Merseyside’s red and blue mobilise forces in fight to save local livelihoods | Football

The Winslow on Goodison Road would have been heaving with Evertonians before and after the Merseyside derby on Monday but never opened its doors because of the suspension of the Premier League. Unless football resumes inside the stadium opposite within two months, they may not open again. “We just have to take it on the chin and try to recover,” says the pub’s general manager, Dave Bond.

The Arkles on Anfield Road might well have staged a title-winning party for Liverpool fans this Saturday, many having circled Roy Hodgson’s return with Crystal Palace as the day their 30-year wait was most likely to end. “Saturday will feel hollow for me as a Liverpool fan of over 50 years,” admits Paul Tremarco, the pub’s manager. “But even for a passionate football fan sport takes second place at the moment.”

Liverpool’s 19th league championship is an obsession for their supporters and on hold indefinitely but the past week has put that obsession into perspective against the threat to lives and livelihoods posed by coronavirus. Jürgen Klopp’s line about football being the most important of the least important things, said in the wake of the season being suspended last Friday, has resonated. The response of the city’s two clubs to the crisis has reinforced where priorities lie.

Staff at the Everton in the Community charity have spent the week calling vulnerable, isolated and at-risk people to offer assistance. The club announced on Thursday it was launching a £50,000 “Blue Family” campaign that will deliver essential food parcels, financial assistance for prescription purchases, mobile phone credit for people living alone, support for increased fuel bills and mental health advice. Carlo Ancelotti’s first-team players, trying to keep in shape away from the Finch Farm training complex, are not the only ones to receive fitness videos from the club. Exercise and mindfulness videos have been sent by trained staff to vulnerable supporters. The Everton Fan Centre has made thousands of calls to the elderly and isolated to maintain contact.

Liverpool’s response can be summed up by a piece of A4 paper attached to the door of the club store outside Anfield. It serves notice, briefly, that all official club stores will be closed until 4 April depending on medical advice. The bulk of the notice, however, is an appeal to fans to support food banks and instructions on how to donate now that drop-off points inside Anfield and club stores have closed. (By texting FOODBANKFC to 70460 is the answer, for a £5 donation.)

Liverpool have donated £40,000 to Fans Supporting Foodbanks while players and LFC Foundation, the club’s charitable arm, have committed £10,000 per game for the final four home matches of the season to cover the impact of lost matchday collections. Jordan Henderson contacted FSF and co-ordinated donations from the Liverpool squad after reading about the damaging shortfall. The nearby statue of Bob Paisley carrying an injured Emlyn Hughes on his back seems very apt.

“I don’t think about the Palace match or what could have been on Saturday,” says Joe Blott, the chair of the Liverpool supporters’ union Spirit of Shankly. “I’m more concerned that we manage this crisis and society recovers. Football is a sideshow. Saturday is just another day. We immediately welcomed the suspension of the Premier League because it enabled everyone to concentrate on the right things. That needs to keep going.

“All the Twitter monsters can carry on having spats about football if they want but it’s of no consequence. The priority is looking out for each other. The number of independent businesses on Merseyside has grown massively in recent years and it is heartbreaking to see what is happening to them. Liverpool have led the way in their response. Credit where it is due, they have gone above and beyond. I’m sure we’ll have a mini-row over someone’s match credits soon enough but let’s do what we can for the greater good before then.”

Liverpool have committed to paying matchday casual workers for the three home games due to be played before 30 April following a series of talks with SOS. That will cost the club around £750,000. Their food orders with Homebaked, the co-operative bakery near the Kop that puts profits into regenerating the local area, have also been advanced in order to keep the company’s cash flow going. Homebaked is among the many local businesses reliant on matchday income in one of the country’s most deprived wards.

Blott adds: “As a union we want to pick up on general issues that are going to affect fans – season tickets, credits, refunds – but that is for a later date. We need to park that for now because public health is far more important. The wider impact on football is stark. On Saturday there would have been stewards working at Anfield, catering staff, meet-and-greet staff, people working in the club shop and we wanted to make sure they are not forgotten in all of this.

“We spoke to the club about this last Friday and they were in incredible listening mode. They took all of it on board. They have tried to find other jobs for people to do. Obviously that is going to get harder as the days go by but we’ve not picked up anything from employees that they are being disadvantaged. The club is acting incredibly responsibly. It sees its 800-plus workforce is really important and not just the first-team playing staff.

“The club should be proud of the work they have done. To be leading on this shows where the club is at at this moment. It is almost Shankly-esque to see the players, fans and manager working together for society. The online appeal to raise £10,000 for food banks was launched on Sunday night. By Monday it had smashed through £50,000 thanks to Liverpool’s active contribution and significant donations from players.”

The figure stood at more than £62,000 on Friday. FSF’s appeal for immediate assistance has been answered – 25% of food donated to North Liverpool Foodbank comes from matchday collections – but the uncertainty and worry has only just started for many others.

The Winslow adjacent to Goodison Park ‘have to take it on the chin and try to recover’ after the shutdown that has put pressure on local businesses.

The Winslow adjacent to Goodison Park ‘have to take it on the chin and try to recover’ after the shutdown that has put pressure on local businesses. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The Winslow predates Goodison Park on Goodison Road by six years. Last Saturday it held a ceremony to unveil plaques to two former Everton players who became landlords of the pub, Jack Borthwick in the 1920s-40s and Norman Greenhalgh in the 1950s, along with former head barman Jim Robinson, the father of former player Neil Robinson. The pub’s manager was celebrating its past while facing an uncertain future.

“Our business is 90% dependent on trade from the football season and home games,” Bond said. “We are not trading at the moment and for the foreseeable future. The people who work for me are casual staff and as we are not trading they are not getting shifts. There is a big knock-on effect. If games do not resume then I would say in two months’ time it will be hard to keep going.”

For Les Lawson, the long-serving chairman of the official Liverpool Supporters’ Club (Merseyside branch), there is a long road ahead regardless of whether the Premier League season resumes after 30 April. Having suffered a heart attack a few years ago, Lawson has been advised to isolate for 12 weeks as an at-risk person. He has not missed a Liverpool home game since 1976.

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“What people who don’t like sport perhaps don’t understand is that it keeps you sane,” Lawson says. “Sport is a release and if you’re having a bad time at work or at home then a football match at the end of the week gives you focus. For those few hours you think about the team or talk to your mates about the game. You are in your own bubble and now that bubble has gone.

“I’ve decided I have to do something rather than just sitting around so I’m going to document my match-going history since 1976. I’m going to record how many consecutive home games I’ve seen, how many wins, losses and the different teams I’ve seen. Then I’ll do the same with European games. Desperate times, desperate measures!”

As recently as last week The Arkles was hopeful of staging a title-winning party for Liverpool fans on Saturday.

As recently as last week The Arkles was hopeful of staging a title-winning party for Liverpool fans on Saturday. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

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