Meet One Of Liverpool's Biggest Success Stories - The Anfield Wrap
Liverpool may not have had too much success on the field in the past ten years, but the club has proved a source from which other success stories have sprung, few more spectacular than The Anfield Wrap. The fan-led company have followed Liverpool across the world on their pre-season tour, and tonight they host a live event at The Hangar in Dublin. Ahead of the event, Balls spoke with the host, Neil Atkinson.
The Anfield Wrap began as a website and single podcast in 2010, grew to encompass a radio show on Liverpool's RadioCity and today boasts a subscription service which produces 30 shows a month, for which they have won a host of awards: Podcast Of The Year award in 2012 and 2015 by The Football Supporters’ Federation, Best Football Podcast at The Football Blogging Awards in 2016, and Radio Show Of The Year 2016, also from the Supporters' Federation.
It's a remarkable success, and began at a time when the club were as far away from success as they had been in decades.
The Anfield Wrap started from the ashes of the Hicks and Gillett era. The campaign to oust owners brought Liverpool fans together, made them more active on social media and the internet and this was the catalyst for conversations that led to The Anfield Wrap.
We felt the mainstream media didn't reflect the thoughts and feelings of fans and instead many supporters had turned to their own media to share news and views. The Anfield Wrap was an extension of that idea - starting as a free podcast and website that would reflect the views of match going Liverpool fans.
2014 brought expansion: those involved quit their day jobs, launched a subscription service entitled TAW Player, and began producing at least one show every day. It's been a phenomenal success: they now employ eleven full-time staff, average about 200,000 downloads a week across 200 countries worldwide (one of which is the Vatican City, with no official confirmation that it's not The Man Himself).
The breadth of listenership is a natural result of the tone of the production: whereas many fanzines sold outside grounds have appealed to the local supporter, with many not exactly welcoming overseas fans or 'out of towners', Atkinson says The Anfield Wrap has embraced the club's international appeal. "We want our listeners to be too and we want them to feel involved in it all, wherever in the world they listen from", says Atkinson. "We exclude no one. Loving Liverpool is available to all. If anything it should be compulsory".
The shows sell the city as much as the club.
Liverpool *wants* you to love it. We want you to love us and our football team. We want a teeny bit of that validation whereas Manchester (and Manchester United) are able to play it far cooler. The discourse of Liverpool songs is about showcasing and adoring the side, not no one liking us and us not caring. Liverpool is a cocky, arrogant city which wants to be loved by the wider world.
The Anfield Wrap thinks it is really good - the best at what it does - and wants you to like it and tell your friends wherever they are in the world and to feel part of it, part of the club, part of the city. We're reflecting that, not consciously chasing it.
Their shows are at their best when they are analysing fan culture, and interestingly, Atkinson disputes the collective assumption that things were better back in the day. At Liverpool, at least.
A contributor of ours, Mike Nevin, was doing some research on 1981/82 I think it was and he found an old album from Radio Merseyside documenting Liverpool's title winning season. On a post match interview Sammy Lee said something like "the atmosphere was great today, far better than it has been. It was like the old days." What old days does Sammy mean? 77? 65? The old days. The old days are always brilliant.
Atmospheres for certain home league games have been rubbish at Anfield for as long as I have been going. In the mid 80s the ground was rarely sold out. We eulogise the past often because we no longer have to live there.
The best way, the most proven way to have a fabulous atmosphere at Anfield is to have matches that mean something played there. The best atmosphere I have ever known for a league game was Manchester City in 2014 when we won 3-2. I remember the carnage after Vladimir Smicer's volleyed winner in 2002 against Chelsea or Torres's late goals against them in 2009 because all were occurring in the midst of a title charge. The atmosphere for Dortmund in the Europa League two seasons ago was the business.
But more young people between the ages of 16 and 30 always, always, always help. And the club should be looking at that. Maybe a 4 pint minimum before entry. And a 7 pint maximum...
The increased commercialism of the sport of the last ten years or so have seen a great loss of innocence on the part of many football supporters, none more so than Liverpool fans. Liverpool fans had to become au fait with notions like debt refinancing and leveraged buyouts as the soul of the club was up for grabs amid the toxic public wrangle of Hicks and Gillet, and all supporters have seen the price of tickets and the volume of garish advertising multiply together.
But fanzines like The Anfield Wrap, and the myriad more that are wedded to other clubs across England remain an important bulwark against the commercialisation of the sport, as they stress that there is more to it all.
Football remains football; going to Old Trafford remains an intensely tribal experience and those lads on the pitch last season for the 1-1, well, I'd never seen as many players hit the deck on 90 minutes and my United supporting friend who contributes to the brilliant United We Stand said the same thing.
Those lads gave everything. Because that is the act of playing football for Liverpool and Manchester United. In that 90 minutes it wasn't our American capitalists vs theirs. It was our eleven lads playing for, giving everything for Liverpool vs their eleven lads doing exactly the same.
On the day there may have been a slight absence of grace and quality but not desire and effort and in the stands there were tens of thousands rapt, who need it more than want it and want it for all time.
So what of the immediate future? Is this, finally, Liverpool's Year?
I think Liverpool will be a force to be reckoned with; everyone's toughest game. Champions? Why not. Six teams can win it. We've as much of a chance as any of them. Into these, Liverpool.
The Anfield Wrap are live at The Hangar on Andrews Lane in Dublin tonight. Tickets are available here.