I’VE been stoically putting up with an acute bacterial infection of the tear duct in my left eye for best part of a year now. It alternates between feeling dried out, as if it’s been bathed in a bag of stinging salt, and then later sopping wet and flooding like a yielding dam. I’m either inadvertently winking at you or crying. Either way, I’m being forced to view life through a misty eye.
I go running (jogging) a few times a week. I do 10k each time in a little under an hour. It’s not fast, but it works for me. Gives me the sense that I’m controlling my own mortality in some minor way. I run (jog) along the pedestrian promenade that traces the path of the River Mersey’s widest section. It stretches from Garston, just a bit further south of where I live, to the Pier Head, to the north of the city centre.
It’s easy to take the Mersey’s grey relentlessness for granted. Its banks are not decorated. They have always been too far apart to make it bridge-worthy for Liverpool. There’s those views across to Welsh hills on clear days, while Cammell Laird and that art deco tunnel-vent monolith do their vain best to create something of a skyline to the Wirral, but the Mersey is no Seine or Thames. It’s not even the Tyne. Maybe I need to get back on that bloody ferry they all sing about to get a perspective from the other side again. It is prettier from there.
Sometimes in the early morning, the Mersey reveals a beauty that is at all other times quite unimaginable. On a cold, still winter’s morning at sunrise, the tide is usually far out. In places it almost appears as if you could walk from one side to the other. The topography of the dried-out basin reminds me of those landscapes imagined in books about prehistoric eras – steaming rock formations, dune deserts, foaming algae-ed fields of pebbles. Then closer to shore, evidence of modernity – shopping trolleys, barnacled like mini shipwrecks, assorted tyres (why do people throw tyres in rivers?) and then every few miles, the ghostly foundations of long dismantled piers, like geometric mud creatures from that black lagoon.
When the rising sun hits all this, and before the daily flotilla arrives, the Mersey really is some sight. In the still, mega puddles of water, before the tides return, the reflections are so perfect and create a symmetry as if they are a tiled floor of mirrors. I’m a bit gutted I didn’t bringing my camera (phone) with me. The Instagram credits to be had defy belief.
I like the Mersey. I like Liverpool. I like Merseyside.
This week I guested on a podcast about great Liverpool v Everton games from the 1980s. We recalled the cup finals of the mid-80s when Blues and Reds clashed on the field, but despite intense rivalry stayed completely human with each other off it. I was at Wembley in ‘84 and ‘86 to hear both ends unite in choruses of ‘Merseyside, Merseyside, Merseyside’.
There was a defiant realisation that, whatever beef we had with each other as feuding rivals, at those moments the city, the region, stood alone, as peerless in the sport. Ahead of the rest. Liverpool. Everton. The two greatest football teams in the world. Merseyside. Merseyside. Merseyside.
The dominance felt so complete that it was hard to imagine that there would ever come a time when it would be any other way.
I’d only come to live on Merseyside at the age of 18 in 1985 and, although I’d supported Liverpool FC since I was 10, I’d not really appreciated what role the Everton Blues had in defining the Liverpool Reds. I was faced with an argument from a friend a few weeks back that Liverpool Football Club is bigger than Liverpool the city. He said Everton is the proof that factors far beyond the realm of the Mersey made Liverpool FC what it was and has become.
They aren’t like us. We aren’t like them.
In these times, with supporters attending Anfield from far and wide, and following Liverpool via internet streams and TV screens in bars that open in the middle of the night to cater for their passion, it can seem as what happens within the Reds stadium’s fortress walls, and on Anfield’s green baize, is somehow distinct from the metropolitan landscape that houses it.
I can see how it might feel this way if you are far away, or simply not rooted in the city of Liverpool. You are missing something though, and I would urge you to come and find it. I have no truck with any claims to supremacy by Liverpool fans born and bred locally. That they were raised to support the greatest team the world was ever seen as a privilege not a right. They have obligations that come with their inheritance. The vast majority, in my experience, tacitly understand this.
One of the biggest changes that happens to the way you support Liverpool when you live in the city, having previously been an outsider, is the appreciation of Everton Football Club and its people. ‘They’ are all around you. Not quite as multifarious as they’d have us believe, but there are loads of them nonetheless. And if you ever come to live here, many will become your friends.
The omnipresent Blues remind Liverpool that they are of Liverpool. The Reds have conquered the world in previous lives, and will do so again. The Reds attract legions of admirers from across the oceans. The Reds are much lauded in the main. But not by the Blues. The Blues are there to remind Reds that they will always be rooted, entrenched, manacled to the great sea port, to the mighty river.
Liverpool FC became the Liverpool FC it became because key individuals understood the role of the city in making the sporting institution what it was to become. Key individuals – managers – continue to understand this. Gerard Houllier got it. Rafa Benitez too. Now Jürgen Klopp.
Well, Klopp thinks he gets it. He thinks he’s seen what it’s all about. How could anyone experience Anfield when it was rocking in the way it did in April, when Liverpool turned defeat into dramatic victory over Borussia Dortmund, and not get the glory, the heaven that Liverpool FC can represent? Go to Goodison though, Jürgen. Go watch the Reds play at Goodison. Feel the heat. Win, draw or lose, your perceptions of what is implied in the stewardship that you’ve been granted will alter.
I’m not in the business of calling Merseyside derbies. They exist in their own realm. And I’m not saying ‘the form book goes out of the window’ because it doesn’t, but there will always be a contest. On Wednesday night, Liverpool systematically dismantled Middlesbrough. It was a brilliant performance, especially in the second half. One, two, three-nil. Game over. Middlesbrough surrendered. Everton won’t surrender. Not least at Goodison. Not at three-nil down, and certainly not before a ball is kicked.
I’ll be in our end, on Monday night. I’m not looking forward to it. It’s a very disconcerting feeling to be just yards from the sanctity of your home ground and to feel like you’ve been swallowed whole by a whale that you must fight to the death, from within, or you’ll never get out. There is no ground where you feel as an away supporter as if you are effectively on the pitch with your team. Goodison’s claustrophobic stands assure it.
There’s no worse place on earth to lose a football match than at Goodison. I could say that there’s no better place to win, but it wouldn’t be as true. Having said that, I’m also looking at a league table that shows Chelsea nine points ahead of the mighty Reds, and my misty eye feels like it’s clearing up by the second. What is becoming very clear is that Liverpool FC simply have a job to do on Monday night.
So take your new Liverpool team into the belly of the beast, Jürgen, and win for us. You’ll know where you are when that happens. When you’ve punched the air for the final time, and hugged the last lad of the evening, breathe in. Breathe in deeply, and smell the Mersey. You’ll be inhaling a cocktail of weird shit, but once you get it down in your lungs all the exhaling in the world will never shift it.
The 11 breathless Mersey marvels in red:
Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana ; Mane, Firmino, Origi.
Buy a TAW Player subscription for Crimbo: Three, six and 12-month options, plus a special Anfield Wrap card!