Next month our beloved club will be on tour again, this time in North America. Perfectly understandable, of course, that FSG want to exhibit their acquisition on their home territory. And of course it makes good business sense to do our best to crack America, which is where quite a lot of the big money is.
But let’s not forget where most of the rest of it is.
I hope, for the future, we might build on the success of last year’s summer tour. Remember? Southern China, Singapore and Malaysia, before thousands of very enthusiastic and clued-up fans. The whole Far East is good Liverpool territory – as the tour showed, we have some great support there. But China is obviously the way to go for the long term. As an old China hand (I worked there for nearly ten years) I’d love to see Liverpool become the best supported Premiership side in the Middle Kingdom (we are, I think, second behind the inevitable Mancs).
Of course, the possibilities for selling merchandise and TV rights are more or less unlimited. Everybody knows the potential numbers, like Europe plus America times two. What a place to build a loyal fanbase (I saw footage of a lot of Chinese fans singing The Anthem on the 2011 tour: I bet they’ve got a Mandarin version of it by now, and I look forward to learning it by heart). But it’s not only flogging replica shirts. Building relationships with the Chinese football world might pay dividends, both literally and metaphorically, in all sorts of ways.
No-one’s really ever thought of China as a footballing force. I was there for the 2002 World Cup; all the bars were full for China’s games, but as soon as it was clear the team was losing everybody lost interest. They haven’t really got it yet, as they’ve hardly ever won anything. There used to be good physical reasons for this. Fifteen years ago Crystal Palace, who had then just signed a couple of Chinese players, visited Beijing and played local side Beijing Guo’an, one of China’s top teams at the time. The Palace were all over them. It wasn’t a lack of skill from the Chinese side; they were simply outmuscled by a team which isn’t normally renowned for its hardmen.
But the economic growth of China has had very far-reaching consequences. Most people born before 1980 in China grew up in real poverty and have some experience of inadequate nutrition; especially in the south, they are often pretty titchy (Mrs Cipriano, who comes from that region, is 5ft 6 and was a top basketball player; at school they warned her that if she grew any taller she’d never find a husband!) but, particularly in the north, it isn’t like that now. These days, when I visit my friends in China, half of them turn out to have produced sons the size of Andy Carroll.
And I can see why LFC stuck to the far south of China on last year’s tour; it was far more convenient for other destinations like Singapore and Malaysia. But, for the reasons I’ve just described, it’s not the best target area in footballing terms. The best physical specimens, and thus the strongest contenders, are to be found further north: Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian. No doubt Chelsea think they’ll get their claws into Shanghai through selling them Anelka and Drogba – but it’s Liverpool’s twin city, for heaven’s sake! Come on, you guys, get into that box and don’t hit the bloody woodwork this time! Let’s make the Liver Bird one of the big brands of an incredibly brand-conscious society!
Mr Henry, Mr Werner: if you should need anyone to represent LFC in China who knows the country, understands the people, speaks the language and is as Red as Chairman Mao himself, Cipriano’s your man.
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