In these days of media conglomerates and small independent outlets being crushed by the syndicated machine it’s refreshing to hear of unique voices surviving.
And in the case of The Anfield Wrap (TAW) not just surviving, but thriving. From a weekly podcast to a few Liverpool faithful back in 2011, TAW have now grown to 11 weekly shows, downloaded up to 200,000 times a week in 200 countries worldwide, including Vatican City.
In 2016 they averaged 150,000 downloads per week and their podcasts have now been downloaded a total over 28 million times.
They even do Live shows like the one hosted by the Dubai Reds Liverpool supporters club at Goodfellas in the Ramee Rose Hotel, Tecom this Friday night. Like many new media voices the inspiration for TAW was a protest movement.
Back in 2010 Liverpool was in the grip of an uprising as the loyal LFC fans rose up in outrage at then owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks. There was protests outside the ground, sit-ins after matches and black anti-owner jerseys. This was the seeds of TAW.
“TAW sprang from the ashes of the Hicks and Gillett era” explains editor Gareth Roberts. “The campaign to oust the owners brought Liverpool fans together, made them more active on social media and the internet, and was the catalyst for conversations that led to TAW.
“At that time we felt the mainstream media hadn’t reflected fans’ thoughts and feelings and instead many supporters had turned to their own media to share news and views. “TAW was extension of that idea – a podcast and website that would reflect the views of match-going Liverpool fans.”
Right from the start TAW set their standards high. They created a makeshift studio above a pub in the city centre as they “wanted the show to be professionally produced. “And from that first week the feedback was great and it’s grown and grown from there.
“After only seven months we were offered a weekly radio show on Radio City in Liverpool and things just quickly spread via word of mouth (and of course the internet).
“If we’re all honest it grew far beyond our expectations but it grew so much that it meant lots of hard work at night, at the weekend, on top of day jobs.”
Of the original TAW crew John Gibbons worked in market research, Neil Atkinson was in shipping and a part time film producer, Andy Heaton was a security analyst and freelance football reporter and Roberts was a digital journalist.
But with the success of TAW “eventually we decided to take the plunge, quit our day jobs and launch a subscription service” says Roberts. “Thankfully it’s all worked out!”
TAW now has a full time staff of eleven and an office in Liverpool city centre. The growth is all the more remarkable as LFC themselves offer a sophisticated online presence with their own website, TV channel and social media outlets.
Liverpoolfc.com also gets much better access than TAW who under Premier League media rules are not even allowed accreditation to matches. While the mainstream media are sitting in plum halfway seats, getting served refreshments at halftime, going to the post match press conference and media mix zones, TAW correspondents are fighting for a view in the Kop.
With all that stacked against TAW how, or more importantly why, do they continue to grow? “Our podcasts can be raw, angry and emotional as well as analytical and offering insight” explains Roberts.
“They’re born from passion, from a fans’ perspective, from being there, in the stands. We’re telling a different story to that told by the club.”
That’s not an automatic recipe for success as other fan media outlets well know. United We Stand, the Manchester United fanzine, remains just that – a Fanzine – read by a select few although it launched way back in 1989.
Other fan websites like ArsenalMania, We Ain’t Got No History (Chelsea), Spurs Web and Blue Moon (Manchester City) have only a fraction of the numbers of TAW. So why has TAW been so successful and other clubs’ fan podcasts hardly heard of?
“Probably a combination of factors” says Roberts, “We’ve poured everything into it and been fortunate to be able to put together a dedicated team of passionate, knowledgeable (and funny) contributors. So that helps.
“But it also helps how Liverpool fans consume their football – it’s 24/7, it’s passionate not passive. There’s a constant thirst for more. And we’re in a position to provide it.” Also not being an official organ of LFC it also means TAW have the ability to speak out when they need to.
“What we do is largely independent of LFC” explains Roberts. “The club have been very helpful at times but we’re not afraid to be critical of their actions and have been on many occasions.
“We get on well with the Liverpool Echo, we get on well with the club, we’re not in their pockets so if they need to be criticized we’ll criticize them. “I think generally most people think we’re pretty fair about things, we try to be balanced. If we are criticizing the club we also give them the opportunity to have their say .
“They don’t always take that opportunity – that’s their choice.” Over the last four years Roberts has been at the coal face of the biggest stories gripping the club – and even created a few in the process.
“Jürgen Klopp, Kenny Dalglish, Brendan Rodgers, Rafa Benitez and Gerard Houllier have all been on the podcast” says Roberts, “along with Jamie Carragher, Lucas Leiva and Xabi Alonso. “Very often we’ve found that what they say on the shows has become the story.”
The TAW formula is clearly working, with more growth projected over the coming years. “More of the same” says Roberts when asked about the future, “but we’re also getting much more into video now, which is taking off in a big way.
“We’re also taking the podcast to the stage more frequently now, too. We’ve put on live shows in the US, Australia, Ireland and Northern Ireland with Dubai and Hong Kong being added to that list this summer.”
The Dubai show has come about as TAW are stopping over en route to covering LFC’s pre-season tour to Asia. They made contact with the Dubai Reds, one of the cities strongest supporters’ clubs, who were happy to facilitate the live appearance.
With such insight into LFC can Roberts give long suffering Reds fans some hope for the year ahead.
“Last season was a good one and offered plenty of evidence Liverpool are on the up” says Roberts, “In the early months of the season some of the football was fantastic to watch and opposition teams could do little to stop it.
“The Reds’ record against the top sides was fantastic and although LFC had a sticky patch at the turn of the year it was to their credit that they were able to show the mental strength to turn it around.
“Liverpool found a different way to win later on in the season, that bodes well for the next season.” So even though LFc have no League titles since 1990 and only one trophy since 2006 – the League Cup – Roberts still has faith?
“There isn’t a problem with mentality – Klopp has worked hard on rebuilding and changing that. This is a Liverpool side now that can go toe to toe with anyone. What is vital is the numbers – the strength in depth. That’s what let Liverpool down last season.”
LIVERPOOL’S BEST AND WORST WITH GARETH ROBERTS FROM THE ANFIELD WRAP
Personal LFC Highlight
The highlight has to be Istanbul. It’s obvious and might provoke a few moans and groans from opposition supporters but, come on – we were 3-0 down to a fantastic side in the European Cup final. And we won! It’s hard to top that. I’ve never hugged so many strangers in my life.
Personal LFC Lowlight
Chelsea at home 2014. It was so cruel – on us, on Steven Gerrard. We played some brilliant football that season.
Carragher is always good value – he opens up, clearly loves the game and he appreciates fan culture as well as the football itself.
Worst guest…not sure we’ve had any real stinkers. We don’t let them near the microphone if they’re weird!
Favourite LFC Player
I absolutely loved John Barnes growing up – he was something else at his peak and he had everything: power, pace, strength, every type of finish and amazing skill. He was oddly underrated by the rest of the country but at Liverpool we loved him. He could win the game on his own. I think Steven Gerrard pips him though – just because on a personal level he was from the same area as me and I watched his Liverpool career from start to finish. He was fantastic for the Reds.
Least Favourite LFC Player
Apart from El Haj Diouf? Well it is Diouf. But after that I never really took to Paul Ince. There was lots of mouth and swagger on display but not quite enough good performances in a Liverpool shirt to warrant it.