As Mohammed Salah scored the winning goal against Red Bull Salzburg that secured the reigning European Champions’ progression into the knockout stages of the Uefa Champions League for the third season in a row, a chorus of chants erupted from the Away end of the Red Bull Arena. From dancing to the tunes of ‘Allez Allez Allez’ to singing in unison the famed ‘Fields of Anfield Road’, the Liverpool faithful were in a fervent celebratory mood, so much so that they drowned out the voices of the once roaring home crowd. It was exactly during that moment of deafening singing and jubilant celebrations when the TV mics, that are placed strategically at various points all around the stadium, picked up the lyrics of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn.” The traveling Liverpool fans sang it with great enthusiasm, probably, to send a message to the whole world about the way the city was going to vote in the upcoming U.K. general elections.
In this day and age of rising ticket prices, shoddy sponsorship deals and increasing corporatism, it would not be incorrect to say that football has rapidly distanced itself from its ethos of being “the game of the working class.” Instead, it has taken considerable steps in making itself a cash-cow for capitalists and oligarchs. Therefore, it was quite surprising to hear a song sung in the honor of none other than Jeremy Corbyn, one of the staunchest proponents against the principle of ‘Greed is Good’ capitalism rampant in the U.K., during a Champions League fixture. What was not surprising, however, was that this song about the Leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom was sung by the Traveling Kop, the supporters of a club and inhabitants of a city that is renowned for its strong socialist ideology and pluralistic identity.
A glance at the history of Liverpool F.C. would reveal that it is not a coincidence that the most iconic image of Anfield is that of the Kop flying a red banner that has a striking resemblance with the Soviet banner bearing the images of Lenin, Karl Marx, and Freidrich Engels, alongside a Red Star, one of most popular symbols of communism.
Outside the gates of Anfield, the home stadium of Liverpool Football Club, stands the eloquent statue of Bill Shankly dressed in his iconic suit and muffler. Shankly was Liverpool F.C.’s greatest ever manager and perhaps the man that played the greatest role in making LFC one of the giants of English football. Bill Shankly, as the Kopites would tell you, was someone (perhaps one of the few managers in a long line of people to have sat on the Anfield hot seat) who truly understood and embodied the thoughts, culture and ideology of the people of the city. In short, he was one of them. It was Shankly who, apart from decorating the cabinets of Anfield with countless trophies and medals, also laid the foundations for the club to be built into what it is today, a left-leaning socialist football club where everyone would be welcomed and embraced, irrespective of their race, class, and gender. They have come to reflect and celebrate the pluralism of the Liverpool society.
Shankly best described his idea of socialism in one of his most famous speeches, “I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it’s the way I see football and the way I see life.” It is this spirit of Shankly and his welfare state philosophies that reverberate across the hallowed grounds of Anfield and in the hearts of the Liverpudlians to this day.
The current Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp is fondly described by the team’s fans as the second coming of Shankly. He has turned around the fortunes of the club since taking over, and nurtured a culture of community through his words and actions, where everyone looks after one another and works for each other to passionately celebrating with the fans in victory and accepting responsibility in defeat. It is incredibly hard to ignore the striking similarities that exist between the two highly revered managers of Liverpool.
However, politics doesn’t exist in strict binaries and it, more often than not, comes loaded with more shades of grey than the typical English sky. While it is undeniably true that Liverpool Football Club has been a fortress of socialist thoughts and beliefs since the latter half of the 20th century, it is also worth pointing out that the club and the city used to be the hotbeds of conservatism and imperialism during the colonial period.
It is quite surprising, and ironic, that the club which has been renowned across the world since the 1960s for its socialist principles and strong Labour support was originally founded by a conservative. It should also be said that a city famous for its multi-culturalism, progressive ideals and working-class identity, was once a thriving center of capitalism and trade. After all, the city was a jewel in the crown of the British Empire. As the British Crown fought, conquered, looted and enslaved its way to the zenith of colonialism, and fulfilled all its imperialistic ambitions, Liverpool, owing to its huge transatlantic port, quickly became an important region of flourishing capitalist thoughts and ideas.
A Conservative stronghold till 1955, Liverpool was one of the last cities in the United Kingdom to come under the control of the Labour Party. The Liverpool City Council Election in 1955 was the first time in the storied history of Liverpool that the Council swung to a Labour majority. While the Conservatives did manage to win the majority votes in the 1961 and 1966 City Council Elections, the huge and consistent Labour victories in the elections of the last 60 years tell us that the people of this once great conservative haven now find their beliefs, thoughts and ideologies firmly aligned with those at the Left of Center.
From the end of the 1950s to the early 1970s, Liverpool went through a period of left-liberal resurgence. From the rise of The Beatles in the 1960s to the continued domestic domination of English football by Liverpool F.C. under the tutelage of Shankly till the mid 1970s, the city experienced a rapid decline in conservatism and neo-Victorian values, coupled with the dramatic rise of a young generation that strongly believed in socialist ideals and progressive values. The global and domestic successes of Liverpool F.C. in the next two decades under Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, and Kenny Dalglish led to the formation of a distinct and proud Scouse identity that was much different from the stiff and conservative national identity. The birth of this regional identity also allowed the residents of this multi-cultural city to distance themselves from the traditionalist and unionist beliefs prevalent in the rest of the United Kingdom.
In addition to this, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962 also put a massive dent in the Liverpool-Conservative relations as the Liverpudlians considered this law a direct attack on their city’s large immigrant population (although the Labour Party didn’t cover itself in glory either when it, after coming to power, passed the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1968). However, it was only after the ascent of the Margarat Thatcher-led Conservative Party to power in 1979, when the Scouse-Tory relations finally started to break apart.
The imposition of a highly accelerated and heartless form of conservatism resulted in the breaking up of many social nets and contracts in the name of privatisation. Revised economic policies led to a huge decline in manufacturing (the life-line of the working class people in Liverpool), rampant crony capitalism and protectionism of those who supported the establishment. In addition, rising housing prices, at a time when unemployment was soaring at an alarming rate, as well as constant attacks on the social fabric of the society, made the people in Liverpool extremely resentful of the Thatcher led Tory Government.
Thatcher’s policy of making Liverpool enter a period of “managed decline,” along with her administration’s reckless attitude towards the people of the city, made the Scousers believe that they were at the receiving end of vindictive politics on account of their socialist identity, ethnically diverse population and working-class culture. The resilience of the locals against this brutal Tory onslaught saw the rise of the Militant-led Labour Party in the Liverpool City Council in the 1980s.
The Toxteth riots of 1981 resulted in widespread accusations leveled at the police, ranging from infilicting racism-fuelled violence on minorities, to careless handling and maintenance of law and order in Conservative-free zones under the orders of the Thatcher Government. The ban on the participation of English football clubs in Europe in the aftermath of the Heysel Disaster in 1985 left a sour taste in the mouths of the Scousers, who felt that that these were direct attacks on the multi-cultural working-class identity of the city. This was also the period when Liverpool Football Club was dominating England and Europe alike and thus, the ban on its participation in Europe was considered by many at Anfield as a Tory ploy to put the brakes on its successful European campaigns.
The straw that finally broke the camel’s back, with respect to the Liverpool-Tory relations, and pushed the Scousers firmly into the Labour Camp (if there were any remaining Tory supporters or fence-sitters by that time), was the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 that resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans. The investigation that followed led to an allegedly Government-aided massive police cover up, in which the Liverpool fans were not only wrongfully framed for the accident (proved by the Taylor Report) but they were also blamed for being drunk and disorderly. The Police propaganda didn’t stop there. The Liverpool supporters were also disgracefully accused of pick-pocketing the dead bodies. Perhaps, the most shameful period in the history of British Football and arguably World Football, Hillsborough remains a horrifying experience for most of the city’s residents as well as a damning indictment of the Conservative Party’s brutal administration of Liverpool during their heydays.
Since the turn of the century, football has experienced large scale commercialisation that has, to some extent, eroded the working-class character from the game. Thus, in order to remain competitive in this burgeoning capitalist environment, Liverpool, like most of the other clubs, has had to adapt more corporate friendly policies. However, it is also worth noting that the club has taken significant steps towards ensuring that they remain connected with the working-class soul of the city. The most significant of such steps was when the club listened to the demands of the fans (albeit after a huge protest at Anfield), and rolled back the decision to increase the ticket prices.
In addition to this, the club’s refusal to train at the Kempinski Hotel in Qatar during the FIFA Club World Cup, due to concerns raised over the abuse of workers’ rights during the construction of the hotel, along with being at the forefront of many important social movements, such as the Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, prove that the socialist identity and culture of the club, as well as the city, is alive and thriving. Liverpool F.C. continues to show that they will stand for the rights of workers and the values of socialism, just like Shankly would want them to if he were alive.
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