Operation Anfield Atmosphere

Alex Livesey

In recent seasons there has been a noticeable decline in the atmosphere inside Anfield. Many reasons have been put forward to explain this, from expensive ticket-prices to the presence of too many day-trippers. The truth may be far more simple and profound.

As a financially-challenged, Irish, family-man, obsessed with Liverpool Football Club, I'm presented with a problem. Obviously, I want to see my team and be part of the Anfield experience as often as possible but the harsh realities of economics and my peculiar devotion to paternal and spousal duty, make this more difficult than I would like. When the stars align and I have the opportunity to 'go the match', as my Scouse mates say, I seize it avariciously.

Lately, the experience has changed somewhat. There's a quietness inside Anfield that is changing the atmosphere during the match immeasurably. Some short-sighted locals put it down to the high percentage of out-of-towners and day-trippers. Their local snobbery is unjustifiable. As a sporadic attender myself, I can relate to the fan making the pilgrimage to the holy land of L4. Those folks, many of you reading this amongst them, are if anything, louder and more overtly passionate than the local lads - the rarity of their visit only enhancing their singing, cheering and chanting.

I stand on the Kop with people of all nationalities and ages, connected by one powerful bond. We love Liverpool Football Club. There was a Hungarian lad at the Southampton game that was driving me insane. With his high-pitched, guttural outbursts, he reminded me of the the hospital patient screaming about Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects. Then Daniel Agger scored and we were hugging and happily yelling at each other like old mates on a raucous, drunken reunion!

Lately, however, there are also other, darker forces connecting the fans in the Stadium. There is a new mindset amongst many Liverpool fans, a kind of angry defeatism. It's as though our simple joy at watching football has been eroded by years of disappointment. Rafa Benitez's era was a comparative Golden Age and it has spoiled us in terms of our expectations for the club.

I first noticed it in the run-in to the '08/'09 campaign. We were in the hunt for the league, for Fowler's sake, but the anxiety inside the ground was almost intolerable at times. All the years of being away from the pinnacle of the top division took their toll and instead of giddy delight at challenging for the title, the feeling was one of fatalistic pessimism. Each dropped point or mistake on the pitch was greeted with despondent groaning. Ask Lucas Leiva about it; or latterly, Jordan Henderson; or now, Joe Allen.

Every succeeding season has seen a further, slight erosion of the matchday atmosphere. Of course, against United, Chelsea, Everton et al the stadium is often magnificently loud and partisan, but the years of wrangling the club away from Hicks and Gillett and the bleak tenure of Roy Hodgson took their toll on the match-going crowd and the wider fan-base as a whole.

Kenny Dalglish's return had a suitably inspiring and coalescing effect. I've never experienced anything like the shared joy that I felt as part of the Kop with Kenny back on the touchline in that oversized match-coat. The spiritual connection between that man and the supporters of Liverpool Football Club is unparalleled.

However, Dalglish's time was cut short by our current owners and the response to the young, inexperienced Brendan Rodgers has been quite polarized. Those who dislike him, seem to do so with a passion. He may talk too much and he may be prone to rookie mistakes but I believe it's madness to be anything other than patient with this 'project'. Others, whose opinions I respect, vehemently disagree. This type of contretemps is perfectly healthy, outside the ground.

Realism is a dirty word to football fans and I understand that as a guy who saw the glory days of the Eighties. What, after all, is the point of following a team like Liverpool if you cannot dream? Didn't Istanbul teach us that very lesson?

However, the challenge for us as supporters and specifically for those lucky enough to attend the game, is to try and revel in this emergent team's development - to cheer them when they win and cheer them louder when they fail. I understand the point-of-view that if you've paid your money you're entitled to have a moan if you wish. I understand it - but I don't subscribe to it.

I've stood beside lads on The Kop who have moaned incessantly from kick-off to final whistle. In order for Anfield to recover it's passion on a regular basis, those guys need to be drowned out by the passionate roars of those who really believe. It requires a leap of faith, perhaps, but I will argue forever in favour of the merits of positivity within the stadium. Only in that way, can we create atmospheres inside the ground like the one last Thursday night and only in that way, can Anfield reclaim it's place amongst the most intimidating and inspiring venues in world football.

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