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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Rodgers will never walk alone as the US cameras follow Liverpool around


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I think it’s fairly reasonable to suggest that the first few games of the season have not quite gone to plan for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool. Sunday’s defeat at Manchester United's hands ensured that it’s the most dispiriting start to a football season since that year Middlesbrough handed a debut to Alfonso Alves. It’s certainly been a baptism by fire for the ex-Swansea boss in his early Anfield days and in the unforgiving chasm of the Barclay’s Premier League, things are not going to get any easier. As mere football fans, kept meekly in the dark by the footballing powerhouses like small children in the cupboard while Mum and Dad argue, it’s difficult to place yourself into Rodgers’ predicament and comprehend the massive burden he carries. If only someone gave us a glimpse of the inside workings of Liverpool FC during this early stage of Rodgers’ tenure.

Well, the good folks at Channel 5 are way ahead of you, and last week the nation’s 23rd best channel took us right to the heart of the Reds for Being Liverpool F.C. A hefty slice of American PR from owners Fenway Sports, this highly-sheened and stylised nose about the summer activities of the Reds as Brendan Rodgers took up the reigns was an unusual, and fairly bizarre expose of life at the Kop. It was clearly dreamt up by the American owners to be a cuddly and glossy advert for their latest acquisition in an effort to export the brand. Unfortunately, having it broadcast by Channel 5 rather negates any prestige you may have been hoping to exhibit. Making an esteemed documentary about an iconic institution like Liverpool Football Club and then airing it on Channel 5 is like asking Oliver Stone to write and direct a biopic about George Washington and then casting the bloke who plays Ian Beale in the lead.

The programme itself began as you might imagine. Proclamations of Liverpool being a historic and heroic beast, dormant right now but ripe for a new age of triumph. Those sentiments were put forward by a fella named Dave Kirby, who they described as a ‘Liverpool fan’ and a ‘playwright’, which I can only assume means he once wrote an episode of Brookside. Soon though, it became clear that Being Liverpool F.C was no run-of-the-mill, Football Focus-style vignette filled with passionate fans and boorish songs. We were soon treated to some Lloyd Grossman Through The Keyhole stuff as stars such as Steven Gerrard, Rodgers himself and erm… Lucas allowed the filmmakers into their homes for a root around.

Gerrard first felt it important that he stressed that he was “exceedingly normal” as he showed us around his massive mansion and showed off his idyllic family life. As for Lucas, the cameras turned up at his gaff amid some sort of South American summit as he was joined by Luis Suarez, Sebastian Coates and their families. So what exotic exploits were these tempestuous amigos indulging in? High-stakes poker under a cloud of cigar smoke? A racy evening of sexy senoritas? Murky underworld clichés involving Columbian drug barons? Well no, they were actually eating Iceland finger food while playing Monopoly.

The real star of the show though was the new manager Brendan Rodgers. Clearly uncomfortable with the cameras tracking his every move, he still managed to retain the dignity and professionalism that has defined his career thus far. We got some decent exclusives too; for example Rodgers owning what looked like the car from Knightrider, as well as the slightly unnerving portrait he has of himself in his hallway. But it was with football matters where Rodgers’ best moments of the documentary came: “it’ll take something incredible if he leaves the club…” he surprisingly stated when talking about Andy Carroll. This of course begs the question of what exactly David Gold did that was so special to entice the frontman to Upton Park. Rodgers also explained that “every player I see as my son”, presumably meaning that he sees Jamie Carragher as one of those older sons who won’t move out and loiters around the house all day eating Doritos and playing Call Of Duty.

Perhaps the best, and most cringe worthy moment of Being Liverpool FC came as the squad jetted out to North America for their pre-season tour. Meeting up with their Fenway Sports label mates the Red Sox, Brendan Rodgers was introduced to his managerial counterpart for the baseball giants. The by now peeved Ulsterman came face to face with Mr America himself; the customary crystal white toothy smile, the peppy disposition, the cap atop a sparkling silver mane. Red Sox coach Bobby Valentine is the stereotypical all-American coach you see in films and his cheery façade never wavered as he nodded along pretending to understand what Rodgers was talking to him about. And Rodgers by the same token, seemed to grow more weary with every false platitude the coach spouted about unity and friendship and all that guff. I harboured hopes that the whole excruciating episode would end with a mass locker-room brawl but alas they went their separate ways, sure in the knowledge that either one, or more likely both would not be in their job the next time the teams get together.

Being Liverpool FC clearly wasn’t made for a British audience. I’m not even sure it was made for public consumption at all. It feels like the kind of corporate dirge that chief executives send round to each other to entice investment in their nefarious schemes. Nevertheless, it is rare for football fans to get such a personal peek into the lives and loves of their footballing heroes. If nothing else, Channel 5 and John Henry have given Liverpool fans a little smile, and after the arduous revelations of the last few weeks, that is no bad thing.

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