WELCOME to a new occasional feature on TAW, Talking Reds, where we talk to supporters about their love of Liverpool Football Club, current issues and whatever else takes our fancy. First up is BBC Five Live presenter and Metro football columnist COLIN MURRAY.
Hi Colin, first off thanks for taking the time to do this. First question then, growing up in Northern Ireland what got you into The Reds? Family, friends? A certain goal, a certain match?
No problem! Thanks for having me! Family played a part for sure. However, where I grew up, there was an old Scottish man who loved looking after all us kids. He’d teach us to play chess and ludo and all sorts. Sounds a bit strange in this day and age but I grew up in an era when people left their doors open, and he was lovely. He’d sit us round and tell us stories of Bill Shankly. He was a brilliant storyteller and it was probably the only time I was ever quiet. He’d totally have us in the palm of his hand, talking about how Shanks built Liverpool and about glory nights under Bob Paisley. I was born in 1977 so he had enough to go on! I think he may have been responsible for dozens of four year old Liverpool fans in my area. Sometimes we’d watch games at his house too. Really happy memories. So, I can’t ever remember a time when it was ever in doubt.
What’s the support for Liverpool like in Northern Ireland compared with other clubs?
When I was young, it seemed everyone was either ‘red or red’… Liverpool or Manchester United. I grew up in east Belfast, so you can imagine how much impact George Best had in many people’s decisions! There was a lot of Liverpool though, partly due to the size of the club and then, throughout such huge success in the seventies and eighties, that number inevitably exploded! I can safely say I was a Liverpool fan before I really knew what the European Cup was! Ha ha.
I would add that I remember some Arsenal fans, and a few Spurs. There was a huge Irish connection to Arsenal over the decades and, of course, you had Pat Jennings playing for both, and the legendary Danny Blanchflower graced White Hart Lane.
These days, support for Liverpool in Northern Ireland is still strong, but there’s certainly a wider spread of allegiance than what I remember growing up.
We visited Belfast for a live show back in November, we watched Northern Ireland play Azerbaijan and then caught a game at Cliftonville – we loved it.
I know you did! My mate Marty was at your show and said it was, and I quote, “fucking brilliant”. So glad you went to a Northern Ireland home game. What a win that was too. Azerbaijan were not conceding many goals, we weren’t scoring many, and we battered them! I keep an eye on the Irish League and used to go as a youngster but I’ve lived in London for 17 years now so it has been a while.
I go to as many Northern Ireland games as possible. I’ve managed to make Germany and Czech Republic away this campaign. Less said about Prague the better! Ha ha. Funnily enough, the one Belfast team I still keep a real eye on are the Belfast Giants. I was at their very first game many moons ago and I still try to make a couple every season. Ice hockey, by the way, for those wondering!
You’re a regular at both Liverpool and Northern Ireland matches, but if you had to choose which night you would relive — would it be Istanbul or Northern Ireland’s historic win over Ukraine at the Euros!?
That’s so difficult. I interviewed Jamie Carragher recently and we talked about the whole idea of ‘Scouse not English’. I have only one Scouse friend who goes regularly to England games. Loads who don’t. It’s different for me, though.
You know when we sing, “they say our days are numbered, we’re not famous any more”? I sing, “they say their days are numbered, they’re not famous any more”. I’ve always been acutely aware that I’m not born and bred in Liverpool. I always try to respect that and not try to be some kind of plastic Scouser, even though I feel an intense love for, and connection with, the city.
It’s different being a Northern Ireland fan. I’m so proud of the vast majority of the supporters, who show Northern Ireland in such a positive light. Qualifying for the Euros allowed us to show the world what we are like… loud, proud, friendly party-animals! We even got an official award from the city of Paris for our behaviour.
So, the Euros was about more than football, and I am Northern Irish first. I hope I explained that in a semi-cohesive way! So, I think I’d choose one night in Lyon over one night in Istanbul.
And besides, I don’t think I could relive the afternoon taxi ride into the Istanbul hills to get crates of beer with alcohol in them! That was scary!
What was your first Liverpool match? What are your memories of that day?
As a kid I don’t think I even asked to go to a game. It was simply not an option. We once took two ferries to France but apart from that, we only ever went to visit family in Winchester for holidays every few years. The rest of the time we holidayed at home.
The idea of having money to go to a Division One football match wasn’t even on the table. I’d have been slapped for suggesting it! Besides, my mum had remarried and he was a Spurs fan! Ha ha.
So I was 17, I think. I was a young trainee reporter and a guy called Greg, a senior editor, took me to my first game with a group of Ulster journalists. To this day I don’t know why they allowed a young gobshite like me into their group but it was amazing. I remember every second.
We beat Sheffield Wednesday 4-1. Steve McManaman scored a couple, but that day I saw Ian Rush score. Let me repeat that… I saw Ian Rush score. And I saw Nicol and Barnes and Fowler.
But the thing I remember most was a pass that Jan Molby played from, in my teenage memory, the edge of our box to almost the edge of their box. On a sixpence. I remember the entire ground gasping and then applauding it like we’d just witnessed a magic trick. What a player he was.
So yeah, really fond memories of my first trip to Anfield.
What do you make of Liverpool, the city? Do you see any similarities with Belfast?
I think there’s huge similarities with Belfast and Liverpool. They are not alone as cities that suffered with the demise of the shipyards, and the struggle to make ends meet in the many years that followed. The humour is similar in Liverpool, too. It’s a city that keeps its sons and daughters grounded, just like Belfast.
Its a tough city, but full of humour and poetry and bullshit and warmth and intelligence and innovation… just like Belfast.
There’s a song called Northern Industrial Town by Billy Bragg. I recommend everyone reading this from Liverpool or Belfast has a listen to that.
I see the change in Liverpool for sure. We used to go to a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet beside Lime Street. Gutted that went!
Liverpool, like Belfast, has a real beating heart. Less separation between the dirty basement clubs and bars, the fast-food joints and the more ‘upmarket’ places. That’s probably the wrong word but you get what I mean.
I love nights out in Liverpool. One minute we’re in a spit and sawdust basement listening to old soul music, and the next we’re having a cocktail in Berry and Rye, which might just be my favourite ‘treat’ bar in the world.
So, yeah, I love the city and not just the club.
What do you make of this current Liverpool side? How does it compare to sides you’ve watched in the past?
You know what, I support the team no matter what. It’s certainly unfair to compare it to various teams of the past.
Right now, I think we have the guts of a really good team. Coutinho we have to keep. Mane is to the manor born. I like Matip. He has a way to go but he has the type of swagger and attitude that reminds me of a young Hyypia.
We have other really good players, but we need more ‘Klopp’ signings though, players that suit his vision.
And we have sold more, money wise, than we’ve bought over the past two seasons. Klopp is a really good manager but he’s not David Copperfield. Back him more and we’ll be right there.
Where do you think Liverpool will finish this season?
It’s a crap shoot for fourth. Problem is, you win leagues by beating the teams in the bottom half of the table. That’s why Chelsea are where they are, and we are where we are.
I think Chelsea, Spurs and City are top four, then it’s us, Arsenal or United. I hope I’m wrong. I hope we go on a run of wins. It could happen for any of the clubs in and around us. Hopefully it’s us.
Thoughts on Jürgen Klopp?
I have a rule. When you manage Liverpool, I back you, 100 per cent. I try, at least, not to bitch and moan if we have a bad month or two. So, I’m right behind him but, strangely enough, I didn’t unequivocally love him straight away. When he sat on the bench for the League Cup penalty shoot out, or told us to stop singing his name during a match — Leicester at home in September — it kind of annoyed me!
But listen, these are minor things and I say this with a smile on my face. His energy is fantastic, his passion is immense, and, most importantly, he’s a top manager. A smart operator. His touchline antics are probably similar to how us fans would be if we managed Liverpool.
So, yeah, proper respect for him for sure. He ‘gets’ what matters to the club, on and off the field.
100 per cent behind him, even if on the odd occasion he leaves me scratching my head!
And on the owners and the general direction of the club?
As I said, I’d like to see a few more quid on players this summer.
The ground improvements I like. I remember seeing it for the first time and, as a baseball fan, the whole red brick and green exposed metal is pure Fenway Park! Not a surprise, I suppose.
So, owners are owners I suppose.
The key for me is integrity, connection with the community and maximising ambition on the pitch, without spending beyond our means or hoarding profits. These days we keep a constant eye on what’s going on. It’s a huge business, and often not for the better.
Last one, summertime then, in what positions do Liverpool need to strengthen?
Being honest, quite a few if we are looking to compete at the very top. It’s not about 11 any more, or even 15. We definitely need more depth to the squad. That’s clear.
Hopefully some of our younger players will flourish, but I’d say we need to strengthen in several key positions.
As I said, we have a nucleus of special players, but we have suffered this season when we’ve had inevitable injuries and the issue with the Africa Cup of Nations.
So, more depth, and the next Luis Suarez please! Where are ya?! Ha ha.
Thanks for the chat! YNWA!