IT would be fair to say that my start to life as a Liverpool fan was more unorthodox than most, writes CRAIG RIMMER. Where most fans probably earned their stripes at a midweek league cup tie or testimonial, or at least had their first experience of Liverpool FC in the flesh at our famous Anfield home, my early footballing education was instead gained following the Reds around the country to a host of 1990s football outposts.
In fact, my first three or four Liverpool games were all away days, and, as if that wasn’t enough, they all ended in draw or defeat.
I don’t recall Liverpool Football Club ever being forced upon me as a kid — the odd Candy-adorned home strip aside. Although, with a dad who was a long-time season ticket holder and away regular, I guess it was fairly obvious that I would follow the same path.
My dad was, and still is, a Kemlyn/Centenary Stand season ticket holder, and as such it was actually much easier for him to acquire an extra ticket next to him for the away games than it was at Anfield (in truth, at the time I was probably also a useful bargaining chip for a husband looking to avoid aggro for regular away trips up and down the country).
My first game was a trip to the City Ground in the middle of the 1994-95 season. A quick scan over the record books tells me that it was February 4, 1995 — a day when Roy Evans’ fourth-placed Reds, captained by a veteran Ian Rush and illuminated by a couple of talented young Scousers in Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, travelled to Nottingham Forest in what might have been billed then as a key match in the battle for European places, if not quite a top-of-the-table clash.
My only real memories of the game itself are a 90th-minute Robbie Fowler equaliser, having struggled for a precious sight of the pitch over the shoulders of the men stood in front throughout most of the match.
I can also recall Liverpool being down to 10 men for a long period, following a red card which I had (fairly reasonably) guessed to have been shown to Neil Ruddock (on checking it was actually Phil Babb, given his marching orders for an over-zealous challenge on Steve Stone on 52 minutes).
It’s strange to have been present at a game which you subsequently remember very little about — although there have been a few more of those in the years since.
The record books tell me that it was a front two of Fowler and Rush for the Reds that day, aided and abetted by a midfield of McManaman, Jamie Redknapp and John Barnes.
David James was in goal, behind what I can only assume was a less than solid-looking back five of Rob Jones, Babb, Ruddock, John Scales and Dominic Matteo.
It was in fact Forest who opened the scoring through future Liverpool record-signing, Stan Collymore after 10 minutes (I had to look that one up as well!). According to a British Soccer Week match report from the day, it was a close-range finish after Dutch international Bryan Roy had prodded the ball beyond James.
Liverpool, though, came too life after Babb’s red card early in the second half and snatched a deserved injury-time equaliser despite their numerical disadvantage. Substitute Michael Thomas combined with McManaman to create the chance, and Fowler did the rest. In the process, earning the Reds an important away point, and sparing a young me from defeat in my first Liverpool game.
Both teams were less than satisfied at the full-time whistle. Forest captain Colin Cooper was obviously disappointed to have let the three points slip away at the last. While Evans expressed his frustration that it took the dismissal of Babb before his team came to life, and decried their inability to play like that for the full 90.
In fact, it was the Reds’ away form that ultimately cost them a genuine challenge for the title in ’95 — winning only eight away games all season.
Forest were a decent team in the mid-90s. Their line-up that day boasted Mark Crossley between the posts, Des Lyttle and Cooper at the back, a midfield including Steve Stone, Alf-Inge Haaland and Scott Gemmill, and the free-scoring Collymore in attack.
Frank Clark’s Forest would go on to finish third, three points and one place ahead of Evans’ nearly-men, with Blackburn Rovers narrowly beating United to the title.
Back in those days a top four finish meant nothing more than Uefa Cup qualification, although the Reds would end the season with a pot — McManaman inspiring a defeat of Bolton Wanderers in the Coca-Cola Cup final just a few weeks after the draw with Forest.
For Forest, the heady days of the 90s wouldn’t last. There was a mid-table finish in 1996, followed by the sale of Collymore and relegation to the (not so) old firstdivision the season after. And things haven’t got much better for them since — though they did briefly return to the top flight a couple of seasons later.
Meanwhile, under Evans, Liverpool finished third or fourth in each of the next three seasons without ever being able to sustain a genuine title challenge of note.
Evans eventually left Anfield in 1998, following a brief and somewhat awkward partnership with Gerard Houllier.
For me, it was just the start (I have vague memories of trips to Maine Road and Selhurst Park), before eventually making my belated Anfield debut.
That came in a 3-1 home win over Arsenal shortly before Christmas 1995, featuring a Robbie Fowler hat-trick (not that one, the second one).
By that point I was hooked and, for better or worse, a Red for life.
Pics: PA Images