Monday, 2 May 2011

The Leaving Of Liverpool

It was Bank Holiday Monday 28th August 1967 when I first walked down this grimy back alley towards the famous Spion Kop - a day that would change my life. A nervous fourteen year old with my nineteen year old brother, I queued at the gate, handed over my four shillings and pushed the turnstile to enter a magical new world of noise, colour and the smell of fried onions and beer. I climbed the steps and looked down on the mass of humanity swaying up and down the terrace. It was a carnival atmosphere. The then current number one "San Francisco Flowers In Your Hair" was playing over the tannoy and the crowd (all short back and sides -the least likely bunch of hippies you could imagine) was singing along with enthusiasm. I can still remember the team from Tommy Lawrence in goal to Peter Thompson on the wing and it was the home debut for Tony Hateley the very first £100,000 player.

Liverpool beat Arsenal 2-0 and this impressionable teenager loved every second. The match was exciting but it was the Kop that I adored. That mass of humanity - the fainting casualties being passed down over heads to the waiting St John's Ambulance team at the pitch side - the chewing gum sellers catching coins from the crowd and hurling back the packet of Wrigleys with unerring accuracy - the humour - the tribal sense of belonging - the impossibly tall police officer with peaked cap and enormous white moustache marshaling his troops and given the obvious nickname "The Walrus"- the constant ebb and flow of the crowd who would cover yards of steps throughout the game. It was inevitable that I would become a regular.

And that's what happened. For the following forty four years (apart from a break while the kids were small and money was tight) I was a regular on the Kop. This is the view from the season ticket spot that I have held for the past twelve years. I've had some amazing experiences - the night that we beat St Etienne en route to the first European Cup, the famous 4-3 against Newcastle, the night that Michael Thomas broke our hearts with the last minute goal that sent Nick Hornby into delirium, Inter City Fairs Cup Finals, beating Munich 1860 8-0, the Champions League Semi finals against Chelsea when the ground was pulsating to a level that must have registered on the Richter scale.

But despite all these highs, the thrill started to subside in recent years. It started with the inception of the Premier League when Sky came and dictated the times of the games with no thought for the paying fans. Suddenly the game was awash with money and the prices escalated to pay the spiraling wages. Grounds were packed with people clad in ridiculously expensive nylon replica shirts that changed for almost every season and competition. (I've still got my 1967 scarf - the money men would love me) .The game became glamorous - a million miles from those heady days of 1967. Teams were crammed full of mercenaries - that's not a criticism of the players, who can blame them chasing the best deal they could get - money talked and the league developed into a near monopoly.  In Athens which my son and I reached via a tortuous route that involved half a dozen flights and a drive through the wilds of Macedonia we witnessed horrendous behaviour from fans who converted the beautiful Syntagma Square into a public urinal, stormed the turnstiles in their hundreds and robbed many supporters with tickets of their chance to see the Champions League Final. My heart was no longer in it. But you don't pack up the habit of a lifetime and there were still a few flickering embers that have kept me going until now.

I decided recently not to renew my season ticket and, as we're off to France next week, yesterday I watched for my very last time as Liverpool beat Newcastle 3-0. I said on here that Kenny Dalglish was not the messiah when he was appointed. Perhaps I was wrong as the team played with a spirit that I have not seen for some years (although notably without sour faced Steve Gerrard who has been a miserable, glowering presence on the pitch and whose absence went unnoticed). Despite this resurgence the football was lacklustre, the atmosphere humourless and uninspiring and the effort from Newcastle was an insult to the thousands who had travelled from the North East to watch them play (mysteriously in an all white strip - oh yes of course the black and white stripes would clash with er red). But the new Liverpool didn't reignite those fading embers. I spent the game watching the clock run down itching to get back home.

Strangely as I walked down the steps and left the Kop for the very last time, the announcer played a record over the PA system. Without a word of a lie, San Francisco Flowers In Your Hair. Spooky or what?