‘Being: Liverpool’, a six-part show produced by FOX, premiered here in the UK on Friday night.
The overwhelming response here in the UK seems to be one of disappointment. Liverpool fans are disappointed that the programme isn’t going to be that in-depth and they won’t learn anything that they probably don’t already know about the club, apart from what the inside of some of the players houses look like, Fabio Borini being a bit squeamish when getting some blood drawn, masseur Paul Small is as flexible as a block of concrete and Jamie Carragher’s not exactly a fan of yoga.
There is a sense of disappointment amongst fans of other clubs and those in the media who enjoy nothing better than a bit of Liverpool bashing, as the programme really didn’t contain much ammunition for them. There was a bit of sniggering in some quarters about Brendan Rodgers having a portrait of himself in his house, which quietened down when it was pointed out to them that it was a gift from a charity he’d done some fundraising for, rather than a testament to his own ego.
Other sections of the sporting media and TV critics are disappointed as they seemed to be expecting some kind of hard-hitting exposé that would show Liverpool warts n’ all, but instead were treated to a pretty bland, vanilla show that amounted to an hour-long puff piece that in parts was more like something you’d find in Hello! magazine.
The important thing that seems to have been forgotten by most people in the UK is that this programme was not made with the UK audience in mind. It wasn’t made to please the Liverpool fanbase. It wasn’t even made for those Americans who really like football and know their stuff about the sport. It was made for people who have a passing interest in English football, or football in general, in the hopes that the programme might turn that interest into support for Liverpool, or maybe it would just appeal to those transatlantic fans who want to know a little more about Liverpool and what happens behind the scenes. It was also made with the intention that viewers may watch this and as a result, watch the next EPL game shown on Fox.
Generally, relationships between football clubs and the UK media are pretty poor. British newspapers are all sensation, no sense. The malicious nature of the media here means that there is simply no way any Premier League club would consent to a UK channel being given such access as they would not trust them to use the footage in a fair, responsible way and would probably be correct in their mistrust.
The documentaries I’ve seen produced by US sports channels are not only well written and well produced; they also present what’s on screen in a totally fair, impartial way, leaving it up to the viewer to draw whatever conclusions they wish from what is on screen. In the UK there’s always an angle to shows like this, things are shown out of context to deliberately portray people in a bad light, if not completely humiliate them, and the viewer is always steered towards whatever conclusion the makers want them to draw.
There have been several of these style documentaries made in the UK before, but the difference between ‘Being Liverpool’ and the UK-made documentaries was that those shows were specifically made for their car-crash potential. They focussed on clubs who were struggling, whether on the pitch in terms of league position, off the pitch in terms of finances or were just struggling to compete with bigger sides around them.
They also followed a similar format to each other. There were the long-suffering fans, a long-serving member of the club’s groundstaff who was ‘a bit of a character’, blood-and-thunder football and a beleaguered chairman desperately trying to hold everything together, and mostly failing. There was usually a megalomaniac owner who clashed with just about everyone and the spectacular fallouts that followed were captured on camera for all to see.
Usually, the star of the show was the manager. What most people, and I’m guilty of this too, tuned into these shows to watch was a manager absolutely blowing his top at his team during a game, tearing strips off players for some failing, or perceived failing at half-time, and trying to spur them on through threats, encouragement or if that failed, plenty of swearing.
Plenty of managers have suffered as a result of these shows in the past. Graham Taylor, a man who’s public image was already low as a result in his time in charge of England, was left humiliated after the screening of the show ‘The Impossible Job’, where his disastrous qualifying campaign for the 94 World Cup was captured on camera. There was “Premier Passions”, a show that followed Sunderland around for a season, where viewers were treated to the regular occurrence of then-manager Peter Reid turning the air blue with his half-time team-talks leaving him with a reputation that he’s found hard to shake off. Similarly, the show “There’s only one Barry Fry” followed Peterborough United manager Fry, who is one of English football’s more colourful characters, swearing his way around the old division two.
There was a show called “ Leyton Orient: Yours for a fiver” (in the mid 90’s Orient’s then-owner coffee growing business collapsed as a result of the war in Rwanda, and he put the club up for sale for £5) that followed London side Leyton Orient and featured a memorable half-time team talk where co-manager John Sitton channelled his inner Ray Winstone (I’ll give an explicit language warning to that link), and another memorable half-time discussion where Sitton, who had been gradually getting angrier and angrier, sacked one player at half-time and offered to fight two others whilst delivering a team-talk peppered with ‘f’ and ‘c’ words to the rest of the team. After the documentary aired, Sitton, who had been fired by then, ended up becoming a taxi driver (again, plenty of swearing here, don't say you weren't warned!).
Brendan Rodgers doesn’t look as though he’s going to provide the same entertainment value in his dealings with the Liverpool squad, or if he does the viewer won’t see it, save for a few players getting yelled at in training.
Rodgers doesn’t fit the old-school image of a manager. He is a more modern figure, who probably would look out of place in a corporate boardroom. He has obviously been trained in how to speak to the media, as he is very comfortable in front of a camera. He has been dismissed as a David Brent/Michael Scott figure, all management speak and gobbledygook, mainly because he can actually string a sentence together without lapsing into tired clichés. Rodgers came across as a confident, assured manager who has a clear vision of both what he wants to do, and how he intends to do it.
It is believed that Liverpool have a great deal of critical control and have seemingly exercised their rights. The cameras were there in the summer when Kenny Dalglish was fired, and it would’ve been interesting to have seen what actually happened and it would have been interesting to have seen the subsequent search for a manager that followed, but it looks like that footage may be consigned to the cutting room floor.
It was a risk to allow a show to be screened so soon after the footage was shot. Usually these shows are more retrospective, being shown long after the events were captured on film. This means that Liverpool are somewhat hostages to fortune, as subsequent events can add an unwanted context to what is shown in the programme. It was genuinely sad to see Lucas’ enthusiasm and happiness at returning from injury, knowing that he would suffer another bad injury just a few weeks later and be left very despondent as a result. It was a bit cringeworthy to hear Brendan Rodgers saying how he believed Andy Carroll still could play a part for Liverpool and how it would take something extraordinary to get rid of him knowing that Carroll has now gone.
There were more than a few awkward moments in the show, but the most seemed to be when Liverpool visited the Red Sox clubhouse and people who had very little in common being forced into conversation, which is difficult enough at the best of times, but to have to do it whilst being filmed ratcheted up the awkwardness factor a few notches. Rodgers and Bobby Valentine, two men who clearly had no idea who the other was, were both trying and failing to establish any sort of common ground between being the head coach of a baseball team and the manager of a football team and Cody Ross trying to get some kind of conversation out of a pretty taciturn Charlie Adam were particularly uncomfortable moments captured on camera.
Other than that, I quite liked the programme. Usually, when Liverpool is shown on TV, it is just the waterfront areas that are shown, so it was nice to see some of the other parts of my city shown, even some of the slightly rough areas that surround Anfield. It is also nice to see some of the players acting naturally, rather than the robotic personalities they are trained to present to the media.
UEFA clubs now have to adhere to Financial Fair Play regulations, which mean that clubs cannot spend more money than they make, or face being denied the chance to play in European competitions. This in turn means that clubs have to try and find ways to raise as much money as possible. ‘Being: Liverpool’ is basically a marketing exercise, and other clubs will be watching to see if it works and Liverpool are able to generate any revenue off the back of this show. ‘Being: Liverpool’ maybe the first of these shows to be produced; but I doubt it’ll be the last.