MY granddad on my mum’s side had only a passing interest in football. He would never go to a game with me but he would drive me and my brother down to Anfield on weekdays to hang round the old Main Stand car park waiting for the Liverpool team coach to bring the players back from their morning’s training at Melwood. This is around 1980. I’d have been around 12 or 13 years old.
My granddad lived in a village in Cheshire called Cuddington so the drive to Anfield took under an hour. I was born and brought up in North London but became a Liverpool supporter in 1977 aged 10. My mum was from Cuddington and when I became a Liverpool fan its proximity to Anfield, home of the Mighty Reds, was not lost on me. Let’s just say I got a whole lot fonder of my grandparent’s on my mum’s side from 1977 onwards.
Every half term, Easter and Christmas holiday I’d make the train journey up north. My beaming nan and granddad waiting to greet me and my brother at Hartford station. They were so very pleased to see us. They were the best grandparents a kid could ever have. In more ways than they’ll ever have known.
So Arthur would take me and my brother Andy down to Anfield and we’d stand, usually in the rain, in that now-gone car park, loomed over by the old Main Stand, waiting patiently for the lads. We’d usually fill some of the time by visiting the old club shop. If you don’t remember it, I’d best compare it to an old village sub-post office. But if you don’t remember it you probably don’t know what an old village sub-post office looks like either. They both looked a bit shit.
The walls of the old club shop were clad in those old crappy pine tongue and groove boards. There was a Formica counter and a back counter on which the wares of the shop were displayed. There weren’t many wares in the old club shop. All you could get were key rings, the current edition of the official Liverpool FC yearbook (a fine, underrated and essential tome) and an array of A4-sized glossy portrait photos of each of the first-team squad. To the best of my hazy recall, there were no replica shirts. I’d celebrate a new signing by going to that shop and buying a glossy A4 portrait of the new player in his Liverpool kit. I think I still have my glossy Frank McGarvey photo somewhere at the bottom of a drawer.
The Liverpool FC yearbook was particularly important as the document that me and Andy would politely ask the Liverpool players to sign as they climbed from their coach in the old Main Stand car park. I still have Ian Rush’s autograph. I got it from him when none of the other kids were interested in him. He’d not played a single game for Liverpool since signing from Chester City. I don’t think most of the other fans knew who he was. I did though. I made that kind of thing my business. I still do, and I’ve taught my two boys to do the same. My Danny has been diving on Reds youth teamers quietly enjoying a Nando’s in Liverpool One, demanding autographs, since he could walk.
I started writing this today because I was reminded of something my granddad Arthur always used to say about football. As I said, he wasn’t overly concerned with the game other than to show camaraderie with his grandsons, but he’d watch Match Of The Day and keep himself broadly informed. Arthur wasn’t a chatty guy. Stoic, old world, not a big talker. When he did pipe up though he was firm in his convictions. I only remember him ever saying two things about football. I was always keen to know what adults thought about football. My own dad just had no interest in it, so I think I always craved a football mentor. The kind of arl arse father figure scouse kids take for granted. In my experience, Liverpool kids all but emerge into the world with a comprehensive range of football opinions and vocabulary. They’re hearing it in the womb.
Arthur, my granddad, had only two opinions ever on the greatest game the world will ever see, on the most important thing that isn’t important, on the opiate of the people. Opinion number one — that Nottingham Forest’s ‘70s-’80s captain John McGovern had an extraordinary talent for being able to run backwards. And he wasn’t joking or being cynical in making that observation. He was genuinely impressed by McGovern’s backwards running. Opinion number two — and this one rocked me right back, took the breath out of me — was that football “is a bit of a lucky game”. He didn’t mean it was blessed. He meant that the element of chance in the sport was all pervading.
I was broken. Could this really be true? What if it was true? He seemed so sure, and he wasn’t sure about that much. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t rest, his words going around and around. It’s all just luck. Luck is everything in football. Face it, it’s a lucky game.
So was it all a dream then? Were the European Cups and the leagues, and the heroes, and the moments, and the goals, and ecstasy and the pain just part of a big mad game of snakes and ladders? Or like playing a fruit machine at best?
Time passed. I cogitated and ruminated and I eventually made sense of his bold claim. I settled on my own truth that being the best in the sport was a deserved and earned thing but it was undeniable that chance came into play at certain key moments. In maturity, I now think that the game is won by the team that reacts best, and has the talent to react best, to a series of random events. Darts is the first sport I can think of which has as near as dammit zero element of chance within its enterprise. Now let’s change the rules so that 22 players gather around the board simultaneously and are asked to throw their three darts as quickly as possible from a referee’s whistle. Oh, and the door to the hall is open and there’s a hurricane blowing outside. And the floor the players are standing on is wet. And then they’ve also let in thousands of people to sings songs about them as they throw their darts. Some complimentary, others not so. All that. That’s the undertaking that is trying to win a football match. It all feels very chancey.
Liverpool were taking Manchester City to task on their own ground two weeks ago when Sadio Mane decided to raise his foot a few inches higher than he might have done on a hundred other occasions. When City ‘keeper Ederson Moraes decided to dip his head a few inches lower than he might have done ordinarily. When referee Jon Moss took it upon himself to send the Liverpool man off for an offence a hundred other referees would have deemed only worthy of the yellow card rebuke.
Four days later Roberto Firmino steps up to take a penalty, with the odds of him scoring over 80 per cent, with a kick to put Liverpool 3-1 up and on their way to near certain victory over Sevilla, but misses.
One week ago, Anfield, Liverpool versus Burnley. With five minutes to play a referee and linesman miss a foul in the penalty area on Mohamed Salah that 20 other officials would have seen.
Tuesday night — Liverpool away at Leicester in the League Cup. Alexander Mark David Oxlade-Chamberlain closes in on a certain opening Liverpool goal. His strike collides with a defender’s leg and spins harmlessly over the crossbar. About 45 minutes later, Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki finds himself in a very similar situation, but sees his effort deflect off a Liverpool defender’s leg and into the Liverpool goal. 1-0. Not to Liverpool. 1-0 to Leicester, and a game is changed inexorably.
From last week into this week I’ve been watching the wires and observing the pattern of chatter. There’s a growing restlessness in Liverpool FC land. Kicking off is the order of the day. Players are getting slaughtered, the manager’s role is being questioned, and few seem to be looking forward to the next game.
I think of my granddad Arthur’s maxim, and I think of the past fortnight we’ve experienced. Some of me thinks — there are definitely times in the life of a football fan that it seems inescapable that fate has been disproportionately cruel. The other part of me just got to thinking about my granddad and how badly I still miss him. I also miss who I was and how I felt in that rain-sodden car park in the shadow of the old Main Stand. Nothing could dampen my spirits then. Nothing would make me stop counting the minutes to when I next got to see Liverpool play. I didn’t really have many adult voices around me then telling me how it all actually was. About how I should feel.
In times like this, I should be so lucky to ever be in that place again.
Predicted 11: Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Gomez, Moreno; Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum; Coutinho, Salah, Firmino.
Kick off: 5.30pm on BT Sport 1
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Odds: Leicester 3-1, Draw 14-5, Liverpool 20-21
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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That’s really quite lovely. In all of us, no matter how submerged, we have to hold on to and maintain the romance for the game that first made us fall in love with it all those years ago. That’s why staying off Twitter and other corrosive, soul-sapping fora is the way forward. It’s not that there aren’t valid opinions out there, but the white noise of angst, of ‘I want it now’ self-absorption, the lack of nuance, the rowing and din – bollocks to it. Unusually, last weekend I found myself attending Millwall v Leeds at the Den, and the one thing I took from it was the sheer simple joy a lot of people had in the match, even if some of the chanting etc was a bit gnarly. Maybe we need a bit of that gnarl, but we also have to remember why we need any of it – for the simple love of watching these do what we would do all day long if we had the chance.
Up the Reds.
Probably my favourite piece these past few weeks from any writer and any site.
lover reading that,bring back memories,to me,of 50s/60s as a young fan,so simple,to me.boys pen,changing end at half time,playing under flood lights,the kop in full roar,bad tea in plastic cups,great pies,getting the bus to the game,the conduct reeling of the tickets in his ticket machine.the excitement,tanner boys pen,bunk over in to the kop.win,drawer,lose,back next game,oh to be young again,oh and 720 pounds now,hahahahaahahaha
Thanks Rob, excellent piece.
I haven’t experienced everything you have Rob, just different stuff but I understand and appreciate the sentiment.
I’m with the side that wants to persevere and overcome the issues we all feel is holding back the team and Jurgen.
So let’s open a can of whoop-ass as we say here in the States on Leicester this Saturday!
Up the Reds!!!
Here in Albuquerque, NM I listen to nearly every podcast you guys put out and read several of the articles as well. I love them all.
But this one was one of the best. I am very sentimental, much to my wife’s chagrine when she asks me to clean out my closet, and this article helped remind me why I love sports. It is easy to get caught up in the “keeping up with the Jones'” and focusing solely on winning. It’s time we just enjoyed the games.
I have begun to think that many fans think “YNWA” means only when you win. It seems the motto born in a time of success has become a hollow anthem to many. We as a fan base have to change.
Loved that. Thanks Rob
Very excellent piece – the best teams are both talented and lucky
Like Roy I remember men in heavy coats and caps shuffling from the Kop to Annie Road end at half time before the Kemlyn Road stand was built and surviving the Boys Pen. And I agree with Arthur that luck or chance plays a very significant role within a match and a season. But, trust me, Gordon Milne could run backwards faster than anyone
Brilliant and evocative article. Thanks Rob.
Cheers, Rob. Lovely read. Somehow made me appreciate what I have for a moment and remember that I’ll inevitably have to let go of it all.
Boss tha Rob :)
You’re right about the old club shop too, what a place!
Bravo, Rob. Take a bow.
Magnificent and beautifully put together
Up the car park reds
great read as ever, Rob. Beautiful writing, thought provoking and informative (I spent all of tuesday night wondering who this Alexander Mark David guy was playing alongside Oxlade-Chamberlain)!!
up the 12 man reds!
Not that often so many people say nice things, so thanks everyone. It means a lot.
Good read Rob. That club shop haha, it also had mugs usually ones with pictures of League Championships or European Cups on them which we’d just won! What a time!
Liking the style of this piece, but I contest a central tenet, namely that it is a question of fortune… good teams don’t need luck, they force the issue. The worst thing a team could do against a classic Lfc side of 70s or 80s was score, pretty much guaranteed a 4 or 5 goal response.
Profligacy in front of goal and slow reactions to incidents in our penalty area have been the main contributors to our poorer results this season (and previous recent seasons looking back). Both are a consequence of insufficient training / coaching…
Lovely article that. Time for a slice of fortune for these Redmen I think.
Sensational article that. Cheers Rob.
Brilliant piece Rob, excellently written.
And good memories of the old club shop, it really was shit…..
Wonderful evocative piece of writing.
Excellent piece, Rob – you really express beautifully the feelings I have towards this great club.
I read a lot of great writing on this site and appreciate it all, however this this the first time I have been compelled to respond. Really well done, thank you Rob.
Your line about victory belonging to the team that reacts best, and has the talent to react best, to a series of random events really hits the mark for me. I’m in NZ so it’s hard to watch all of every game, but I’ve seen enough to know that there is a very thin line between LFC 4-2 Hoffenheim and LFC 2-2 Sevilla. That is football, and if we wanted to watch the best team win every game we’d only watch rugby.
Loved that Rob. Brought a tear to my eye. A few times you’ve done that, particularly that time you wrote about skipping the game to watch it at home with your lads. Not bad at this old writing malarkey.
This is what football writing should be. Stories like that allow us all to see above the cesspit that is social media, especially Twitter. None of that bollocks back in the car park days.
We’re meant to be supporters. We can moan and say what we think’s happening, but the day we don’t look forward to the Reds playing is the day it’s over for us.
Poetry in Emotion tra la la!
you’re a sentimental bastard Mr Gutman and I for one am very grateful for your talented prose! a manifesto of perspective to help us all reset and refocus. Thanks mate, from Oz
Can’t imagine a better written preview to a game nobody seems to be looking forward to so much.
Really enjoyed this