NEW season, new feature. With Five From Fitzgerald no longer a thing, John Gibbons has taken up the baton and is aiming to attend EVERY Liverpool game this season. With that in mind, we bring you Home And Away – Gibbo’s story of the season following the Reds. Here’s his first — the tale of The Reds’ victorious and glorious trip to North London to smack the Arse in their own backyard.
WE’RE back! Alarm is set for nine, but I’m awake well before then. Helped possibly by an early night Saturday forced by an AFQ Friday that finished in Bumper 11 (ELEVEN) hours later with my face painted like a cat. But it’s mainly opening day excitement. Today we get to Up The Reds.
This year I’ve decided to do all 38 games. Partly to compensate for the lack of European football. Partly to celebrate £30 away tickets. I’ll try to document them all best I can. A decision like this, though, means you have to make other decisions in your life to make it all work.
The first I’ve committed to is being a better family member. I’m accidentally a bit rubbish. Busy days become busy weeks, and weeks become months, and next thing you know you haven’t seen anyone for ages and you’ve missed four BBQs and a Bar Mitzvah. If I can make time for ‘Boro away on a Wednesday night I can make time for them.
The second is to not spend a fortune. If I’m telling my wife we can only go on holiday in international breaks (apart from Belfast in November with the lads…tickets here by the way) the least I can do is not bankrupt us over the season. Not every trip can be a two-night stay via Blackpool.
The knock-on effects of these decisions are me waking up in a Premier Inn in Shirley (just outside Birmingham, and don’t call me Shirley) with a train booked to London on a £6 ticket that stops 19 times in places I’m not even sure actually exist. (Long Buckby, anyone? Bletchley? Berkhamsted?)
After a pint in the station that cost 95p less than the train ticket and a quick stop at M&S for cans (What? It was the only place I could see) I’m on my way. On the march — well train at least — with Jürgen’s Army and not even a lack of mates and a man in a T-shirt with “I don’t need Google, my wife knows everything” T-shirt can dampen my spirits.
London sees friends in various states, depending on sleep levels the night before. You plan conversations on who looks the best equipped. It’s an ongoing concern with my friends, to be honest. Special mention to the gentleman, who will remain unnamed, who stormed out of the house in the morning after a blazing row with his missus over the time he had got in the night before, only to have to ring her from town when he realised he’d forgotten his match ticket. He wanted her to drive it to Runcorn station and pass it through the door. I won’t type her reply. They settled on a taxi that he would pay for.
Tubes are negotiated and stadiums are there. The Emirates is weird. It’s undoubtedly a great ground, but it feels like it belongs to no-one. You see club-approved flags for Gooners everywhere from Malaysia to Malta, but very little for North London. I understand they want to be an international club, but roots count for something, surely?
The game starts. We don’t play well. It’s a reminder that pre-season largely counts for nothing. The game is so much quicker and more intense than what we have been watching over the last month — it is almost a different sport. You feel silly for reading so much into individual performances and Catalan Crushes. They just don’t look quite ready for it. Or maybe not at the required level for top-of-the-table tests.
They can’t keep the ball and Arsenal are all over them. If it was us, we’d be praising the pressing. But it’s against us, so we are bemoaning the lack of composure or touch. Alberto Moreno kicks someone up in the air and they win a penalty. The language towards him from the stands is choice. Theo Walcott steps up. We all look at each other as if to say “I don’t fancy him to score, you know” but no-one actually wants to say it. He misses and it’s the first great celebration of the season. It’s very short lived. More swearing as Moreno’s absence continues.
Liverpool improve a bit after that, looking a bit more creative but it’s approaching 45 and we’ve needed the toilet since about four or five so we decide to nip down and beat the rush. Coming out of the toilet I hear the unmistakable cheer from our end. A Liverpool goal. People celebrate without being quite sure what it is that’s happened. I rush to a TV but it hasn’t yet caught up with the action. Philippe Coutinho is stood over the ball. Surely not from there? I doubt him even though I know the result. He makes a fool of me and Petr Cech. Now the concourse is full with people and noise. Ole Ole, Ole Ole Coutinho-o-o.
I rarely miss a goal, but even when I have there are no mixed emotions at the time, only later. Then it is sheer joy. I see Rob Gutmann clutching three small white wines and he’s the same. Who cares if we didn’t see it? We’re back in the game. Beers are bought and passed over. More arrive. How are we going to drink all these before the second half starts? We don’t. Adam Lallana scores and we’re still downstairs refusing to waste a drop. Two goals into the season and we’ve missed them both.
But now a dilemma. Liverpool were losing in the seats, but winning down here. As my mate says, “We’re fucking brilliant in the concourse, lads!” Superstition takes over. If we go up and Arsenal score, how will we live with ourselves? We’re still debating the ramifications when Coutinho scores again. That’s that then. Staying downstairs.
The bar isn’t even open now. It’s just a group of lads stood there watching on a TV smaller than the one in my house, whilst the real action takes place yards away. At least the pictures now seem to be live. It’s ridiculous really. How can we think where we are stood is that important? Surely we’d be more help to the team out there cheering them on? But you tell that to us when Sadio Mane slots the fourth. We’re charging round the concourse like we’ve scored ourselves.
I really want to go up and watching The Rampaging Reds. I tweet my predicament and now I’ve got people tweeting me telling me I’m not allowed to move. We’re all as bad as each other, football fans.
Stop watching. We’re doing much better without you.
Take one for the team.
— Jim McMenamin (@McMenamin) August 14, 2016
don't you dare move
— Amy (@Carterface_) August 14, 2016
I stay, but Arsenal score straightaway. I’m getting the blame for moving when I haven’t:
@rehmanmohamed Am I the only one that thinks Gibbo moved off the concourse at 4-1?
— Jim McMenamin (@McMenamin) August 14, 2016
Grossly unfair. I tweet my position. An Arsenal steward comes up to me and says he hopes they lose so “Wenger realises he needs to buy some players”. He might not get his wish. Arsenal score a third. So is the concourse still lucky? I don’t know what to do. Neither does Twitter:
Not sure if @johngibbonsblog needs to stay in the concourses or not now! Heads gone
— Mr Hadz (@MrHadz) August 14, 2016
This concourse thing might have run it's course here @johngibbonsblog
— Paul McHugh (@baldypaul) August 14, 2016
We stay. Out of a mix of fear and not being able to remember what pre-concourse life was like. We’re institutionalised. Just us, a 32″ TV and a man sweeping up around us. All counting down the minutes. All hoping it will be over soon…..
The final whistle goes and I don’t know what to do. I realise I’m free and run up the stairs to the light. I lift my arms up in the air like Andy Dufresne when he climbs out the sewer. The players come over and applaud. I’d like to think they recognise my efforts. We share a moment.
Our train home is two hours after kick off. We get to Euston in about half an hour and still miss it because we insist on only leaving the pub by the station to buy beer for the train about five minutes before it is due to leave. Actually most get on, but me and Ben Mac are stranded behind a closed door with all the bottles. Due to strange Virgin programming there is another one three minutes later so we leg it for that and just make it.
Its probably for the best. If I’d have got on that train I would have ended up in a far worse state, and almost certainly in town. Especially as it turns out Atko, Robbo and Nevin were all on it, too. They ring me from The Crown on their arrival. We’ve already ordered a taxi. Home by 11. Still ruined. But need to know when to call it a night, and when to stay out the dog house. 38 games, lads. It’s a marathon not a sprint.
Bring on Burnley.
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