Archive for the ‘Supporters’ football’ Category

Claire & me with players from the “Arsenal Nigeria” supporters’ team at WORLDET 2011 in Leeds

As I lumber through the crepuscular years of my footballing career, my 11-a-side opportunities get fewer. So I’m anyone’s,  within reason, especially if they only need me for the odd half an hour at a tournament.

I’ve posted elsewhere on here about how brilliant the annual Worldnet supporters’ teams tournament is, but this year my St. Pauli UK Supporters’ XI didn’t enter a team, and my days of babysitting a Liverpool supporters’ team for this tournament are behind me. The event takes place just up the road from me in Leeds, so I went along anyway, drank a few beers with old mates, and ended up being asked to turn out for the Tranmere Rovers supporters XI in the knock-out tournament today, after they picked up some injuries in yesterday’s group stage matches.

After Southampton knocked us of the tournament out in a close-fought encounter, we then arranged a really enjoyable, laid-back friendly match with Dundee United, with my partner Claire even making a cameo for Rovers in goal. Thanks Rovers!

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Written in summer 2010, about a tournament in 2009, to explain why I didn’t go back to the same event again this year.

Part 1. The flag-making habit

Bill Shankly once compared LFC’s assembled red throng, with their red flags and their banners, to the “show of red strength” at a Chinese communist rally. Over the years I reckon I’ve spent more time sticking and sewing words and symbols on to red flags and banners than most of Chairman Mao’s most devoted followers ever did.  But as somebody once said, “if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone, anyhow.” So for me it’s a flag for every occasion, like this one for a supporters’ match in Madrid which took place at a time when the campaign against Hicks And Gillett was really starting to kick in.

And you know by now that my Sunday league team, Republica IFC, also plays in red, so that’s meant plenty more occasions for red banners like this one:

Of course, some of the best ideas can’t be done with iron-on letters and have to be made professionally. As long as someone at the printers owes you a favour that is ! Like this one I had made before the Athens final in 2007, showing a scene from the Parthenon marbles, but with the heads of Gerrard and Gattuso photoshopped on. Unfortunately it proved so popular in Syntagma Square on the day of the match that somebody stole it. Kind of like the Elgin marbles theft in reverse, really.

But it was a whole decade ago now when, inspired by the silhouettes of Che Guevara you see in leftist Ultra crowds all over Europe, me and my mate Alan decided to have the iconic image of Shankly made into our famous flag. These days you’ll see several big images of Shankly on flags on the Kop or at Euro away matches, but when we had this made (this time it was Alan, a graphic designer, who was owed a favour by the printing company),  it was not only the first Shankly flag, but was, as far as I know  the first  such “silhouette flag” of any major club legend anywhere. Now you’ll see silhouettes of club legends on all kinds of clubs’ banners all over the place.

Our flag has appeared on stage at the Liverpool Empire in “The Shankly Show”, and at the first mass meeting of the protest group “The Spirit of Shankly”, before they had their own version of the Shankly logo (pictured on the Kop, right). Our flag appears three times on the LFC club video that celebrates its first season of life, the treble-winning season of 2000-2001. It’s there once in Cardiff for the FA Cup final victory over Arsenal (where I’m told Alan Green mentioned it admiringly in his radio commentary too), once at Anfield for the UEFA semi-final victory over Barca, when it leaps up above our heads as Gary Mac’s penalty hits the net, and once at that dramatic final in Dortmund.

This massive banner is made of heavy duty weather-resistant, fire-proofed material and it was a hugely weighty thing to lug around, and after all the cheap airlines started to charge for hold luggage,  I never bothered taking a big bag on Euro trips any more. Big Shankly has not been overseas since 2005 when I made a lighter “hand luggage” version for the final in Istanbul. Here he is on a second visit to Istanbul in 2007:  The slogan “these are the days”, is intended as a deliberate contradiction of the song “those were the days”.  And here’s the low-calorie “Shankly-Lite” in Bordeaux in 2006, where it became the focus for our meet-up with the “Devils Bordeaux” ultra group. As I mentioned, the original flag was fire-proofed.  But this is the story of how “Shankly-Lite”, a focus for friendly meetings between myself and Turkish fans, or groups of French and English fans in the photos above,  came to be burnt alive by a not-so-friendly fascist ultra group in Ukraine.

Part 2:  Eurofans 2009

I’ve written plenty, elsewhere on this blog, about the well-established annual tournaments my various teams have been to around Europe over the years like the Mondiali Antirazzisti (Anti-Racist world cup) in Italy, the Alerta! Network’s AntiRa tournament in Hamburg, or the Worldnet event in Leeds for supporters’ teams.

But when some of my friends from the “This is Anfield” website accepted an invitation over the internet to attend a new event in Lviv, Ukraine called “Eurofans 2009”, they were always taking a step into the unknown. This tournament for supporters’ teams was devised to promote this city and the wider region (Karpaty, i.e. Carpathia in English) in the lead-up to Euro 2012, for which Lviv is a host city. The “This is Anfield” crew couldn’t raise a full squad, and so they asked if anyone from my (now defunct) Liverpool supporters’ XI would like to make up the numbers. After finding out that some of my old friends from the Inter supporters’ team would also be attending, along with another particularly hard-drinking rabble from Atletico de Madrid, with whom I was bound to have a few friends in common, well I couldn’t resist signing up as the Liverpool lads’ veteran centre-back.

Then, just four weeks before flying out there, I attended a talk at another tournament about the increasing fascist violence around football in Ukraine and Russia. Those who actively oppose racism in the stadiums are increasingly likely to be attacked as they go about their daily lives, and many have been murdered. Fascist symbols are openly displayed and racist slogans regularly chanted at many big matches. So, when it came to making a new flag the trip as I always do, the choice of slogan was easy. I learned a bit of Russian 20 years ago so I was able to copy the slogan “Solidarity with Anti-Fascist Football supporters in Eastern Europe” (for which the Russian and the Ukrainian is the same) from a sticker I’d been given, and cut it out in my usual iron-on fabric. 

The organizer, Slavik, e-mailed us that we’d been drawn in a group with a Croatian team, a Ukrainian show business XI and a team representing supporters of Bohemians 1905 Prague. The latter are well-known in Eastern Europe for their staunch anti-fascist stance. One year I even ended up playing for the Bohemians fans’ team at the St. Pauli AntiRa tournament in Germany (when most of their players got too drunk to stand up). To whet our appetite Slavik also sent us a picture before we left the UK of the stadium where we’d be playing, once the home ground of one of the city of Lviv’s top teams. It seemed to me that this big, empty ground had seen better days and would badly need some banners.

So in typical style I took three of the buggers !

Nice one Saint Cyril, nice one son. The red antifascist banner in Lviv.

This was the first amateur tournament I’ve been to which insisted on 90-minute group games, of which we had to play three in two days.  That alone would have been an incredible and unprecedented feat for most of us, but we had to do it and consume about 30 pints of great beer over the 3 evenings as well. We beat the Czechs, were unlucky to lose to the Croatians against the run of play and got knocked out by the “Ukrainian showbiz XI”, of whom some seemed to be ringers from the ex-professional football ranks! Certainly didn’t look like some old Rod Stewart XI anyway. My Inter mates were knocked out in the semi by supporters of the big local team, Karpaty Lviv.

But for me all the real drama happened off the pitch. As I left the stadium on the second evening I was jumped by a gang of 20 young fascists and knocked to the ground. Luckily my bag was their real target and I just got a couple of kicks. Not my camera, not my wallet, they just wanted the bag containing my flags. It emerged from hints over the following 24 hours that some of the tournament volunteers, including one who had befriended our group, were fascist sympathizers and they had probably set me up at the only moment I was alone with them. This was while they were supposedly helping me find a taxi to go to meet my Italian mates from Inter, who were playing their group games at another ground. I should have been suspicious from the moment I saw that one of the volunteers was wearing a Lazio t-shirt featuring Di Canio doing a fascist salute in the Stadio Olimpico, and when this nutter only wanted to ask me questions about  hooligan groups. Never trust a fella in Ukraine whose first question is about Millwall.

The youngsters, it transpired, then passed the banners they had robbed off me on, up the chain, to the real big-time fascist ultra leaders, who the next afternoon turned up at the stadium with 100 followers to support the local team in the final v. Glasgow Rangers supporters. Of the Lviv public, really only a few dozen kids and  students who wanted to practise their English had shown interest in the tournament up to this point, so it was obvious these fascists had come not for the football but to make a political point and to try to provoke a fight. They draped their Nazi-style flags on the pitch side fence, with a local Ukrainian symbol in place of the swastika, and next to these I was shocked to see my own banner, with its anti-fascist slogan …. hanging upside down. Apparently that’s a sign of humiliating your enemies over there – you hang their flags upside down. There were no police or security at this tournament at all, so the Fash were just free to march in and do whatever they wanted. I took advantage of a moment when a local bigwig was making a show of pally negotiation with the thugs, for our benefit (along the lines of “look lads, we don’t want any trouble in front of our guests” while they laughed in his face) to walk up behind him quickly tear my flag back down off the fence. Looking back now, I was lucky to void a proper kicking.

So the irony is that I do still today have my anti-fascist banner, intact despite its upside-down trauma – indeed I took it to the anti-racist world cup in Bologna, later last summer – but my Shankly flag and the other one, well they’d disappeared totally. My friend from “Football Supporters Europe” later told me that a video had circulated on the internet of my beloved Mr. Shankly being doused in lighter fuel and torched !  Those  bastards probably think the picture was of some great Liverpool socialist leader or something. Oh wait a minute – it was! But anyway, I can’t let them win so I’ll just have to make another low-calorie Shankly Lite for my low-budget hand luggage.

Meanwhile the fascists had sent young ‘spotters’ over towards our group in another part the stands, probably to find out if any of us split off as I’d done the day before. One of them drew his finger across his throat when I sussed him. The word went round the other antifascists present, like Schalke and the Bohemians, that we’d have to stick together if we were to avoid getting picked off, inside or outside the stadium. At this point the organisers were still trying to tell us that “these people aren’t racists. They are just nationalists who associate the term anti-fascist with the old communist regime.” Almost on cue as if to disprove this, the thugs they were talking about then marched around to the far side of the pitch to tear down a banner placed there by the “Football Against Racism in Europe” rep at the tournament. We had no hesitation in joining forces to put it back up again – Czechs, Germans, Croatians and Brits all united, and getting  a big cheer as we did so.  But when we went back to the main stand, the fascists in turn marched back and tore it down again, and in the confusion they also stole a banner that read “Schalke Against Racism” and proceeded to “sieg-heil” its shocked German owners. Not racists, huh ? The tournament organisers blushed and went off to prepare the final presentation ceremony.

The supposed “Glasgow Rangers supporters XI” (Huh ! Glasgow Ringers XI more like – more proper footballers than even the Ukrainian Showbiz XI), beat the hosts 3-0 in the final, and the fascist Ultras in the stands melted away almost immediately. We wondered if they were lurking outside planning to attack any of us who gave them a chance. The organisers seemed eager to get the presentation ceremony over with, and in their speeches it was as if the disgraceful events of a few minutes earlier hadn’t happened. “Aren’t you going to say anything to disassociate your organization from what’s just happened ?” I asked Slavik who’d invited us, while his boss was making the penultimate speech. He just looked away, half-ashamedly, like a man with a guilty secret. Luckily the representative from Schalke then grabbed the microphone for an impromptu denunciation of the fascists, and an implicit criticism of the organisers; when it was my turn, my own criticism of them was more explicit.

I’m aware of course that these people have to live in a deeply nationalist place, where the aspirations of generations were crushed by Russian communism and scarred by the fact that millions more Ukrainians were killed by Stalin than by Hitler. Indeed, the partisans who helped fight off Hitler were some of the first to be destroyed by Stalin even before the war had drawn to a close. The previous evening, as our group entered one of the most atmospheric bars in town, there had been a ritualistic question from a bouncer. To enter this underground den, full of resistance and WW2 memorabilia (see photo, right) we had to give the right answer to his question “There aren’t any Russians here are there ?” then we had to down a shot of the local brandy and toast “Glory to Ukraine!” before being allowed in.

I’m also aware that in the ex-Soviet union the term “antifascism” can be falsely associated, by those who choose to do so, with the old regime, communism and anti-nationalism. It’s an easy smear by those who feel threatened by the worldwide trend towards more tolerant, more cosmopolitan societies.

But the organisers of this event tried their hardest, during and after this (otherwise extremely enjoyable) weekend to pull the wool over our eyes. “Not racists” my arse.  In the kind of climate I have outlined, surely an event of this type must stand for an anti-racism and pro-diversity message at the very least, make sure its participants are all on message with that, and make sure violations are not tolerated ?

3. Eurofans 2010 and Euro 2012

In the months following the 2009 tournament I heard that there were attempts by the Football Against Racism in Europe organization to negotiate with the “Eurofans” organisers and make sure that in future their event would have a more convincing anti-racism stance.  F.A.R.E.’s main man in Eastern Europe had told me when we met in Ukraine that his organisation faces very similar problems at home in Poland, and that if they chose to, they too could cower in fear of reprisals from their own local fascist thugs, like the organizers of this event did. Eventually he told me that F.A.R.E. would not be supporting “Eurofans 2010” because the organizers had chosen to do some sort of behind the scenes deal with the fascists to keep them away this year, rather than try to shame them or to tackle their attitudes in any way. Which was good enough, or should I say bad enough, for me to decide not to go.

So, it’s one year on and there was again a Liverpool supporters’ team at Eurofans 2010 last week, but I couldn’t have  felt comfortable going back. I was just glad to hear that the lads all got back safely again. Of course they had a great time drinking beer and singing songs again like we all did last year, because apart from the Fash of course, the local people were delightful, and Lviv itself is delightful. Architecturally, it seems like a fine old central European town, but culturally very East European.This is the European city in fact, which has changed hands between more different European powers than any other city I can think of.  But its recent history means that it’s also one of the least cosmopolitan (i.e. the whitest) cities in Europe, and is it ready to host Euro 2012 ? I don’t know, I hope it goes well but I’m really fearful of who the local racist thugs will try to pick off and what their shenanigans could kick off. It’s all about chain reactions. And I don’t think  a “let’s-all-drink-beer-together-while -papering-over-the-cracks” job like this Eurofans tournament is the way to show whether Lviv is ready. I suppose that’s what you get though when a tournament’s primary backers are the local tourist board.

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Postscript, November 2010. Every October, Football Against Racism in Europe week sees hundreds of events at grounds in about 40 countries. You’ll notice in these photos that the only Ukrainian fan group which made an anti-racist stand this October, the fans of FC Arsenal Kiev,  had to disguise their faces in photographs where all they doing is holding “No to Racism” scarves, because of the very real likelihood of lethal fascist reprisals.

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By the way, a friend of mine noticed a “google ad” for a banner-making company had appeared at the bottom of this page. Sneaky old b*stards ! Please ignore it. I’ve never paid anyone to make a banner yet.

Many members of my Sunday league club, Republica Internationale, are also FC St. Pauli supporters. For some of them it’s the only club they follow in professional football, while quite a few others would say “I support such-and-such a club in England, but I wish the club and the fans were more like St. Pauli.” Personally I was aware of St. Pauli’s brilliant anti-fascist fan scene for several years before we started bumping into them at the tournaments we go to around Europe about 10 years ago. Others, especially our women players,  got to know the FC St Pauli women at our annual trips to the Mondiali Antirazzisti in Italy. We’ve travelled to Hamburg on various occasions to experience the great atmosphere of St. Pauli home matches & their legendary after-match parties! Of course we’ve also taken part in their famous AntiRa tournament every year since it started in 2004.

Eight Republica members recently made up half of the UK St. Pauli supporters’ squad at Worldnet, a weekend tournament held here in Leeds every July, which brings together supporters’ teams of 80 English & Scottish clubs and the odd overseas team too, playing on 10 university pitches at Bodington Hall. We were in the 16-team veterans event.
The team came together through the UK St Pauli fans’ message board and this was the very first time  many of us had even met, never mind played together, but by the end of the weekend we’d been voted “Team of the Tournament 2009” by our peers, match officials, etc. That’s out of all 80 squads at Worldnet, not just the 16 veteran teams !  I’d like to think that much of the reason for that particular triumph was due to us publicising St Pauli’s philosophy on the tournament’s website & in the tournament programme, as well as the fact that we were the only mixed team in the tournament. We also had indisputably the best banners, flags, stickers and pennants as well as possibly some of the most …errm …. unique singing at the tournament !!

Aologies to Dave L and Lee that we didn’ take the photos till after you left, and of course we weren’t the same team without you ! While you were there we lost narrowly to eventual finalists Leicester and drew with Southampton, but after you left we crumpled against Birmingham, before rallying the next morning, when we should have beaten Fulham in the first knock-out match.Here we are before our match with the Birmingham veterans:

On Sunday, a 9am kick-off for our first match was too ridiculous to be taken entirely seriously. We just carried on partying and for a brief moment I thought our opponents, Fulham Ancients,  were going to join in with that spirit :

After our unlucky own goal and 1-0  defeat in that match,it was a long walk from the bar with those pints, so where to carry that pesky football gear ?

We did give every team a bottle of Astra (St. Pauli’s local brew and erstwhile shirt sponsor ) with a pennant before kick off…. but we had limited supplies so unfortunately the local Leeds pisswaterfrom the bar (i.e. Carlsberg-Tetley’s finest) had to masquerade as the Reinheitsgebot brew for some of the photo opportunities. Anthony not pleased:

Some more of the Leeds St. Pauli contingent preparing with the appropriate degree of professionalism before our unlucky knock-out by Fulham:

One of the other teams sharing our pitch were the “Arsenal fans Nigeria” veterans XI ! While they waited on the sidelines to play “Leeds Lards”, they were obviously awestruck by some novel St. Pauli tactics:

June 2008. Written as a press release, which is why I’ve ended up mentioning myself in the third person. I’m not in the photo though.

Liverpool supporters’ long wait to celebrate a league title came to an end this week when iLFC, the Reds’ representatives in the Northern Football Supporters’ League (NFSL), finished eight points clear of city rivals Everton (Bluekipper FC) as champions.

Over a twenty-four game season, iLFC won twenty games,  drawing twice, amassing 62 points and scoring an impressive 118 goals.  Centre forward Chris Trow weighed in with a haul of 47 which made him the league’s top marksman.

Of course this kind of football is about much more than results on the pitch. The NFSL was founded in 2004 to bring together teams of supporters from all levels – non-league, Football League, Championship and Premier League – across the north west of England and north Wales.  It prides itself on being a friendly league and each game is followed by socialising  over food and drinks at the sponsoring pub or club of the home side.  This year’s title was the first for iLFC , sponsored by The Sandon pub near Anfield, since joining the league as founder members in 2004. Previous league winners have been the Accrington Stanley Ultras in the first two seasons of the league, and Morecambe Supporters FC in the third.

Everton finished runners-up in this their inaugural season, but pushed the Reds close until the final weeks of the campaign.  With both Merseyside Premiership clubs in action regularly on Sundays, many NFSL games had to be rearranged and the season was extended in to June.

A bit of history: in April 2005, iLFC represented Liverpool FC supporters at the LFC Academy in the “Friendship” (“Amicizia”) match that was arranged with representatives from Juventus supporters prior to the UEFA Champions league fixture between the two teams. They have also staged three overseas fixtures so far with the supporters of Liverpool’s Champions League rivals, and  this year they played an Inter supporters’ club in Milan on the eve of Liverpool’s match there – the result spookily mirrored the Reds’ 1-0 win, despite fielding a very unfamiliar scratch team in a 90-minute monsoon.

iLFC received their trophy and medals at an NFSL end of season  League Cup competition being held this Sunday in Chester.  Club Captain Nigel Shaw said “After finishing second by a point last year, we’re delighted to have wrapped up our first championship.  All teams in the league bring great credit on their clubs by the way they conduct themselves on and off the pitch.  Our friends from Everton, Bluekipper FC, particularly have been fantastic in their first season.  Reports of the demise of the friendly Merseyside Derby are way off the mark if our experience is anything to go by”.

At this stage the Reds are confident they can retain their title next year but their efforts could be hampered by a lack of facilities.  They currently are without changing rooms or showers, since the Vernon Sangster Sports Centre was demolished to make way for the site of Liverpool FC’s new stadium on Stanley Park.  Player-manager, Phil Riding said “We’re desperate to find a new pitch with facilities.  It’s a bit embarrassing not being able offer our visitors the same level of hospitality as they afford us, but we’ll continue to explore options over the summer”.

STOP PRESS : last Sunday iLFC made it a league and cup double,  triumphing in the Northern Football Supporters’  League Cup competition, winning the final on penalties v. Accrington Stanley Ultras.

Northern Football Supporters’ League, final table 2007-08

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GD Pts
1. Liverpool iLFC 24 20 2 2 118 44 +74 62
2. Everton Bluekipper FC 24 17 3 4 85 27 +58 54
3. Morecambe 24 16 0 8 110 58 +52 48
4. Rhyl Fans FC 23 14 3 6 76 46 +30 45
5. Northwich Victoria ST 24 13 5 6 76 49 +27 44
6. Accrington Stanley Ultras 24 11 2 11 64 56 +8 35
7. FC Celtic of Stalybridge 23 10 3 10 64 69 -5 33
8. Runcorn Linnets 24 10 2 12 66 78 -12 32
9. AFC Wrexham 24 10 1 13 63 86 -23 31
10. AFC Chester 24 8 4 12 72 75 -3 28
11. Forever Bury FC 24 6 3 15 47 87 -40 21
12. Hyde United Supporters 24 3 2 19 47 129 -82 11
13. Blackburn Rovers SFC 24 1 2 21 35 119 -84 5

An article written for the official Liverpool FC website in 2007, a wonderful season when I’d just been made redundant and so I could afford to go to most of Liverpool’s away matches in Europe !

The Top Ten of Friendship: Highlights of a Liverpool Supporter’s European Season 2006-07
                                                                      By Nigel Shaw

In the hour before the Champions League Final kicked off in Athens I didn’t witness the difficulties being faced by many of my fellow Reds as they tried to enter the stadium. I must admit I was on a high after a wonderful afternoon spent  with the Olympiakos fans at their stadium in Piraeus, but I don’t think that affected my sense of vision or reality and as I strolled happily from the metro to Gate One of the stadium, not seeing any trouble whatsoever. As a seasoned away traveller I could see the arrangements for ticket checking were woefully inadequate, and I don’t wish to minimise the problems – but I didn’t see any trouble, and only heard about it afterwards.  

I bumped into my mate John and we were comparing notes on the highlights of our trips to Athens. Both of us had spent a thoroughly enjoyable few days in the Greek capital, looking around the sights, sampling great food, swapping stories with Reds from all over the world and mingling happily with Milan fans. Both of us agreed that the matchday afternoon’s friendly meet-up with Olympiakos fans at their stadium in Piraeus was one of the highlights of a great season, and we thought it would be remembered for many years to come (see below for details), whatever the result that night. I shook his hand and off we went to enjoy the match from our different sections of the Liverpool end.

Afterwards John agreed that one of the most memorable things about that hour before kick-off, though, as we absorbed the atmosphere and took a hundred photographs of all the wonderful flags around us in our different sections of the ground, were the ‘good luck’ texts we received from supporters of other teams around Europe – probably more than from family and friends back home !  I got messages of goodwill from supporters we’d met up with at earlier rounds like Bordeaux and Barcelona – and John got one from the Galatasaray supporters’ club that he and his mates from Red all Over The Land met up with last December in Istanbul.

A couple of days later we debated our own personal ‘top ten’ highlights of another great season of in Europe. We couldn’t agree on the exact contents or order of our lists, but it was noticeable that all of the memories we chose had more to do with our unfailing ability to bond with our ‘opposing’ supporters from the ‘grass roots’ upwards, than with the results themselves. So, in reverse order, here are my personal Top Ten Euro memories of 2006-07:

10.  The brilliant atmosphere in Monastiraki Square, where Liverpool and Milan fans partied on the Thursday night in Athens. Coming out of the tube station at midnight 24 hours after our defeat I assumed it must be Rossoneri fans singing this unfamiliar tune, and sure enough the first fans I saw in the square were Milanese. But I soon realised that they were dancing and clapping along in admiration and amusement while hundreds of Reds sang the new ‘Best Midfield in the World’ song non-stop. They were awestruck, as a conga line of merry reds gave high-fives and handshakes to every Milan fan around. I heard them say in Italian ‘imagine what they’re like when they win’. This reminded me of taking a friend from Milan, a massive Inter fan, into the Albert pub  behind the Kop a couple of hours after the home defeat to Man United last March – he phoned his mates back home and let them listen to the songs, before using that exact same phrase in Italian ‘imagine what they’re like when they win’.

9.  Another great season for iLFC, our supporters’ team based at the Sandon pub, Anfield,which after organising friendly games with Juve and Inter fans in the previous two seasons, is now planning a major international supporters’ tournament in Liverpool next summer. Typical of the events we take part in was the excellent atmosphere at a friendly supporters’ tournament in Birkenhead in May, where Tranmere, Liverpool and Everton fans exchanged friendly banter and played matches with other supporters’ teams from Northern England and Scotland. Various other very successful ‘mini derbies’ have been organised throughout the season between teams from LFC & EFC websites.

8.  Teaching the ‘neutral’ Dynamo Kiev fans, together with numerous Russian and Ukrainian Reds, to sing our songs at the Maccabi away game last August. I am reliably informed that the local translation “we all dream of a team of Schevchenkoes” has now taken off at international matches in Kiev.

7.  Dancing to a Beatles tribute band in the Cavern Club with the Barca fans in March. It’s great to have an excuse to be a tourist in your own city every now and then, and the delight on their faces at being in the home of the Fab Four was unforgettable.

6.  Dancing until we dropped with the Bordeaux fans at Lloyds Bar in Concert Square last October. It’s great to use the excuse of ‘entertaining visitors’ to escape from the Mrs. every now and then !

5.  Galatasaray away. The only one on my list where I wasn’t there (and personally I’ll always be a  Beşiktaş man), but I’ve included this one for John from RAOTL. The meetings between Galatasaray’s Ultra Aslan group and our supporters started when we first played Gala in 2002 and the link is going strong, with wonderful hospitality, exchange of scarves, badges, shirts and songs the night before the CL group match.

4.  Arsenal home. OK, this wasn’t a European match, but with the way the Arsenal fans responded so positively to our leaflets telling them what the day was all about, their comments of support, the exchange of HJC scarves and badges with them, and the way Thierry Henry said it was the most remarkable atmosphere he’d ever experienced …this very English FA Cup match sure felt like a European night !

3.  Barca away. It was remarkable enough organising a supporters’ match over the internet, and a miracle that any of us ever found the pitch on the outskirts of Barcelona in the foothills of the mountains… but the most amazing thing is that this match was organised jointly on the Red and White Kop site by top Reds from Russia, Liverpool and New Delhi !! This was another wonderful friendly event, the sort of gesture which is changing football for the better every season,  which got good coverage in the Catalan press but none in the UK

2.   Bordeaux away. Unable to arrange a supporters’ match, the “Devils” group of Bordeaux Ultras certainly made up for it in hospitality. They didn’t live up to their sinister name at all, by plying us with all-night free beer, free scarves, banners, sweatshirts and badges. We made sure we returned the compliment in Liverpool a

fortnight later.

1.  Athens, May 23rd 2007.  I won’t remember the shambolic organisation at the stadium in the evening for half as long as I remember the friendship exchanged that afternoon. On previous visits to Anfield the Olympiakos Gate Seven supporters, 21 of whom were crushed to death at their old stadium in 1981, had laid tributes at the Hillsborough memorial. So on this occasion the gesture was returned with a ceremony at their memorial. Steve Wright and Murf from the HJC/RAOTL organised the presentation of a wreath and a banner saying ‘21 + 96 You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

Over a hundred Liverpool Reds were there that afternoon to show solidarity with their brothers & sisters from Piraeus, and hundreds more made pilgrimages on the following days, dozens of them leaving their LFC scarves tied on the 3 separate memorials, around the stadium and in the museum. The bond between the local  Gate 7 supporters and members of Red All Over the Land, many of whom personally knew the victims of the respective tragedies, was incredibly moving.  Afterwards we sat in their café exchanging scarves, badges and e-mail addresses, and made plans for exchange visits and a supporters’ match next season. We weren’t even allowed to pay for the beer and Kebabs we enjoyed in the stadium’s “Red Café” !  The Greek press was full of positive reaction to the afternoon’s events … but of course the English media ignored it, happy just to repeat the negatives and the UEFA smears over and over. After all, despite clearly being the world experts in grass roots football friendship, we’re suddenly ‘the worst fans in Europe’, aren’t we ?  [Oh no, by the time I’d finally posted this article, we’re not again. Make up your minds UEFA ! Who was it stole our ‘worst fans’ crown during the last week, anyway, Monsieur Gaillard ? Surely we deserve to be told ! ]

A lot has been written about that certain special something in the social culture of Merseyside that makes us perhaps that bit more willing and more able to break the ice and establish warm friendships wherever we go; it’s clear that it’s a cultural thing, nurture rather than nature, because adopted Reds from beyond the city  and across the globe have quickly picked up on these traditions too. Whether it be a simple shake of the hand, a spontaneous exchange of scarves or a meeting planned over the internet like the ones I’ve listed above, the vast majority of our supporters are a credit to our city and an example to follow throughout the European football community.

An article I wrote in March 2006….

How did a team of Liverpool supporters end up being official guests at Inter’s recent home fixture against Lazio at  San Siro in Milan?