Ever since the new Main Stand opened, I have hung my flags in the same spot each week, behind the disabled gantry between U4 and U5. I have always had a good relationship with the stewards inside and have enjoyed a standing permission with them regarding my banners. They have my name, number and have viewed fire certificates for all my banners, and whenever I bring along a new flag, I show it with its fire certs and they give it the ok. I have rotated 8 different banners on a game by game basis for 7 years without issue. I have never produced a banner that could be considered in the least bit controversial and so I have never had an issue. Indeed my relationship with the stewards has previously been so positive that, on the retirement of one legendary Main Stand steward, I produced a banner in his honour. I have also worked on multiple occasions with the Club themselves – twice I have been a feature in matchday programmes; 9 of my designs form the centrepiece for the displays in the LFC stores in L1 and in Thailand; while the club commissioned a large banner from me for their kit launch last summer and borrowed dozens of banners for that launch from myself and many of those people for whom I have produced flags.
It also used to be the case that I never had any issues at the turnstiles either. The same steward would be stationed on the same gate each week, I knew him, I’d have a chat with him, he’d ask which banners I had with me that week, and if there was a new one, he’d ask to see it – all perfectly reasonable.
Last season, this seemed to change. We noticed that there were now different stewards on our turnstile each game, and that the attitude we were faced with was becoming more and more obstructive and aggressive. The stewards’ starting position is often “You can’t bring that in here” before they have even had a conversation. I find myself having to spend 5 minutes going through the exact same conversation with a different steward at the gate before most games, and having to explain who I am and why I am bringing banners to the game. I feel like this could all be made much easier through simple communication between the staff on the concourses and those on the gate.
I had to argue my case with a steward on Thursday before the Toulouse fixture to assure them that an Endo Wataru banner which includes an element of the Japanese flag is in no way related to the current conflict in the Middle East – the fact that this needs to be stated is, in itself, quite remarkable. However, the flag (which had been displayed on two previous occasions in the same spot) was admitted and displayed throughout the game. The staff upstairs were very positive about it, it has had a very positive reception from fans, and has been exceptionally well received in the Far East, notably by the OLSC in Japan.
The following Sunday, at the Nottingham Forest game, the atmosphere from the stewarding staff on the gate was certainly one of heightened vigilance (presumably given the situation in the Middle East and the instruction from the Club to supporters that no Israeli or Palestinian flags would be admitted). I fully expected to have to submit my flags for checking accordingly and did so willingly. Unfortunately, the steward decided the Endo banner would not be admitted. When I questioned why, the first response I received was “Because we’ve been told it can’t come in.” When I questioned it further, I was told that it was a “nationalist flag” and that the “FA had issues a directive prohibiting the display of all nationalist flags.” I take offense at this characterisation of my work, and, giving him the benefit of the doubt, can only assume that the steward in question did not understand the crucial difference in meaning between the words ‘national’ and ‘nationalist’ and had misspoken.
At this point he called over his superior, a Mr P Hudson, the stadium Steward Co-ordinator. Frustratingly, this man was entirely unwilling to enter into a conversation with me about the issue. I explained to him that: I have worked (and indeed currently am working) with the Club on multiple banner projects for their commercial enterprises; that the stewards in the arena know who I am and that they have my name and number in a book along with a list of my banners; that I have hung my banners in the same spot each game for the past 7 years. He did not listen to any of this, his response to each point I made was – “I don’t care what you say, that flag is not coming in here today, you can collect it after the game.” He even threatened to remove my second banner on the grounds that he didn’t know what the Latin words meant – it was the motto of the City of Liverpool. This exemplifies just how out of touch the gate stewarding has become, in my opinion. I grew exasperated and frustrated by the man’s responses, and at the frustration in my voice, he then began to accuse me of aggression, saying “You need to calm down, mate.” For context, I am a middle aged Latin teacher – not a breed known for their aggression!
At this point, my friend intervened and sought reassurances that it was not my banner that had been singled out, but that all national flags displayed around the stadium would receive a similar treatment. Mr Hudson assured us that all the stewards had received the same instructions, both in the home and away sections, and that any banners or flags containing national symbols would receive the same treatment. Inside the stadium, in addition to the two England flags displayed in the Forest end, we photographed Greek, German, French, Egyptian, Scottish and Irish flags on view before and during the game. I can only therefore conclude that Mr Hudson was being disingenuous and that he had unilaterally decided to take issue with a banner in support of a Japanese player.
In recent months, I have become increasingly frustrated at the obstacles placed in my way as I work to uphold an important part of LFC’s culture, the tradition of making banners by hand and displaying them at games. It is a culture I am so steeped in that I have produced over a hundred such banners in total, and written and published a book about my work to encourage others to value, uphold and continue this important club tradition An aggressive approach to stewarding on the gates (and I am careful to differentiate the gate stewarding from that in the concourses and in the arena, which has always been great) has left me wondering, frankly, why I bother. I love the team, I love the players, I love the manager – and I love everything that Liverpool Football Club used to stand for – but I am increasingly sensing a disconnect between the supporters and those administrating the Club, and it is ruining my matchday experience (and, from the conversations I’ve had with many fellow supporters) that of many others.
Even at this point, though, the situation with LFC was a retrievable one. A simple apology and an assurance that this would not happen again would have been entirely sufficient to remedy this unfortunate situation. Unfortunately, following my complaints, the Club decided to double down on their position.
On the following Tuesday morning, I received my first phone call from the Club. They apologised for the grounds stated for the removal of my banner being that my banner was “nationalistic”. This, they said, was an error of communication. However, in the next breath they said that I would no longer have permission to bring any of my banners into the Main Stand. They said that permission should never have been given in the first place and that it was hereby being revoked.
In response, I told them I wanted all my designs removing from their shops, and I unfortunately had to take the decision (at considerable financial cost to myself) to withdraw from a project I’ve been working on for the last two weeks to create a banner backdrop for a series of player interviews for Expedia X LFC.
Later the same day, they contacted me again and said that I now do have permission to bring flags… but that all my flags are too big. Again, they haven’t been too big for the previous 7 years, and they haven’t been too big when the club have wanted to celebrate their presence there for their own purposes. It is the third reason in 48 hours they came up with to prevent me from displaying my work there as I have done without let or hindrance since the opening of the new stand in 2016. They are coming up with any excuse they can to mete out punishment because I kicked up a fuss about what was, categorically, their error.
They are citing their flag policy which does state that flags below 2m X 1m ARE permitted, but does NOT state that larger flags cannot be displayed by special arrangement, which is what has been the case since 2016 with regard to my banners. They have just decided to terminate this special arrangement.
FURTHER UPDATE: The Club’s Chief Safety Officer called me on Wednesday and told me that, though I have been allowed to hang by banners between U4 and U5 since the opening of the Main Stand in 2016, I will no longer be permitted to do so.
They continue to cite their flags and banner policy, which allows the bringing of flags up to 2m X 1m. Crucially, nothing in the policy prevents special permission being granted for larger banners.
As the Club are well aware, my banners measure 2.4m X 1.4m. They have allowed them to hang there at every game since 2017. Yet the Chief Safety Officer claims to have only just become aware of their presence there. 2 large banners. Every game. Right in the middle of the stand.
This is not a tenable position. My banners are perfectly safe and are fire treated and certified as such. They represent no safety issue and do not obstruct any view. If they DID represent a safety risk, then the Club is admitting it has knowingly endangered public safety for 7 years.
The Chief Safety Officer’s claim that he has never seen my banners before is flabbergasting. It is tantamount to saying he has never looked at the Main Stand on a match day, which would clearly be negligent in the extreme. Of course, this cannot possibly be the case, and the much more likely scenario is that the gentleman in question is being economical with the truth.
The Club have publicly celebrated my work in the matchday programmes and on the official website, and indeed have directed people exactly where to look in order to view them. It is not feasible for the Club to now claim that this is the first time they have been aware of them.
Off the back of the banners displayed there, at (almost) every game since 2016, the Club has commissioned me to create a giant banner for a kit launch, has reproduced my banners as displays in its shops, & has borrowed many of them for its advertisements. They know their size.
The only logical inference I can draw is that the Club have decided to punish me as a result of me having the audacity to question their decision on Sunday. I’m afraid, for the time being at least, you’ve seen the last of my banners in their Main Stand home. LFC seem determined to drive me out of the Club that I love.