Seeing Red

Today, emotions will run high as Liverpool FC and Manchester United .compete for the FA Cup. No two cities in Britain excite such rivalry as Liverpool and Manchester - economically, musically, but above all in football, where the partisanship can be either honest passion or genuine hatred. Why the bitterness? Neil Lyndon visited the north west to try and understand. Photographs by Chris Steele-Perkins
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The Independent Culture
Meeting Dave Haslam for dinner at a smart Italian restaurant on Albert Square in Manchester feels like meeting a made man in New Orleans. So many people know him as one of the city's leading DJs - "Best DJ of 1994," said City Life magazine - that he expects to be recognised by people he does not know: like the beautiful young woman who runs a clothes shop called Naked, and her chef companion, who stop at Haslam's table to ask where he is going tonight. He fishes a bundle of tickets out of the top pocket of his shirt to give away. Some are for the club South, where he is going later; others are for his Yellow night at the Boardwalk on Fridays.

Head closely shaved, with a little peninsula of hair above his forehead, dressed in baggy shirt and trousers and big shoes, Haslam is a Manchester scene-maker, the kind of star who used to be known in London as a Face. He was resident DJ at the Hacienda when the club made Manchester the music city of the late Eighties. He came to Manchester from Birmingham as a student 17 years ago, and stayed to make the town his own. Known as "the philosophising people's DJ", Dave used to write about Manchester for NME but is now more likely to contribute to the London Review of Books, where they treat his words more respectfully.

In the early Eighties, he says, around the time of the riots in Moss Side and Liverpool 8, both cities were at the bottom. Economically and socially, they were so low they couldn't sink any further.

"The surprise is that there should have been any transformation at all. Manchester's transformation may be only a millimetre deep, but you can't deny that millimetre. It has all risen from the streets, all entrepreneur- based. None of it has been initiated from there [he points across Albert Square towards the Town Hall] or from local authorities, though they have often given their blessing after the fact. From here, I can take you to a dozen places within five minutes' walk where new businesses connected with music and fashion have been created in old mills and warehouses. The effect of that change on the architecture alone is striking."

It was music, he continues, that made the difference. Bands like the Smiths, Stone Roses and Simply Red were the first to announce a change in Manchester. By the autumn of 1989, Manchester was a focus of interest for the world. "Now Manchester is something like an economic microcosm of England; you can see there is money about, but you can't quite make out where it all comes from or how it gets generated. Oasis, coming home to Manchester and selling out Maine Road twice, are its most potent symbol."

Meeting Ian Hargraves for a drink at the Atlantic Towers hotel in Liverpool is like going for a pint with your father in a deserted bar in the sad old town you used to call home. He rushes in, spry and nimble, neatly dressed in white shirt and tie, jacket and flannels, fresh from a Rotarians' meeting in the Racquets Club. Now retired as sports editor and football writer of the Liverpool Post & Echo, he is handling publicity for the Liverpool end of Euro '96, the forthcoming European Championships, and "having a hell of a game" getting any coverage in the media of the north west. "The only things that matter round here at the moment are the Premiership and the Cup Final," he says. "We're resigned to the fact we won't get a line in the papers about Euro '96 until after mid-May." It tells you a lot about the decaying condition of Liverpool that foreign journalists coming over for Euro '96 are being advised to stay in Manchester, rather than reserve rooms in Liverpool's hotels.

For more than 30 years, Hargraves followed a professional interest in the football of the north west, especially of Liverpool. He was friends with Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, the managers. He often drank in The Albert, the Liverpool fans' pub by the Anfield ground, and he would chip in a line or a rhyme when they were making up and rehearsing the Kop's songs and chants for the coming match. His recollections are so long that he remembers when the Busby Babes were applauded for the beauty of their play at Anfield. This was before the poisonous hatred set in between supporters of the clubs.

Hargraves lost close friends, players and journalists, in the Munich air crash of 1958. He is close to tears as he remembers; but the tears well up and spill uncontrollably as he remembers Hillsborough and the Sunday after that disaster, when thousands of Liverpool people made their way to Anfield, drawn by instinct, and the club opened the gates to crowds who laid scarves and wreaths on the terraces, covering every inch of the Kop.

Hargraves does not live in the city but, having worked there all his career, he is proud to think of himself as a Liverpudlian and honorary Scouser. Having heard them all, he doesn't want to hear a word more said against Liverpool. "Don't be too hard," he keeps saying. "It's easy to be hard." But then he comes out with this:

"Nobody in Liverpool wants to say it or to hear it said, but everybody knows this town is knackered and has been for 30 years. The postwar efforts to bring industry here, like the car factories, were doomed. The Beatles haven't lived here for more than 30 years, and nobody wants to come here and see their has-been contemporaries, 50-year- olds pretending to be young again. People say there is a new music scene here, but nobody would say it compares with the Sixties. All our comedians are getting on - Ken Dodd, Jimmy Tarbuck, Freddie Starr. Who gets their own TV show any more?

"People here feel very far distanced from the prosperity of the south, and even from the boom in Manchester. If you took away Littlewoods, this city would have nothing. Our only prize is football. It's the only thing for which we're known around the world; it's just about the only thing we've got."

The differences between these two men match the visible contrasts between the cities. Visiting Liverpool and Manchester, the contrasts strike you from every angle of sight and sensation. I was struck by how, around the centre of Manchester, towering new buildings, miniature Canary Wharfs, are erupting in such numbers that an area like the Trafford Business Park resembles the frenzied construction of central Seoul. The Manchester Ship Canal is now known locally as Silicon Canal and has at least 16 games software houses along its banks. Walking along Renshaw Street, in the middle of Liverpool, however, you see that the Central Hall, a Victorian eruption of Mesopotamian towers and turrets, has a fully grown tree, not just a weed, sticking out of a dome on its roof. "I planted that tree," laughs the playwright Alan Bleasdale, who has not set foot in Central Hall since he used to play youth club table tennis there in the early Sixties. Bleasdale can't remember when Central Hall was last in use - probably when Bessie Braddock staged a Labour Party meeting for Harold Wilson .

In 1981, after the riots in the Granby triangle of streets off Upper Parliament Street (wrongly named Toxteth in national coverage), Michael Heseltine, then Secretary of State, famously descended upon Liverpool with coach loads of businessmen to declare Napoleonic plans for the city's regeneration. New businesses, large and small, would be supported. A thousand flowers would bloom. The Albert Docks, already undergoing restoration, would be lavishly funded.

The EC has now designated Merseyside an area of special economic need, and committed pounds 630 million to developments. But 14 years after the riots, the signs of change and regeneration are accompanied by marks of further dereliction. The Albert Docks are a triumphant exhibition of the power of money and design; but they feel sterile and divorced from their surroundings. A gorgeous new hospital for women stands opposite the Granby triangle, in place of a crumbling block of flats. There are fine houses and new parkland. But the streets of Granby where I once lived have slipped further into decay. The Caribbean stores are gone or boarded up. The religious spirit of the area seems to be not Marley but Muslim, and the few who walk there have African headwear rather than dreadlocks.

Liverpool people say that Manchester sucks up all the public projects that might generate new wealth in the north west - a new airport, an Olympic bid, the Hulme regeneration project - while they get welfare strategies: sticking plasters on the city's wounds, rather than cures for its deep- seated incapacity to make new money.

Such contrasts in physical impressions continue in encounters with supporters of the two cities' leading football clubs. These differences may be matters of chance; but they happened on my visit. You arrange to meet some Manchester United fans in a bar and their organiser says you will recognise him because he'll be wearing a black United cap and carrying a copy of the The Guardian. He is a former teacher of European history, now an author of books about United and a regular contributor to the fanzine Red Issue. He talks about the 19th-century mercantile origins of Manchester's Free Trade economics and the city's continuing entrepreneurship, which he contrasts with the collectivist working-class traditions of Liverpool ("they are the last people in Britain who haven't made an accommodation with Thatcherism," he comments).

You try to talk to Liverpool fans in pubs around Anfield, and soon give up because they're too boozed to make sense. You try to telephone the Liverpool Supporters' Club to arrange to meet some fans and, day after day, morning, afternoon and evening, nobody picks up the phone - or it's constantly engaged.

The differences between the cities are massively realised in the areas around Old Trafford and Anfield, the stadia of Manchester United and Liverpool FC.

Old Trafford towers and looms like a internment fortress, in an area flattened and cleared so that it can be swept by floodlights and guns. Some United fans call it Moon Base. You can see it a mile away. Anfield is invisible from one line of approach, hidden amid the streets of 19th- century terrace houses that cramp right up to the stadium's walls.

Old Trafford's memorial to the victims of the Munich disaster is a plaque in the shape of a football pitch, mounted 50 feet up on a tower at the front of the ground. You can't miss it. But, if you are driving to Anfield, you can pass the Shankly Gates before you see them - more than 20 feet of twirly, garden-furniture ironwork, topped with the words you'll never walk alone, which you almost expect to be contained within flying musical crotchets. Beside the gates, a man is selling scarves and hats, and next to his pitch is what looks like a flower stall, with buckets of roses and chrysanthemums blocking the pavement. Here is the Hillsborough memorial.

A gas flame bubbles and flickers eternally in glass piping surrounded by rose granite. The inscription at the top is framed in inverted commas, as if to make the words more grave: "dedicated to those who lost their lives at the fa cup semi-final, hillsborough, 13 april, 1989". The grieving messages on the cards pinned to the flowers, placed there by bereaved families, are unbearably poignant. They call to mind Bill Shankly's own description of Anfield as being not merely a football ground. He said, "It's a sort of shrine. These people are not simply fans, they are more like members of a tremendous family." Similarly, says Ian Hargraves, "the disasters at Heysel and Hillsborough - particularly Hillsborough - bonded the supporters into the club and made a unity between the club's officials, its players and its fans. They are of one mind and feeling. The Hillsborough Memorial is probably the only place in Liverpool where you can leave something on the pavement and be sure it won't get pinched."

Those sentiments excite openly vicious jeering from Manchester United fans. Their hatred for Liverpool and its people is naked, and their spitefulness unashamed. Those among them who have had higher education speak with the same hard-case callousness as those who have not. Those who are clever and write for a living, like Richard Kurt, the European history teacher I met, speak with the same blockish insensitivity as those who make no living. The simple-minded brutality of their feelings is almost enough to turn you off football and everything connected with it. Kurt and his friends, Pete Boyle and Chris Robinson, leaders of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association (IMUSA), detest "the cheap sentimentality of Scousers, their attitude that 'we're unique and its us against the world'. Theirs is the mentality of the ghetto."

Kurt says that Mancunians are troubled to recognise a version of themselves in their Liverpudlian cousins, who share Irish immigrant origins: "Scousers are the black sheep of the family you'd like to see transported somewhere else." But he and his friends laugh with savage derision to remember that the Kop raised a banner in memory of Jamie Bulger when that child was murdered. "Where else would that happen? Who else would be so shameless? The whole of Liverpool is like that. Whatever goes wrong in Liverpool, Scousers always say it's somebody else's fault. It's somebody else's fault that they're poor; it's somebody else's fault that the place is a shit- heap."

Ian Hargraves acknowledges the seething hatred between Liverpool and United fans. "The clubs and the players get on well, but the fans can be lethal, really nasty. There is always murderous violence between them."

When Ron Atkinson was manager of Manchester United, he was subjected to a whiff of CS gas from a canister thrown by a fan on his first visit to Anfield. Manchester fans walking to Anfield from Lime Street station are showered by bottles and bricks from their Liverpool hosts. When Liverpool go to Old Trafford, their fans' coach windows are smashed and they are attacked by mobs. If you ask the fans whether there will be trouble at Wembley on Cup Final day, they laugh at the naivety of the question.

Hargraves says, "The trouble really began in the Sixties, when Liverpool took off and got no credit for the great football they were playing, while United remained the glamour club, the focus of media attention. Manchester fans couldn't stand it in the Seventies and Eighties, when Liverpool were winning all the trophies and they had nothing."

Liverpool fans in pubs will say that they "hate" United because the club is all about money, whereas, they say, Liverpool FC has never put profit before football. Again and again, they stress the long tradition by which players bought by Liverpool have remained in the Merseyside area after the end of their careers. "There are 20 to 30 household names of football living within five miles of here," says a fan in The Albert. "Manchester can't say that. Their big-buy players fuck off where they came from as soon as they're out of the team, unless they become a fat cat director."

Alan Bleasdale speaks a more considered version of this animosity when he says that "we always said that Manchester had the money but Liverpool had the culture. I do hate Manchester United. But what I mean is that I hate the club and everything it stands for. At the same time, I have to say I love the way the team plays."

You would never get a mature concession like that from the young men of IMUSA, contained as they are in the infantilism of their hatred. Echoing the playground, they say, "It was them [Liverpool] that started it. For years, their coaches to away matches had 'Munich '58' slogans on the back. None of the papers ever mentioned that provocation, did they?"

Going to a meeting of IMUSA with these men in their twenties and thirties is to enter the world of retarded, restricted sensibilities that is self-indulgently described by Nick Hornby in his book Fever Pitch. In this world, as he said, "nothing ever matters, apart from football". These "Reds", as they call themselves, may share Hornby's account of his own feelings towards football, when he said that "for the duration of the games, I am an 11-year-old... football [is] my child comforter, my security blanket..."

The devotion of these fans for their football allows and ratifies irrational hatred and baseless prejudices. It encourages violent intolerance towards nominal external enemies and a specious bonding between "committed" followers of a common cause. Richard Kurt and his friends will declare, like Nick Hornby, a political sympathy for the Left; but the language of their hatreds and their attachments is close to that of the racialist BNP and British Nazis they abhor. You might suppose they are just winding you up, and themselves as well. If so, the act is convincing.

In Kurt's book, Leeds supporters are variously described as being subhuman, sheep, vermin, scum and pond life. He writes, "They are the only fans in the country of whom you would not be ashamed to think the following: You wish it had been them at Hillsborough '89 instead of Liverpool."

Fever Pitch discussed the consequences of this style of Blackshirt posturing in the context of Heysel. "The kids' stuff that proved murderous in Brussels," wrote Hornby, "belonged firmly and clearly on a continuum of apparently harmless but obviously threatening acts - violent chants, wanker signs, the whole petty, hard-act works - in which a very large minority of fans had been indulging for nearly 20 years. In short, Heysel was an organic part of a culture that many of us, myself included, had contributed to. You couldn't look at those Liverpool fans and ask yourself, 'Who are these people?' You already knew." Looking at Kurt and his friends in Manchester, you know them again.

It doesn't bother them whether or not the economic resources of Manchester and its hinterland might be insufficient to allow United to compete for European cups with Milan, Barcelona or Madrid. "We don't lie awake in bed wondering whether we're good enough to beat Inter," says one. "We do lie awake worrying about beating Liverpool."

Like Nick Hornby - who had his books, his Buzzcocks records and his lapidary conversations about feminism with north London women he wanted to impress - Richard Kurt and some other members of IMUSA seem to have adopted the identity of the football moron as an elective choice, perhaps for want of a more mature source of male identity. There is a kind of trainspotter's earnestness about both their fervour for the club and their hooligan image.

But they might as easily have chosen to be passionate about the music of Manchester; and Dave Haslam sees many young men like them in his clubs. "Clueless boys who don't know how to do anything: they don't know how to dance, they don't know how to drink, they don't know how to pick up women."

Manchester boys do, however, have some varieties of choice. It is less obvious that young men in Liverpool have any choice of identification and celebration outside football. Dave Haslam points out that Liverpool has only one big club - Cream - to compare with the dozens in Manchester. Liverpool has not produced a world-beating band since Frankie Goes to Hollywood in the early Eighties, and that band got its ideas for "Relax" and "Two Tribes" from a Manchester journalist, Paul Morley. Alan Bleasdale confirms this, saying that Liverpool bands can't find places to play now. His own son plays sax with a band called Jub Jub, which is "big in Chester", but cannot find anywhere in Liverpool, except pubs "where they want to hear early Beatles all the time".

This is puzzling. Liverpool's universities and colleges bring more than 30,000 young people to the city during term time. According to figures collected by the Liverpool John Moores University Trust, the students spend almost pounds 150 million in the city in a year. With a population similar to Manchester's, even with 35,000 unemployed men (up to 40 per cent of the potential workforce in some areas), you would expect Liverpool to be similarly boiling with entertainments for the young. But it isn't.

Phil Redmond, creator of Brookside and the founder of Mersey Television, says Liverpool lacks the strong economic base that is essential to support an entertainment and media industry. "It's really as simple as geography," he says. "Manchester is a motorway crossroads, north-south and east-west, which is why it's got no soul, with people going through it all the time. Liverpool is the end of the line on a coast which has lost its pre-eminent economic function."

Redmond, a member of the John Moores University Trust, is unusual among creative people born in Liverpool for having stayed in the city and made a business there. As Dave Haslam says, "people come to Manchester for a variety of reasons, for work or for education, and they often stay. In Liverpool, the recent tradition is that people grow up and leave."

Redmond's response to this is to say that Liverpool needs to change its perspective on itself. Recognising that it will never compete with Burbank or Soho as a magnet for creative talent, the city should see itself as it originally was, "a transient city, to which people come for three or four years, make contacts, mix and move on. Five per cent of them may stay and make a difference to the city; but, as a port city, it always had a cosmopolitan nature, and that's what gave its people a lot of their flair. That's what we should be reinvigorating."

The most encouraging, even exhilarating, sign that this reinvigoration may be beginning is to be found - hold down that cynical laugh - at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA). Initiated by Paul McCartney, in the buildings of his old school; supported by Melvyn Bragg, Richard Branson, Lenny Henry, Mark Knopfler, David Puttnam, Carly Simon, Wayne Sleep and 30 more major names; organised by Mark Featherstone-Witty; funded by the National Lottery, the European Commission, Grundig AG and others - this is just the most sensationally terrific new educational institution for the arts on Earth.

The derelict Institute buildings have been restored and extended with enrapturing beauty. Recording studios, rehearsal rooms, grand auditoria, dance studios, dressing rooms, scene docks and lighting rigs have been equipped to the highest professional standards. The 189 students (35 from Merseyside) who make up LIPA's first intake will learn enterprise management as well as voice production, advanced marketing and communication as well as harmony.

They are expected to leave LIPA capable of running their own business affairs. Featherstone-Witty hopes that some of them will stay in the city. "Liverpool is full of cheap accommodation in lovely houses which, in the recent past, have had no users. We might provide some."

Featherstone-Witty himself lives in "the biggest and most beautiful house I have ever owned: six bedrooms, four reception rooms, original Victorian plaster. It cost pounds 48,000. Yet there are 19 similar houses in my street that are derelict or unoccupied. I've never lived anywhere where such beauty exists side by side with such dereliction."

LIPA is the only obvious sign in Liverpool that the city might acquire something else besides football as a prize for itself. The odds don't look good; but, as Dave Haslam says, discussing the gangsterism in Manchester, "given all the conditions of life here, the wonder is not that there is a high level of crime and violence but that there is not more of it."

Alan Bleasdale goes along with that line; but he probably speaks for everybody in relegating all social questions to one paramount consideration of the rivalries between the cities. "Liverpool will win the Cup," he says. The implication is that Manchester can keep everything else