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Being Liverpool Review: TV Documentary Promises A Lot, Delivers Little

I wanted so much to love the first episode of “Being Liverpool,” but after watching it, I walked away from it feeling like I had just seen a lightweight, puff piece that taught me nothing new. Instead, it felt like a Hollywood wannabee show that was mostly constructed of laid-back interviews and back story that were pieced together to construct a story that showed me nothing new except for some behind-the-scenes walk-throughs of the homes of Liverpool players and manager Brendan Rodgers. And that was it.

Let me be clear. “Being Liverpool” is not a fly-on-the-wall documentary that will reveal any dirty laundry or show you anything that you don’t already know. It feels more like a carefully constructed documentary that promotes Liverpool Football Club. Yes, the laid-back interviews with manager Brendan Rodgers feature honest answers in regards to his expectations for the club and what it means to be in charge at Anfield. But I expected more. A lot more. Or, at least, something different than what was delivered.

First episodes are often difficult to judge since they often spend time telling the back story, or — like in pilot TV dramas or comedies — introducing the characters and setting the tone. The remaining five episodes of the documentary may be an improvement especially if they delve deeper into topics that are glossed over on the first episode.

“Being Liverpool” starts promisingly. The first few seconds of the episode takes viewers into the dressing room before the kick-off of Liverpool’s opening match of the 2012-13 season against West Bromwich Albion. Deep in the heart of the Hawthorns, with the sounds of the crowd wafting into the room, Rodgers gives a stirring speech in the center of the Liverpool staff and players who formed a circle around the Northern Irishman.

But just as the beginning of Liverpool’s 2012-13 Premier League campaign started with a lot of promise, but fell flat on its face after the losses against West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal, “Being Liverpool” does the same. It starts strong, providing us with rare footage of players and manager in the dressing room, but then falls into a warm-and-fuzzy puff piece that gives the back story of how Liverpool got to where they are today, introduces the viewer to the key characters (Gerrard, Leiva, Rodgers and others), as well as providing insight about Liverpool’s tour of North America.

It’s quite possible that the remaining five episodes of the story will delve deeper into polarizing topics, but so far, I’m not impressed. Dalglish’s exit from Liverpool was discussed in great detail in this first show, but were glossed over with relatively rosy interviews with people like John Henry, Tom Werner and Ian Ayre — essentially saying that Dalglish left on good terms and Dalglish knew it was part of the plan all along that a long-term manager would eventually be hired. Dalglish isn’t interviewed in the first episode, nor are there any behind-the-scenes footage of what was said between Dalglish and Fenway Sports Group when the Scot flew to Boston for post-season discussions. Nor is there any footage of what was said in the dressing room at the tail end of last season. I, for one, would have been particularly interested in seeing Dalglish’s reaction to Liverpool’s disappointing end to last season where they lost the FA Cup Final and lost to Fulham and Swansea. Instead, what we get is the cliche footage of Liverpool supporters biting their nails, shaking their heads and shouting their outrage in a Liverpool pub.

For my taste, there’s too much time spent in the first episode showing us the homes of Rodgers, Gerrard and Leiva. While it’s interesting to see how they live in the lap of luxury, it only serves to humanize these people — that they all love their family, and that have lives outside of soccer. Interesting, yes, but I would have either left that footage on the cutting room floor or introduced it later in the series. Instead, I would have preferred to find out more about the intricacies of Fenway Sports Group’s acquisition of Brendan Rodgers as a manager. Again, the chase to acquire him is glossed over, avoiding mention of other frontrunners Roberto Martinez and Andre Villas-Boas. I would have also liked to hear more about Liverpool’s current financial situation, and gotten an honest answer from the Fenway Sports Group regarding some of the mistakes they believed they’re made thus far at Liverpool.

What we get with “Being Liverpool” is an interesting PR piece that boosts the credibility of Rodgers and the Liverpool hierarchy, shares footage of Melwood and Liverpool footballers training there, players hanging out with each other and playing Monopoly outside of work, shows new signing Fabio Borini going through a medical exam, and shares a deep and forthright one-on-one training ground discussion between Rodgers and Liverpool youngster Jon Flanagan.

Rodgers also discusses Andy Carroll during the first episode, albeit his words are now out of date since the interview was conducted before Carroll joined West Ham United on loan.

“It’s going to take something incredible for [Andy Carroll] to leave [Liverpool] football club,” says Rodgers. The Liverpool manager went on to say that he believed that Carroll could adapt to a number of different footballing styles, and that he believed in Carroll.

Overall, “Being Liverpool” is interesting, watchable and gives a rare insight into a club that has built itself on Bill Shankly’s belief that the club shouldn’t air its dirty laundry in public, but should take care of issues behind closed doors. While “Being Liverpool” is touted as being “…The first time in football history [that] a global power opens its doors for unprecedented insider access,” the cozy relationship between FOX Sports and Liverpool (for making this TV series possible) ensures that the documentary has found a way of satisfying both sides — still keeping the dirty laundry behind closed-doors while managing to pry the doors open enough to give us a little glimpse into what life is really like inside a top flight football club.

For viewers in the United States, the first episode of “Being Liverpool” debuts Sunday, September 16 (full details here). Viewers in the United Kingdom will be able to watch the Liverpool documentary on Channel 5 beginning September 21.

Photo credits: FOX Soccer Communications.

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  1. Sean

    September 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Obviously haven’t seen the Liverpool show yet, but if you want to see a real fly-on-the-wall documentary for English football, check out “The Four-Year-Plan” about QPR. It’s available on Netflix streaming.

  2. IanCransonsKnees

    September 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I’ve always antcipated it being fluff no more, there’s no way they’d churn out the train wreck/televisual masterpiece that the QPR documentary was. FSG wouldn’t allow it.

    The reaction from rival fans here is one of rabid fascination, waiting for the first embarassing thing with which to rib Liverpool fans about. The most anticipated so far is the Brendan Rogers portrait in his hallway, I think he’ll come over unwittingly as a bit of a David Brent.

    I don’t think it’ll be anything to match these –

    Although they probably show the naivety of the smaller clubs in relation to TV exposure in the infancy of the Premier League.

  3. Tim Krass

    September 11, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Having worked at FOX, this piece is a marketing effort to drag viewers to increase their EPL ratings. They have one thing and one thing only on their minds/plates and that is money. Everything else they do supports that mission. They will not throw that much money at a marketing piece thus, we get a watered down product that editorially can barely reach an acceptable standard for supporters. You guys at EPL Talk are on the pulse, awesome job. The rest of the soccer world has to catch up to you guys. Good work, really enjoy it. Sarge

    • The Gaffer

      September 11, 2012 at 11:53 am

      Thanks Tim for the kind words. It’s a lot of work, but we love doing it.

      The Gaffer

  4. Scrumper

    September 11, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Look, it’s pretty obvious Henry and his chums are trying to market Liverpool to the US sports audience. First they wanted the most recognisable US Premier League star (Clint Dempsey), now we have the “let’s all love Liverpool” film. Hell I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow the Beatles name gets dragged into this marketing ploy and Ringo becomes a match day greeter.

    They want to overhaul the most recognisable English club name in the US – Manchester Utd – and replace it with Liverpool. It’s laudable, however, for Liverpool supporters Fenway is actually reviewing and making plans to actively market the club. But they’ve a hard road to hoe. The noisy neighbours – City – is now also cementing the Manchester name and outstripping Liverpool with a much more interesting story to tell and performances to match.

    One thing to remember is Henry’s lawyers would have vetted this series to ensure nothing disparaging is said or implied about Hicks and Gillett bringing about the near ruination of the club (allegedly). Therefore, I don’t expect much if any dirty laundry on show.


    September 11, 2012 at 3:36 am

    what is the author talking about here!
    I would have been disappointed if it revealed the inside runnings of the club, even though we would love to know that but we know there are things that should be handled behind closed doors.
    This isn’t a movie where you are disapoointed you aren’t being given enough entertainment.
    We, die hard fans would be happy watching anything in which LFC is involved and I am sure this would be a pleasure to our eyes as long as there is that feel good vibe and good PR for the club.

  6. SAF

    September 10, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    i don’t see any trophy !!!!!! do you ????

  7. Cord4Gooner

    September 10, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    Terrible review …. this show is to start to expose a new audience (ie. USA) the brilliance that is the EPL.

    This was supposed to be soft hitting so not to overwhelm and keep a football newbies attention…

    Liverpool have an amazing / interesting history and I am sure this show will do a decent job getting that point accross …

    No this is nothing like HARD knocks on HBO … sorry

    • Liam

      September 10, 2012 at 10:40 pm

      @cord, have you seen it? Gaffer said he got an advanced copy… Maybe wait to comment on the validity of the review until you’ve actually seen the episode.

    • Fog

      September 10, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      In my opinion “dirty laundry” (or at least some controversy) will capture and keep “football newbies” attention far better than an LFC/EPL infomercial. This appears to be something to convince the “football newbies” to ignore the standings and the disarray of the past five or so years…Liverpool Football Club is still great and should be adored because of their past history. Forget about the current status of being a mid-table club.

  8. Todd

    September 10, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    This is disappointing news. Any true documentary will cover more than just the fluff the club wants them to show. I had high expectations for this “documentary,” but those have been pretty well dashed.

    I too had hoped to at least see some of the board room goings on, interviews with polarizing figures, and locker room team talks (esp those at the end of last season and beginning of this season).

    I did not want to watch a puff piece about how LFC is the greatest sports club ever and everyone who plays and works there is the best person to ever walk the earth. That is NOT a documentary.

    I really hope it gets better from the first episode.

  9. Dan Lott

    September 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Is it really to drum up support for LFC? Seems more part of a plan to grow the EPL’s popularity in the US.
    It’s not that far behind some of the traditional sports here. Last years TV viewing of matches was growth.
    The NFL has been doing programs like this for years. TV executives want to keep that growth going to increase ad revenues on Fox Soccer.

    Liverpool were willing to do it, possibly because of FSG. SAF would never allow such a thing. But if the ratings are good, another club will be asked to do it next year.

    • Dust

      September 10, 2012 at 8:22 pm

      Did I miss the premier league series that this is a part of? Did i miss the “produced by the barclays premier league”?

      It absolutely is about exposing the LFC brand, it may increase interest in the epl but highly unlikely. It has everything to do with FSG, the redsox and the relationship with fox.

      It’s about getting soccer fans that don’t support an epl team yet to choose Liverpool FC. “England’s most storied club”. LOL from the late 70’s on through the 80’s maybe. I’m sure a few Man Utd fans would disagree with that assertion.

      It’s all about taking advantage of soccer mind share to create stronger market share for LFC.

      It will be interesting because it’s football, the behind the scenes approach is a way that these target viewers will form a connection with the club.

      If you don’t think its about gaining supporters for LFC then I have a map to the fountain of youth you can buy for $10,000. :p

  10. David G

    September 10, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    “John Henry is the master of propaganda.”

    not sure if it’s Henry himself but FSG certainly is. Can’t wait to hear how Brendan Rodgers was addicted to drugs during his time at pool after they let him go.

  11. Gargoyle

    September 10, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    John Henry is the master of propaganda.

  12. SoccerLimey

    September 10, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    When did this show on US TV ?

    • The Gaffer

      September 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm

      I got an advance copy. The show will debut this Sunday on FOX. There’s a link in the last paragraph with all of the details.

      The Gaffer

  13. Ansser

    September 10, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    You cannot seriously expect any self respecting football club to air their dirty laundry in public can you? They will make this as much of a puff piece as possible because the whole point of the documentary is to drum up positive press for LFC in America and even England. It would be a huge error for them to be truly candid in this documentary.

    I think even making the documentary is a mistake. Club business that goes on inside the club should stay that way. Im not an LFC fan or anything, but if there are any moments of “true candid footage” that is not positive for LFC then it will be a PR disaster on their part. And surely FSG are smart enough to ensure that does not happen.

    • Fog

      September 10, 2012 at 8:21 pm

      Having just spent five weeks watching HBO’s eighth season of “Hard Knocks” in which they are allowed full access to an NFL team’s pre-season preparation…I certainly do expect “a self respecting football club to air their dirty laundry in public”…at least if they want me to watch. The NFL recognizes the value of giving their fans an inside look “dirty laundry and all” into their franchises.

      Admittedly, “Hard Knocks” is on HBO and that allows much more freedom into the content… specifically the language…at the same time, even if converted to “fit for prime time” the content would still air significant “dirty laundry.”

      I would have expected as a backdrop for the opening episode to delve into the Dalglish fiasco and the Suarez affair…at a minimum.

    • Bishopville Red

      September 10, 2012 at 8:31 pm

      Dunno about that. The 24/7 series that HBO does for a variety of sports – NHL, NASCAR, boxing, generally receive excellent reviews. In the case of the NHL, the programs received lots of publicity and compliments for getting some candid material and driving up interest.

      Goes to show that a sports documentary *can* work. Puff pieces, however, should be left for 11 year olds to watch on the the various club’s own TV channels.

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