I DON’T go to Anfield every week. I’d like to, and I put the feelers out for a season ticket at the start of the season, but to no avail. So instead I go whenever I can, getting tickets as and when.
When I do go, I tend to end up in the Centenary Stand or the Main Stand, gazing lovingly and longingly at The Kop. There are many reasons why The Kop is the subject of my admiration and why those who sit on it are the subject of my jealousy. It remains one of the most famous stands in world football; a storied place that could, says the legend, suck the ball into the back of the net.
It’s also the noisiest part of the ground, or at least that’s how it seems when you’re on the outside looking in. While the folks in the Main Stand are complaining about, well, everything, and the people in the Centenary Stand are generally wondering when they can nip back down for a cup of tea or a pint, the lads and lasses on the Kop sing, chant and generally give off a constant murmur during the match.
Before last night, the last time I’d stood on The Kop was way back in 2012 when we beat Stoke 2-1 in the FA Cup quarter final. It felt like it was bouncing that day, with Luis Suarez and Stewart Downing, of all people, producing the goods to see us into the semis. Perhaps my dewy-eyed image of The Kop is based on that day, combined with the inevitable sense of the grass being greener when you’re not actually stood on said grass.
I mention all of this because plenty of people might, quite rightly, think I’ve got no right to discuss the Anfield crowd and least of all The Kop. I have no argument against that. Perhaps you go every week and you think what I’m about to say is a load of unadulterated codswallop. If so I apologise. I’m sure someone will write a response piece in which they completely slaughter me and everything I stand for. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Here’s the thing, though: I was really disappointed by what I experienced on The Kop during the match against Crystal Palace. I know what Jürgen Klopp has said post-match has inspired some discussion about the atmosphere and I’m looking forward to the debate becoming more public — it should be. If you want to read a great piece about people who leave the ground early then Steve Graves essentially boxed that off way back in 2012 on this site.
A lot of the problems at Anfield are often put down to the older fellas who have “seen too much football”, and perhaps in a lot of cases that’s true. But I was sat with a group of three young lads next to me, two behind one, and with a group of five older blokes the other side of me all in a line, so I was interested to see if it really was the case that the youth were the ones who hold the future of Liverpool’s famous atmosphere in their hands.
The answer, as far as this particular cross-section of the Anfield crowd is concerned, was that neither of them covered themselves in glory. Sat on my own and feeling like a bit of a dickhead, I joined in with the songs that cascaded down from the rear of The Kop whenever I could. Admittedly I found it difficult to get my pitch right, but that’s just the musical theatre performer in me.
Neither the older fellas or the younger lads sang, though. They didn’t even really join in with You’ll Never Walk Alone, the rendition of which brought me close to getting teary, coming as it did just before the minute’s silence for the fallen.
Not singing is a frustration and belting out a few songs is the most sure fire way of creating an atmosphere, I’ll grant you, but it’s not for everyone. I’m the sort of guy you’d never get off the karaoke if only you’d give me half a chance, but maybe these lot felt a bit self-conscious and decided singing wasn’t for them.
What I found truly bizarre, though, was the way that neither group paid all that much attention to the football. The old fellas on the right spend a portion of the second half talking about the fact that one of their daughters had recently moved house. One of them even got his phone out to show the others some photos.
When Liverpool had an attack and he had to stand up to see what was going on he looked annoyed that he had to put the phone away; as if he was a genius raconteur who had his best punchline interrupted by a drunken heckler.
As for the younger lads, the one in front of the two spent at least 70 per cent of the match turned around to talk to them, with them looking down to talk to him and seemingly oblivious to the football match happening in front of them. The one on his own left with five minutes to go of the first half and, deservedly, missed the equaliser.
The second half, as far as they were concerned, may as well have been a match they had no interest in but had stuck on in the background just in case something interesting happened. All of this culminated in the two younger lads in my row and half of the older chaps leaving when Crystal Palace scored the winner.
Bearing in mind that Scott Dann’s header struck the back of the net in the 82nd minute and there were five minutes of added time, that means that they missed 13 minutes of football. Add in the five minutes plus three minutes of stoppage time that the young lad in front of me missed and between them they have deliberately chosen to not watch 20 minutes of the game.
During which other activity would this be seen as an acceptable thing to do? The obvious comparison is switching off a film 20 minutes before the end. I’m not going to spoil The Usual Suspects, but if you missed the last 20 of that you won’t have a fucking clue who Keyser Soze is. Maybe you know that Haley Joel Osment can see dead people in The Sixth Sense, but if you missed the last bit you might not know why that’s important.
Realistically, though, you can’t influence things at the cinema, so what about the theatre? Having been in the cast of Blood Brothers for about a year and a half I can tell you I’d have been pretty deflated had half of the audience stood up and walked out with 20 minutes to go. Whatever footballers might say, you notice these things. You can’t help but notice when loads of people literally stand up and walk out while you’re in the middle of performing.
Maybe you’re the sort of person who hates queuing for things and the idea of having to wait to get out of the stadium and then sit in a warm car for an extra 10 minutes because you stayed until the end of the match makes you involuntarily vomit. I don’t know. Everyone’s got their reasons for everything, I suppose.
I’m glad Jürgen Klopp’s called you out on it, though. I think there’s legitimate conversations to be had about why the atmosphere is lacking in grounds around the country, with prices being number one on the agenda.
But if my experience on The Kop last night has taught me anything it’s that it’s not just the older members of the crowd who need to have a look at themselves.
People should be allowed to have a chat with their mates when they’re at the match. It’s meant to be a laugh and you’re meant to be having a good time — Klopp would be the first person to admit as much. But aren’t you also meant to be watching the game of football taking place in front of you, so that when you shout, “You’re shite you, Can!” you’re actually basing your opinion on something factual?
Maybe the key isn’t to have a go at all the people who leave early or do anything for 90 minutes apart from watch the match that’s taking place in front of them. Maybe we need to adjust our expectations of how people enjoy the game instead.
That’s shite, of course, but it might stress me out less to think of going the game less as a passionate enterprise and more like a chance to sit and observe.
You’ll Never Walk Alone, they sing. Especially not if you leave with 10 to go. There’ll be loads of other pricks walking with you.
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