Those who describe football as ‘the beautiful game’ have usually never been anywhere near a terrace. Much the same as those who describe the open seas as ‘majestic’, have never stood on the open-deck of a trawler at midnight in the face of a 50ft wave.
Football can be enthralling, breathtaking, nailbiting – yes. But beautiful? Not often. As a barometer of economic wellbeing it is also proven to be an unreliable instrument, with fans continuing to shell out for season tickets and merchandise despite soaring prices and falling wages. Hardly a yardstick for realistic economic forecasting.
Yet this week at Liverpool Football Club’s homeground, fans staged a mid-game walk-out in protest at the club’s plans to introduce a £77 matchday ticket. And to emphasise the depth of their disgust, they walked out on the 77th minute – all 10,000 of them. As one. At once.
There have always been grumblings among footie fans around extortionate ticket prices and corporate indifference to their financial plight in austere times.
But this was different.
Different, not only because of the sheer scale of numbers involved, but because the protest worked. The club’s owners not only scrapped the controversial £77 ticket, but also issued an apology for the “distress caused”. An apology which, incidentally, was graciously accepted. Normal service has resumed at Anfield. Nobody was mortally offended, relationships remain intact and the club’s considerable fan-base is significantly better off than it might have been – in both social and financial terms.
Similarly at the other end of the North of England’s M62 corridor in Kingston-upon-Hull, news was emerging that the story of a community of formidable Hull fishwives is about to be adapted for the big screen.
Immediately following the harrowing triple-trawler disaster of 1968, The women of Hull’s Hessle Rd trawler community took to the city’s streets with a petition that attracted 10,000 names in three days. Then – led by the inspirational Lillian Bilocca – they marched on Parliament, who in turn ordered trawler owners to immediately implement safety arrangements to safeguard trawlermen’s lives.
There are no parallels to be drawn between an overpriced football ticket and the horrific loss of precious lives at sea. But both issues were powerfully addressed by crowds operating in mutual interest.
Those issues were tipping points – the straw that threatened to break the camel’s back of both communities.
There’s an old metaphor that describes the predicament of those with little money as being ‘like a man standing up to his nose in water; the smallest wave will drown him’.
For the community of Hessle Rd those waves were all too tragically real.
But it was their ‘togetherness’ – the wisdom of crowds – that ensured far fewer men lost their lives.