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Style Wars

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

"The late 1970s and the early 1980s were the period of the 'style wars'…..a decade when Liverpool fans tried to assert their superiority by dressing sharply....Sports gear was the essential ingredient, preferably exotic, continental brands." (Billy Wilson in 'The Kop: The End of an Era')
 
Before 'package' tourism began, ordinary British people rarely travelled abroad. So when Liverpool FC first entered European football competitions in 1964, going to 'away' matches was, for many supporters, their first experience of 'foreign travel'.
 
A flight on an aircraft was a novelty for supporters in those days. When Liverpool fans returned from Budapest in 1965, the supporters on the chartered plane collected up money for a 'tip' for the pilot (just as, in Britain, they would traditionally for the driver of a coach).
 
A strong sense of identity
 
Liverpool fans were in good spirits throughout the 1960s. Under charismatic manager, Bill Shankly, Liverpool FC rose to football prominence in England and abroad. By co-incidence, four local musicians: the Beatles were getting to be quite famous too.
 
Liverpool people felt a strong sense of their own special identity; their own style. Once a great sea port, Liverpool also had a tradition of cultural exchange with distant lands. Performance was highly valued too, and the city produced writers, actors, poets, singers and entertainers in impressive numbers. The local football fans liked to perform as well.
 
Singing in the game
 
It was the Liverpool fans who first adopted - then adapted - popular songs to sing on the terraces during the match. In the old days, fans might have sung songs travelling to football matches or before the game started, but when the referee blew the whistle, they just roared. Liverpool fans adopted 'You'll Never Walk Alone' (as sung by the Liverpool band Gerry and the Pacemakers in the early 1960s) unaltered, but also began to make up their own words to popular tunes.
 
"We used to make the songs up in a pub....easy tunes in the main…On the Kop it would snowball and everyone would be singing it in three or four minutes... "(Phil Aspinall in The Kop:The End of an Era - note - the Kop is the famous home end of Liverpool's Anfield stadium)
 
It was television, of course, that popularised this novel fan-culture. Something invented to proclaim local identity was soon copied by fans all over Britain and Europe. 'You'll Never Walk Alone' became the most famous anthem for football fans everywhere.
 
Journeys abroad also contributed to Liverpool's 'library' of songs. 'Allez Les Rouges' emerged during the series of encounters with St Etienne, of France, in the 1970s; 'Arrivederci Roma' was cleverly re-written for the European Cup competition in '84, with Liverpool's victory over Roma in Rome providing a perfect conclusion.
 
The souvenir trade
 
Liverpool supporters 'exported' their own style of fandom, but they also 'imported' things too.
 
When they first went into Europe, a hat, a scarf or a banner from the 'foreign' city was enough to show you'd been there. But in the late 1970s, they began to return wearing expensive, branded sports gear: Fila, Lacoste and others, inventing the 'Casual' style.
 
Soon, not only other football fans - but other youngsters in general - were adopting the style. Liverpool fans, by changing the context of wearing sports gear, invented a new fashion which flourished beyond the world of football.
 
Throughout these decades of European competition, football fans were busy adapting signs and symbols from one context (popular music; foreign travel and sports fashion etc.) and utilising them to express their own particular identity. The Liverpool fans expressed themselves through invention itself.
 
Football has proved an immensely fertile ground for this kind of 'cross-pollination' between European fans. One group's sign of identity gets 'stolen', altered slightly, and re-appears as another's.
 
As football globalises, it spreads wider. At the moment, in China for example, learning to be a 'football fan' involves imitating western supporters. But it won't be long before they're developing their own, individual styles too - and re-exporting them to the west.

 

 

Rogan Taylor, April 2002

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