In 1995, dockers in Liverpool began a dispute with Mersey Docks and the Harbour Company when workers were sacked for refusing to cross a picket line set up by dockers who had been employed by Torside Ltd and sacked in a separate dispute. This industrial action would last three years, culminating in a redundancy settlement in 1998. It was a dispute that was felt around the world when, on this day in 1997, Liverpool footballer Robbie Fowler showed his support for the striking workers.
It was an electric moment. Fowler had just scored his second goal in Liverpool’s 3-0 Cup Winners’ Cup win over Brann Bergen of Norway, when he lifted up his red Liverpool shirt to display a T-shirt which imitated the then fashionable Calvin Klein brand and read: “Support The 500 Sacked Dockers”. Needless to say, the Liverpool crowd went wild and the Mersey dockers dispute was firmly placed in the conscience of the wider general public.
Sadly, as UEFA regulations prohibit players from displaying any political logos at matches, Fowler was fined 2000 Swiss francs by the football governing body. In a press release UEFA noted that while they may sympathise with the support Fowler showed the striking dockers, it must abide by the rules that a football ground is not the right place for political demonstrations.
Fowler wasn’t the only Liverpool footballer to show his support during the dispute either. His teammate Steve McManaman also did, whilst Norwegian international and Liverpool player Stig Inge Bjornebye, having enquired of Fowler what the strike was about after the match against Brann Bergen, paid an impromptu visit to the picket line.
This hasn’t been the only time the Dockers T-shirt has courted controversy. As recently as 2019, Tory MP’s Damien Collins and Andrew Bridgen, the now (thankfully) disgraced (racist) historian Dr David Starkey and right-wing rag The Daily Mail were up in arms over Samantha Morton’s appearance on the BBC’s magazine programme The One Show in which she wore the T-shirt and discussed the negative impact the government’s austerity programme has had on working class families – or, as the Daily Heil chose to describe it, “a string of left-wing rants” and an “an anti-Tory diatribe” Well, to paraphrase Mandy Rice Davies, they would say that, wouldn’t they?