I’d planned to get the train from Crosby to Bank Hall and take a leisurely walk up towards the ground. This route would remind me of those teen years back in the early 1980s when I started going to watch Liverpool alone.
The journey to many home midweek matches over six or seven seasons, though I can recall scores and scorers like nobody’s business, have morphed into one single memory; of a dilapidated train station, an edgy North Liverpool wasteland in half-light, of a cold swirling gale and the squawk of seagulls about to swoop on discarded chippie papers. It’s the early rounds of the old European Cup, the opposition are Finnish part-timers, and only the die-hards are walking up. Grim times but warm remembrance.
The nostalgia will have to wait and I should probably retrace my youthful steps at night.
That’s enough justification to call a cab and head straight up. I’ve lost count of how many games I’ve been to but I’m looking forward to it; to meet up with mates I’ve barely seen all summer. The football largely stays irrelevant until the first ball is kicked. That said, my driver – that rarest of things a Liverpool-supporting cabbie – wants to talk footy. He talks the Reds up into title contenders; he’s passionate, he’s knowledgeable but isn’t going to the match. He’s one of a cast of thousands the City over.
Once on the street, it’s just past noon on Walton Breck Road. The Kop and it’s concourses are thronged with international Reds from all over. I make my way through the crowds, past the massive new Main Stand, towards the Anfield Road end of the ground.
This is Anfield, a big new hotel with a great outdoor space at the back, is an ideal meeting place. These couple of hours and a few after the game are about mateship and community. I have a quick drink with my old friend, Marc – now a Scottish borders exile – and his son, Josh. We bore the young lad with tales of 1982 and our first regular seasons.
Then it’s onto my Norwegian friends, Eddie and Mari, and Alan, as Scouse as they come and former owner of Merseyside’s last flat-top hairdo. Nick, another exile, is here from China and doesn’t mind admitting he’s “very excited”. The other lads – my Netherton mates, then my Dad, and my own son, Sam and his pal, Josh turn up. As ever, amid the chatter and the smiles, time flies. Too soon, it’s time to walk up.
I still manage to miss You’ll Never Walk Alone (standard behaviour) and after scaling four steep flight of steps, burdened with a heavy bladder, to the very back of The Kop, I’m hot and bothered. I didn’t need the Berghaus coat I brought to ward off predicted but non-existent heavy showers. Block 306 has a weather system of its own; its default climate, hot and sticky, even in winter. It’s like a sauna up there today and will be until the clocks go back.
Liverpool win 4-0. Mo Salah taps in for the opener, and in the second half gets a big hug off an errant teen who legs it onto the pitch.
Allez, Allez, Allez rains down from a giddy Kop and it’s like we’ve never been away. Substitute Dan Sturridge nets with his first touch to complete a facile rout. In between Sadio Mane scores twice and in trademark fashion I miss them both.
I can Sadio’s brace on tonight’s highlights. There’s chat and laughs to be had downstairs either side of half-time with more friends over a vastly overpriced can of San Miguel. Predictable hilarity ensues; there’s always something amid a well-meaning but vicious p*ss-taking environment.
Robbo and John Milburn – like bad Tories seduced by a “Beat the Queue” flyer, which might as well have read Beat the Plebs – have pre-ordered drinks from their seats. There’s no sign of their ale though which can only be collected from the middle of the three Kop concourses. They’re stranded and thirsty while the real 306 queue dodgers lash down a couple of liveners. Serves them right!
After the game we swap one sweat box for another. Guitarist and overnight sensation Jamie Webster is playing at The Halfway House, his unique brand of popular song adapted for Reds of all ages. But his predominately young following, the epitome of Liverpool youth culture, is a heart-warming crowd to mix in post-match. For those of us too old for all this, for a couple of hours the years slip away. We’re not quite ready to pass on the baton, but it’ll be in safe hands when we do.
Next week, we’re on our travels. It’s old London town next up and we can’t wait.
*Odds are subject to change