On the sort of foundations seemingly consigned to retro status by the leading levels of today’s game, City of Liverpool FC have begun building what they believe will stand the test of time. The supporter-owned club is reviving the accessibility and community so many feel has been lost at the top, and for last season’s leading scorer Tom Peterson, a fuse has similarly been lit.
The story of City of Liverpool FC is becoming increasingly well known, and with good reason. It is a true tale in which a small helping from an admittedly gargantuan football feast has been offered back to the lifeblood, its people, in a region that lives for the game.
Born out of a discussion surrounding why Liverpool no longer had a non-league team within the city itself, the club is just weeks away from its third season. Those helping lead the way at the Hallmark Security League Premier Division outfit have spoken of setting the table now for future generations, creating something that will be there from one decade to another.
If that is achieved, those connected with the club in the future will look back in admiration at the current crop as the earliest to wear the colours of ‘the Purple Partisans.’ Off the back of promotion in the club’s inaugural season, 2017/18 continued the progression and enjoyment.
Leading scorer for a side that came 4th in the league was Tom Peterson, a 23-year-old striker who started out at a coastal club who were on their own rise through the divisions at the time.
“I was on a scholarship at Fleetwood (Town) between 16 and 18,” he explained. “I thought I had a good shot at it at one point, like most young lads do.”
His time with the Lancashire club coincided with the Cod Army topping 100 goals on their way to the National League title, as Jamie Vardy and Andy Mangan provided the firepower.
“Obviously I was just coming up as a youngster then and they were full flow, but I was lucky enough to train with them a couple of times. Jamie Vardy was taking the mick at that level at that point, but quite proud to say I’ve trained with him now he’s been playing at the World Cup!
“I came out of Fleetwood and ended up going straight into the North West Counties Prem, at Bootle. I had a good two or three years there and then it sort of dried up a bit for me.
“The opportunity to go to City of Liverpool came up. A new club, new ideas, and I thought ‘why not have a little go?’”
Tom joined the club after the first few games of their inaugural 2016/17 campaign, signing from Bootle and linking up with a manager in Simon Burton whose Runcorn Town team he had scored against in the past. Having struck 16 times during that first year, the Ormskirk native started 26 games and bagged 24 goals in what he describes as a stop-start 2017/18 season for him due to injuries, match postponements and the like.
“They’re singing all the time, they know who you are, and we all go in and have a beer with them after and listen to their opinions on stuff.”
When he reflects on the year overall, though, he does so with no lack of positivity at how it ended up. With the Purps finishing top four, it has further whetted the appetite for Tom ahead of 2018/19, and he will be playing for Craig Robinson, a teammate who has recently taken on the role of player-manager at the club.
The central defender, Tom says, has been among the central figures in the fabric of the team.
“There’s obviously your older lads that are big personalities in the dressing room and it’s a good set of lads. Last year was the first year in the North West Counties Prem, and I think after the first season, where we’d won the (NWCFL) cup double and also been promoted, I think we wanted to see if we could bounce straight up into the Evo-Stik.
“There was periods of last year where we were looking good, but like a lot of teams, we had a bit of a blip and we struggled to get through it for a while. Transitioning into that league, we maybe struggled with it for a while, we lost a few players to bigger clubs, but we did stick together.
“At times, it was going really well for me up top, but there’s lads who can come in and do well. Everyone gets on, there’s new lads coming in this year, and we’re thinking we can have a good go at it.
“In terms of big personalities in the dressing room, Danny Dalton, centre-half, he’s been at the club since the start. He’s 30+, he’s always got plenty to say, and he’s also a very good lad and someone you can turn to.
“If you’re struggling a bit, he’ll ring you up and have a chat to you and lighten things up a bit. Then maybe not necessarily a personality in terms of being the joker, but we’ve got Craig Robbo who’s just taken the manager’s role, and he’s been very important to the team, keeping everyone together.
“He’s got that much experience, he knows how it all works, and he’s great to have in the dressing room.”
Chairman Paul Manning has highlighted the club’s desire to support and showcase Merseyside’s vast amateur and non-league talent, while creating a viable working-class alternative to the increasingly ‘globalised’ top level of English football, which has become unaffordable for so many ‘everyday’ supporters. People have picked up on how City of Liverpool play in purple, a mix of Liverpool red and Everton’s blue, though the official reason is that purple is the city’s civic colour.
Ground-sharing with Bootle, the club have been on a continuous voyage to find a site for their own home within the city. At the end of February, it was announced they had been granted the chance to draw up plans for a stadium on a former playing fields site in Fazakerley.
Although the plot is just outside the city limits, in Knowsley, it is overseen by Liverpool City Council. The club say it is as close to the city as they could find, after an exhaustive process, and the Purps have since entered into a six-month period to try and develop a comprehensive business case to allow the council to grant them a long-term lease to the site.
While that process continues, the ardour for football in the region never pauses for breath. What happens off the pitch will always be crucial for a club looking to progress, but it is the fortunes on the park which drive it all.
When the new season kicks into life, the City of Liverpool players can relish once again playing before a fervent faithful. Tom laughs modestly at the suggestion of the Purps players being local celebrities, but he admits that being on the inside of it all has been undoubtedly unique.
“It’s not something I’ve really experienced before. With some of the big games last year, there’s 800+ fans and obviously it’s nerve-wracking going out and playing in front of that many people.
“They’re singing all the time, they know who you are, and we all go in and have a beer with them after and listen to their opinions on stuff. I like to think it works both ways, where they support us but we repay them by playing some good footy and going having a beer with them and making an effort that way.”
Tom gives particular credit to the encouragement afforded to him last season by Tony Dunne, one of the original Purps players, first-team coach in 2017/18 and since named as assistant manager to Craig Robinson. Given the goals he has been getting and the fact he is at an ambitious club with support that comfortably outnumbers others at this level, is there that burning desire for Tom to move back up the pyramid in his playing career, or is it more so about enjoying whatever may come?
“I’m at a point where, semi-pro football, you’ve obviously got to think about your work a lot more, but I do a lot of work off the pitch and keep myself right. At the moment, I’m really, really happy, I want to be one of the main players at the club and be valued and see what happens after that.
“I just want to play as best I can at that level and then whatever happens after that’ll be a bonus, because I’m loving my footy again at the moment.”
Enjoying a round of golf or two since he was young, Tom’s day-to-day endeavours tend to take him along a decidedly different course, as he describes.
“I’m a spectacle sales rep. I cover the North West of England and work for a glasses distribution company and basically try and get all my specs round the North West and all the independent opticians.
“It’s a lot of driving round, a lot of miles done. I usually manage to wangle working in areas where my football is that day.”
On their way to lifting the Reusch Cup in 2017, Tom settled the first leg of the semi-final at Widnes in remarkable fashion. After a corner for the home side was cleared, he laid the ball off on the edge of his own box before setting off on a run down the left.
After a stepover just outside the Widnes penalty area, and with defenders facing him up, he whipped a right-footed beauty in off the underside of the bar – not a bad one to show the grandkids one day (on Instagram probably…). Beyond the goals he went on to plunder last season, what else did he enjoy most about it all?
“It all got a bit exciting towards the end of last year, where the restructure of the leagues meant that it wasn’t only the winner of the league going up; we didn’t know if it was going to be two, three, four. We’d had a bit of a sticky patch after Christmas and a few lads had left and we pulled together and went I think 20 on the bounce unbeaten.
“We were getting close to thinking promotion could still be on and people were buzzing about it. That was an exciting part of last year; it was just a shame we couldn’t get it over the line.”
With football for a fiver on a Saturday afternoon – a time slot increasingly less frequent for Liverpool and Everton fans now – getting along to back the Purps strips it down to what so many supporters in this country were brought up on and what young and old still look forward to when the weekend comes around. City of Liverpool’s efforts are geared towards more than just football, however, with foodbanks and charity appeals hosted by the club.
On the pitch, it all gets rolling again over the next few weeks, with an FA Cup date already in the diary (11th August), as the Purps host Silsden in the extra preliminary round, with Glossop North End awaiting the winner. All set up for another one to remember this season for Tom and his teammates then?
“Yeah, obviously the aim is to win the league, and we think we’ve got a good chance this year, but we’ve not got a huge squad. We’ve brought players in where we’ve been short on positions, but we’ve got a small, tight-knit squad where we all get on and go out and socialise.
“I think that makes a big difference. There’s no egos in the team, nothing like that, we’re all mates, we all wanna play for each other.
“Hopefully that’ll show through when the season starts.”
Interview/article by @chris_brookes