No longer just an armchair supporter
After 36 years, loyal Liverpool fan Rob Lyons finally gets to sing ‘You'll Never Walk Alone’ at the Spion Kop.
It’s been 36 years and it’s been getting kinda embarrassing. It all started in 1974, as I watched the men in plain grey beat the men in stripes three-nil in the FA Cup final (we only had a black-and-white TV back then). Then I knew I wanted to be a Liverpool fan. But, until last night, I’d been firmly rooted in my armchair.
Before that inspiring cup final, I’d been a Birmingham City fan. We only lived a mile from St Andrew’s, the City ground, so it was natural. They weren’t actually a bad team then, as Birmingham City teams go. They had Trevor Francis (just a young pup at the time, but soon to be Britain’s first million-pound player), Bob Latchford up front (later to bang in 30 goals in a season for Everton), Latchford’s brother Peter in goal (before he moved north to mind the back door for Celtic) and Kenny Burns (who got over his propensity to get sent off to become a lynchpin of Brian Clough’s classic Nottingham Forest team).
But instinctively, even at the age of six, I knew that supporting the Blues (pronounced more like ‘blouse’) would be a vale of tears. If you were going to support anyone, why not the best team? Liverpool weren’t champions in 1974; that honour went to Dirty Leeds. But as far as my young mind was concerned, Liverpool had won the one domestic football match you could see live on the telly – against Malcolm Macdonald’s Newcastle – and were by this very fact the Best Team. They had Kevin Keegan, for pity’s sake. Nuff said.
As it happens, I wasn’t that much of an armchair fan at first. I spent many a night during the glory days of the 1970s, as Liverpool dominated European football, listening to Liverpool matches on Radio 2’s European Soccer Special while dribbling a football up and down the entire length of our dining room. It was only 10 feet, but far enough to jink past a couple of imaginary defenders every two minutes.
In 1977, Liverpool won another Game On TV: the European Cup final, beating Borussia Moenchengladbach three-one in Rome. I was just amazed there was a team called Borussia Moenchengladbach. You could use a name like that as mouthwash. I had a 25 pence bet with my dad that Liverpool would win, which I delightedly collected on. He died two weeks later, so it’s kind of my last significant memory of him. Stuff like that sticks in your head; supporting your team becomes the backdrop to all the great incidents of growing up.
That was a traumatic summer all round. Kevin Keegan moved to Hamburg. Elvis died when my favourite singer was still the fat one from Memphis and not the speccy one from Liverpool. Then I fell out big style with my best mate Gerard McConnell, who had been a Liverpool fan like me, when he came into school wearing an Aston Villa top. He’d decided to jump ship to Villa because of their new superstar Scottish striker, Andy Gray. Wot a splitter!
Villa were a thorn in my side for a while. When I had to change secondary schools a few years later, and I was the new kid getting a hard time – not least for being a Liverpool fan – Aston Villa only went and won the European Cup. Aston Villa. They finished about twelfth in the league and still managed to beat Bayern Munich in the final. The upshot of this dramatic victory was that they managed to make my life even more of a misery. Thankfully, the Reds won Big Cup again the following season. Normal service was resumed.
Admittedly, the past few years have been pretty disappointing. Apart from the blip that was the Champions League win in 2005, Liverpool have been living in the shadow of United, Arsenal and Chelsea. And with Manchester City and Spurs suddenly having significantly more cash than Liverpool, our ambitions might soon be top six rather than top dogs. In fact, one of the main reasons I was able to see them so easily last night was because they are playing in the Europa League, the mutton-dressed-as-lamb of European football having finished seventh in the Premier League last season.
So uninterested are the club and the fans in this tournament that you could still buy tickets at the turnstile for last night’s game and significant chunks of the ground lay empty.
Still, I was fulfilling a long-standing ambition: standing on the Spion Kop at Anfield, possibly the most famous bit of stadium in the world, singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ full blast. Even though I’ve been to plenty of matches elsewhere before, the thing that’s striking about actually Being There is how it is so different from TV. Suddenly it’s got a pulse, the players look like normal human beings who just happen to be good at football. Well, some of them.
I was watching the game with two other Liverpool-supporting Anfield virgins. They’ve got much better excuses than I, though. One was born in Brazil and then moved from country to country as he grew up, but mostly lived in Belgium. The other one grew up in Lebanon at the height of the civil war. Those are pretty decent excuses, I reckon. I have no such get-out clause.
And the match? It was, to flog an old cliché to death, a game of two halves. Despite Joe Cole scoring after all of 25 seconds, the Romanians quickly equalised and for stretches of the first half the small contingent of Steaua Bucharest fans were outsinging the Kop. But in the second half, the Reds finally asserted control, scored three goals and ran out convincing winners. Happy days, even if it is only the Europa League, to watch my team score four – and finally getting the millstone of never having been to Anfield off my back.
Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.
Duleep Allirajah is away.
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