MERSEYSIDE: A PLACE OF INSPIRATION.
When people hear about the name Liverpool mentioned, the first thing that may spring to mind is the image of a famous red and blue wearing football teams, the city that gave rise to the Beatles or a high-pitched accent that was popularised – although hated by Scousers themselves – by the 1990s comedy stylings of Harry Enfield.
Liverpudlians are often branded as aggressive, tracksuit wearing undesirables who delve in anti-social activity while claiming welfare due to the lack of work in the city. Beneath the surface of that stereotype, however, lies a unbreakable sentiment and spirit that should be considered as more a message of inspiration to us all however; especially to us here in Donegal.
By Jonathan Foley
Our native county is by no means anywhere near as urbanised as Liverpool. Their population has a much higher density than ours and a walk around both places is contrasted by how they possess a lot more street corners and tall redbrick buildings while ours offers coastal viewings and roads with grassy bits up the middle. And yet, we still share some notable similarities.
Without paraphrasing one of the closing lines from Derry Girls too much where the character of Michelle quoted that being from the Maiden City “was a state of mind”, that could be said for the people of both Donegal and Liverpool too. A look at both our recent histories can provide evidence for this.
Both locations are in the remote northwestern regions of their respective islands, a fair trek away from their capital cities (in both distance and in culture) and both have long endured the pangs of economic downturn, recession and emigration. We’ve both felt a sense of abandonment by our governments but still have carried through with great purpose and resolve.
The sense of identity and spirit which engulfs both places has always remained despite the issues that were just mentioned. The people of both Donegal and Liverpool have a (sometimes) quiet sense of pride in their own identity and despite the doldrums of inflation and recession, they’ve carried on to go on and create music, art and sporting heroes of great note.
Of the two, Liverpool is better known on the global scale and, even with its frailties and flaws, it could act as a sort of inspiration to us and to many communities throughout the world.
The closing of the shipyards on Albert Dock brought a profound sense of loss to the city; not just financially but always economically, emotionally, socially and psychologically on thousands upon thousands of local inhabitants.
Housing became derelict and opportunities lessened. A rise in crime and violence occurred, but was it was all too easy to see that this behaviour – although undesirable – had reasons behind it.
Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government were pursuing policies that were purposely bringing about a massive decline to the city. When riots broke out at the Toxteth in 1981, many locals still claim they were right to rebel and they still stand by the belief that “if you treat us like animals, then we will act like them!”
The situation became much worse throughout the eighties, but still, an indomitable spirit shone through. In football, Liverpool and Everton became the two most successful clubs of the decade; winning numerous trophies between and twice competing against each other in the FA Cup Final during a three year period.
Despite financial problems at home, both teams regularly had huge followings of supporters who would follow them anywhere they travelled across England and Europe. You have to remember that top-flight English football was much cheaper to attend in those days and, in such barren times, maybe these people needed heroes and something to feel inspired by.
At one stage in 1984, the UK top 40 music chart had no less than 18 bands or artists from Liverpool filling up the slots. Frankie Goes to Hollywood are probably the best remembered of them all, but when they were banned from Top of the Pops for the sexual undertones to their song ‘Relax,’ many Scousers supported them for how the band spoke out against the statement that was released by the (government-owned) BBC.
Many believed that the reason behind the successes of Liverpool-based football teams and music acts inadvertently derived from the lack of employment; less hours in the factory meant more time to kick a ball or write a song in the upstairs bedroom.
One man who deserves a mention is playwright Willy Russell. A personal favourite of mine and one who used the abject surroundings of his home city to create some of the most memorable pieces of drama that you are ever likely to see. Having created ‘Blood Brothers’ and ‘Our Day Out’, his stories were predominantly based around the experiences of younger kids growing up in Liverpool.
That’s not say they are kids stories though. Certainly they provide unforgettable moments of comedy, storyline and musical performances, but underneath the surface, there are subtle messages to the pressing issues that generated a sense of suffering across the city. Unemployment, a feeling of abandonment etc. Essentially, he didn’t bemoan his surroundings, he used them as an artform to teach the world through popular entertainment.
And yet despite all the indignation the city faced after the trauma of the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989, the city’s inhabitants stayed united and loyal in a sense of community. They campaigned tirelessly to have the deaths of 96 football fans cleared after a smear campaign by The Sun newspaper and the Tories publicly tagged them as being responsible for their own deaths due to drunkeness, hooliganism and acts aggression towards the police.
All of which was proved to be lies in 2016. The sense of community had won over the established order of rule.
Like us, not everybody from Liverpool is an angel, but while a lot of our people like to bemoan a politician or a bad Donegal result in the football or social media or radio phone-in shows, the city of Liverpool has shown us that it is possible to use that same energy to produce heroes and icons, no matter how tough a situation can get.
So far, we’ve both faced austerity and produced artists, musicians, writers,poets and sporting heroes and it’s been great to see. The Beatles may be long finished, but the city of Liverpool is continuing to do it, so why can’t we? And never forget, it’s one of the few cities that truly welcomed and embraced mass Irish-migration down through the centuries.