Sunday, 14 March 2010

Above us only lies: Liverpool's Sun boycott takes to the skies

A CAMPAIGN to raise awareness of the ongoing boycott of The Sun by Liverpool fans has taken to the skies above Anfield.

A blimp - a mini-airship - with the 'Don't Buy The Sun' message on its side was launched from waste ground opposite the ground before Liverpool's win over Everton in February.

It also advertised the recently-launched website

The boycott dates back to 1989 when, in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, The Sun published a series of lies about Liverpool fans under the headline 'The Truth'.

Editor of the time Kelvin MacKenzie, who is still a columnist for The Sun, refuses to admit he did anything wrong by publishing the damaging allegations which included unfounded claims of fans stealing from, and urinating, on dead bodies.

The story was not only extremely distressing for the families of the deceased, and fans attending the game on April 15th, it also tarnished the image of the city of Liverpool - and Liverpool supporters - and hindered the fight for justice for the 96 people that died at the disaster by incorrectly influencing perceptions of what happened that fateful day.

Liverpool fan Stuart Goodwin explained that the idea for the blimp was born when it became clear that there was a growing number of fans who were unaware of the boycott, be that because of age, ignorance or location.

He said: "Around this time last year there were obviously a lot of discussions about the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough, and inevitably when talking about that time in history, there's always the slightly nasty footnote of The Sun and 'that' headline.

"I remember talking with a number of friends and fellow fans about the boycott, and it was clear from descriptions of overheard conversations about Sun stories in the pub, Suns in back pockets on the way to the game, Suns on the Kop even, that the Don't Buy The Sun campaign needed a little bolstering.

"Don't get me wrong - as boycotts go there's no question in my mind that it's as strong as you will see about anything, anywhere. But I'm a firm believer in dealing with cracks when they start to show, not when they're suddenly gaping wide, and with an ever-growing, ever-broadening match-going fanbase coming from far and wide to Anfield, there's a very definite need for education on the subject.

"You have fans coming to the ground that know how many titles we've won, can name most of the reserve team, and can rattle off a perfectly passable rendition of Fields Of Anfield Road, but there's a lot more to our club than the Wikipedia stats and lyrics learned from watching a YouTube clip. If you're in the club, you need to know its history on AND off the pitch, and far too many sadly don't.

"Coupled with this is the fact that 20 years on there's a generation of local youngsters that maybe haven't had the history passed down, so I felt something was needed that would encourage kids to ask questions, and also to remind parents, aunts and uncles to have those kinds of conversations."

So the need to educate about the Sun boycott was identified, but why a blimp?

Stuart went on: "They've always struck me as the kind of thing that turn heads, and make people smile, and the message and the medium just seemed to be a perfect fit. Unfortunately though, it was an idea far too expensive and complicated to think too seriously about in time for the 20th anniversary, so that was that, and to be honest I pretty much forgot I'd ever mentioned it.

"A few months later I saw a blimp advertising a car showroom on my way to work, and the idea came back to me. First thing I did when I got in was jump on to the RAOTL forum and started a thread raising the idea again. Feedback was great, and a couple of people were sufficiently taken with it that they threw a tenner each into the pot. Within a day though, the thread had died away and it was back to being one of those internet ideas like all those lost flag and banner designs that get talked about for an hour and never get spoken of again.

"At this point I'd read around and got quotes, and it looked like we were talking about £1,500-£2,000 for the blimp alone, quite before you'd looked at anything else such as mooring rope, banners and helium. However, somebody pointed out an eBay auction where a supplier was selling second hand blimps for a fraction of the price of a new one, and suddenly it felt doable.

"I got in touch with the guy selling it, and as luck would have it he told me that he had a slightly bigger one which he was also looking to sell that had only ever been flown for two days. White with red fins - perfect. It was occurring to me that the idea was going to stay an idea unless I actually made a demonstration that I was serious, so I went way into my overdraft and bought it.

"As soon as I put the pics of the uninflated, very limp-looking blimp up on the forum, the response was absolutely phenomenal. I'd set up a Paypal account by this point and money absolutely poured in. Within a week of the pictures going up there was over £800 in the blimp kitty, and contributions continued to come in from the UK, Spain, Australia and the US. To date the blimp fund has totalled over £1,500, and not just from Liverpool supporters - a couple of Everton fans and a Newcastle fan have also thrown in."

With a successful first flight now under its belt - "I've never felt as proud as I did when I first took my seat in the Annie Road and saw the words 'Don't Buy The Sun' bobbing over the Kop" - Stuart is co-ordinating the blimp's next outing.

He added: "While its main use is intended to be to spread the Don't Buy The Sun message, it's now envisaged to be available for both the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and Spirit of Shankly for use with any other campaigns they have in mind.

"From its first flight it was clear just how much of a head-turner it is, and in the coming months I'm sure you'll see it broadcasting other messages. It's also been suggested that we include it in parades in and around the city, which we'll definitely look at.

"At the moment we're limited to flying it at daytime home matches, but by next season we'll look at adding lights which will allow it to go up for evening kick-offs as well. The dream scenario is that it will eventually fly at every home game, but this will depend completely on keeping the kitty topped up so that we can afford the helium it runs on."

The blimps costs around £200 per flight for helium and fan donations to keep the blimp flying are welcomed. They can be made via Paypal to the address:

Stuart said: "If people want to send by any other method, or make any comments or suggestions about the blimp, feel free to email me on that address. Volunteers to help on flight days are also very, very welcome, so keep an eye on the various forums to see when it will next be up in the sky. People will have to supervise the blimp during the match, so we'll always be looking for people willing to sacrifice going to the match to help in that regard."

For pictures of the blimp, see here: 100206 Don't Buy The Sun - Images |

For more on the Don't Buy The Sun campaign, and the fight for justice for the 96, read the first edition of Well Red magazine, out at the end of this month: