I’M writing this with a headache. A pain in the head brought on not just by last night’s booze, but the also the cacophony of Anfield at its best.
Prior to the match against Manchester United, I was thinking about an angle on the game because by the time this lands on the web, a thousand column inches will already have been filled.
Then I realised I did have a different angle; watching the game from my old stomping ground of the Kemlyn Road Stand (the Lower Centenary to you modernists). Normally, I’d be up in the gods — on Row 60 of The Kop.
This time though, I was side-on, edge of the box, Kop end, just 17 rows up, with the whiff of the Anfield grass breezing through the nostrils. Senses heightened by “a few ales” as Withnail might put it. At the risk of sounding like John Motson here, more of that later.
We’d been to town. Done a show for TAW (the non-swearing radio one at the tower) and met up with what seemed like half of the usual cast at Bier in the city centre.
Neil, Robbo, and Gibbo. Ben Johnno and his mate Dan Fitz. Paul Cope waltzes in, with the smugness of a man who’s been on a long holiday. Such is the blind swagger of the man that he instantly knocks over a glass of coke, and quite frankly doesn’t give a shit.
I’m getting side-tracked here, but I’ll carry on. I like Copey. He sits down next to me, whips off his bubble coat which nestles with mine into the beginnings of a big sleeping bag behind us.
Ben Johnno is holding comedic court. He admits that Dan Fitz, on their recent jaunt to Dublin, had to proofread one of his withering columns, in case “he’d gone too far”. We chuckle (well, Ben laughs wickedly) about the Wrap being closed down by the legal people when “it had all been going so well”.
Adam Melia arrives, sparking stories of Wembley and a hip flask that rendered him incapable after extra time and penalties.
Copey and Dan Fitz bemoan the conservatism of friends with young kids who won’t stay out until six in the morning and how they might have to become mates with fellas in their fifties for a decent night out. Sat between them, I pat them both on the knee and suggest, though I’m not quite there yet, I might be their man.
The point of this is that everyone is out. It’s been a while. We’ve barely mentioned the match but there’s a buzz that only a big game brings. OK, it’s not a Champions League semi, but it’s still Europe and it’s Manchester United.
I meet my mates, Chris Maguire and Britty (my Athens 07 drinking companion) at the bar. Chris has my ticket and no doubt a bag full of Haribos. Time rushes on and a taxi whizzes us up to Anfield. I’m tipsy and spend most of the journey being Roy Hodgson (without hair made of iron filings). There’s time for a couple more in a rammed “Solly” a few hundred yards from the ground.
Anyway, back to the Kemlyn. Anfield looks so different from my old vantage point. As we get our first sight of the pitch, You’ll Never Walk Alone, sung with gusto, is in full bloom just to our left. One of the best things about not being in The Kop is being able to watch it when it’s on form and it’s on form here.
I even get a tingle of that “first match” sensation when the magical kaleidoscope of green, and red and white, hits you right between the eyes.
The Kop, in full European mode, is on its feet and will stand throughout. In the Kemlyn, it takes a full five minutes before the stewards, with an air of resignation, manage to get everyone seated. We’re soon back on our feet as Liverpool attack the far end. In fact, we’re up and down like a fiddler’s elbow all night.
Standing, with a side-on view of the pitch, and in this atmosphere, momentarily takes me back to my childhood Anfield experience of the Paddock terracing in front of the Main Stand and the floodlit European games my dad took me to in the late seventies.
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Briefly, I recall the fog against Anderlecht in the 1978 Super Cup. That’s definitely the ale, I think to myself. Chris has the hip flask open by now, his usual toffee flavoured potion (I can’t ever be arsed asking him what it’s called for it adds to the mystique) stirring senses awakened by three pints of Moretti.
As Liverpool ramp up the pressure in the opening salvos, two considerations come to mind. Jürgen Klopp has really got this lot playing. Quick combinations all over the show, seen from low down and close to the action, and touches that kill the ball stone dead show you why these lads are the professional footballers. The other thing, in this moment, as Klopp would say, is that we might have to reprise some opinion on these players. Some of them are not bad, not bad at all.
Having said that, United look shite. I’d love to know what Van Gaal’s has got in his folder. I’m guessing an Atlas, a sachet of Just for Men, definitely a Bible, maybe a consoling Kit Kat.
We’re right on the end of row 17 (an absolute prerequisite if I’m to follow through on my eventual plan to move home to the Kemlyn) so I hop down for a piss on twenty.
There’s nothing worse than being in the bog when a yell from upstairs and the clatter of seats tipping up rapidly confirms something significant has happened.
The roar, shrill and loud but cut short, doesn’t sound like a goal. My guess is a goal disallowed but with jeans hastily fastened up and half a piss still inside me, my slightly embarrassed reappearance in my seat confirms better news. A penalty for Liverpool from which Sturridge scores. Ring of Fire ensues; scarves twirl. You don’t get match reports like this in The Guardian.
Half-time sees the hip flask polished off. There are a couple of JD miniatures to fire us through the second half. We stand on the concourse underneath, where my Dad would normally be. He’s not here tonight but I get a text. “Should be 3-0 HT bloody Deheia again!!” I message him back, agreeing, not with his predictive spelling, but with the sentiment.
Liverpool really put United to the sword in the second half. Coutinho, no more than 20 yards away from us, shoots violently and De Gea tips over brilliantly.
It’s a piece of football that takes the breath away. A second goal seems inevitable and when it comes from an unchallenged, unhurried Firmino it looks too easy. Anfield is on fire, almost literally.
Pyro from the back of the Kop; Pyro from the bloody Main Stand that shrouds the ground in ciggie-like smog reminiscent of those glory days and nights.
We’re a bit bladdered by now. We’re trying to get some simple Firmino chants going. The lad deserves it but all we get is more Ring of Fire. The Kop, who had earlier saluted “Sak-ho”, struggle with a third syllable and leave the intriguing little Brazilian, whose walnut whip-shaped head reminds me of a cartoon character I can’t quite place, un-serenaded.
The Kopites, rounding off a cracking night, soon redeem themselves with a mocking rendition of “Show them the way to go home….”
No need though, Van Gaal’s got his atlas.