Liverpool fans and the national anthem: a history of hostility

The Kop’s message couldn’t have been clearer.

“You can stick your coronation up your ass,” shouted the more vocal section of the Liverpool crowd during Wednesday’s home win over Fulham, an echo of the sentiment that had echoed around Hampden Park in Glasgow a few days earlier thanks to Celtic fans. .

It was the latest iteration of Anfield’s longstanding antipathy for the British establishment, and one that is most evident when Liverpool fans regularly boo the country’s national anthem, God Save the King.

With the Premier League asking all of its clubs playing at home this weekend to play it ahead of matches at the coronation of King Charles III tomorrow (Saturday), our Liverpool experts on AthleticismThe Walk On podcast discussed fans’ complicated relationship with the anthem — one defined by politics and social history as much as sport.

After the podcast was taped, Liverpool confirmed this morning (Friday) that they will play the national anthem ahead of their game against Brentford tomorrow.

This is an edited transcript of the conversation…

Tony Evans: Liverpool face Brentford at Anfield on the same day as the King’s coronation and the Premier League has asked all clubs to play the national anthem before their fixtures. We wanted to have a discussion on the matter and explain why the anthem is booed knowing that not all of our listeners are from the UK. I’ll talk about the historical context in a moment, but Andy, I’ll talk to you first because you’re quite young. What is your opinion on that?

Andy Jones: I totally understand why Liverpool are doing it. I learned of the difficulties and managed decline that Liverpool as a city have been subjected to, and then obviously you factor in Hillsborough and the fact that the state has failed to support Liverpool fans. I totally understand why Liverpool fans do it.

Evans: This (hooting the anthem) invariably provokes a backlash from opposing fans – well, a certain type of opposing fans – and leads to a plethora of abuse and denial of Hillsborough. Caoimhe, do you think that under the circumstances it is really worth doing?

Caoimhe O’Neill: It’s something Liverpool fans have been doing for so long. It has always been an anti-establishment protest. Something that is deeply rooted in the city, the socialism of the city and, as Andy mentions, for those who died in Hillsborough.

It looks like a movement and a protest and maybe not always respected – people just jump on it as something to upset the king or something. It was the same with Prince William at Wembley last season, when Liverpool fans booed the anthem while he was there. It’s not necessarily about him or the royal family. That’s the important point to make: it’s about the establishment as a whole, this conglomeration of things that Liverpool fans don’t agree with.


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Evans: James, you moved to town. You weren’t born there and you grew up there like the three of us. What did you think of this exceptionalism of Scouse and the kind of attitudes that lead to boos?

James Pearce: It was a bit of an education. Where I grew up in the South West of England, Bath, you can guarantee the bunting will be out in force this weekend. And even a few days ago I was in Yorkshire, and it’s hard to believe it’s the same country sometimes. You drive around Ilkley in Yorkshire and there are only Union Jacks everywhere and pictures of King Charles. Where I live, in South Liverpool, it couldn’t be more different.

But as the guys have explained it so well, you learn more about this story and you think: well, actually, that makes sense. All of this is also tied to the patriotism that most of the townspeople do not associate with. You also see it when major tournaments are going on with the England football team, it all feeds into the same thing. It is not their identity. It’s not who they are.

We have the feeling that these people do not represent them. It’s just a world away from a guy getting a crown put on his head in London. How important is this in the lives of people in this city? Especially people who have been treated so badly by the establishment for so long.

Evans: Really, the historical context is important. The perception of Liverpool in the UK changed during the Irish Potato Famine (in 1845-1852); after that, Liverpool was inundated with Irish refugees. The city’s nickname was “Tory Town”, but after that the press repeatedly referred to it as the capital of Ireland. And it wasn’t supposed to be positive; it was a sneering thing.

You have to remember that the word “Scouse” was also an insult. It was intended for the poorer Irish people but was taken over, around 100 years ago, by those who lived around the Scotland Road area of ​​the city, which was very Irish. I grew up there and was very, very aware that we had an Irish Nationalist MP (Thomas Power O’Connor) until 1929. Before all this St. Patrick’s Day nonsense now – the drink and all – relatives in Ireland would send a shamrock and we all carried one. It was an affirmation of identity.

It was a city that was outside the body politic of the UK and was seen as an outsider, so the roots of opposition to the establishment and anti-London go back much further than the most recent – at the 1950 and 1965 FA Cup finals, the national anthem was not booed. But instead of singing “God save the King” and “God save the Queen”, Liverpool fans sang “God save our team”. And that was a pretty big thing.

Liverpool won the 1965 FA Cup final after fans sang ‘God save our team’ as the national anthem played (Photo: Douglas Miller/BIPPA/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images).

I grew up without any awareness of being English. I was Scouse – and that was really important. There was also quite a religious divide in Liverpool, as in Northern Ireland and Glasgow: the Orange Lodge marched and a large part (Catholic) of the population felt like outsiders. And if you follow the treatment of people in the press, you can see that this Scouse exceptionalism is actually valid.

By the time you get to the 1980s it all played into the vision of the (Conservative) government of (Margaret) Thatcher of Liverpool being a rogue city and the idea of ​​managed decline, when they were actually looking at removing resources from the city to starve people. come out and get them moving. It’s amazing that we even thought of that.

And then we get Hillsborough. I’m sure if Hillsborough had happened to any other city in the country it would have been treated differently by the media and by the government and authorities. So all of this feels like almost being betrayed by the nation we were born into, and God Save the King is the greatest symbol of that nation. We’ve always wanted to make it clear that we don’t believe we’re part of it. And also, we don’t believe that those who play the anthem want us.


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I think it’s a stupid move by the Premier League to bring politics into football because (the anthem) is politics, whether you like it or not. Anfield will not remain silent and listen to the national anthem or participate. There will be an expression of disgust for it, for all the reasons I’ve talked about. It is difficult to understand if you are a foreigner. This is not meant to insult you; it’s meant to show you that we think we haven’t been treated the right way and that we’re not going to take it down.

James, should they play on (Saturday during) coronation day?

Pearce: Well, as to whether they should play on Coronation Day, I see no reason why they shouldn’t. This request from the Premier League (to play the anthem) only landed on Liverpool’s doorstep last Friday afternoon. And obviously, at that time, changing the luminaire would have been totally prohibited.

According to people I spoke to at the club, it was indeed a damned if you did, damned if you didn’t (to play the anthem or not) situation. I know Liverpool communicated with the fans this week before making a final decision. But I think the message was pretty clear from the Kop on Wednesday night: it was a definite “no”.

There was a lot of nonsense spoken earlier in the season after the death of the Queen. This kind of show of respect (for her) was never in doubt. Someone died and, whatever you think of the monarchy, it was someone who gave a lot for this country. So there was a show of respect for her. But the coronation is a completely different thing.

A minute’s silence was held at Anfield following the Queen’s death last year (Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

O’Neill: The supporters will feel totally isolated from the club. She will obviously be booed and this protest that has been going on for decades will continue because this is a city that defends people who are not defended (by the establishment).

If Liverpool fans are booing the national anthem, it’s not just about Liverpool as a city or what has happened in the past. Of course, this all comes into play, but it’s also about now; how the city feels and what people think about what is happening in the country.

Evans: I think the last word from me on this is maybe if we had been more welcomed in this country, then we wouldn’t feel like foreigners so much and we wouldn’t be booing hymns.

(Top photo: Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

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