Royston Bentham of the Football Supporters’ Federation and Spirit of Shankly explains the protest movement that underpinned Saturday’s walkout by supporters of Liverpool football club and has led to the club apologising to fans, and a freeze on ticket prices.
In November 2012, at a public meeting in the Sandon pub, the birthplace of Liverpool football club, a proposal was moved that the price of all tickets should be capped at £25. The meeting was called #thecostofbeingLiverpool after the recent documentary series ‘Being Liverpool’.
With the backing of the Football Supporters Federation, the national body of fans groups, Liverpool’s supporters’ union Spirit of Shankly called a series of meetings proposing actions to highlight the gluttony the football bosses.
Marches were organised and the Premier League HQ in Gloucester Place was targeted on fixtures day in June 2013. Fan Representatives from most Premier League clubs attended and a demonstration marched through the streets of London. Lower league fans also attended in a show of solidarity. Supporters the length and breadth of the country had finally put tribal differences aside.
Spirit of Shankly (SOS) had fought this type of battle and won before. It had an array of working class activists who were battle-hardened under the Hicks and Gillett era. Liverpool’s present owners FSG were the beneficiaries of the firesale in 2011 after the previous hedge-fund bosses had been driven out.
Fast forward to 2016 and our position remained unchanged. The Anfield club didn’t need to put ticket prices up by £2 million pounds because they have an incoming £8.3 billion TV deal. We decided to take the fight to Liverpool’s 20 corporate sponsors. Subway was the first on our radar. Leverage was our model, based on the Sparks’ BESNA dispute.
The club was moving the majority of fans towards season tickets of £1000+. This in L4, one of the country’s poorest constituencies.
After the pricing was announced last week, a protest was put together in two days. We needed a soundbite. #walkouton77 was our response to the £77 top-price tickets. An array of protest banners were dusted down and we aligned ourselves with SpionKop 1906 who provide the colour on the Kop.
Leaflets and a social media drive rebutted the club’s propaganda. We knocked out a joint statement giving details of our proposal for action. We hammered local radio and got journalists at the Liverpool Echo to run the story. Ideas were knocked around the forums and a grim reaper with a rattle was brought to start the walk-out on the day.
The Football Supporters’ Federation and Football Supporters’ Europe also sent messages of solidarity with David Ginola telling French TV: “Football is a working class sport. For people, £77 is a lot of money. Liverpool is a working class city, it’s a huge amount of money to spend. Too much for a family.”
Further support came from John McDonnell the Shadow Chancellor. “In the Liverpool spirit I hope that the club will get round the table with supporters and work out a deal that doesn’t price local fans out of the game,” McDonnell said.
We expected a couple of thousand to join us, but what we got was a moment akin to a mini Arab spring. Others likened it to the OXI vote last summer in Greece. Figures of 10-15,000 were widely reported.
Affordable tickets is something we are striving for across the country. We’ve helped organise a number of joint actions at matches with other progressive fan organisations such as the Man City’s 1894 Group, Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust, Arsenals Black Scarf Movement and the Blue Union at Everton to name but a few. We will be holding a joint demonstration with Villa on Sunday.
This battle is now gathering momentum with talk of nationwide walkouts. The future of the game is at stake. Every working class football supporter has to get on board.