After writing about Red or Dead, I found what I wrote about my visit to Anfield back in 2015…so thought I’d share it with a few later additions!
Many, many years ago as a 1980s sociology teacher, I visited Old Trafford, to see Manchester United v Oxford (the things we do for love) somehow ending up as an impartial observer among the United fans. I didn’t mind being a neutral in either end. It was much harder in 2017 being a Liverpool fan in the Arsenal end, I can tell you.
I didn’t really get the thrill of the game then: I’d been raised on football, mainly amateur, and to be honest, being dragged along to watch my big brother playing down at the local park, while my Dad shouted at him, was something I tolerated rather than enjoyed.
Saturday was a big day in our house: we’d await the arrival of the pink Sports Argus and study the football league tables, while listening to Tony Butler on BRMB Radio.
‘Awroight Tone – what did yow think of the Villa today then?”
Then, we could watch the results come up on the TV screen, with the old teleprinter. This one is slightly before my time, but the same principle applies.
If I was really lucky, I could listen to my brother’s LP records of the World Cup commentary from 1966 or indeed, Manchester United winning the European Cup, against Benfica, in 1968. And listen to my Dad, the fount of all football wisdom, spouting about it.
At the Man Utd match, however, while not fascinated by the football (after all, the gorgeously impressive Best was long since gone) I was fascinated by the crowd.
At that time, studies I’d read about football (mainly hooliganism, actually) sprang to life. I was able to immerse myself in a (generally, but not totally, masculine) culture where otherwise mild-mannered people (including the women, which was a bit shocking at the time) became gobby, swore like navvies and thought up all manner of things they could do to the ref. It was illuminating.
These were the days when football hooliganism made the headlines, and getting out of the stadium required walking through a cordon of huge police horses lining both sides of the path.
So, fast forward to the 21st century. I have grown to enjoy football much more (though primarily only Liverpool FC and England) now I am no longer forced to watch those amateurs down the park, with spectators shouting from the sidelines.
Thus, when I had chance to revisit a football match, this time not as a dispassionate observer, but as a fan, I took it. I’d have hesitated at the offer of Old Trafford, but this was special, it was Anfield.
I’d seen outside the ground, I’d heard about inside the ground, I’d seen it numerous times on TV, and yes, I wanted to go in, for the intense, fervent passion of Liverpool fans surely bears no equal.
A trip to see LFC, with the likes of (then) Gerrard, Mignolet, Suarez and Sturridge on the pitch, was pretty much on my ‘bucket’ list…..
Now I can cross it off, but will I? No, I’d like to go again. If I lived in Liverpool, I’d want a season ticket.
Everyone knows the Shankly quote: ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.’ And it actually is, when you’re at Anfield. As my son says: “I just love it when we score and 40k people make a synchronised uproar”. He’s right, the collective is far, far greater than the sum of the individuals. It’s rather a shame that tickets are so expensive and that some are not held back for the aficionados who might like a last minute try to get in, but that’s big match football today. I can’t change that.
The swearing (obviously) still goes on; no one bats an eyelid at the predominantly Scouse or Irish guys in the crowd (many of whom, to be frank, look unlikely to have played football since their schooldays) shouting ‘advice’ to the players, because let’s face it, these footballers need the coaching. It’s not too different to watching the guys on the sidelines shouting at the amateur players.
It’s all pretty benign, too; even the drunks are friendly, alongside the police and the stewards. And in the interval, the men who are effing their way through the match, suddenly transform into the polite, mild-mannered gents they probably normally are. There’s lots of father/son bonding going on, too; socialisation in action.
The Kop leads the way on the chanting, yet the whole stadium really does come alive, buzzing with collective joy or, at times, despair. It is a cocoon; nothing else matters.
But it’s funny what stands out/sticks in the memory. For me, it was the sense of familiarity. Players I thought of by surname (Suarez, Gerrard, etc) became individuals, guys on the pitch, rather than potential legends. Take away the photoshop and the airbrushing from the photos we all see, and they look like a pretty normal bunch of men, albeit fitter than most.
The man next to me sounded like he knew them all personally: “Come on Luis, lad” (oops, well he’s now gone) or “get in there, Stevie” (so has he), “well played, Jordan, lad”, “good run, Raheem” (he’s definitely gone, good) “save, Mignolet” (oddly not yet Simon – too new?) along with a fair few liberally sprinkled f-words.
Jordan? Sounds like someone shouting to their son. His real son said to him: “Dad, calm down; you’re getting too excited”. ’Dad’ turned to me for the briefest of moments, saying: “I preferred him when he was knee high and I got less cheek”.
And I guess that is part of the draw of football; despite the game now being big money and the ticket prices being prohibitive, people still feel a sense of belonging, identity, place.
I’m still not sure that I’d accept it as now a predominantly middle-class sport. There’s something in the idea that to really, really succeed at something like world-class football, you need some degree of desperation, deprivation, dedication and drive. The greats are perhaps the ones that retain it because they never know when it could all be snatched away.
Apologies, I can’t recall where this came from, but I suspect The Guardian.
“A result of the television money that is poured into football is the creation of a myriad of players who are millionaires before they finish their adolescence. More often than not the players come from working class backgrounds, whether that is a council estate in Liverpool or a favella in Rio. And it is in these young millionaires where the working class legacy of football remains. For to be a successful footballer you have to embody traits which are synonymous with working class ideals, players are judged on their work ethic, dedication, their fraternal camaraderie and their ability to overcome adversity. Without these qualities a footballer will never become great. In this way and only in this way football shall ever remain a working class game”.