The story of I dare say the same thing happens when any team is relegated – the fans try to justify their new position by thinking about all the things they didn’t like about the division they’ve just dropped out of. Natural enough, and there’s plenty wrong with the Premiership (see? There I go already). Expense, half and half scarves, tourist fans, daft kick-off times… and the most extreme result of this has been the formation of fan-owned clubs. One of the newest of these is City of Liverpool FC. For the record, they were formed in 2015, joined the first division of the North-West Counties League in 2016, and in their first season won the NWCFL Challenge Cup, the NWCFL First Division Challenge Cup, won games 8-0 and 10-0, and were promoted via the playoffs. Nicknamed the “Purps” after their purple strips, which are Liverpool’s corporate colours (mix red and blue – you’ve maybe seen the bins on our trips to Merseyside) they’ve had a canny start, so we had a chat with chairman Paul Hanning to ask the whys, whens, and hows…off you go, mate.
Initially, a group of longstanding Liverpool supporters just said “enough is enough” around September 2014 as the next wave of day-trippers and stag do’s descended on Anfield, determined to enjoy the “atmosphere” that they themselves (with the massive help of a string of capitalist owners) were actually killing by videoing and photographing the crowd instead of supporting the team on the pitch. That was the starting point, but in the meetings (shouting matches!) that followed it became clear that it was actually the whole city that needed a non-league football club, and whole generations of our sons and daughters who would undoubtedly be priced out of supporting their hometown clubs.
When we actually drilled down into it, we found a startling fact: in the City of Liverpool, there was no football played between Step 7 (a high standard of pub football) and the Premier League. That’s ten levels of football in this supposedly football-mad city with no football team. We thought that was outrageous and set about trying to change it.
Once we got into the league, the only thing that surprised me was that we didn’t win every single game we played, because that’s what I asked manager, Simon Burton, to do at the start of the season. That’s our job collectively, to put a team on the pitch every Saturday to win three points for the club. It’s a simple concept and, while the league got away from us, with a little blip at Easter, the lads delivered in the playoffs and cup competitions. In all honestly, we expected success and we planned for success, but not even we expected to have treble success in our first season. It was absolutely boss!
We only set seasonal targets for the team, and this season it’s the same as the last: promotion. We’re not setting any long-term goals. The club will find its natural level at some point and that could be anywhere between where we are now (step 5) and the Premier League. We’ve always said that the City will decide if it wants a non-league team, a semi-professional team, or a third professional team, but it’s our job to put the foundations in place to allow the club to be whatever it wants to be. I think we’ve done that so afar, but there are many, many years work to put in yet.
Initially, reaction to us from other clubs was mixed, to be honest. Longstanding teams seemed to feel threatened by us and every swear-word one of our players uttered got reported to the league, so a load of “fake news” was being whispered about. It was pathetic really, but then newer clubs who didn’t feel threatened by us were very welcoming indeed and it was brilliant to go to these far-flung places that supporters of Premier League clubs just don’t get to, to drink their local drinks and eat their local delicacies – and basically have an old-school football day out.
Once we started arriving at these clubs, they realised we were just friendly people wanting to support our club, stand with family and friends, have a few beers and have a laugh – and the fake news stories got put to bed, really. We made a lot of friends across the North West and we look forward to visiting them again some time.
It hasn’t really been a problem finding players of the right quality, really. Liverpool has a base of brilliant players who, every Saturday, set off up and down the country to play for non-league clubs, so convincing them to play for us and effectively become heroes of their home town club was relatively easy. A great example is a lad called Jamie McDonald. We spotted him playing Sunday pub football and signed him. He transformed our attack and the attitude of the whole team. It transpired that he’d recently turned down professional contracts at both Morecambe and Portsmouth because he couldn’t be arsed with all the travelling! He got his rewards, being carried shoulder high off the pitch in the play-off final in front of 1,000 of our supporters. Money can’t buy you love, and basically love is what everybody wants.
While we’re deadly serious about running the club properly, there has to be enjoyment, and this is down to the fatigue that comes with the abject sanitisation of Premier League football for fans, and the release from it that non-league football brings. A beer in your hand, stood on a terrace with your family and friends next to you, you haven’t paid £100 for the privilege and you don’t need a degree in applied sciences to qualify for a ticket. There are no tickets! You turn up at this thing called a turnstile, a man sits inside, and if you hand him fiver he steps on a pedal and lets you into the ground to watch the match. It could catch on, this!
Throw in a successful team on the pitch, the high drama which we’ve had virtually from the start, and you have the most powerful marketing strategy in existence: Word of Mouth. Give people what they want at a very reasonable price, make it exciting and friendly, and they will probably want to come back and they will probably tell their entire social network how great it is. Fan ownership - we have nearly 1,500 paid-up members – is undoubtedly part of it too, but I’d say that making people happy at the football again is the big factor.
Currently we share Bootle’s Delta Taxis Stadium as we couldn’t find a suitable place in the city, but we’re making good progress on that one. We’ve identified a site and are working closely with stakeholders to obtain ownership of it. We’ve instructed solicitors and architects and hope to be able to make it happen for the club before the end of the year (obtaining the site, I mean, not actually building the stadium!). In large urban areas land is at a premium and is fraught with complications, so we’re not getting ahead of ourselves as yet, but we’re definitely positive about things.
Thanks, Paul, and good luck for the coming season…