It’s a debate that has been rumbling just under the surface for a while now, and recent contributions to the topic by JP, Robby and the omnipresent David Neve have kept the pot boiling, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor. It’s the OOT debate, of course – that’s Out-Of-Towners for all you, er, out-of-towners.
As an out-of-towner myself, my view of the whole debate is not exactly untinged by partisanship. I make no bones about why I began supporting the Reds. That’s not strictly speaking true. I don’t advertise the main reason, preferring to periodically hide behind facetious reasons like “they had loads of Irish players” or “both my brothers supported the Reds.” Those two statements represent part of the reason I follow Liverpool, and Ronnie Whelan is still one of my heroes. But there’s no getting away from the chastening reality…*deep breath*…I began to follow the Reds because they were the best.
There. I’ve said it. I’m a bandwagon jumper, a glory hunter, a fair weather fan. Back in the early to mid 1980’s, my support for Liverpool consisted of checking the Sunday newspapers to see how much they had won by the day before. You would see them play in the odd cup final, but apart from that it was an incredibly remote form of support.
Now and again, you would wonder what it would be like to support a crappy team – in retrospect, this was a classic example of ‘be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.’ It may surprise OOT bashers, but there is no doubt in my mind that adversity is what makes the bond grow stronger. One of my abiding memories of those early days was after Luton had trounced us in the third round of the 1987 FA Cup. Far from being despondent, it spurred a number of Reds to greater heights. A friend of mine had a Liverpool scarf, so we marched around the schoolyard, scarf held aloft and belting out YNWA at the tops of our pre-pubescent voices.
You really had to be there to appreciate it.
Certain events around that time really crystallised what it meant to ‘be’ a Liverpool fan. When Heysel occurred, it didn’t really have that great an impact on me. It was English fans who had perpetrated Heysel, BNP types with skinheads and swastika tattoos. But as I became older and more politically aware, I came to appreciate what a dreadful stain it was on the spirit of Liverpool FC, an event that, as Peter Robinson put it, “the club will have to live with for a very long time”. By the time Hillsborough came along, I began to feel that what I did reflected on Liverpool and vice versa.
That was how deep the ‘Pool had worked its way into my soul. Supporting Liverpool was not just a matter of checking the league table or despairing at Ian Rush departing for Juventus. There was an ethos around Liverpool FC that I had subscribed to, an ethos that I had to simultaneously reflect and reinforce.
In case that sounds too pretentious – and I know that in the context of Hillsborough and Heysel, it is way too pretentious – think about it in a more mundane way. When a former player returns to most other clubs he is roundly booed by the fans who previously revered him. It’s different at Liverpool though. I was so chuffed when, at the recent West Ham game at Anfield, I got the opportunity to join in the generous round of applause afforded to Rigobert Song. He may not have been the greatest player ever to wear Red, but he was honest and that counted for a lot. Respect for former players is part of the Liverpool ethos and one that should be practised as vigorously by out-of-towners as it us by native Liverpool fans.
Whenever Liverpool is mentioned or referred to, no matter what the context, I sit up and listen. Those of us who have subscribed to the Liverpool philosophy have also tied ourselves to the City of Liverpool and its people – although not the Blues; Manchester can have the Toffees seeing as most of them support Moan United ahead of Everton anyway.
It’s curious how Everton fans view non-native Reds. I don’t mind them going on about all Liverpool fans being from Devon or Norway. It’s just a stick with which they can beat us at every opportunity, and while there are non-native Blues, no one expects football fans to be consistent. I don’t take offence at Liverpool fans abusing Man Ure fans for all being from Cornwall or Thailand. They’re abusing Mancs, after all. But the line of thought that Everton fans pursue is this: Everton fans are inherently virtuous by dint of being Blues. If they discovered that Fred West or Harold Shipman were Toffees, would that make their crimes more acceptable?
But back to the main point. Maybe us out-of-towners should swear some form of oath. Something along the lines of . . . I, A. Liverpool-Fan, believing these truths to be self-evident, do solemnly swear to respect the people of the City of Liverpool, to love Liverpool FC ’til death do us part, to put mine love for Liverpool above all hate for others, to honour the fight for Justice for the 96, to not buy or wipe my arse with the S** . . . such an oath could probably run to hundreds of pages, but the bottom line is that there are certain things we must adhere to. Otherwise we’re no better than the Mancs that we profess to despise.
And we don’t want that now, do we?