Liverpool FC Men hosted Sheffield United Men at Anfield over the weekend. It was a match that happened, and Sheffield was always going to be a tough opponent, as they have grown a lot under Chris Wilder’s management. Thankfully, Liverpool were able to find a winner after the Blades won a penalty and went up 1-0, and the match ended 2-1.
That’s it. That’s really all there is to say about that match. There’s plenty of other people writing about how VAR has once again been ruining matches by granting penalties when there shouldn’t be any, or disallowing goals that were rightfully scored, or just about how that match seemed like the beginning of the season - a marker for where we stand and what we mean to do going forward. (I’m so sick of writing or thinking about VAR complaints.)
All of that stands in the shadow of the collective effort of fans, English and abroad, that came together in protest of the Premier League over the weekend.
A few weeks ago, the Premier League announced that they would put certain matches, the ones that wouldn’t be available on Sky Sport or BT Sport, into a “Box Office” feature. That feature would require fans to pay £14.95 to view the match, per match. All of this in the face of an economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, with many families out of work and having to use what they can for essentials. In the face of the conservative government in England voting not to extend meal provisions for children whose schools have been shut down through the pandemic — who may not be able to get food at home, due to the economic crisis.
A decision that was completely tone-deaf, both the League’s and the government’s, to the needs of the people that make up the country.
This feature came to Liverpool for that particular Sheffield United match, and supporters groups across the country mounted a combined effort to show the League just how much their pay-per-view scheme missed the mark. In Merseyside it began through a partnership between the supporters group The Spirit of Shankly for Liverpool, and The Blue Union for Everton, offering an alternative — instead of spending that money to line the pockets of the Premier League, don’t watch the match and donate that amount (or whatever can be spared) to the Fans Supporting Food banks effort.
And surely, the fans listened.
Not only that, but other supporters groups joined in as well. Newcastle, Brighton, Arsenal, and more, all had their supporters groups donating to the local food banks to raise money ahead of the difficult holiday season. The season when families in need may need the most as temperatures drop and weather turns against them.
The donations that went to Fans Supporting Food Banks reached over £120k at the time of writing. They are still accepting donations, from all around the world, as this pay-per-view plan goes through October before it'll come under review. Hopefully this effort will have shown the league what a bad idea it was, but I'll continue breathing until then.
This type of thing, this collective effort of support for everyone, is what makes the fan community so wonderful. Especially in the face of corporations and politicians that want to specifically not support everyone, when the onus shouldn’t be on the fans to pick up the slack. This is the kind of stuff that makes being a football, or soccer, fan worth it.
There’s also the cynic in me, that sees how easy it is for fans to rally around not spending £15 to watch a game, or when clubs decide to raise ticket prices, but wonders why it is so hard for those same supporters to fight against racism, sexism, transphobia, or homophobia?
Why are these causes separate?
I could get even more cynical and say that I do know why, but for the sake of argument, I won’t.
The positive take on all of this is that supporters across the country and the world were able to find it within them to chip in something to make sure that families in the areas of the clubs they love can get supplies to keep from going hungry over the next few weeks. Hopefully it continues throughout the season, this goodwill towards each other, and spills over onto the other causes.
On the other hand, we’ve all seen reactions to players taking a knee before matches, to rainbow patches and armbands, to black players speaking out about their experiences in front of various fans and from various other players. The Black Lives Matter patch in the end of the truncated covid season of 2019-2020 that morphed into “Say No To Racism” for this season, a broader stroke. We’ve seen how the Women’s teams are treated, and female fans.
Where is the activism for these causes? The action and donations? Why didn’t these supporters clubs make statements and start initiatives to support the fans that are not always seen as welcome, or do not always feel they are welcome? Why are these causes mutually exclusive? Why not both? Why not all of them?
Football supporters do care, about each other, and the players and the clubs. They care about fighting injustice, fighting for what is right, and making sure that everyone can enjoy this sport. At least, that is what I want so desperately to believe, despite my own experiences and the experiences of other marginalized fans. This continued food banks support proves it, just that little bit more.
I can also take the good with the bad, the positive with the negative. I can praise the efforts of these clubs, raising money for people in need, while making sure that others are aware that this is not the only cause to be supporting. This is not the only fight to be fighting. Black people are still dying, racism isn’t a uniquely American problem (as much of the world pretends it is), and LGBTQIA+ people and women still don’t feel entirely safe or comfortable in the world of football support.
James Baldwin once said that, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
This is how I feel about football, the fandom and the sport, in general. We have no qualms about criticizing referees for bad calls or bad readings of VAR. We have no problems with criticizing the managers or the owners for their decisions of lack thereof, calling out players for not passing or not shooting or making a reckless tackle. It is because we love this sport, these clubs, that we criticize, we call them out when they are doing wrong.
We need to make sure that we are doing the same to each other, to supporters groups and leaders of those groups, when there is more that they could be doing. It is not out of malice or negativity. It is out of love, that we want these people and organizations to do better, by helping them see what they can work on. We can criticize them perpetually, because we do love them, and know that they can do better.
These food banks efforts are great, praiseworthy. But they can, and should, do better.