together. When you’ve got all that it’s for sure a Liverpool fan that you’re talking about.” More than any other club Liverpool has distinct and unique songs and this that I feel is the best way to understand the uniqueness of our club. In our music, you will find our soul.
Liverpool has captivated people across the globe. Ever since the 1960s when Liverpool’s music and Liverpool’s football captured the imagination, people have continued to love this incredible club. The unique relationship between football, music, and socialism maintained and sustained us across many rough years before Jurgen came and once again truly joined them up. Rock n Roll football anyone?
The recent ESL disaster was a total misunderstanding of what football means to people, to the people of Liverpool and the fans of Liverpool Football Club. Because the ESL not only misunderstood what football means to local fans but also failed to understand that the ESL would have destroyed exactly why Liverpool is popular globally. Fan culture grew when people needed a place of solace from the outside world, despite fans not being at the stadiums during the Covid-19 pandemic. The ESL announcement couldn’t have been more poorly timed. Fans being back on that final day, in a kit inspired by a kit from the early days of fan culture, was magical. And it serves as a reminder of why we love football and what we stand to lose if we forget it.