Parry: Atmosphere is important

Liverpool Chief Executive has reacted to worries from fans that the “Kop” end of the new stadium will be nothing special and says the club are looking at ways they can get the atmospere at the new ground to be as special as it can be. Existing illustrations of the ground have both the home and away ends looking very similar, but Parry says that won’t be the case: “The plan is to have a single tier Kop,” he says, “there’s no question of that. That’s one of the priorities we don’t want to change.”

New majority shareholders Tom Hicks and George Gillett are looking at what they can do to tweak the designs that were settled on so long ago, the designs that were given planning permission, and making sure the new Kop is special is all part of what they are looking at. Parry says the home and away ends won’t be different in size though: “In terms of whether one stand will be bigger than others, that’s difficult. When you’re designing a new stadium that’s not particularly logical, but all of us at the club know that making The Kop distinctive is very important. George and Tom absolutely understand that. There are a variety of different ways we can do that, but we don’t have any specifics to discuss at the moment.”

It’s obvious to long-time visitors to Anfield that the ground doesn’t fill up at the same rate as it did in the days of the standing Kop. At that time the side stands would be practically deserted until close to kick-off, much the same as now, but that wasn’t the case with the Kop. Most of the Kop would be paying on the day to get in, and to get the spec they wanted most would arrive much earlier than today. If a group of friends were getting in through a mixture of being season ticket holders and paying on the day, they could still meet up inside and stand together, which again would encourage people to get in that bit earlier to make sure they had time to meet up. Another reason to get there early was because there was no guarantee you would get in. First come first served meant on most occasions people would be locked out – and the frustration of listening to the game from outside the stadium because you weren’t near enough to the front of the queue stays with you a long time.

Nowadays it’s extremely rare for any pay-on-the-day seats to be
made available; you know where you’ll be sitting well before the game.
Season ticket holders are still sitting where they were sitting years
ago, with or without their friends. How many people sit down to watch a
match at Anfield “alone” because they could only get hold of one

However, even if you have managed to get tickets with
your mates and you’ll all be sitting together, most fans are reluctant
to pay over-the-odds for canned lager when they can pay less outside
the ground at one of the many pubs close by. And the pubs are full of
atmosphere and singing, an atmosphere which builds in the pubs as the
pub fills up. Unfortunately that atmosphere isn’t taken into the ground
– the pub-goers are split up from their mates and sit quietly to watch
the match.

So what will the club do to get people in earlier?
Parry wants to improve things inside the ground, basically he wants to
see the club compete with the pubs: “We can certainly improve
facilities and if we do that well, perhaps we can encourage more people
to congregate in the stadium earlier. But changing habits is difficult.
If we can provide more football related pre-match entertainment which
isn’t marching bands or dancing girls, there must be ways of doing it.
But that has to come from the fans. We want to listen to them and hear
ways of making that difference.”

One group of fans who have been
working hard to improve the atmosphere at the club is the RTK campaign
(Reclaim The Kop). They were responsible for the spine-tingling protest
at the Arsenal FA Cup game which saw a mosaic with the words “The
Truth” being held up by the whole Kop for a full six minutes, alongside
chants of “Justice for the 96”. They’ve got plans to make sure the
Barcelona game is as atmospheric as we’d all expect it to be, and are
hoping to gradually get the Kop back to being what it always was.
Nights like Chelsea in the Champions League on our way to number five
shouldn’t be one-offs, most games should be like that, and all games
should be very close to that.

Unfortunately for RTK, some fans
aren’t 100% behind them, possibly because of misunderstandings about
what RTK really is all about. Some fans don’t like “day trippers”, some
fans don’t like “Out of Towners”, and some fans are trying to make out
that RTK are against both types of fan. Would the club have allowed a
movement like that to take off with its blessing? Of course not. RTK
aren’t trying to get rid of any day trippers or “OOTers” – RTK want to
make sure that all fans, Scouse or not, season ticket holders or not,
day trippers or not, know how to “behave” inside Anfield. Unfortunately
it is all too easy to misunderstand the messages, and as a result a
small amount of opposition has been building. Perhaps Parry has been
made aware of this, from what he said about the campaign: “We have a
dialogue with the fans involved with the Reclaim The Kop campaign, but
we know they’re not an exclusive voice on these issues and don’t
necessarily speak for everyone. But with the Reclaim The Kop campaign
we respect that someone is trying to take the initiative and take
positive action. That should be applauded and we’re always keen to hear
more ideas.”

RTK are in a position to put ideas forward to the
club about how the atmosphere can be improved, and they encourage
debate at their website – But it’s not just RTK with the ideas, Mr
Gillett and Mr Hicks have a load of their own ideas too. The difficulty
is in adapting the successful elements of their US experiences into a
totally different game, in a different country: “With American sports,”
says Parry, “the whole event is much longer. In all their sports there
are more time-outs and breaks, so for an hour long ice hockey match
you’re there three hours. Baseball is even longer, so there’s a lot of
stop-starting which couldn’t be the case here.”

One of the
reasons Liverpool are not going to have trouble increasing the capacity
of the new stadium above the planned figure of only 60,000 is down to
the poor transport facilities in the area. Roads aren’t wide enough;
public transport consists of nothing more than buses which have to use
the same roads as the cars. And there’s nowhere to park, except on the
street. This isn’t the case in the wide-open spaces of the USA, as
Parry says: “You also have car parking for 12,000 people so there’s
more picnic areas and the like. It’s completely different here. The
reason people went to the ground earlier in football grounds in the old
days is because you didn’t always have a seat and needed to queue up to
get in. Nowadays people have their seat in advance.”

capacity of 60,000 isn’t going to help matters much in terms of
allowing an allocation of tickets to be sold on the day of game itself,
the increase of 15,000 will be swallowed up by members of the season
ticket waiting list. Unfortunately it’s clearly too far down the road
now to do anything about that and Liverpool look to have missed a trick.