MIKE NEVIN on an emotional day in Liverpool’s history – and the home-made video that captured the magic.
AS the standing Spion Kop embarked on its final voyage, I watched from the same Kemlyn Road quayside when it first sailed into my view in the late 1970s. The concluding home fixture of the 1993-94 season versus Norwich City signalled the end for the world-famous terrace before the bulldozers moved in, five years after the post-Hillsborough Taylor Report and its recommendation that all Premier League grounds become all-seater. If the match itself was an irrelevance, with Liverpool – under the fledgling management of Roy Evans – languishing in a lowly seventh place, the occasion was an obvious opportunity for the ultimate “Flag Day”. Supporters would execute their equivalent of General Custer’s Last Stand to celebrate a Liverpool fan culture which led the way in English football ever since Bill Shankly’s 1960s fanatical Kopites rose to fame on a par with The Beatles.
My Anfield apprenticeship, during the hegemony of the Bob Paisley era between 1976 and 1979, was served alternating between the safe havens of the Kemlyn Road and Main Stands, usually for midweek cup ties or European matches. If the Anfield floodlights illuminating the all-conquering majesty of the men in red wasn’t enough, the sight of a swaying, belligerent Kop to my left or right was a most emphatic clincher in securing a lifetime passion for Liverpool FC.
An introduction to the delights of standing via the shallow steps of the Paddock wasn’t all it was cracked up to be; fighting to stay on my feet on the cramped, claustrophobic touchline terrace interfered not only with my view of the game but my appreciation of the sounds and oceanic movements of the mighty Kop. With the rhythms and words to the chants and anthems learnt off by heart, it was time to step up and join the swaying hordes behind the goal.
My Kop debut in May 1980 against Aston Villa coincided with what seemed like the yearly title clincher as Liverpool homed in on a 12th League Championship. When it became apparent that the gates were already locked for the Paddock and the Anfield Road End my Dad agreed reluctantly to queue for the Kop in the hope we could squeeze in before the “bell” sounded to herald a full house. Entering via the turnstiles on Walton Breck Road we climbed a staircase of Himalayan proportions at the back of the vast Edwardian mound, anticipating that magical first glimpse of a sunlit Anfield from behind the Kop goal. Such was the density of the crowd, we only managed to move a quarter of the way down but what was lost in proximity to the action was more than offset by the cacophony of an adoring, exultant crowd. An early tap-in from David Johnson which threatened to blow the roof off, an Israeli brace from the late Avi Cohen – one sliced into his own net which momentarily silenced the home fans – a Johnson screamer, and a Villa own-goal completed a 4-1 scoreline before the annual parade of the elegant, silver First Division trophy.
That was it. I was a regular on the Kop thereafter, with a first season ticket bought by my Evertonian uncle for the princely sum of £42 in August 1982. If anything, I had missed out on the halcyon days which forged the Kop’s reputation. So dominant were Liverpool that the unbounded fervour of the 60s and 70s was now out of place, replaced with a more sedate, sometimes caustic but mainly appreciative throng. They were roused only when the Reds fell behind – a rare thing in those days. Gates dropped as the recession bit hard in the early eighties but for crucial games the noise returned, even if it was the likes of Ipswich, Villa and Spurs who stirred the latent fervour of the home fans. The flags, often now carrying the name of opponents vanquished in Europe, came out for the Champions Cup as the beginnings of an ultra-style culture emerged; all enhanced by the continental fashions that were a consequence of regular sorties abroad and a death-knell to the bar scarves of the original Red and White Kop. There was something of a renaissance in the atmosphere post-1984, when the arrival of Everton as genuine rivals on the title scene roused the complacent regulars, and the run-in to the 1986 League and Cup double saw what was now “Kenny’s Army” back on top form.
However, after seven years, I felt I had served my time on the Kop and Ian Rush’s farewell before his move to Juventus was my last match there as a season ticket holder, before my relocation to the “interesting” end of the Kemlyn Road Stand next to the away fans. At the age of 20, I made way for someone younger to take my regular Kop station just inside the huge red pillar on the Main Stand side. Given the inertia of today’s seated Kopites, growing older with each passing season but still hoping for one last title hurrah, such migration seems very much a thing of the past.
So, let’s fast-forward in our time machine back to where we started in May 1994. Sadly, that means we must skip through the John Barnes inspired beauty of 1988-1990 but we are spared from the grim, Sounessian fall from grace that signalled the end of Liverpool’s pre-eminence in the English game. Not long after the overdue sacking of Souness, the old Spion Kop was about to be demolished and replaced with a shiny 12,000 capacity all-seater Kop Grandstand. Looking back, at a time when acceptance was a by-product of being usurped by Manchester United, and feeling emotionally overwrought in the wake of Heysel and Hillsborough, I wasn’t that bothered.
The old place had been dead for years and I had got used to watching from the stands at the side; still in the newly-named Centenary Stand but now back under the shadows of the old Kop roof, with my dad to one side and my sister to the other. The knee-crunching old relic on Kemlyn Road held its own charms; a perverse pleasure taken from wincing in the icy, swirling wind which whipped in from Flag Pole Corner and brought in the Mersey rain and sleet at a peculiarly different angle every week. Hip flasks were traditionally the preserve of old men but Christ you needed one in that weather, and it went some way towards the numbing the pain of watching Paul Stewart.
The penultimate game in front of the standing Kop illustrated our decline on and off the pitch. This, a turgid 1-0 win over Ipswich in front of a moribund crowd of 30,485 on Grand National morning, courtesy of a Julian Dicks penalty – probably the only thing he hit straight during a pitiful Liverpool career. If the game served a purpose, it was to lower the Kop performance bar to a level under which only a slug could slither. As I wrote out my bets for Aintree during the second half torpor, I concluded that we could soon mourn the Kop’s passing without too many regrets.
But there was one game left. Clearly, I hadn’t bargained for The Kop’s Last Stand – as it was heralded by the club and media in the lead up to the game. In pre-internet days, “Flag Day” leaflets – inspired by “No Seats” campaigner and match-day bon viveur, John Mackin – were doing the rounds in pubs imploring Reds all round the ground to mark the occasion. Get the banners out, belt out the songs; bring the old flags and make the Kop on its last day a fitting tribute to its glorious past. Tickets for the sell-out game were like gold dust – in days when pay-on-the-gate was still the norm.
Suitably enthused and engaged by the prospect of a bit of Anfield nostalgia, I went out and got pissed the night before, and lost my mate’s ticket for the game. I woke with horror on the morning of the match faced with the prospect of missing out myself – I would have to do the decent thing and let him use my seasie. As a last resort, I rang the ticket office to see if I could get a spare. Remarkably, an old stager at the club, Bryce Morrison fell for my, admittedly-true, sob story and said if I could get to the ground pronto he would leave me one ticket at the window. I was up there like a shot and that was me out for the day early doors.
I’d entered into the spirit of the occasion; bearing a 1965 Cup Final replica shirt, resplendent with oval badge, tucked into a pair of ridiculously high-waisted light blue jeans – it was a dismal era for male fashions. Compounding this, I had a souvenir from a recent UEFA Cup trip to Italy adorning my head – effectively, a plastic bag featuring adverts for Italian pressure-cookers and pictures of star Czech striker Tomas Skuhravy, which was designed to fend off Genovese rainstorms. Suffice to say on a bright spring day in L4, I looked a tit.
Unbeknown to me, when I met my Dad at our pre-match watering hole The King Harry, he had come armed with a video camera to record the occasion for posterity. Not your modern-day slinky camcorder or camera phone; instead, picture a Russian army-issue beast of a machine which would be difficult to smuggle into your own house, never mind a football ground. At least he would be able to capture the scenes outside if the worst came to the worst and it was confiscated by an overzealous turnstile operator. And the scenes outside were spectacular. Walking down Back Rockfield Road, known lovingly to us as “Dog Shit Alley”, towards the ground anyone who was anyone seemed to be bearing snazzy flags, well-worn scarves, historic banners; even Genovese raincheaters. The Kop was going out in a blaze of glory.
My Dad’s opening footage captures the jutting angles of the Kop’s unique exterior at the corner of the Main Stand, the crumbling masonry tarted up in red and cream paint probably administered by Shankly himself on one of his 2 days a year off. The growing din from inside the ground was already audible.
Waltzing down the alleyway to the side of The Albert and turning left, the full extent of the splendour loomed into view. A magnificent crimson banner outside The Park pub lamented the death of the “Spion Kop 1906-94. R.I.P. Reds in Power”.
Holding court near the turnstiles on Walton Breck Road we encountered Lenny Campbell, AKA the colourful “Dr. Fun” and his puppet, “Liverpool Charlie”. The worse for at least a few lagers, my Dad – camera in hand – decided to conduct a brief interview with one of the Kop’s finest and unique Liverpudlians; a chat which comprises of some extremely bad Huytonian ventriloquy, several utterances of the word, “sound”, and the revelation that the good doctor and his sidekick were “disappointed” at the Kop’s demise. RIP Lenny.
It was time to go in. As we climbed the gangway and made our way to our seats, close to the pitch in row 10 and in line with the 18-yard box, it was evident the Kop had pulled out all the stops. The famous old terrace was festooned with scarves and banners – the chequered flags of Rome ’77 interspersed with those of AS Roma and Juventus, tokens of our two most recent European Cup Finals which of course, ended in the most contrasting emotions.
The greatest banner of all, a tribute to the cult-hero Joey Jones’ part in the epic path to that first European Cup triumph at the Stadio Olimpico; – “Joey ate the Frogs’ legs, made the Swiss roll, now he’s Munching Gladbach” – had been restored to its former glory and was making its way down the Kop from the far corner that used to house the infamous Boys Pen. A vast surfer flag, adorned with that iconic image of Shankly, arms outstretched, bore the sentiment, “All Round the Ground, the Kop Spirit Survives” and fluttered on the breeze, while the patrons hummed along to a “Dambusters” theme that was the soundtrack to many of those fabled European nights.
All the while, my Dad dutifully captured the sounds and scenes with his weighty piece of kit.
Another blast from the past came with a high-pitched rendition of She Loves You; with PA man supreme, George Sephton, as always, finely in tune with the Kop vibe, before the Beatles gave way to a trademark interpretation of Scouser Tommy, performed by the Anfield die-hards with an almost military precision. Shankly’s “professional supporters” were well and truly at work as the decibels were elevated to a new plane. It was only twenty past two, with the crowd practically oblivious to the players warming up on the pitch – the great Ian Rush and John Barnes in the twilight of their careers, the emergent local talents, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, and the Souness flotsam – Dicks, Ruddock and Clough.
I’ve always detested any form of pre-match entertainment but at this juncture, the club were ready to play a blinder. With the crowd in ferment, former player and head of PR, Brian Hall stepped into the centre circle to introduce a selection of the men who had inspired and been driven on by those watching from the Kop over five decades. First up was old Albert Stubbins (he of Sergeant Pepper album cover fame), then legendary Billy Liddell of “Liddellpool” – belying his 72 years with a spritely jog to the acclaim of many who never saw him kick a ball. The Anfield Iron, Tommy Smith managed similar jauntiness – with the DSS no doubt looking on aghast – followed by rapturous ovations for the indestructible Ian Callaghan, “Supersub” David Fairclough, striker David Johnson, flying winger Steve Heighway, Aussie whirlwind Craig Johnston, and actual Kopite Phil Thompson. To a man, they wore terrible garish jackets. We didn’t care.
The best was still to come. Even Brian Hall’s dour Lancastrian diction couldn’t dampen the crowd’s anticipation of the next arrival. As soon as a career spanning 1977-91 was mentioned by Hall, a collective, momentary gasp gave way to an ear-splitting roar, as the unparalleled Kenny Dalglish strode to the turf. A thousand flags waved as a jubilant Kop piped up a lovestruck recital of I’d walk a million miles for one of your goals. For many, it was no idle claim on such an evocative afternoon.
No supporters in football laud their managers like we do. The last guests to arrive at the Kop’s colossal party were the ever popular treble winner, Joe Fagan flanked by the wives of the Godly Shankly and Paisley. Of course, no-one embraced the infatuation of the Kop like Shanks and as the elderly trio made their way to greet the ex-players in the middle of Anfield, a perfect, mournful chorus of “Shank-ly” to the tune of his favourite song, Amazing Grace, filled the air. How the hell did Kopites hold those notes? It was hard to fight back the tears but this was no lament; instead a celebration of the Holy Trinity Shankly spoke of – the communion of players, manager and supporters that made Liverpool unique and great.
In the blink of an eye, Gerry Marsden whose inspired choice of You’ll Never Walk Alone from the musical Carousel shot he and the “Pacemakers” to fame, had been smuggled onto the pitch, his identity further masked by the smoke billowing from a Kop now burning with flares. Marsden’s failing voice tuned up to serenade the ground with one last performance of the song that gave him a number one record but more importantly and enduringly provided the Kop with its signature hymn. The fans helped old Gerry out and let him sing along with them rather than the other way round. As was the case when I was a boy, viewed from the calm of the stands, the fluid, smoky Kop was still a raw, passionate, inspiring, even moving sight as it belted out football’s most famous anthem for the last time.
After all that, anticlimax was never more inevitable. The occasion got to Liverpool – or maybe they just weren’t very good – and the last ever goal scored in front of the Kop was lashed in during the first half by Jeremy Goss of Norwich City. This sad statistic was corrected (sort of) after the final whistle, when Kop stalwart John Garner broke free of the stewards to invade the playing area, capping a mazy dribble with an emphatic low finish into the red netting at the Kop end. Perhaps Garner could see the future and a fifth European Cup in Turkey? He was wearing a Fez.
Otherwise, after a rather hollow show of thanks from the playing class of ’94 and a brief half hour resistance against the stewards everyone tootled off home, perhaps disbelieving they would never set foot on the Kop again.
By August, the lower reaches of the new Kop Grandstand were in place on the old Kop’s footprint and it steadily grew in size and stature over the course of 1994-95.
So, was the banner correct? Did the “Kop Spirit Survive” all round the ground? Ask anyone who was at the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea in 2005, when less than half the Kop’s original number made a noise to compare with Inter Milan and St Etienne and the answer would be yes.
Equally, listening to boos that greeted Liverpool’s ascent to the top of the League in November 2008 made you wonder. It feels like the vocal, standing Blocks 305 and 306 at the back of the “new” Kop, the Reclaim the Kop movement and laudable organisations like Sprit of Shankly are fighting a losing battle. Times have changed. So has Anfield along with Liverpool’s crowd in the sanitised arena that is the modern Premier League.
The old Kop was a great spot to spend your formative years; a dirty, stinking, noisy, occasionally dangerous place, always funny but raw in the extreme. In many ways you really did get your education from the Kop. Its like will not be seen again, and it was never in better form than on its last day.