While You’ll Never Walk Alone unites us in our love of Liverpool, its beauty is in the differing meaning it has between supporters…
I’M glad we didn’t play on Saturday January 13 this year.
We all have dates we can’t face. Some of us have certain fixtures. Paul, my brother-in-law, can no longer go to the Anfield derby and I don’t think I could stand on a terrace with that date on my watch. This is for the same reason.
On Friday January 5, 2018, he went to his last ever Anfield derby with my younger sister, Karen. It was the Virgil van Dijk derby. That one. They’d just got back from a post-Christmas break in Lanzarote and had timed their return to take in the third round of the FA Cup if it happened to be at Anfield. They got lucky with the draw.
Eight days later, a Saturday morning, he went into work to get some admin done. My sister was snoring happily as he left. She was not when he returned. She had died in her sleep. An undiagnosed heart condition. She was just 48. This Saturday was the sixth anniversary of her death and it’s not getting any easier.
For Paul and I then, January 13 is the worst day of the year. I dread it and this year it fell on a Saturday again.
Throughout the day I started thinking back to what I was doing at that time. At 9.30am, when we think she died, I was at a Taekwondo class. At 11am when he found her, I was on my way to meet my mate, Tony. By 5pm I was sobbing in the passenger seat of my mate Dev’s car on the way back home to Liverpool, trying to work out what the hell had happened and what I was supposed to do now.
I wasn’t supposed to go to the Manchester City game, the 4-3, the next day. I didn’t have a ticket, but Paul gave me his and I thought seeing my mates would help. Of course it did. I’m lucky and blessed in that respect.
It may seem strange to do that. To go to a football match so soon after the trauma of the day before and it’s hard to explain why I did. You could say I went because it was a top of the table clash, but I would have been there had it been a pre-season friendly.
Why? Because I needed a touchstone. I needed familiarity, normality and the sense of belonging to something when I was at my most lost. Karen and I were always close, but we connected strongly on what the club and city meant to us.
In any case, I can barely remember anything about the game anyway. My plan was to go in for You’ll Never Walk Alone and then slip away for a long walk back to my Mum’s. Another mate, Andy, was with me so I sat with him instead. I’ve never seen the goals since, in the same way that Paul has never seen Virgil’s derby winner since the week before.
You’ll Never Walk Alone I do remember. I howled like a banshee, causing the people around me in the Main Stand to turn around and wonder what was going on. Andy, arm around me, told them I was fine while gesturing for them to face the pitch again. I remember that more than anything about the game.
That’s probably because I’ve seen it from the spectator side before. I remember a bog-standard home game against Wigan where a group in the Kemlyn took it in turns to hug a woman during You’ll Never Walk Alone. I didn’t know why but I could guess.
On another occasion in the 90s, I stood next to an old man on The Kop who silently let tears roll down his cheeks during the same song. “I’m alright, lad,” he mumbled in that strangely bass, bronchial gruff tone our grandfathers used to have, when I put my hand on his shoulder.
Two days after the funeral I was back at Anfield. The club had printed an obituary for her in the programme. Around this time they were subject to a lot of criticism for a lack of signings in the recently closed transfer window, but I couldn’t join in with the online barbs. They’d just published something that made my mum smile for the first time in weeks. There wasn’t many smiles around at that time.
This is just one story. There are countless others like it. I’ve a friend whose January 13 is January 6.
As I said, I’ve seen other similar stories around the ground and it tells me that, though the game is criticised daily and we frown at our own club even when it’s doing well, it’s more than just a place where lads kick around a bag of wind.
The stature of your club doesn’t matter. If you feel a connection to it, have generations before you committed to it, or just feel that its ethos fits in with your own, then it becomes ingrained in your marrow.
Over-sentimental? Possibly, yes. I can say why people would say that, but that’s just an accusation from people who haven’t walked in the same shoes or experienced the same permutations of life. When I got that news the day before, I wanted to come home to see my family and then come to a different kind of home.
It’s why I’ve muttered “that’s it, I’m not going anymore,” on countless occasions, but knew full well that I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t scrape out the feeling that this is my club, in my city, and the nine letters strike something deep within me. Within us.
At midnight on Saturday January 13, 2018, I sat on my mum’s couch and watched the date change from the 13th to the 14th. I felt relief. The worst day of my life was now over and, though it wouldn’t be any easier now, I’d never have to go through that day again.
Six years but it feels like a fortnight. That will get easier. Not yet, but it will do and I’ll always hate that date.
Miss you, sis, and you were right. Virgil looks the business.