After the stunning success of his last piece as a guest contributor, VERYWESTHAM have granted Mr Pool another slot to celebrate the West Ham vs Liverpool clash....Here goes
Match of the Day 2 from last Sunday night featured the highlights of Liverpool hosting Manchester United at Anfield. The BBC build-up included a clever montage of cultural and technological events and developments from the past three decades, since Liverpool’s last title win all the way back in 1990.
As a cautious, pessimistic and long suffering Liverpool fan, our current very healthy 16 point lead means that even I am now starting to feel comfortable with the term ‘champions elect’. However, the Match of the Day 2 montage was not pleasant viewing for me, as it highlighted just how long our title drought has been and how the world has changed since 1990, not to mention how Manchester United have prospered during our prolonged doldrums period. Interspersed with clips of The Spice Girls, Britney Spears, the evolution of mobile phone technology and the arrival of Facebook was the near constant clicking by of the title numbers for Manchester United, from 7 in 1990 steadily through to the current 20, while Liverpool’s total remained stubbornly stuck at their 1990 total of 18. At least the producers had the good grace to show Liverpool’s 18 turning irresistibly in the direction of 19 at the very end.
The long list of technological and cultural changes also got me thinking of more subtle and at times controversial societal changes of the past thirty years, which brings me to the issue of gender identity (strangely enough for a football related blog, but bear with me). Back in 1990, it was generally assumed (using a binary way of thinking) that people were almost invariably what we now term cis-gendered, i.e. having the gender that matched their biological sex. But over the past 30 years (and especially the past decade) we have seen a change in how we view gender identity, both scientifically and culturally.
A quick internet search reveals that, along with well established terms such as transsexual and transgender, there is now a long list of increasingly novel (and largely post 1990) concepts and terms to describe one’s gender, such as non-binary, genderfluid, agender, polygender, gender apathetic, demigender and intersex. To make it even more complex, you can add in sexual orientation (or lack thereof) into the mix. The bottom line is, you can’t simply assume (as you might have back in 1990) that everyone is (to use the modern lingo) a cis-gendered heterosexual. And so it seems that the traditional ‘binary’ view of gender has become a very 20th century and somewhat outdated kind of idea. The acronyms used to describe the different types of people who are not cis-gendered or heterosexual have also expanded gradually over the years, to now super-acronymic levels such as LGBTQIA, or even longer.
And that (finally) brings me on to the topic of football and team fandom. Despite the fluid and spectrumal ways in which our society now views gender and sexuality, fandom of football clubs is pretty categorical and unchanging. The term ‘binary’ can still be accurately applied to football fandom, in that e.g. Liverpool fans are Liverpool fans only and can NEVER also be Manchester United or Everton fans, just as West Ham fans can NEVER also be fans of Millwall, Spurs or (especially) Sheffield United.
But I wonder if maybe we should start trying to apply 21st Century ideas on gender identity and sexuality to football fandom? Maybe we shouldn’t be so categorical and binary in how we define our most cherished (and most hated) clubs? And maybe we should ask ourselves if it is possible to identify as a fan of more than just one club. To put it simply: is it possible to be a trans-fan?
The upcoming visit of Liverpool to the London Stadium next week has got me thinking of my one brief and inadvertent flirtation with trans-fandom, from the corresponding fixture in February of last year. Again, Liverpool were on top of the Premier League at that stage, but only by two points, and there was a nagging sense that the White Walkers of Manchester City were trudging grimly and steadily through the snow and ice to destroy our title dreams again.
My trans-fandom experience started off innocently enough. Travelling to the game with another Irish Liverpool fan and with Mr. Verywestham himself (who was our very kind and generous host and guide), the trans-fandom began with the seemingly innocent gift of a half-and-half scarf from him. I gladly accepted the scarf, not fully realising that such a scarf is surely the ultimate symbol of trans-fandom. But I didn’t give it much thought. In fact, I was somewhat trans-fan-curious.
I then considered eating a pre-match Eastend pie of some sort, with congealed gravy. However, I resisted this delicacy and went for a burger instead. Inside the stadium, I sat among the home supporters and, closeting my red-hot Liverpool fandom, sat on my hands with an expressionless face when Sadio Mané banged in the 22nd minute (admittedly offside) opener for Liverpool. I found it difficult and strange, but I managed to observe the Premier League protocol of keeping your mouth shut when your team scores and you’re in with the opposition fans. I fantasized briefly about being in the Anfield Kop at such a moment and getting carried away in uninhibited celebration.
The early goal, the plush surrounds of the London Stadium and the great company of Mr. Verywestham and the other Liverpool fan (also uncomfortably concealing his true identity) meant that I was really enjoying the experience. I almost joined in with a brief rendition of ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’. I felt a tug towards trans-fandom, and I have to admit that it felt alright. Besides, it was easy to have warm feelings towards the Hammers when we had just taken the lead and extended our ‘as it stands’ Premier League lead over Manchester City to 5 points.
But then, just six minutes after that Mané opener, I had the ultimate test of my emerging trans-fandom. In what would prove to be a season defining moment, Michail Antonio scored the Hammers’ equaliser after 28 minutes. Again, I kept the same expressionless posture and dememanour as I had after Mané’s goal. But inside I was crying. The enforced neutral expression made the pain even harder to deal with. And not a single fibre in my body could feel any joy at Antonio’s goal. Knowing deep down that the White Walkers were now going to get us and that this season was yet another false dawn, I texted a fellow long suffering Liverpool fan back in Ireland with the fatalistic words: ‘It’s happening again’. Unfortunately, I was to be proven right ultimately. Antonio’s goal away back in February was to be the difference between Liverpool winning and losing the 2018-2019 title.
So maybe trans-fandom is possible for some, but it certainly isn’t my cup of tea. I’m a binary Liverpool only fan. Ultimately, my brief experience of trans-fandom just felt strange. If I was truly a trans-fan, I could have cheered even a little for Antonio’s equaliser, instead of crying inside. And I could have done a bit of singing at the London Stadium or at least had a nibble of that gravy covered pie.
But if I was going to become a trans-fan, surely West Ham are an ideal other team to identify with, considering my friendship with the Verywestham team, the great football heritage of their club, the many players who have played for both Liverpool and West Ham over the years and (apart from the 2006 FA Cup Final) the fact that the two clubs have never really crossed swords in anger or in any way controversially. As a Liverpool/West Ham trans-fan, I could even take on a 21st Century acronymic descriptor combining the battle hymns of the two clubs, identifying as ‘YNWA-COYI’.
All that being said, while I could never be a trans-fan (and maybe the whole concept of trans-fandom is just crazy), you can always have a second favourite club, and West Ham is mine.
So I will end my pre-match musings with another dip back in to 1990s popular culture and the 1993 Tarantino classic film ‘True Romance’, by paraphrasing Clarence (played masterfully by Christian Slater) in that bar-room scene:
‘I ain’t no trans-fan…but if I had to identify with a second club…it would be West Ham’.
Henry 'Rushie' O'Connell