Friday, 23 March 2018

Two Tribes

Journalist and Liverpool football fan, Tony Evans, has a new book set for release from Bantam Press. Two Tribes focuses on the 1986 FA Cup final between Liverpool and Everton, the first time the Merseyside clubs met in the showpiece final at Wembley Stadium.

In 1986, the eyes of the world were upon the two Liverpudlian clubs, a year after the Heysel Stadium disaster; a tragedy which had far-reaching impact upon the cultural and sporting landscape for years to come.

Evans has brilliantly constructed a time machine and cultural artefact looking at the cause and effect of the Heysel tragedy and why it might have happened, not blaming Liverpool fans as many tried to but focusing on the political landscape in the United Kingdom where a toxic environment of anti-government resentment led to protests upon the football terraces.

Image result for everton 1986 team

Evans' notes that hooliganism had been ripe in the football stands for many years not just in English stands but European ones when teams visited.  He notes that two weeks before Heysel, Everton played in the Cup Winners' Cup final in Rotterdam without any incident.  The contrast between the two was vast, partly because Liverpool was the best club side in the world at that moment, more of a spotlight was thrown on them and their fans.

Ultimately, the tragedy at Heysel was blamed on English supporters, with a blanket club ban on English sides in European competition for five years. This led to teams missing out on being in the best club tournaments, mainly Everton who won the league twice and could not play against the continental best.  This led to certain players moving to Continental Europe - Gary Lineker, Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle - to extend their careers.

Another reason led to things changing was the advent of a new money windfall as the 'Big Five' attempted to get more live football on television screens; broadcast companies would not feature live football apart from cup finals and major international tournaments for fear of broadcasting fights on the terrace rather than the beautiful game.

Tony Evans

Evans makes good points on this influx of money and how it would change football and those who play it; the drinking culture is incorporated into a chapter on Frank McAvennie who helped West Ham to third in the first division when Liverpool won the double.

But for all the money, there is still a feeling that the clubs love their fans but are negligent to their safety as Heysel and the fire at Bradford were eerie harbingers to the ultimate tragedy of Hillsborough which was three years away.

Image result for hillsborough disaster
It is important Evans states that football mirrors society at vital times in history; football during the mid-1980s was a place away from government where people seeked freedom from the monotony of social angst. 

Today we live in a world of isolationism, breaking away from Europe and selfishness; on our football fields we think our league is better than everyone else's yet our teams struggle in Europe and players are paid fortunes whilst fans are asked to pay more and more for a product that rarely delivers. 

Yet there remains in football a tribalistic mentality - us v them - that underscores many who watch the game, and seen at the London Stadium two weeks ago when West Ham fans made their bitterness known to the owners of West Ham United barraging them with chants from below as they sat in exulted seats.

Image result for liverpool 1986 team

Through the microcosm of one momentous year in English league football - from drunken footballers periously sitting astride the tenants of amateurism and professionalism; the Full Members' Cup in the absence of European competition - culminating in the coronation of one of England's greatest club sides, Evans has crafted a wonderful book that is part keepsake, part social comment, part football lore but fully brilliant.

Two Tribes is out from Bantam Press in Hardback from Thursday 22nd March.

My thanks to Thomas Hill at Transworld Books for the opportunity to review.

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