The mythical crown of the “hotbed of football” is often banded about and laid claim to by many. Depending on the success of the clubs at the time, or with whom you are talking, it could be Manchester, the North-East or London. And then there is Liverpool. The city on the banks of the Mersey dominated English football in the 1970s and 1980s, when between them Everton and Liverpool amassed thirteen league titles, six continental trophies and four FA Cups. Liverpool were the team to beat and it is also thought that if it wasn’t for the ban given to English clubs following the 1985 disaster at Heysel, Everton would have gone on to achieve greater things.
The two giants, separated by Stanley Park, may not currently be England’s dominant clubs, but their combined history speaks of a huge footballing pedigree in the city. It is therefore staggering to think that, Liverpool and Everton aside, there are no other teams from the city, in the professional or semi-professional game. Tranmere Rovers and a plethora of non-league clubs may circle Liverpool, but all of them fall outside of the city limits. Given the contribution that the city of Liverpool has made to English football, and the Scouse players and managers that can be found throughout the football pyramid, this is truly amazing. Last year, it was announced that there would be a new kid on the block, City of Liverpool FC. Playing in purple, the city’s civic colours and not just a convenient mix of Liverpool’s red and Everton’s blue, City of Liverpool aim to fill that void and provide affordable football for the city’s inhabitants, many of whom have been priced out of Premier League football.
There is no doubt that supporter-owned clubs are on the rise. AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and AFC Liverpool are a few examples, and as fans continue to be priced out of the Premier League experience, and clubs go bump due to financial mismanagement, there will surely be many more in the next few years.
Each new team has its own agenda, however City of Liverpool FC is not so easy to pigeon hole, billing itself as “the UK’s only non-aligned, non protest, non phoenix, Supporter Owned football club”. Unlike AFC Liverpool and FC United, it doesn’t appeal to just the red half of the city, and the executive committee contains fans of both Liverpool and Everton. The new club hasn’t necessarily been borne out of a protest either. Ticket pricing at Premier League level may have been a factor in the formation of the club, and will appeal to prospective fans who want to watch a cheap game on a Saturday, but protest isn’t the driver. The club will be a supporter-owned, affordable alternative, giving the city a third option in the professional and semi-professional game.
Paul Manning, chairman of the newly-created club, was himself a good amateur footballer himself before injuries and family commitments took over. He is an FA qualified Level One coach who oversees the development of an under 11 side. He’s been an avid follower of Liverpool since 1974 and grew up during the club’s heyday, witnessing spectacular highs, and devastating lows.
Dan Williamson asked Paul a few questions:
City of Liverpool will ground share with Bootle during the 2016/17 season. When do you realistically think you’ll be playing within the city limits, and how vital is this to the future of the club?
Realistically we think it will be at some point of the 2017/18 season. Taking into account architecture, planning issues and actual construction, not to mention actually agreeing a lease on a plot of land, we are targeting August 2017. We are a fair way along the process of securing the lease and already have initial design drawings in place, so are reasonably confident but there is still a long way to go.
We think a community stadium in the city is vital not only for City of Liverpool FC but for football in the City as a whole. When we began talking about forming the club and started digging down into the concept, we were amazed to realise that between Step 7 of the football pyramid (which is a high standard of parks football) and Liverpool FC and Everton FC, there was no football clubs or more specifically no football infrastructure in the City. That’s 11 divisions of football in what is a supposedly football mad city.
To give you an example: Northwich, Cheshire, has a population of 19,000 or so. It has 4 Non-League teams in 2 stadiums. OK it doesn’t have LFC or EFC, but how is that possible? Small Lancashire towns like Barnoldswick or Daisy Hill have football grounds that can host Step 6 football, but Liverpool doesn’t! We are very serious about changing that.
Talking of Bootle, and the other non-league clubs in the area, what has their response been to the emergence of COLFC? Have you experienced any animosity?
Apart from a couple of clubs locally, we have had support from virtually all local clubs on social media, however when it came to sharing their grounds with us, the vast majority either didn’t respond or shied away, which is their prerogative.
Bootle FC and Prescot Cables where both very supportive and secure in the identities of their own clubs to seriously consider ground share with us. In the end Prescot decided against letting us share on what were sound business principles for them, which we understood. The Chairman, Tony Zeverona, was the first person to text us to congratulate us when we secured Bootle.
Bootle’s committee as a whole saw it for what it was, a good financial proposal for the club and couldn’t have been more professional in our dealings. We have the utmost gratitude to them for having the foresight to allow us to share.
The first club on Merseyside was Bootle FC. Then along came Everton FC, Liverpool FC and Marine FC. Who is to say what is or isn’t a traditional club? At some point all these clubs were the new kid on the block.
Liverpool is a proud university city with a high number of students who may want a football experience but be unable to afford to attend games at Anfield or Goodison Park. Will you be tapping into the university pipeline for fans, potential players and facilities?
This is in the pipeline already and being worked on. Partnerships with the major institutions in Liverpool are key to the club.
As regards to students, we need some to actually sign up as members, so that we can then quickly promote them onto the committee, so that they can get out and engage with the massive student population in the city, because currently we seem to all be fat, baldy, middle aged men who would look ridiculous in a green neon tutu dress at the Freshers Fayre!
What was your personal driver for being involved in the creation of the club?
The seeds of this idea go back to 2009 but the real key moment came at the start of season 2014/15 when, all of a sudden, Anfield became overran with tourists and day trippers. It became clear that the owners had made a conscious decision to allocate a larger part of match day tickets to people who were visiting the club and the city for the first time.
People wanting to come and see Liverpool play once or twice a season or even once in a lifetime are to be absolutely welcomed. However, when the balance of the ground tips so that there are more people watching / filming the atmosphere than there are actually creating the atmosphere in supporting the team, things have gone too far. To me that point had been reached and I couldn’t see it coming back.
During the recent protest at Anfield the core local support walked out on 77 minutes in protest at ticket prices with the team leading 2-0. What were left in the stadium were effectively zombies. There are photographs of the Kop with people asleep or looking at their phones, staring aimlessly into space. You could hear a pin drop and could actually hear the players talking to each other out on the pitch, and there was still probably 30,000 people left in the ground, but they were the wrong people.
It was no surprise that the team conceded two late goals to eventually draw the game and the Zombies left behind actually booed the team off the pitch, which I felt was very apt!! Football is about passion and both our local big teams are increasingly moving away from the core local support in order to survive in the Premier League’s globalised marketing bubble.
City of Liverpool FC is about re-dressing that balance so that there is a high standard footballing alternative in the City for local people to access. That includes the student population and future generations of children for whom watching football is in danger of becoming a televised activity.
For more information about City of Liverpool FC, please visit http://www.colfc.co.uk
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