First came AFC Wimbledon. Then, FC United of Manchester. Now, not to be left behind, Liverpool supporters are launching their own grassroots “alternative” club into England’s netherworldly non-league pyramid. Judging by the preliminary reports, AFC Liverpool will, fittingly enough, be sort of like the Beatles to FC United’s Stones: roughly similar historical circumstances, less angry response. Both Manchester United and Liverpool FC have been subjected to messy takeovers by American interests; both fanbases include a lot of people who can no longer practically afford to go to Premier League games. But while FCUM comes across all punk-football-snotty and antiestablishment, so far AFC Liverpool just wants to get along with the Big Club, quietly plying its trade in the North West Counties League and hoping a player makes it to Anfield some day. (AFC does, however, boast a fairly amazing club crest, which combines the traditional Liverpool bird with a couple of bold Victory of Socialism red stars and a stylized wheat garland worthy of a propaganda poster celebrating the History Achievements of Soviet Agriculture.)
It’s all fairly intriguing: could we be seeing the evolution of a new model, wherein every standard, Champions League-playing, international-talent-stacked MegaClub owned by deracinated oligarchs comes with a scrappy little Doppelganger, owned and controlled by local fans who will divide (or multiply) their allegiance? Will we see an AFC Chelsea, an FC Aston Villa of Birmingham? And how transportable is this strategy? Here in the States, with our next-to-nonexistent pyramid, franchise system and lack of promotion and relegation, any fan-owned alternative would probably have to start at an even more modest level, like a local or regional amateur league. But given the persistent (if thus far guerrilla-level) crackle of discontent about the rampant commercialization of the sport around the world, I would bet this sort of thing starts many wheels turning in many minds, and not just in England.