It being Sunday, my mind turns to religion and how football has taken its place for many people.
Liverpool’s Irish and Welsh heritage has imprinted the city and its people with some positive Christian values such as solidarity and awareness of the higher things in life, but if most people now only have sort of homeopathic memory or organised religion, it has transferred some of its practices and ability to act as an outlet for the expression of the spiritual to the football terraces. (And on a more serious note, the annual Hillsborough memorial actually sees the ground take on all the functions of of a church, with the Kop forming the choir.
Fans banners run with this religion metaphor, mainly in terms of elevating players to sainthood or even divine status as in goal-scoring hero Robbie Fowler’s case, who was called quite simply ‘God’. This one in honour of Jamie Carragher is a good example:
Of course, it’s very convenient that Jamie Carragher’s initials are the same as those of Jesus Christ, and it’s interesting to wonder whether the people who made the flag were seeing him as the natural heir to Robbie Fowler as the next prototypically working class Scouse player in the team (hence ‘son of God’). Other players have been accorded saintly status: This banner, again mainly in honour of Jamie Carragher, once again makes oblique reference to Fowler as God, but also brings in a reference to former striker Michael Owen.
The Talismanic Captain, Steven Gerrard, has also enjoyed his fair share of biblical bannering. My favourite is this one, which illustrates another strand characteristic of the creativity of LFC fans’ banners and that is the use of cultural references outside of football, in this case, cinema.
Well, that’s my assumption anyway, It could, of course be, that the person who created the banner was simply citing the Bible, and more specifically, Ezekiel 25:17, but I think it’s more likely to be a reference influenced by the movie Pulp Fiction and the famous scene in which Samuel L Jackson quotes these words before he and John Travolta blow away their opponents. Here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-K8qi_AoXI
So, we have Carragher representing the New Testament, and Gerrard as the vengeful God of the Old. I’m not aware of any banners that identify the Holy Spirit, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some. Doubtless, when Liverpool appoints its first female manager, we will witness the advent of a whole new strand of Marianic banners. Something to look forward to. ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord’.
Managers are also credited with miraculous powers, as in this banner in praise of Rafa Benitez, who steered Liverpool to their fifth Champions League title in 2005 after a twenty-one year wait:
Of all great fortmer managers, however, there is no doubt that Bill Shankly enjoys the status of the ultimate Divine, and as he is the manager who led Liverpool Football Club out of the wilderness and his clever way with words has left many remarkable quotes that act as a sort of scripture for fans, and created what often gets called ‘The Liverpool Way’ (often misused by contemporary false prophets who form the managerial class at Anfield like latter day Pharisees, more interested in the profits they see than fulfilling any Shanklyan prophesy). Still, Shankly’s influence lives on as fans style themselves ‘Shanks’ disciples’
It’s almost forty years since Shankly retired in 1974 after Liverpool won the FA Cup, but he still dominates the imaginations of fans and it’s his words more than any other manager’s that fire the imagination of succeeding generations of believers in the club. Here are a couple of my favourite ‘scriptures’ from the great man:
At a football club, there’s a holy trinity – the players, the manager and the supporters.
Directors don’t come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques.
Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very
disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more
important than that.
The word ‘fantastic’ has been used many times, so I would have to invent another word to fully describe the Anfield spectators. It is more than fanaticism, it’s a religion. To the many thousands who come here to worship, Anfield isn’t a football ground, i’s a sort of shrine. These people are not simply fans, they’re more like members of one extended family.
The socialism I believe in is not really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day.
Amen to that.