IT’S a two home games in a week, week. The Southamptons are coming to ours on Wednesday night and then the Wolverhampton Wanderers are here on Saturday.
These aren’t the type of foes to stir memories of classic contests or to get the juices fully flowing. But they are both coming to Anfield. An important fact. We’re opening up the house for guests twice in a matter of days. This makes me feel excited and I’m not entirely sure why.
I’m going to work it out. Bear with me.
It might just be my subconscious harking back to the way our ground and our team used to make me feel as a kid. As a child brought up in London who had found the Reds aged 10 and never looked back, I have never taken Anfield for granted. Before I was old enough to be master of my own destiny, my visits to our home were rare pilgrimages. Before the age of 16, I’d see more aways than homes in a season.
The only way I got to go to Anfield was via the rouse of telling my mum that I really wanted to go and see her parents (my grandparents) who lived about 20 miles away from Liverpool. Every school holiday I managed to get myself packed off on the train to the north, like some sort of ‘40s refugee kid being dispatched from the big city to pastoral safety.
I loved being welcomed at Hartford station by my nan and grandad. Her, ruddy cheeked, all white bouffant and beaming, and him stoic, slicked back hair and pencil moustached, both every inch 1920s to 1950s Enid Blyton stereotypes. Everything about them and the lives that they had evolved made a kid feel safe. Especially one from a place as disjointed and chaotic as 1970s London often seemed.
With them, in their little house, in a village in Cheshire, just 20 miles away from my beloved Reds, I felt complete and at peace. My mini-breaks there (carefully scheduled to take place in every school holiday and around the fixture lists) were like a football-therapy retreat for me. Each day was about Liverpool FC in some form or other.
In a time before the internet and the mass commercialisation of British football, supporting your team from afar was no mean undertaking. The daily papers only really devoted space to the game by way of reporting what had happened in matches. There was virtually no live football on TV. If I wasn’t at a match I’d be listening to it on the radio. My build-up to the weekend’s fixtures started in the buying and reading of ‘Shoot’ or ‘Match’ on Wednesday.
Being near Liverpool in the holidays wasn’t just a treat because I knew I’d get to see the Reds in the flesh, it was a festival of Liverpool FC-related activities that included such joys as being able to buy and read the Liverpool Echo (which they sold in Cheshire villages and towns back then) and in being able to tune my radio to pick up BBC Radio Merseyside and sometimes even Radio City. I’d go through days just relishing listening to hourly sports bulletins about Liverpool and Everton. I didn’t mind that for most of the duration they were on a repeated loop, I just liked hearing the man on the radio talking about my football club.
Indulging in all of this, inevitably and somewhat subliminally, imbued me in the culture of Liverpool the city. The shite on the radio being talked to and by Rodge, Snelly, Billy and Wally, and all of those arl arses of yesteryear — day in, day out – had a further soothing, soporific, effect on me. We didn’t have these things in the south, in the big city. It was all very much my first sampling of northern calmness.
My father, did not have roots in the north, or indeed England, as my mother did. He was from everywhere. He was born in Zimbabwe to a single-mum Jewish refugee from The Holocaust — my ‘Omutti’ from Berlin. She was great, as was/is my dad, but to say they were as different from English northern working-class people as it’s possible to be would be an understatement. They embodied London to me — frantic, hyper-active, demanding, unpredictable.
The highlights of my periodic homages to the lands north of Watford were when I’d managed to contrive visits that enabled me to take in two – yes, count them, TWO – Liverpool FC home games in a week.
I couldn’t have given a shit whether we had Brentford in the League Cup followed by Luton on Saturday, or faced a double cup-league header with an Arsenal or a Manchester United, the mere fact of making the two pilgrimages was the stuff of dreams.
Kids from outside Liverpool who only get to do Anfield half a dozen times or so a season will understand what I’m trying to convey. If you were born and raised in the city you’ll never really know what I’m on about. My two lads, Danny and Raffy, have been indoctrinated and love everything about going to the match, but they’ll never know the anticipation I knew. They’re unlikely to ache for Anfield the way I did.
I wish I still ached that way for the place. Three decades of living within a 20-minute drive of the ground takes that hunger away a bit. I wouldn’t want it back though. I’m happy to swap the beautiful longing for the routine and complacent assured access. Not living near Liverpool FC is not something I can really contemplate.
So, when the fixture list aligns itself the way it has this week, something ancient in me is jolted back through time to the place which prompted this indulgent, sentimental excuse for a football match preview. The two homes in a week. That Southampton and Wolves are kind of faceless teams, in the wider scheme. That neither the League Cup or FA Cup overly matter, in the context of our biggest dreams. It’s the mundaneness that has me, I think. It feels like Liverpool FC raw. No frills, no sideshows. No Super Sundays. Just stripped back football. Liverpool FC for its own sake. Anfield, just because it’s Anfield.
A week to savour. Just me and my Reds.
The Wembley dreaming Liverpool FC 11: Karius; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Coutinho, Firmino, Sturridge.
Kick-off: 8pm (live on Sky Sports 1)
Last Match: Southampton 1 Liverpool 0
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Odds: Liverpool 8-15, Draw 7-2, Southampton 13-2