Far Foreign Land (Pride and passion the Liverpool way)
If you ignore trips to Japan to play meaningless games against South Americans, Istanbul was one of the biggest away treks for most Liverpool fans.
It was also the one drawing on the biggest amount of ingenuity. Not so much in getting a ticket, although that was it’s usual hard self, but in terms of actually getting there – to Turkey and then the stadium! Tony Evans was lucky in the sense he was given his passage as part of his job. Some would say (but not me) he was unlucky that it was across Europe, by train!
Although the majority of Tony Evans’ book is based around that train journey, “Far Foreign Land” is not a Michael Palinequese travelogue. The real emphasis is on how the journey to Turkey allows Evans to recall some of Liverpool’s more memorable away trips, such as Paris, Rome and Brussels and then flash forward to Istanbul, and to ponder on how the game has changed. Evans is more than qualified to do this, he is Liverpool to the core and you feel it in his writing.
This book is not a necessarily a celebration of those nights, that’s been done before. Evans balances the glory we achieved with the less palatable side by describing in detail the dangers, risks and, in the cases of Heysel and Hillsborough, the tragedy fans experienced. This ends in Istanbul which he sees as the start of a sad process which eventually sees the game infected with the forces of greed and commercial opportunism.
Evans doesn’t hold back in describing the violence he encountered. In Paris queuing for tickets and, more notoriously, Rome 84 the consequences of which were to reach a tragic conclusion a year later at Heysel. For me 1984-85 was the worst season for violence involving Liverpool. Evans mentions a nasty attitude at the first FA Cup semi final (only the first?), and then takes on the events in Brussels in an honest and potentially controversial way, but this attitude seemed to permeate throughout that season.
Evans hit a cord with me when he said this..
“Travelling fans had two options in dealing with what was happening around them: laugh at the entire hooligan scene or become part of it”
My friend and I used to do the former and very, very often. After Heysel we never thought we’d be able to do this again however it soon wore off as that’s what everyone should do, prick the face of arrogance, pomposity and stupidity. So it should be remembered that even when Evans goes into detail about the violence, this book is not some attempt to glorify it in a macho “look at me, aren’t I hard?” way. Having said that when the likes of Sky try to put a “Hollywoodesque” slant on the game which even, extends to denying or reinventing the past, (there was football before the Premiership you know) the rawness of Evan’s descriptions are a welcome reality check to all that nonsense.
Thankfully the “spectator experience” is not so violent these days, however, Evans suggests that supporters are still abused, in a far more subtle way, and not by each other or the police. He makes an argument that Istanbul was the catalyst for this, for big business to get involved in football.
The way the game has been high jacked by business can only be likened to that of a playground bully who sees something a weaker pupil has and decides he wants it and takes it. It’s then changed out of all recognition. Everything is standardised and sanitised, individual traits that made clubs the clubs they are ironed out. Real fans are marginalised, out priced to attract the fatter, less informed, corporate wallet? The club’s history and traditions are ignored or scandalously prostituted in attempts to broaden its appeal to a wider market. In short it becomes a business case, part of a portfolio of investments bearing absolutely no relation to the institution the majority of its (older?) fans began supporting. Although geographically it still part of the local community, it might as well be anywhere in the world?
I’m not sure if Istanbul was the catalyst for all this, I think it was an earlier, more gradual process, but what went on in the Ataturk Stadium, and what has happened since, is certainly indicative of the way our game has changed. It even extends to what many would see as little things, althuogh to fans they are not. Evans refers to the cosmopolitan crowd, our victory celebrations being drowned out by PA music. How often do we get that every time a goal is scored these days? My particular bugbear was Bolton using James Brown’s “I Feel Good” every time they netted at the Reebok? It’s almost as if we are told how to enjoy ourselves or not allowed to, we are grudgingly tolerated but in reality all we are doing is getting in the way of the “product” the organisers want to market?
Evans then suggests that money appears to be the dominating factor. When was it ever not the case but it now seems to affect thinking on the field more than it ever did? Managers and clubs now talk about survival, the need to stay in the Premiership or, if they are lucky, coming fourth to get a lucrative Champions League place. Whatever happened to silverware? You can’t put “Premiership Fourth Place” or a “16th Place, 2008-09 Survived” or a framed cheque in your trophy cabinet!
Ironically, in trying to make his points, Evans mentions the Glazier’s take over of the Mancs. Sadly his book was written before the Star Spangled Duo got their mitts on Liverpool. But the similarities in what Evans discusses and the American’s behaviour to date, and the rage it has caused, are very clear.
This all sounds gloomy but there are plenty of good anecdotes in the book which inevitably occur when you follow you club as widely as Evans has. They are told naturally and not in a “he eventually saw the funny side of it and oh how we laughed!” way that you tend to get in most autobiographies. It was also nice to see “Atkinson’s long leather” get a mention!
So buy this book if you want an alternative angle on Istanbul, on the match itself and the consequences. Buy this book if you followed Liverpool in the 80s, it will bring back memories. Buy this book if you are young and want to find out more about what it was like follow Liverpool at that time. Buy this book if your concern about Liverpool extends to more than the goals Torres and Gerrard score and our position in the table.
Buy this book for Christmas if it’s not too late. I think you’ll enjoy it!
If you buy this book at the Far Foreign Land website £1 will be donated to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.