The Guardian’s David Conn has an extraordinary, potentially shameful story in today’s paper, about Liverpool FC, and Anfield.
I lived in Liverpool for three years when I was at uni, and went up to Anfield a few times. I haven’t been since 2004 or so, but back then the area was a terribly deprived place, half the houses boarded up, the pubs I went into – unlike almost everywhere else in Liverpool, which is a fantastic, welcoming, happy city – sad and quiet and somehow threatening. All cities have these areas, of course, but Anfield seemed especially damaged, back then. It seems that it still is.
According to Conn, local residents believe that “Liverpool were buying up houses by stealth, to keep prices low”, in order to make their planned expansion of the stadium more affordable: deliberately keeping the area poor, for their own financial benefit. The houses they owned were almost all left unoccupied, “tinned up”, as locals call boarding up, and left to fall into disrepair. A local garage owner says that “The area started to decline in the early 1990s with the city’s economic problems. But Liverpool Football Club accelerated the decline, by leaving good houses empty and boarded up.”
I’m a Liverpool fan (albeit a feeble, London-dwelling, goes-to-matches-once-a-decade cardboard cutout of one) and I hope this story, if true, gets a lot of attention. Football fans, me included, focus on stupid non-stories, the various handbags-at-dawn things: the ludicrous moral outrage about Luis Suarez biting someone, or players diving, as though those are anywhere near as bad as a potential leg-breaking tackle. But we too often forget or ignore the real stuff, the venality in the game, the immorality of the people who run it.
If the Anfield story is true, it’s awful: the game’s natural support being driven into poverty to keep a club’s overheads low. I hope it’s not. If it is, I’d like to pretend I’d stop supporting Liverpool, but it doesn’t work like that, I don’t think. But it will make the whole thing much grimmer and more unpleasant. I don’t care if Luis Suarez eats someone whole; he’s a pantomime villain, and football needs them for its ongoing soap opera. But this Anfield thing – if true – is the sort of low-grade, corporate evil that ruins lives without anyone ever doing anything but their jobs. Keep an eye on it.