WEST Ham United come to Anfield and it all feels very 2001 all of a sudden.
I was 20 years old on January 21, 2001 and on January 27, 2001 I was a wreck. Liverpool kicked off against Leeds United at 12 noon and I had been out in Leeds the night before, got lost, fell over, knocked a street up because I was lost and couldn’t find my way home, and generally acted the 20-year-old dickhead I was (and secretly still am).
I was woken at 11am by the news the taxi was waiting. Which would have led to a mad rush were it not for the fact I was still wearing all my clothes except one boot. I sat up like the Undertaker, grabbed said boot and lurched to the car. And it’s off to the match I go.
Days before this game Liverpool had confirmed their place in the League Cup final by pummelling Crystal Palace 5-0. Days after this game Liverpool went to Manchester City and got a 1-1 draw in the league. I was at all three. I remember all three like they were yesterday.
I remember Leeds the most. I remember Leeds more than I remember yesterday.
Everything they say about Leeds away is true. It’ll be true forever. Leeds are appalling. They are a terrible, terrible, terrible set of lads. The worst set of lads.
I’d been at the 4-3 Liverpool defeat earlier in the same season. Post match I was fronted by a Leeds supporter pushing me, telling me how lucky we’d been. We had lost 4-3. This wasn’t the maddest thing about him though. The maddest thing as he was trying to hit me for Liverpool being sufficiently lucky to lose a game they deserved to win was that he had a two-year-old on his shoulders.
Pure Leeds. Dirty fucking Leeds.
We got in the taxi to go back to Leeds, to dirty fucking Leeds, as I tried to freshen up and make my brain work. Saw my old RE teacher in the ground. A nice man. He told me about how we had to stick it to these bastards. Scripture that.
And we stuck it to them. A dog of a game. Leeds United 0 Liverpool 2. Look at the celebration in this video. Just look at it.
Like it was yesterday. Better than yesterday in every sense.
Walked out and it started. “Tell me ma, me ma, to put the champagne on ice, we’re going to Cardiff twice, tell me ma, me ma.” Walked out and there were 8,000 of us screaming it, shouting it. Put the champagne on ice.
The extent to which that felt like something I can’t begin to tell you. And when I decry focus on the cups now, I always remember that and what it felt like and what it meant.
It was a coming of age moment. Big for the football club, bigger for me, 20-year-old me. No hangover, just champagne on ice. Champagne on ice from the last week of January until May, over and over again.
I worry when I decry focus on the cups I sound like the sort of old man I can’t bear, telling you pop music was better in my day and extolling the virtues of Paul Weller. Dial a Weller-a-gram and he’ll turn up at your show.
Because every Liverpool supporter needs Leeds away, needs champagne on ice. Every Liverpool supporter deserves it. Just like we should all get to peacock our heads off as league champions. And while sacrifices will need to be made to make that happen — and they just will you know — this season they haven’t been and we are where we are.
Let’s play the hand that we are dealt. Let’s get the champagne on ice for a younger generation who have had to have a gesture from a football club this week over ticket prices that they know are wrong. The sort of gesture which tells you the argument is won but action will be a different thing.
Let’s get the champagne on ice for them and for us, go back 15 years and remember how that flame felt. The Reds. Coming up the hill, boys. Piling out of a ground, coming up a hill.
(As a side point I do think you can tell the age of a Liverpool supporter by what their favourite song is — The Reds Are Coming Up The Hill is mine and John Gibbons’s and we’re both the right age during the treble season for that to mean everything it needed to about The Reds of that era).
The league is gone. Let’s have all three of these cups, let’s belt out the old standards. Let’s meet them.
West Ham absolutely did my head in when the draw was made but now, well now, it isn’t Leeds of 2001 on one hand, but on the other they are owed one. They are absolutely owed one from these Reds. Pin the previous results on the dressing room walls.
Predicted team: Mignolet; Clyne, Caulker, Sakho, Smith; Can, Allen, Brannagan, Lallana, Firmino, Ibe.
Predicted result: A dog of a game. Champagne on ice. Liverpool 2-0.
Predicted aftermath: Me to go out forever. The 20-year-old dickhead I was and secretly still am. Wouldn’t have it any other way where Liverpool are concerned.