I’m an applied linguist working at the Open University and I’m also a fan of Liverpool FC. This site is mainly dedicated to documenting the creativity of the club’s fans as expressed through their banners, but I also hope to put up other examples of how LFC fans use language in all its forms to express their particular creativity and identity.
I’ve chosen this banner as my first example because I think it’s brilliant and I know the person who created it – Paul Gardner. I talked to Paul about the banner and my interpretation of it. He wasn’t convinced.
The use of the Russian proverb ‘Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan’ is a very salutary one for all football fans. It’s easy to stick by your team when they’re in their pomp, but less so when times are tough. I also like the way Paul used the first part to connect it to the image of Shankly and four other great managers. It emphasised both community and continuity.
I read the image as a religious one, too, with Shankly as God and the others has his four gospellers, spreading theword, keeping the faith. Paul didn’t agree and said he’d chosen four because he felt that gave it a better balance. He was also making an oblique reference to the five Champions League Cups LFC have won, a recurring motif in fans’ banners..
You decide. And let me know what you think; I welcome contributions from anyone who shares my enthusiasm.
Normally, I only write about fans’ banners or occasionally other activities, but these are not normal times. The brutal killing of George Floyd, an African American, by a police officer on May 25 has sparked worldwide protests and condemnation. The Liverpool squad, inspired it seems by Virgil van Dijk and Gini Wijnaldum have decided to take a stand, or more accurately, take the knee. Their decision to take part in such a visible protest with the clear intent that it spread worldwide through social and other media is unusual, though not unique in the history of the club as players have frequently supported other campaigns, but generally of a more local nature such Robbie Fowler’s support for the Liverpool Dockers’ strike and, of course, the Hillsborough Justice campaign.
This form of anti-racist protest came to prominence in 2016 when US quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to adopt the stance rather than stand for the US National Anthem in protest at the ongoing cases of police brutality and as part of the broader #BlackLivesMatter campaign. Since then, ‘taking the knee’ has become popular amongst other sports-players as a way of showing solidarity and support for anti-racist campaigns.
Wijnaldum’s tweet is interesting from a linguistic point of view, not only because it doesn’t mention George Floyd specifically – he is safe to assume people will know what it refers to, an acknowledgement of the worldwide condemnation it has rightly led to – but because of its deployment of different elements.
First there is the simple statement, ‘Unity is Strength’, familiar to anyone who has taken part in any trade union activity and a familiar sight as an LFC fan banner:
Normally, I would only focus on banners and fan postings, but these are not normal times. The killing of George Floyd, another African American to die at the hands – or in this case, ironically, the knee of a police officer
The image and phrase have been retweeted by the rest of the squad, demonstrating their unity on this issue, so combined with the photograph of a circle of players (itself a symbol of unity) it speaks not only to the protest it’s now part of but also to the unity of the players themselves on this issue.
The saying is then literally underscored with the raised fist emoji, which has largely been claimed by progressive movements, made even more potent here by displaying it in five colour variations (one for each continent?) to further express solidarity across different ethnic groups. Alongside the raised fist is the globe emoji. As my colleague Philip Seargeant has pointed out in his recent book The Emoji Revolution, the globe emoji was used by alt-right groups as an anti-semitic slur playing into the ‘Jewish global conspiracy’ trope, but it has increasingly been reclaimed by the left as a symbol of solidarity. Again, its circular form ties in with the players in the centre circle and even, essentially, the shape of the raised fist. The line of emoji is completed with a red heart. No need to say anything about that!
The tweet is rounded off with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and the triangle of fists (the triangle being the most solid of geometrical shapes) which links to the ongoing flow of tweets about the protests.
So, text, image, emojis, hashtags and embedded links are all deployed in a unified message to express a unified response.
Of course, as is the nature of Twitter, there have been a variety of responses to Wijnaldum’s tweet (and other players’ who have sent out the same message), mostly positive but others drawing attention to a 2011 incident involving former player Luis Suarez who racially abused Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. On that occasion Suarez’s team-mates publicly showed their support for him as seen in this response to Wijnaldum:
The optics, of course, are not good: white T-shirts, the colour of innocence, and a jubilant Suarez leaping in the air, fist raised celebrating a goal depicted in the club’s colour red. In a 2019 interview on Sky Sports, Jamie Carragher, the then vice captain, apologised to Patrice Evra for the lapse in judgement in a discussion of racism in football in general and the Suarez incident in particular that was far more charitable, nuanced and enlightening than much of the discussion on Twitter. Anyone with a stomach for the FA’s report on the incident can find extracts from The Guardian or the whole report is also available from the FA website. It is however interesting that two expert witnesses, Professor Peter Wade, a specialist in race and ethnicity in Latin America, with particular emphasis on black populations, genetics and sexuality, and Dr James Scorer, an expert on national and regional identities in Latin American cinema, including that of Uruguay, were called to give evidence on what Suarez had said (in Spanish) to Evra and whether it would be deemed racist or not. The Spanish word he used ‘negro‘ can, they said, be used both negatively and affirmatively in the South American context and, not surprisingly, Suarez claimed he fell into the latter camp whilst Evra perceived it as racist. The FA decided that in a UK context the term would more likely be both intended and received as racist. Whatever your view – and I’m with the FA on this – it does show how language can be pivotal.
There is, however, no possibility of misunderstanding the Liverpool squad’s use of both verbal and body language to send out a very clear signal: #BlackLivesMatter
It’s now thirty-five years since the Heysel Stadium disaster in which thirty-nine fans, mostly Juventus supporters, lost their lives at a football match against Liverpool when a wall dividing the fans of the two teams collapsed following a series of clashes.
This banner, which says ‘In memory and friendship’, is one of a number that have been made and displayed by fans over the years to express their regret and solidarity about what happened that night, and to go some way to healing the wounds between and within the two clubs and sets of fans. The banner pictured above was made by Liverpool supporters, including Peter Carney, Alf Langley & Billy Merritt. It was created from a Football Arts Initiative project which sought to help heal wounds. This second one is, I’m told, by Peter Sampara in which me brings together the two teams’ colours , national flags, team emblems and YNWA. (My thanks to Peter Carney for some of the background information on the banners.)
To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the tragedy, the club unveiled a plague at Anfield:
And in 2014, when the teams met again, there was another display of ‘friendship’ :
The recurring use of Italian symbolises the effort to reach out and show both empathy and solidarity. Liverpool fans are often attacked by their detractors for only seeing themselves as victims but the evidence clearly shows otherwise.
This isn’t the place to go over the events of that night and there are many accounts of it online. One of the more remarkable is Laurent Mauvignier’s (2008) novel In The Crowd (translated by Shawn Whiteside) which takes a somewhat oblique look at the events and aftermath of that day. It makes for very harrowing and uncomfortable reading but very worthwhile in helping us understand the complexity of emotions and contexts of that time.
In Memoria e Amicizia –In Memory and Friendship Rocco Acerra Bruno Balli Alfons Bos Giancarlo Bruschera Andrea Casula Giovanni Casula Nino Cerullo Willy Chielens Giuseppina Conti Dirk Daenecky Dionisio Fabbro Jacques François Eugenio Gagliano Francesco Galli Giancarlo Gonnelli Alberto Guarini Giovacchino Landini Roberto Lorentini Barbara Lusci Franco Martelli Gianni Mastroiaco Sergio Bastino Mazzino Loris Messore Luciano Rocco Papaluca Luigi Pidone Benito Pistolato Patrick Radcliffe Domenico Ragazzi Antonio Ragnanese Claude Robert Mario Ronchi Domenico Russo Tarcisio Salvi Gianfranco Sarto Giuseppe Spalaore Mario Spanu Tarcisio Venturin Jean Michel Walla Claudio Zavaroni
It was the seventh anniversary of Anne Williams’ death on April 18. She was the mother of Kevin Williams, who had died at Hillsborough twenty-three years and three days earlier and Anne had fought for justice for him and all the other victims from that day to the very end of her own life, aged just 62. She was tireless in pursuit of the truth about what happened that day, particularly her challenge to the flawed ruling by Coroner Stephen Popper at the initial inquest that nobody could have survived beyond 3.15 pm. Despite being refused a judicial review of the coroner’s finding in 1993, having not one but three applications to the attorney general turned down and finally an application in 2009 to the European Court of Human Rights ruled out of time, she determinedly refused to give up and was ultimately vindicated in 2012 when the Independent Panel swept Stephen Popper’s judgement aside and determined that as many as 58 victims might still have been saved had the police and ambulance services behaved differently. She was, as David Conn, writing an obituary in the Guardian put it, ‘an everyday person embodying the extraordinary power and depth of human love’.
It is only right and fitting that she has that rare accolade of having a banner made in her honour and that it flies regularly on the Kop.
The banner celebrates her as an ‘Iron Lady’, an epithet long attached to former Tory Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was, of course, deeply implicated in the Hillsborough cover-up. The use of ‘iron’ to describe her was presumably to link her to a previous 19th century Tory Prime Minister, known as the ‘Iron Duke’, the Duke of Wellington, a man known for Depending on which version you believe, he was given this nickname either because of his consistency and resolve or because of the iron shutters he had fitted to his Apsley House, his London home in 1832, to prevent rioters smashing his windows as they had done in 1831 in reponse to his and his Tory Party’s efforts to block electoral reforms that would extend voting rights and sweep away some of the so-called ‘rotten boroughs’ that entrenched power in the hands of the rich.
When Thatcher died (April 13, 2013) a common, less than mournful, frequently joyful, mood was captured by this banner, which appeared in Barnsley, one of the many mining communities she and her government had destroyed following the 1984-1985 Miners Strike.
Converting this archetypal and despised Tory blue villain into a loved Liverpool Red hero is as good a way as any of indicating that Anne Williams was the antithesis of all Margaret Thatcher and her ilk stood and still stand for.
What may be less well-known about the banner is that it was made by Indonesian supporters from the Big Reds Official Indonesian Supporters Club, showing not only the popularity of LFC internationally, but also awareness of the Hillsborough campaign and Anne Williams’ particular and inspiring role in it. It was first unveiled at the pre-season friendly on July 20, 2013 against an Indonesian X1 at the Gelora Bung Karno National Stadium in Jakarta. (LFC won 2-0). The Big Reds then arranged for the banner to be taken back to Liverpool and presented to Anne’s family. The banner was remade by Spion Kop 1906 in 2017, fittingly appearing again in the same week as International Women’s Day
In a videoed interview with the Liverpool Echo, one of the group was asked why they had made the banner for Anne and he replied: ‘She was passionate and tireless to campaign for justice for the victims of Hillsborough. It’s really amazing’ it’s an example for us, I hope she can rest in peace now and all the people here can follow her spirit for justice.’
Today is the thirty-first anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster and were it not for the corona virus lockdown there would be memorials being held by the Hillsborough Family Support Group at Anfield Stadium (this year was to be the last held there) and by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC) at the Hillsborough Survivors’ Memorial in the city centre (the HSJ will be holding a virtual memorial on its Facebook page at 15.00):
Unable to come together physically, people have been finding their own ways to mark the anniversary, such as colouring in Laura Deakin’s ’96’ design posted at the top of this page (available from her via Twitter @lozzydeaks) and placing it in their windows as a mindful way of remembering the 96 and showing solidarity with the families and survivors at a time when people are also posting images in support of the NHS during the corona virus lockdown.
The two have sometimes come together Peter Carney, creator of the iconic Hillsborough has also felt impelled to create banners to mark the passing of one of the victims of the
corona pandemic, Liz Glanister and it seems appropriate today to mention her here:
Liz Glanister was 68 when she died on April 3. She had worked for many years a nurse at Aintree University Hospital, where she probably contracted the virus. In her honour, flags were flown at half-mast in the city and three civic buildings were bathed in blue light – she was a life-long Everton supporter – hence Peter’s blue and red design for the banner he made in tribute to her. Sorrow shares its colours.
Remembering Hillsborough has always been about more than the events of that day, it’s also about remembering all victims of disasters where injustice has occurred and it seems likely that corona will emerge as another of those when the spotlight turns from getting through the current crisis to an inquiry as to how it was mismanaged by the government. When that day comes it is important that names and lives like Liz Glanister’s be recorded and remembered, just as today we remember those of the 96, their families and friends, the thousands of survivors, some of whose lives have been cut short by the disaster and many whose lives have been irrevocably changed and even blighted by it, and the campaigners who have fought three long decades for the truth and justice which one day will hopefully be delivered.
Tomorrow, I believe, Liverpool will win their sixth Champions League trophy. Moses may have parted the Red Sea to lead his people to freedom, and Mo Salah will surely lead the Sea of Red on to victory.
Normally, I talk about one or two banners a post but this time, I’m just going to let the banners do the talking. I’ve collected all these from Twitter over the last week so this is just a random sample. My thanks to mates and family who’ve sent me some directly and my thanks to all those unnamed heroes who’ve made or paid for the other gems on display.
There’s the usual mix of wit, song lyrics, Kop chants, puns, word-play (definitely had enough Chicken Kiev for a while) profanities, tributes to loved ones, erudite quotes, nods to past, present and future legends, local references and. of course, some cruel jibes at Everton’s expense. A couple of them, I have no clue what inspired them (306 Lift Crew?) but I like them.
Allez, allez, allez!
A quick update with just two hours to go…
And so the morning after… Liverpool lost, and wandering around the pitch they looked truly devastated – none more than Karius, whose hands may have been weaker than we would have wanted but whose heart proved as Scouse-red as you could ever wish for. But losing isn’t always failing, and losing to the 13-times and 3-times back-to-back champions is definitely no failure, more a statement of ability and imminent potential.
Song titles and lyrics have always been a feature on fans’ banners, from ‘Kenny’s from Heaven’, to ‘In this bright present‘ and so it’s no great surprise to see a chant that has become very popular very quickly, Allez! Allez! Allez! take its place in the pantheon of banners at last night’s Champions League quarter final against Man City, which, by the way, Liverpool won 3-0, just in case it escaped your attention. Here are the lyrics:
We’ve conquered all of Europe, we’re never gonna stop, from Paris down to Turkey, we’ve won the fucking lot. Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly, the fields of Anfield Road, we are loyal supporters, and we come from Liverpool. Allez, allez allez!
So no surprise then that the banner lists not only the dates of the 5 Champions League title wins but also where they were won. This is taken up in another banner on display last night, produced by the ever-reliable Spion Kop 1906:
A novel aspect here is the black and white silhouettes of iconic buildings from the four cities that hosted those finals, Rome (1977, 1984), Paris (1981) London (1978) and Istanbul (2005). It’s interesting to note that the silhouettes seem to have been ordered aesthetically rather than chronologically so Rome’s Coliseum and Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmad Mosque flank London’s Big Ben and Paris’s Eiffel Tower. (I’ve no idea if the lads who designed the flag had any deeper Freudian motivations in inserting the two phallic structures between the two circular ones, but they’ve certainly produced a penetrating image.)
Both banners repeat the dates, and this is a common feature, emphasising the club’s history, reiterating significant moments so they become etched in the fans’ memories like 1066 and all that. Both also carry the first line of the chant so are brought into a kind of conversation with each other, repeating the message. On the surface it is simply a statement of past glories, but that word ‘conquered’ also suggests an ongoing status as victors so the banners are also addressed to its present moment, the quarter-final match against Manchester City (which Liverpool won 3-0, by the way) and speak to both LFC fans as a badge of pride and to Man City fans as a warning of who they are up against.
The banners speak of continuity, then, just as the song lyric does with its reminder that ‘we’re never gonna stop’. What this does is remind us that the club is its history and that there is something transcendent about it. In turn, this reminds me of the philosophical paradox of the ship of Theseus. According to Greek myth Theseus amongst other things, slew the Minotaur, was King of Athens, and the son of Poseidon. So beloved was he that after his death the Greeks decided to preserve the ship he had sailed on in his many heroic adventures. As time went by, plank by plank had to be replaced due to ageing. At some point every single plank and nail, anchor and sail had been substituted so was it still the ship of Theseus? In fact, was it even still the ship of Theseus once the first plank was replaced? So it is with football teams. Clearly, nobody who played in that first 1977 final still plays and yet we still speak of LFC as a single entity. How to resolve the paradox? Well, I’m no philosopher, but I suppose it all depends on what you think constitutes the club – the parts (players, managers, owners) or the whole of its history. To fans it is always the latter that endures and that, equally, is why football endures, so it’s not so much as this team or that team, this manager or that makes Liverpool but the endless setting sail, the conquering journeys through Europe creating the treasure trove of memory, a collective memory that belongs to no-one and everyone. Allez, allez, allez…
I’ve been writing this listening to 5Live’s commentary on the Liverpool-Manchester United game, which has just ended 0-0. Mourinho can get back on the bus he’s parked yet again and make his way back down the M62. The commentators are making disparaging comments about these two clubs being part of the ‘big 6’ demanding even more money from games whilst not offering much excitement in return. This is the second time this fixture has ended in a draw. So has it all gone a bit stale mate?
In an age of 24/7 global football on TV here’s been quite a bit of discussion in the media as to whether this fixture matters any more, with the old gag about ‘two bald men squabbling over a comb’ cropping up here and there. Well, it may not matter much to pundits but it does to LFC fans. If you’re in any doubt about that, check out The Anfield Wrap website with articles by recounting what it was like spending his formative years listening to ‘crowing’ Mancs or Paul Senior on the roots of the rivalry and listen to Gareth Roberts and John GibbonsWrapping it up over a few pints in one of the city’s best pubs, The Lion Tavern.
So it seems a good time to revisit this old banner, proudly proclaiming, ‘Look Alex, back on our f*****g perch!’
There are a number of theories about the source of the intense rivalry between these two great clubs, the most successful in the English game, after all. Some date it back to the building of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894, which bypassed the port of Liverpool, some even further to the different sides the two cities took over slavery and the American Civil War. (Liverpool does not come out of that covered in glory as it supported the slave trade on which so much of its own wealth had depended, whilst Manchester cotton-mill owners and their workers took a moral stand that cost them dearly during the so-called Lancashire Cotton Famine. There’s no doubt, however, that it really came of age with the arrival of Alex Ferguson as Manchester United’s manager and his very deliberate transfer of tribal tensions to the terraces of Anfield and Old Trafford.
The text on the flag refers back to a quote from Alex Ferguson when he said that his greatest challenge was “not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch.” The flag celebrates Liverpool’s return to the perch with the unprecedented fifth Champions League title in 2005, and no, those five stars between the ‘f’ and the ‘g’ are not there out of some prudish deference towards Sir Alex’s delicate sensibilities, but to symbolise those five trophies, five stars for five stellar achievements. (Man U., of course, have won it only three times. Just saying.) Hence the Liver Bird takes its place back on the ‘perch’, the handle of the UEFA trophy and even sports a crown – a reference to being Kings of Europe perhaps, or even a nod to King Kenny Dalglish? A celebration of being football royalty in any case.
This banner is another great example of how LFC fans bring together words and images in a uniquely witty way. Wearing my linguist’s hat, it places itself in that line of banners that display Bakhtinian carnivalesque features, i.e. those moments when the normal order of things is suspended and people revel in subversive acts and displays of intemperate language and behaviour associated with the Christian Carnival celebrations from the Middle Ages on. These days we tend to think of Carnival in terms of more commercialised displays of female flesh in Rio or male flesh in Sydney or maybe even well-covered up flesh in Germany, where Karneval looks like a bit like Notting Hill might have in the 1530s but with even more urine and vomit in the side streets.
Another Bakhtinian feature is the idea of ‘dialogue’. For Bakhtin, every utterance we make started life in the mouth of someone else, we are all engaged, in my former colleague Janet Maybin’s excellent formulation, in ‘the long conversation’, that possibly began with Eve offering Adam a bite of her apple. This banner is part of the conversation fans have with one another across the terraces and, increasingly, across the globe on social media. (In a sense, banners function like tweets or Facebook status updates.) This one addresses Alex directly, but the addressee is far wider and more complex than that: Alex, Man U fans, LFC fans both present and beyond the stadium. One message but with multiple audiences, some it’s meant to annoy, others amuse. The context is one event but it also refers back to many more. LFC and Man U have been engaged in a very long conversation indeed.
This isn’t just swearing (or not swearing) for the sake of crudeness (thought it’s probably that, too), it’s about reversing the order of things (Man Utd. having overtaken Liverpool’s 18 league titles) and positing a hoped-for better reality, just as carnival is saying goodbye to last year’s failings and looking forward to Easter, the time celebration of the resurrection, by which time, LFC fans will be hoping to see a banner showing the second Liver Bird perched on the Premier League Trophy for the first time since 1990. Now that would be something to f****g crow about.
Today is the first day of the parliamentary debate about the country’s ‘plan’ for leaving the EU so it seems a good time to sing the praises of this rather wonderful flag produced by ‘Soccer in the City’ that celebrates LFC’s glorious return to European Champions’ League football. Typical Scousers, revelling in the return to the heart of Europe Europe at the very moment those Little Englanders revile it.
What I love about this flag is its playful blend of politics and football: what’s the biggest story in the U.K. at the moment? Leaving the EU. What’s the biggest story in Liverpool? Sorry Bitters, it’s Liverpool being back in Europe. This flag wittily shows its colours on both counts. Taking the European Union flag, with its blue background and yellow, stars, this flag places the stars on a red background, with five standing out to match the number of Champions League cups LFC have won.
From a linguist’s perspective — and I should remember that’s my day job – I’m also interested in the the fact that the stars are arranged in a circle, an indicator of equality, all being equi-distant, none ranked above another, whereas the Union Jack, of course, is all rigid lines and segments. So unlike most LFC banners, this one has no words on it and nor does it need any to express its message.
Politics and football deftly combined: the red for internationalist socialism as much as it is for Liverpool, proclaiming a rejection of the blue associated as much with Tory nationalism as with bitter rivals Everton. The choice of colour is, of course, inevitable being LFC’s team colour but it can also be read as an assertion of opposition to the Leavers. Whereas other supporters of Remain proudly sport the blue, this flag shows its emphatically red Scouse solidarity with European unity. The timing of the message affirms and rejoices in the fact that the team and its supporters have come home to Europe at the very moment the (narrow) majority in the country has voted to leave. (And, of course, Liverpool had a particularly large pro Remain majority in the referendum.)
Personally, I like to read this flag as a declaration of independence, maybe even an intent to secede, and to stay part of the Union, that larger, starry vision of our future right at the heart of Europe, back where LFC (and all of us) truly belong.
There seemed to be a fair bit of fuss caused by the (re)appearance of this banner with the faces of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell at the Southampton game last week. Fans writing on the This is Anfield forum showed a mixture of bewilderment and suspicion, with one commenting: Looks like a political gesture even if not meant to be, politics and sport don’t fit in my mind regardless of party. Others found the link to the Hillsborough tragedy inappropriate with one noting: Much rather this wasn’t associated with Hillsborough in any way,as I ‘d never believed that politics and sport should be mixed, before, however, going on to add: It is and we know it. But the Tory reaction to Hillsborough changed that forever!
So, do politics and football mix at LFC?
Jay McKenna, Chair of Spirit of Shankly, which describes itself as ‘the country’s first football supporters’ union’, certainly thinks so. He posted a tweet drawing on a famous quote by Bill Shankly, the club’s totemic manager in the 60’s and early 70’s:
That ‘erm’ a clear rejoinder to people to remember the club’s traditions. Others have pointed to more recent history, such as Robbie Fowler’s support for the two-year strike by Liverpool dockers in 1995-1998, the longest industrial dispute in British history:
The Hillsborough Tragedy and the 27-year fight for justice, most notably by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and the Hillsborough Family Support Group have always been political, of course, in the sense that politics is about how control is exerted over people, and whilst its raw emotional nature has rightly elevated it above mundane parliamentary squabbles it shouldn’t be forgotten that ultimately it took parliamentary decisions to set up the Hillsborough Inquests that cleared the victims and survivors of any responsibility for the events of that day and find that the deaths of the 96 were unlawful killings due to the grossly negligent police and ambulance services.
We should also remember that the very word politics comes from the Greek politiká meaning ‘affairs of the cities’ and that Liverpool is a city with a long tradition of political activism and so it would be surprising if this were not also reflected on the terraces of the football club that shares its name. Indeed. one banner even proudly proclaimed republic status for the city:
We should also remember that the personal is political, and sometimes the Kop has been a place where political support for individuals has been expressed. When Liverpool fan Michael Shields was wrongfully jailed in Bulgaria in 2006 for a knife attack, the fans were active in campaigning for his release, which followed four years later:
Jack Straw, the then Home Secretary, who had an appalling record on Hillsborough, also proved himself no friend of justice in this case, refusing to pardon Michael in 2008 despite being told by two High Court judges that he had the power to do so.
On his release, Michael Shields thanksedLiverpool and Everton fans for their support: I would like to say a massive thank you to all those people out there – including Liverpool and Everton football fans – who have supported me and my family over the last four years by writing letters, by protesting, by marching, … Your voices were heard. Thanks to you, I knew I would never walk alone. Thank you.”
And just as Robbie Fowler had supported the Liverpool Dockers, LFC captain and legend Steven Gerrard supported the campaign for Michael’s release:
We also shouldn’t forget that politics can (and should) be fun! Over the years, LFC fans have drawn on that old standard Che Guevara poster to align their support for left-wing politics and the club, as here in their tribute to manager Rafa Benitez:
So, whether it’s a massive issue, like Hillsborough, a local dispute such as the dock strike, personal as with Michael Shields or just for fun, it’s important to remember that Liverpool fans have always showed their solidarity on the Kop and even on the pitch and long may it continue – or, as Che Guevara always said at the end of his letters to Fidel Castro:
Liverpool Football Club took a bold and unprecedented step in banning journalists from the Sun newspaper from its Anfield stadium and Melwood training ground, following requests by, amongst others, the wittily named campaign group Total Eclipse of the S*n and discussions with representatives of the families and survivors of the Hillsborough disaster. (NB, supporters of the boycott do not spell out the full name of the newspaper and I will respect this strategy in the remainder of this article.)
The boycott began after the newspaper ran an infamous and discredited front page blaming the fans for the deaths just days after the disaster:
A full account of the people of Liverpool’s twenty-seven year boycott of the S*n, following its scandalous misrepresentation of the events of April 15 1989 that resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans, need look no further than this article in The Liverpool Echo, but in this piece I want to focus on one aspect of the campaign, and that is the fans’ use of the linguistic landscape through their use of banners, posters and social media to get their message across.
Liverpool fans have a long tradition of using flags and banners to go beyond merely supporting the team to deal with much broader issues affecting the club and its traditions as well as more overtly political campaigns. Perhaps only Celtic’s Green Brigade fans have a similarly activist strain running through their flags and it is no coincidence that they too have used them to express solidarity with the Hillsborough justice campaign.
In my previous research, for example, I have looked at how fans and activists used flags, posters and social media to successfully campaign against the previous American owners of the club, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, as in this hoarding:
This ‘Not Welcome Here’ campaign, was spearheaded by the Liverpool supporter’s union the Spirit of Shankly and was followed up with a brilliantly simple action whereby they mobilised Liverpool’s global fan base to take photos of themselves holding up PDFs, including this one taken outside current owners’, Fenway Sports Group’s Boston Red Sox stadium:
Using similar tactics, Total Eclipse of the S*n and fellow campaigning group Shun the S*n have achieved remarkable success in a very short time. it has been running for less than nine months as campaigners had to wait for the Hillsborough Inquest verdicts so as not to risk prejudicing the outcomes. So how have they done it? Largely through its canny deployment of various semiotic resources in public and virtual spaces. It would be overly simplistic to put the decision of the club’s owners to ban the S*n from their premises down to social media activism (as we saw with analyses of its role in the Arab Spring), nevertheless, there can be little doubt that ‘prosumer’ activism is playing its part as consumers of social media increasingly turn producers in what is described by professor of communication Henry Jenkins as ‘convergence culture’. Whilst isolated, genre-breaking, interventions such as this plaque placed on a park bench near the Hillsborough Memorial in the centre of the city,
or individual 140-character postings on Twitter may not constitute a Habermasian ‘public sphere’, they certainly reflect what he termed the ‘lifeworld’, the immediate milieu, of the ordinary citizens who made them. Still, it remains tempting to regard the football field as a type of ‘agora’ and I would argue that their dynamic movement through social media constitutes the sort of dialogue Habermas believes essential to the democratic process. In this sense, Habermas might also view positively the campaigners’ response to an attempt by the S*n (which can be seen as part of what he terms ‘the system’- the marketplace and state apparatus). In June 2014, the newspaper sought to use the centenary of the First World War to market the paper by posting out free copies of a special commemorative edition to every household in the country. This was met by another form of the ‘not welcome here’ protest when campaigners encouraged people to leave messages for their postman asking them not to deliver it and to disseminate copies of their messages on social media, as in these examples, which gradually emerged as a sort of meme:
As a result of this and other similarly language-based interventions, it is estimated that sales of The S*n have collapsed by over 40% on Merseyside, costing the paper an estimated £10 million a year.
The campaign was recently stepped up a gear by shifting the focus away from encouraging individuals not to buy the paper to urging retailers not to stock it. Paul Collins, one of the founders of Total Eclipse of the S*n is keen to present the campaign not as an effort to ban the paper (the Society of Editors describing it as ‘stretching towards censorship’) but one of simple decency and awareness raising. One of the strategies they have used is another intervention in the linguistic landscape by asking sympathetic shopkeepers to display one of their ‘Not welcome here’ posters (an echo of the earlier Hicks and Gillett campaign) and in return these shops are promoted on the group’s Facebook page.
Images such as these circulate through social media and are helpful in generating further take up through retweeting. It is estimated that some 220 shops have stopped selling the newspaper, including major supermarkets such as Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrison’s and Tesco.
The campaign has also had an impact in the political arena in and around Liverpool. A number of councils in the region have now passed motions asking retailers not to stock the newspaper and Merseytravel, who are responsible for bus, rail and travel services in the region, have also issued a letter to vendors across the Liverpool City transport network not to stock the newspaper.
In an intriguing move, Total Eclipse of the S*n have even enlisted support from taxi drivers, often regarded as more right-leaning in their politics. The group has sought sponsorship to have its campaign logo emblazoned on the sides of 96 black cabs, one for each of the victims. That’s certainly a novel and dynamic intervention in the linguistic landscape.
What the campaign has shown is how effective protests by ordinary people can be when they harness the power of the streets with reach of the tweets and the strategic deployment of language and other semiotic resources has lain at its heart. The campaign now moves to the city’s other football club, Everton, rivals on the pitch but steadfast supporters of Hillsborough families and survivors. And where will it go from here? Well, the campaigners have now asked supporters in other cities to sponsor their cab campaign so we may be about to find out just how far a taxi can take you these days.