READING the book Here We Go Gathering Cups In May was a bit of a watershed moment for me, writes ANDY YATES. I was a normal kid from the Wirral, wearing the red of Liverpool, kicking the ball in the local park trying to recreate all those famous goals — Michael Owen first, then Steven Gerrard.
I’d been to a handful of games growing up but never did I consistently enough to claim that I ‘go the game’. A Patrick Berger hat-trick and a 5-1 victory over Chelsea was a highlight, though more for the mad woman throwing sweets into the crowd at half time. Various other two or 3-0 victories on a cold January night when tickets were easier to come by didn’t exactly put my Liverpool CV in the standout pile.
I was the quintessential standard fan, falling in love without really understanding what it all was about. But reading that book. That wonderful book…
I was head over heels in love. To the moon and back. Till death do us part. In sickness and glorious, away day health. Hook line and sinker. Cast me off, pack me butties and give me four warm cans of your finest shite ale and allow me if you will the adventure of a lifetime.
By hook or by crook I wanted in. I wanted to be mates with everyone and I wanted them to be mates with me.
I wanted The Albert and The Sandon and The Park. I wanted the petrol station by the ground with the longest cash machine queue known to humanity.
I wanted the walk back into town at 5:30pm on a warm day in May and 12:30am in January trying to hail a taxi to take my soft arse home.
I wanted the pre-game jitters, the shared brilliance of a conversation with your mates in the pub when nothing else matters and all the words make the most sense in the world.
I’d grown tired of watching it on TV. I am the TV generation, the ones who knew Clive Tyldesley before they knew George Sephton.
I watched Juventus, Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Olympiakos on television and Istanbul on the same fucking screen. It was magic, yes, but pixelated magic.
When I had the absolute privilege of being in that ground, that spellbinding ground, when Liverpool Football Club beat Borussia Dortmund back in April, I burst into tears. Like a little boy who’d just gone arse end off his bike and into a thorn bush.
I thought of all those times I’d missed out, feeling numbed somewhat, tears of joy but not unbridled joy. And in that moment it was everything. Everything I had read in that book as a kid. Everything I’d wanted that moment to be.
It is worth noting here that I went to that game and sat on my own, and that wasn’t the first time either. During the 2013-14 season I temporarily acquired a season ticket for the year, not under my name though because I’m still 12,341 on the waiting list after 11 years. For that season I sat on my own, surrounded by older Scouse fellas in their groups of friends who would meet up every week to discuss the week at work or moan about when Roy Hodgson somehow worked here.
At the Manchester City game that season, the two lads behind me embraced and cried at the end of the game and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was a mixture of finally experiencing all this but then looking round and almost feeling like I wasn’t there.
You may point out here: “This lad hasn’t got mates.” I have, and they are often at the game with me, but at the other end of the ground or three or four rows back. Sometimes they are simply out-priced, and I’m the only fool who pays weekly to share an experience that’s meant for more than just yourself.
The point I’m trying to make here is that my narrative of being a Liverpool fan, of having pride and a culture about the football club and the city, has taken a very different route to many of the older generation. It is perhaps a little more staggered.
I could be naive, believing the ‘specials’ leaving Liverpool Lime Street for the continent still exist from Gathering Cups in May, or that the stories of Rome, Anfield South and Paris are still possible and you can get across Europe on £20. There’s a romanticism to being as disastrous a believer as I am.
I’ve seen it in hundreds of others my age who support Liverpool and go to the game regularly, too. There’s a determination to listen to the older lads and soak up their stories; to take in what they’ve seen and what they think. There is a willingness to believe there will continue to be all numbers of younger Liverpool fans who can take their children to Anfield in 20 years’ time and share in experiences like Dortmund, Chelsea or St Etienne.
I don’t want this piece to be perceived as a negative one, far from it. It’s purely a realisation that there is at times a worry about the identity of being a fan of Liverpool in today’s world. And also, alongside that, that there are those obsessive daydreamers wanting to join this wonderful ride that is Liverpool Football Club all the same.
Liverpool’s away game against FC Sion back in December was my first European away experience and I was able to go to Basel for the Europa League final. Despite one being a non-fixture and the other a gut-wrenching heartbreaker, they are two I will treasure forever as I go searching for my own Liverpool story.
As the new season approaches and attentions turn to that all elusive title, I am still, at 26, yet to witness Liverpool FC pick up a trophy live, nor have I ever been around to witness the Reds win the league (I was two months old in May 1990 and my mum tells me I wasn’t out in town that victorious night).
When that victory does come, I’ve been assured the party will be like no other. I hope I can have The Sandon, The Albert and The Park. I hope that cash machine still has the longest line on earth and I hope there are no taxis so we can all float back into town. I hope everyone can be mates and we can remember every single bad and good time and share stories and be merry and be the Reds – it’s that simple.
So, Here We Go Gathering Cups in May…
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