Whatever your opinion is on the whole Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra debacle, there is no doubt that Liverpool Football Club came out of it with its reputation in pieces. But the damage to the club's prestige had been an ongoing cycle that started long before Fenway Sports Group purchased the club in 2010. Over the past five years or so, the Reds have been in the headlines largely for all the wrong reasons, with off-the-field matters commanding more column inches than what happened on it – and a lot happened on it. From in-house politicking to flirting with administration, Liverpool, ‘the crisis club’, were a regular feature on the front page of the paper as much as it was the back.
It is no surprise, then, that FSG decided they need to act to restore the club’s reputation all around the world – but particularly in their homeland. In American Football, Basketball and Baseball, the three most prominent sports in America, there is great racial and cultural diversity (not something exclusive to America, of course), so for one of the teams they own to be accused of racism is a serious and injurious stain on their character. The club sacked Ian Cotton, Liverpool’s long-serving Director of Communications, and replaced him with Jen Chang, senior editor of the SportsIllustrated.com, and have since made a significant effort to be more accessible to fans and media alike.
Still, it came as something of a shock when they announced that Fox Sports would be filming a six-part documentary series called ‘Being: Liverpool,’ in which they were granted unprecedented fly-on-the-wall access to the inner workings of the club. Liverpool had been an ongoing soap opera, so what need was there for a documentary? Filming started in May, before Kenny Dalglish was unceremoniously sacked and replaced by Brendan Rodgers, and finished around two weeks ago – so after the close of the transfer window – so the potential for juicy interviews and drama is certainly there.
A sneak preview was released earlier this month, which showed Brendan Rodgers giving Raheem Sterling a dressing down for answering back when he was addressing the players during their pre-season tour in Boston, threatening that Sterling would “be on the first plane back” if he interrupted him again.
A sneak preview was released earlier this month, which showed Brendan Rodgers giving Raheem Sterling a dressing down for answering back when he was addressing the players during their pre-season tour in Boston, threatening that Sterling would “be on the first plane back” if he interrupted him again. Such an entertaining and revealing clip will have had the media and opposition fans drooling with anticipation that this was going to be a revealing. But that, if the first episode is anything to go by, is a rare moment of drama in an otherwise carefully constructed and planned show.
The first episode, titled 'SilverShovel' in reference to one of Brendan Rodgers' quotes, airs this week in the UK, and starts the day of the FA Cup final against Chelsea. But within five minutes of the show Liverpool have lost the game, Kenny Dalglish has been sacked and all but brushed under the rug, and Brendan Rodgers has been appointed. The manner in which Dalglish’s dismissal is portrayed is certainly disrespectful to the King, with narrator Clive Owen, himself a Liverpool fan, speaking about a “three-year lull of mediocrity for a club synonymous with glory,” failing to mention the Carling Cup victory just three months earlier.
Owen’s questionable narration is a reoccurring theme throughout the documentary. In once scene, where captain Steven Gerrard invites the cameras in to his house to meet his family, Owen introduces Gerrard as someone who “spent his entire 14-year pro career at Anfield, earning himself two FA Cup titles along the way,” failing to mention, oh, I don’t know, winning the treble in 2001, the other League Cups he’s won, and the menial task of leading his club to Champions League victory in 2005 in one of the most dramatic finals of all-time.
Fox Sports billed Being: Liverpool - which follows months of behinds the scenes access - as ‘groundbreaking,’ but apart from being the first Premier League club to grant such access to cameras, there is nothing revolutionary about it.
Fox Sports billed Being: Liverpool - which follows months of behinds the scenes access - as ‘groundbreaking,’ but apart from being the first Premier League club to grant such access to cameras, there is nothing revolutionary about it. The episode starts in the dressing room before the West Brom game with a clip of Rodgers’ pre-match talk, but after that there is little genuine fly on the wall footage, with most of the interviews staged.
There are still plenty of entertaining and often peculiar scenes, so if you don’t want to know the results, you should look away now:
- Rodgers introduces his family at his Formby home, and reveals that his daughter Mischa, 16, is the “special friend” of Theo, the son of his assistant boss, Colin Pascoe. “We don’t talk about it much, but it just has happened for some reason,” says Rodgers. He also has a huge painting of himself hanging in his home, but (not revealed on the documentary) rather than a sign of vanity, it has place of pride because it was presented to him by a group of disabled children during his time at Swansea.
- On the club’s pre-season tour in Boston, Rogers introduces something called the ‘World Cup,’ where he splits the squad in to four teams – Scousers, Cockneys, South Americans and Rest of the World – and holds a tournament with a surprisingly large trophy handed to the winners. Rest of the World beat the Cockneys on a penalty shootout in the final.
- The squad attend a Boston Red Sox game, their sister club, and get to meet the Red Sox roster. There is one bizarre moment where Cody Ross, an outfielder for the Sox, asks Charlie Adam if he has ever played cricket, to which Adam replies “no, just football”. Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox manager, then has a bizarre exchange with Brendan Rodgers, and they present each other with a shirt of the other’s team.
- The squad attend a meditation class held by exercise physiologist Molly Kim, a technique that is used by the Boston Red Sox. The players – and staff - are constantly on the verge of laughter as they are asked to perform a variety of exercises to calming music. During one exercise called ‘the cat’ one unseen player (it was Stephen Sama in case you were wondering) sends the rest of the squad into hysterics by making a ‘meow’ noise.
There are other entertaining scenes, but the episode centred on the Reds new manager, Brendan Rodgers. He is clearly someone who loves to talk about football, and it is easy to see why he impressed the owners, with his enthusiasm, meticulousness and humility really shining through. Some of his quotes border on the line of David Brentism, such as claiming he “treats players as if they were his own son,” but some of them are genuinely impressive. “I like to educate players; you train dogs” being my favourite one.
First episodes are difficult to judge since they set the tone and introduce the characters – but there was certainly nothing for Liverpool fans to be particularly worried about. The club apparently have final say on what gets shown, so it is unlikely that anything monumental will be aired. The remaining five episodes may be more entertaining from a neutral perspective, especially if they focus on some of the more serious topics, but Being: Liverpool doesn’t appear to be a fly-on-the-wall documentary that will reveal any dirty laundry; it feels more like a carefully constructed documentary that promotes Liverpool Football Club in a positive light.
Hopefully come the close of the final episode I won’t be eating my words.
Being: Liverpool airs in the UK on Channel 5 Friday 21st September at 9pm.
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