The umbrella of Liverpool fandom is big and wide. That’s one of the things often touted about the Reds fanbase: it’s global. It’s a tent that necessarily houses a vast number of people from varying backgrounds and is rooted in ideals that stress community and solidarity. I mean, how else can one really interpret the club motto of You’ll Never Walk Alone?
Well, in an unsurprising pair of moments, the Reds fanbase exemplified that broad scope of diversity as on the one hand they perfectly encapsulated what it means to truly embody the YNWA spirit and, on the other, do everything but explicitly say that an entire segment of the fan base truly needed to walk alone. From heartening to disheartening in mere hours.
The first instance was a news item that indicated a group of Liverpool fans traveling on a coach back from the PSG match discovered two stowaways in the wheel well. The young men indicated that they were refugees seeking asylum and the response from those on the coach was to throw their arms around them and welcome them. In fact, one of the Liverpool fans had an insightful thing to say about the asylum seekers:
“Can’t imagine what these guys have seen and been through the risks they’ve took to get into this country plus they haven’t half made our trip.”
That sentiment is rather terrific because it often goes unstated in broad discussion regarding migration in general. Most people don’t want to leave behind the things we generally take for granted on a whim. No one generally chooses to go some place where they lack knowledge of the language or are thousands of miles away from their support network. In fact, some people even bemoan moving away from their favorite restaurants and places to visit - I only live an hour away from where I was raised and I still talk (and write) wistfully of the Hawaiian place I would frequent and how I miss the smell of the ocean. Imagine leaving behind all of the familiar sights and sounds and people. No one undertakes a journey so perilous and so emotionally grieving without a push out the door so violent or firm or certain that staying feels like no real option at all.
The actions of the Liverpool lads on that bus were admirable and truly indicative, as the article from the Echo notes, the quality of them as people and of the city of Liverpool in general as being one of welcome. A port city, one that necessarily marks it as the frontier for the rest of the country, a border town of sorts, it would make sense for it to be cosmopolitan. And considering the nature of Liverpool Football Club being comprised of footballers from across the globe, among them refugees themselves, one would hope that this reaction would have been a natural one born out of a recognition of a shared humanity. A communal connection. A love rooted in solidarity.
A few short hours after this heartening news, though, the fandom unfortunately covered itself in a show of homophobic and transphobic muck as the club’s social media announcement in support of Stonewall UK’s Rainbow Laces campaign was met with a slew of derogatory comments. The pushback was vociferous and contained some choice moments. There was, at one point, a supporter who backed supporting anti-racism measures but did not back this, failing once more to recognize that injustice for one necessarily means injustice for all.
It was a show that was as loud as it was pathetic in its immediate eschewing of the YNWA ethos. Apparently, to these fans, solidarity only counts for some of us. Compassion and understanding is only reserved for some of us. That some of us must walk alone.
And in an unsurprising move, one of the constant assertions in the pushback against LFC’s involvement in the campaign was the old favorite belief that politics and sport do not share the same space. It is a topic that we’ve written about openly here in this space and one that cannot truly be ignored. Politics and sports are necessarily intertwined and it’s obvious in this piece if for no other reason than statistics and numbers indicate that there must be at least one Liverpool first teamer who is a member of the LGBT community. More, there are fans - our friends and co-consipirators on this journey - who are members of the LGBT community.
The show of solidarity taken by the team is an important one but what do you think is communicated to any closeted footballer or out and open member of the Reds family when they read such messages from other Fans? What is the value of YNWA when one’s very identity is grounds for booting you out of the club?
I know that it can be tiring to read these posts - it’s incredibly tiring to write them. But the constant thought that caroms in my mind is the wonder over how long until we as a fan base might take up ownership of the ideals we say we value and truly wrap our arms around all of the people drawn to this great club.
It’s a wonder that any Liverpool fan at all can even stomach the idea of “keep politics out of football” when politics has indelibly stamped itself onto Liverpool. From the way the community was beset by hardship due to austerity measures during the Thatcher era to the way Hillsborough’s cover-up revealed a naked hostility towards the working class people that made up Liverpool, politics simply cannot be removed from the experience of Premier League football. Our club currently holds immigrants, Muslims, refugees, people of color, and, we must believe, a member of the LGBT community. Our fan base, if it is truly broad and global, does as well. How many more miles, matches, years will we allow our fellow Reds to walk alone?