I love Liverpool. It is a part of the world which will be dear to me forever, having lived there for one fantastic year – a year which has to go down as one of the best and most important years of life. Although I do not visit the place as often as I would like to these days, my affection for the city is only second to my other adopted hometown of Swansea. My year in Liverpool was spent living in student halls on the road towards Everton Valley and just a 10 minute walk away from the thriving city centre. The primary reason behind my move to Liverpool was to complete my PGCE (teacher training) and this would involve me working in two different schools in Liverpool. My first teaching placement would be at Notre Dame Catholic College for the Arts, an all-girls school situated almost equidistant between Goodison Park and Anfield and less than 5 minutes away from both. It was whilst working here (just a 15 minute walk from my halls) and walking through Anfield every morning that I fell in love with the place. People that have never even stepped foot in the Anfield area regular jest about how you ‘must watch yourself around Anfield’ and they are ‘thieving’ and ‘they’ll shank you’, but I can honestly say I have not met friendlier or smilier people than the people that live in that area. To be honest, I probably know the streets around Anfield better than I know the streets around the Liberty Stadium. Of course, the centrepiece of this supposedly downtrodden community is one of the world’s greatest sporting names: the home of Liverpool FC, Anfield.
Anfield. Just saying the word puts an instant vision in your mind of the redness of the stands, the singing of the traditional Liverpudlian songs and the many historic football moments that have occurred at the place over its long history. For some reason or another I did not really like Liverpool FC when I moved to Liverpool and my Merseyside sympathies very much lied with the self-proclaimed ‘people’s club’ of the Mersey, Everton. However, I felt as a a football fan now living on Merseyside it would be criminal not to visit the monument to football that is Anfield. A great decision.
I decided to head up to Liverpool’s home on a Thursday evening for Liverpool’s Europa League fixture against Steaua Beucharest (this was September 2010 by the way) and I feel this evening, or at least one moment of it, will stay with me until my dying day. I only arrived at Anfield 10 minutes before kick-off so I headed straight into the nearest stand and bought my ticket on the turnstile for £24. Having only ever visited Goodison Park before and never Anfield, I had no idea what part of Anfield I was in, but I headed straight for my seat so I could witness the fans’ famous rendition of club anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. After over a minute on my stand behind the goal it soon dawned on me – inadvertently, I had only bloody got a ticket on the Kop. The Kop is synonymous with Liverpool’s most passionate and vocal support and it is perhaps the most famous stand in the whole of the UK and arguably Europe and the world. The music suddenly kicked in and the stands launched into their famous anthem with the Kop obviously being the most passionate singers of the whole stadium. Mid-song, a huge flag came swooping over my head and I was soon submerged under a huge Liverpool crest as the final lines of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” resonated into the Mersey night. I was not and am still not a Liverpool fan, but even thinking (and now writing) about that moment gives me goosebumps. Thanks to this night, the friendly Liverpool fans I met and the fact that I worked in the area, a soft spot for the Reds began to grow and I would say I certainly lean more towards the Anfield club than the Toffee men just up the road these days.
The game was certainly worth the £24 entrance fee as Liverpool battled to a 4-1 victory with Joe Cole scoring in the first minute with his first goal for the club and Lucas’ 25 yard drive being the pick of the goals.
Only a week later my Liverpool supporting friend found himself with a spare ticket for Liverpool’s Carling Cup clash against League Two Northampton and with him offering it to me for nothing I found myself standing on the Kop for the second time in a week. This was still during the nascent stages of Roy Hodgson’s ill-fated Anfield tenure and this would perhaps be the darkest (and wettest) night of his reign. Liverpool would battle to a 2-2 draw against lowly Northampton before being defeated in a penalty shootout in front of the Kop. Although, amazingly, I can be one of the few people that can say they saw Milan Jovanovic score for Liverpool after he opened the scoring in the first minute.
My third visit to the home of Liverpool FC came last season as my team Swansea City made their visit to the ground to take on a much-fancied Liverpool. I’d now left the city to live and work in neighbouring Manchester and the day offered a chance to reacquaint myself with the city. The game finished 0-0 which makes it sound like a dull game on paper, but it was anything but. Swansea were superb and bossed the Liverpool midfield with Joe Allen being particularly brilliant. Despite Swansea’s possession they created very little and the last 15 minutes of the game were spent watching Swansea endure a Liverpool bombardment. Fortunately, Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm was in inspired form and held off the Liverpool threat. I cannot sum up the class of Liverpool supporters better than the fact that many waited behind after the final whistle to applaud the Swansea team off the pitch, as they acknowledged the effort put in from the Welsh club. An act of class from the scousers.
I developed a tradition watching Swansea over the past few years – no matter the result I would refuse to leave the stands until Brendan Rodgers had departed the field and I had clapped him off (this tradition had started with Roberto Martinez, but was not maintained under Paulo Sousa as I had a lot less love for him). The tradition was maintained at Anfield that day and I perhaps applauded him as loud as I had ever done – little was I know to know that the next time I’d see him at Anfield, he would be emblazoned in the red of Liverpool.
So here we are, just over 12 months from that last visit with Swansea and a lot has changed. Rodgers now sits in the home dugout of Anfield and the great talent of Joe Allen has swapped the white of Swansea for the red of Liverpool. Swansea had drawn Liverpool in the League Cup fourth round and my mate Tom (also a former inhabitant of Liverpool) and I had decided to make a day of it by arriving into Liverpool early afternoon to visit all our old Liverpudlian haunts before the 20:00 kick off.
The day started in a ‘touristy’ sort of fashion, as we headed straight for the Cavern Club to indulge in some ‘Beatlesmania’. Despite it being a tourist hotspot, I love the Cavern Club and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every visit I’ve made to the famous venue. After a few Beatles classics slammed out by the scouser on stage, we wandered back through the city visiting one of Liverpool’s ‘cool’ bars en route: The Shipping Forecast.
The Shipping Forecast is so ‘cool’ in fact that when we used to visit the place on a night out, they’d question you on the door to see if you were the right ‘type’ to go in, with the usual questions being “have you been here before?” or “what places do you usually visit on a night out?”(Tom lamented that he was rarely allowed in, whilst I don’t think I was ever denied entry having learnt the ‘right’ answers to give the doormen). Also, the place sells the most incredible 7.3% cider: Old Rosie – one pint of that and your night was pretty much over or you’d certainly not buy another drink. With it only being 3pm, there was no such pretentious questioning or purchasing of ultra-strong cider as I stuck to my continental lager of choice, Estrella Damm. Once Tom and I had finished being ‘cool’ we made the short walk up Hardman Street (brilliant name) calling in Hannah’s Bar with its panoramic views of the city before then visiting my old local pub of choice from my scouser-dwelling days, The Hope and Anchor. Our pre-game pub crawl ended in The Font, where to get in us in the mood for the incoming football, we played FIFA 13 with Swansea (me) emerging 4-0 winners over Everton (Tom) in an absolute thrashing. Having crawled our way through the city of Liverpool it was now time to flag down a taxi and onwards to Anfield.
We’d be arriving into the Anfield area at 6.30pm, as the plan was to enjoy the atmosphere of the Sandon pub, situated almost next door to the ground. The Sandon is the ultimate Tardis pub: from the outside it appears to just be your average-sized pub, but on entering you find that the pub is cavernous and keeps going back through about 5-6 large rooms. Despite it’s deceptive architecture, the pub is also one of the most important pubs in world football, as it was in the Sandon that both Liverpool FC and Everton FC were formed in the late 1800s. Many people are unaware that Anfield was originally home of Everton and the Toffees were even league champions there in the 1891/92 season. However, when landlord John Houlding raised the price of rent at Anfield in 1892 and Everton refused to pay it, the Blues moved out and an enraged Houlding formed his own club: Liverpool AFC, the original guise of the current Reds.
Unfortunately, after saying hello to Bill Shankly’s statue, we arrived outside the Sandon’s doors to be greeted by a friendly bouncer informing us ‘no away fans’ (unlike my last visit) – gutted. The bouncer gave us directions to the ‘away pub’ just around the corner from the Sandon and we were soon in the warmth of the The Arkles. The Arkles had a nice mix of home and away fans and there was a nice atmosphere in the pub; it was also good to finally meet Chris and Lynnette (more Twitter friends of mine) who were very good company before the game. The only real issue with the pub was that it was quite small and cramped meaning that it was quite tricky to get to the bar and with that in mind we headed for Anfield Road.
The away fans are always located in the Anfield Road End of the ground; last time I visited the away end we were located right at the back of the lower tier in seats described as ‘restricted view’ on the ticket (the rows behind are dubbed ‘severely restricted view’). This is due to the overhanging upper tier of the Anfield Road End cutting off the view of the lower tier fans and thus you spend the game crouching to see the far goal and it generally feels like watching a game through a letterbox. Thankfully no such troubles today as we stood much closer to the pitch. Just before entering the ground we visited the Hillsborough monument to pay our respects to the 96 that tragically lost their lives. I’ve stood in front of that monument numerous times, but every time it sends a chill down my spine to think what happened that day. Thankfully those people closely associated and affected by the disaster have gained some sort of closure in the past few weeks.
Similar to Old Trafford, Anfield celebrates and displays the club’s history excellently with the museum (worth a visit if you have the time), the iconic gates, the statue of Shankly, the memorial to the 96 and of course the words ‘The Kop’ on the side of the famous stand. I just love visiting this stadium. The concourses inside the ground are a little on the tight side, but in regards to service at the bars/food outlets in the away end, there was no issues at all, and the food/drink was averagely priced for a Premier League ground. The only congestion problem occurred when two Swansea City legends, Lee Trundle and Andy Robinson, strolled through the turnstiles into the away end and found themselves swarmed by the travelling Jacks in seconds. It’s not the first time I’ve seen Trundle in the away end at a Swansea game and every time I’ve seen him he is willing to chat and to pose for photos with every single fan that approaches him. The man is the definition of a true Jack Bastard! The same could be said of Robbo on this evening and I even managed to fit in a sneaky picture with the man himself after a very brief chat about how I’d seen him play for Tranmere Reserves against Manchester City Reserves a few months ago (I’d gone solely to watch Robbo play, after he mentioned it on Twitter).
‘This is Anfield’ as the sign in the tunnel famously reads. I love that moment in big stadiums when you walk up the steps and out into the stands with the pitch in view and there is no finer place to do this than at Anfield. The place is iconic, especially when you have the Kop directly ahead of you. The Kop is easily the largest stand in the ground with the Main Stand (the oldest stand left in the Premier League) and the two-tiered Centenary Stand flanking it on either side.
The Liverpool fans got on with their traditional pre-match rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, always a highlight of a visit to Anfield, whilst Swansea fans took to chanting “There’s only one Joey Allen!” loudly at their former midfield maestro. Allen was always going to get a warm reception from the Swansea faithful, but what of the former manager? Speculation seemed to be implying that Rodgers might be in for a rough ride and having been one of the Swansea fans present at our Carling Cup game against former manager Roberto Martinez’s Wigan a couple of seasons ago, it’s safe to say we don’t take kindly to manager’s leaving; however, the way Rodgers departed was very different to Martinez and there was certainly not the same feeling of hatred in the air, in fact I personally did not hear any boos towards Rodgers and he was just generally ignored by the travelling fans (for now).
Rodgers had opted to rest some of his first team, whilst Swansea made minimal changes to the team that played so well at the Etihad the Saturday before. As for this game, Swansea delivered a superb first half display they were composed, excellent in possession, defensively solid and incisive up front. Liverpool are trying to develop a similar style to Swansea, but they got utterly schooled in possession football. Eventually, Swansea deservedly took the lead thanks to a towering Chico Flores header which triggered off wild celebrations in the away end. I’ve stated to many that Chico is my favourite of Swansea’s current crop, but this accolade is slowly slipping away from him; this isn’t because of his performance levels dropping (he’s getting better if anything) but it’s because of the emergence of Ki Sung Yeung. The South Korean has been superb since signing for the Swans and I think he’s the closest thing we’ve had to a complete midfielder since we cruelly lost Ferrie Bodde to injury. Once again, Ki was the heartbeat of everything and he was opening play up for Swansea at will. An absolute steal at just over £5 million! The Liverpool midfield was getting overrun by Swansea’s midfield trio and it almost seemed as if Joe Allen was fighting the whole of Swansea’s midfield by himself a times (Joe Cole was predictably anonymous). It finished 1-0 at half time and Swansea could give themselves a massive pat on the back. Instead of going for the usual half time drink, I spent half time in the stand with a huge smile across my face – Swansea bossing the mighty Liverpool at Anfield. Crazy times.
Liverpool called on the cavalry with Brendan bringing on Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard (for Joe Cole) and Raheem Sterling. Finally, after four visits to Anfield, I could say I’d seen Steven Gerrard play in the flesh after not seeing him in my previous three visits. Despite the cavalry, the second half was much the same as Swansea owned the game, although Gerrard and Suarez made Liverpool look a slight bit more lethal. Swansea had dropped deep and were coping easily with the Liverpool offence as they waited to spring a lethal counterattack. That opportunity came in the 72nd minute when Michu played in Pablo Hernandez (having his best performance in a Swansea shirt so far) who delivered a perfectly weighted ball across goal for Nathan Dyer to score into an empty net. Swansea fans also decided that this was the opportunity to launch an attack of their own as they lambasted Brendan Rodgers with chants of “Brendan, what’s the score?” “We don’t need you anymore!”and, of course, “You’re just a shit Swansea City!” Then from nowhere it was 2-1 as Luis Suarez glanced in a Steven Gerrard free kick and Liverpool suddenly looked lively. There was 5 minutes of Liverpool looking dangerous, before they almost just seemed to give up and leave Swansea with a comfortable last ten minutes. Just to ensure victory, Michu broke down the left side of the pitch and similar to the second goal played a ball across the box for Jonathan De Guzman to slide the ball into an empty net. 3-1 and game over. No Swansea fan left until they had clapped the players off the pitch. They had all been brilliant. I’d tweeted before the game that I felt the Jack Army had been quiet (by our standards) over the past few games, but tonight they had been amazing and sung loudly and proudly throughout to the backdrop of the silent Liverpool fans.
On exiting the ground and walking down Anfield Road, I let out a scream of joy coupled with a spontaneous jump/fist pump combo much to the annoyance of the Red Army walking around me. I couldn’t have cared less. I’d just witnessed Swansea City win 3-1 against Liverpool (“but it was our second team” “I don’t care, it’s still Liverpool at Anfield”). We made the 25 minute walk to Lime Street station, but with a 40 minute wait for our train back to Manchester we headed for a celebratory pint in Wetherspoons.
Liverpool , I love you.
Highlights: brilliant city, historic ground, friendly fans, Swansea winning 3-1, the Kop, “You’ll Never Walk Alone (when I was on the Kop), The Sandon.
Low Points: Where has the famous Anfield atmosphere gone?, those ridiculous “restricted view” seats