If Liverpool was the music centre of the world in the sixties, it would be fair enough to say it was very probably the football centre of British football for the seventies and eighties. It would also be fair enough to say that Liverpool FC grabbed the lions’ share of trophies and attention during that period.
My first consciousness of them would have been a sweetie cigarette card with Peter Thompson on it closely followed a while later by their losing appearance in the 1971 Cup Final courtesy of one C. George. But it was the 75/76 season where they got really going which coincided with my own stronger interest in the game so at that age they were one very familiar club to me. They were a constant in Europe too, so on Wednesday night Sportsnight specials, they were always representing the nation longer and further than everyone else generally.
Though it was not at Anfield, my first viewing of Liverpool was my favourite one – the 1980 Charity Shield at Wembley against West Ham won by a single Terry McDermott goal. It was an exhausting match stuck in with Hammers’ fans who insisted on doing a non-stop ‘KNEES UP MOTHER BROWN’ physically. However seeing that glorious Liverpool team of the last few years meant a lot to me – Clemence, Neal, Kennedy, Hansen, Thompson, Alan Kennedy, Case, Souness, Ray Kennedy, Johnson and Dalglish. A masterful team who played simple football to the deadliest effect.
All strange therefore that it wasn’t until 1992 that I made my first visit to a match at Anfield though a story there needs a mention. My first intended visit was meant to be New Year’s Day 1979 but the match v Aston Villa was frozen off so I had a pretty good substitute in being able to watch them train at West Derby I think instead. Joe Fagan also took sympathy on our wasted journey and gave us a tour of Anfield that day which was great. Security was a bit laxer in those days.
So I have always had great respect for the club and their fans and love their humour and knowledge. By this stage, I was working for a Liverpool based company and got to really understand Scousers. Like many port cities around the world, the inhabitants are extremely sharp and streetwise. I always felt they knew more about the character and culture of every other British city than those from anywhere else. This of course was well illustrated by the football crowd. Working for that company, of course, meant visits to Liverpool and indeed the company had corporate seats there which helped as well.
However, that first visit in March 1992 was a bit of a mess when I was unable to meet up with my brother-in-law who had come up from Birmingham for the game. It was an average enough Liverpool side that lost 2-1 to Genoa. That was the season Liverpool returned to Europe following their Heysel ban. Players on show, and I believe it was John Barnes’ European debut for the club also, included Rob Jones, Mark Wright, Steve McManaman and Jan Molby. Sat beside the original Kop it was good to see it on a European night before it went all-seater two years later. It was a fascinating watch.
My next two matches were strange as they were consecutive League Cup matches in September and October 1995 against Sunderland (2-0) and Manchester City (4-0). These were corporate seat jobs. The first match I remember well as I was impressed by the travelling ‘Makem’ fans who put up some racket. Goals from McManaman and 1989 Arsenal hero Michael Thomas hardly made a dent in the din. The City game a month later was the first match of two with the Mancs as they were to return to Anfield three days later to lose even more heavily (6-0). The first one had goals from Scales, Fowler, Rush and Steve Harkness. Other players I remember were Georgi Kinkladze and Niall Quinn in the City side.
The following March was my next visit and a few mates were with me as goals from Mark Wright and Robbie Fowler dispatched a Ruud Gullit managed Chelsea side. All these victories would be great if you were a Liverpool fan but I have to say I found the nineties’ Liverpool sides fairly uninspiring compared to previous teams. Hard to please or what! Rush and Barnes were past their best and I could only see poorer players not emulating the titans of the previous decades with a more mechanical rather than fluent football.
The last of those nineties’ visits was the following January when I finally got to the Villa game I should have been at eighteen years previously. This match was significant for the first starting debut for one Jamie Carragher who celebrated with the first goal of the game. Fowler and Stan Collymore added the others in a 3-0 win where notable playing Villans included Mark Bosnich, Ugo Ehiogu and future England manager Gareth Southgate.
It would be six years before I would return and these last three visits were involved with my kids. In the early noughties, their youth team played in the Blackpool Cup at Easter so we took the opportunity to run down the coast to Anfield. In April 2003 Charlton Athletic were the visitors and Sami Hyypia and Steven Gerrard scored in a 2-1 win. Funnily enough the next year the South Londoners would be the same visitors and again oddly Shaun Bartlett would score again for the away team though this time it would be the only goal of the game. Players present in those two games would have been Dudek, Riise, Heskey, Owen, Kewell, Hamann, Scott Parker, Paul Konchesky and Chris Powell of course. The personal highlight was Phil Dowd refereeing in the second game who was always good value. I also remember Matty Holland taking all the time in the world after the game with the kids and was a real star.
The last time I was there was a grim October night in October 2008 when a Stevie G penalty did for a Tony Adams managed Portsmouth. It was a tough one as the middle lad was not at all well but got through it. Some interesting players on show here especially for Portsmouth – namely ex Liverpool players Crouch, Traore and David James and Jermain Defoe came on as a sub. In red Kuyt, Reina, and Alonso were there and symptomatic of his difficult Liverpool period, Robbie Keane came on in the ninetieth minute.
Every visit to Anfield is an experience and is probably the one ground I would send a foreigner to if they had the chance of one match in England. Football and music, the world’s most common currencies as I keep saying can be so easily found in every aspect of that city. The sheer history of the club hits my football nerve and that no doubt goes a long way towards it being my favourite club museum visit to date. The statue of Shankly outside, arms aloft to his flock, is a sight and story simply in itself. The sheer history and eminence the club represents to the city does it for me big time. Once again, stuff you can’t buy but only feel.