I WAS slowly meandering my way up Douglas Road, past Anfield Primary School and about to swing a right at the Flat Iron onto Anfield Road towards the ground when I heard it.
What exactly it was that met my ears was the loudest noise I have ever heard outside of our great, heartbeat of a football ground. The coach carrying the players had arrived, and the velocity of the sound made by those who made up the greeting party was electrifying. It was frightening, it was awe inspiring, and it literally stopped me in my tracks, the hairs on the back of my neck rose, while what I can only describe as a warm chill worked its way down my spine. This wondrous, magical cacophony sounded like it was just round the corner outside the Flat Iron itself, yet no, it was instead a good few hundreds of yards further down, and as I made my turn into Anfield Road I could just make out the team coach through the plumes of red smoke, which with certain élan of its own swirled into the air.
This was bedlam, this was bewitching, this was a level of support I wasn’t sure our fans were necessarily capable of anymore. More fool me.
This is the style of support that separates us from the rest of your standard, common or garden, supporters of other English football clubs. This separates us from English football generally. Hell, culturally and aesthetically it separates us from England as a nation. We essentially move from the status of being a football club with a set of supporters, to a symbiotic cause. In fact, legend has it that when Luis Garcia signed for Liverpool, Michael Robinson informed him that he’d joined a cause rather than a football club.
It’s almost South American or Latin European in its nature when it reaches these kinds of zenith. Its fanatical backing like this that has the likes of Diego Maradona (a man who has harboured a soft spot for Liverpool FC since being present in Istanbul nine years ago to bare witness to that particular miracle) sat in the Manchester United executive box applauding Liverpool systematically taking the Old Trafford side apart. When we put our soul on the line like this we are incomparable.
Having experienced the team coach arriving from a distance my already calm disposition that it was again going to be a good day was reinforced. “Today we win” was my only response to anyone who enquired what I expected for the 90 minutes of football that lay ahead.
I did my usual pre match round of “hellos”. Big Andy on flagpole corner, the man responsible for the stunning mosaics that have adorned the Kop for the best part of a decade and a half now, another one yesterday on what was an uplifting, then sobering, and finally dizzying day to be a Liverpool fan. Big Andy, the only person I know to have declared we’ll win the title this season from day one. How I mocked him back in August. Since February I’ve stood beside him before games preaching that the impossible is really possible, reassuring nervous passers by that all will be well within our red hued world. All we need is a couple of soap boxes and some flowing robes, maybe some pamphlets to hand out, spreading the good word that this is very, very different.
But when push comes to shove is it actually all that different? Haven’t we seen and lived through so many of these stories before? Not the younger generation granted, yet those of us old enough to have lived, breathed, imbibed, sung and danced the dream, we have seen this before and it’s really very, very familiar. It’s like bumping into an old friend you haven’t seen in 20 or 25 years and being genuinely delighted to see them. Spending a bit of time in Linda’s Café with Sue, who shares the same serenity of destiny, both of us offering sage nuggets of advice to fretting late teens for them to ‘relax and enjoy’ what was to come and that “today we win”.
Win we did. Liverpool 3 Manchester City 2.
One small step, in a world of three points for a win. One giant leap for title chasing kind.
The biggest league game we’ve played in almost a quarter of a century. Every game between now and Sunday 11 May will be the biggest league game we’ll have faced in a quarter of a century.
Raheem Sterling, lovely, lovely, lovely Raheem Sterling. The crowd already raucous, the stands already reverberating, and then came the earthquake. It felt like everyone around me went off like their own personal mushroom cloud of celebration, with bouncing hugs dispensed to one and all, if you could reach a person then they were fair game. My Dad stood next to me and had a look on his face which suggested that in over half a century of match going he’d never been caught up in celebrations quite like this before.
This was a goal that offered ingredients of Old Liverpool and New Liverpool. Luis Suarez holds off the advances of Gael Clichy by pivotal use of his Uruguayan arse, barging his Gallic opponent out of the way in an manner that could certainly have been Kenny Dalglish all those years ago, he in one move opens up the City defence and the rest of the work is pure impudence from Sterling as he cut one way and then the other, selling the City defensive unit as if it was merely an early Sunday afternoon five a side knock around, rather than the biggest game Liverpool and Manchester City had found themselves up against each other in for just a few days over 37 years.
Injury takes Yaya Toure out of the equation. Everything is going our way, apart from the missed opportunity from Daniel Sturridge and the free header afforded to Steven Gerrard that Joe Hart pushes over the bar for another corner, these two chances coming either side of Toure limping out of the game. It’s a short lived reprieve for those in sky blue though. Gerrard swings the next corner over and there is the almost free scoring Martin Skrtel to glance his header over the swatting hand of Hart. Off go the mushroom clouds again. Utter delirium, total bedlam and unmitigated joy.
We reach half time, and the composition of the game is certain to change. Change it does. City come out fighting, City at their very best and we momentarily, but not mortally, buckle.
David Silva, a man who five years ago could have proved the difference between Rafa Benitez 2008/09 Liverpool FC winning the title or not, was suddenly a man that could have proved the difference between Brendan Rodgers 2013/14 Liverpool FC going on to win the title or not. He turned the game on its head with the brand of football by simplicity he plays with, a style of the game that would have looked so at home in the red of Liverpool.
Still the calm somehow remained. Football matches where one team draws level from 2-0 down have a propensity to start all over again. They tend to recalibrate themselves and the side that completes that come back sometimes don’t know how to respond to it, they hit the breaks and lose momentum. This was how it panned out yesterday. As quickly and as impressively as they’d drawn level, City handed us back the initiative.
Vincent Kompany, so integral to City, so reliable for City, of all the men to slice the ball to Phillipe Coutinho, loitering with intent on the edge of the penalty area, and within the flash of a right foot swung towards the ball we had the lead back. With the added five minutes of injury time seventeen minutes stood between Coutinho scoring and Mark Clattenberg blowing the final whistle, but somehow I knew it was game over.
Four games to go and on to Norfolk it is. One at a time kids, one at a time. This is familiar, this is very, very familiar