De-Panning the Scouse
By Kevin Henning, Thu 26 January 2012 20:18
It was with some trepidation that I decided to take my ten year old son to Anfield for the League Cup semi-final second leg. Having never visited the red side of Stanley Park, I had heard many a horror story about the hostility that a visit to Liverpool can bring. What helped me decide to go was the fact that the famous old ground's days are numbered given Liverpool's desperate need for a spanking new stadium to rival those of Arsenal and Manchester City. The fact that it was a cup semi-final under the floodlights with an inflated away allocation made this a mouth watering prospect and one that I wasn't gong to miss.
Of course recently, the scare stories surrounding Anfield Road have increased tenfold due to the race issues involving both Luis Suarez and Oldham Athletic's Tom Adeyemi. Reading the reaction of some rival fans, stepping into Liverpool would be akin to attending a 'Warriors' like gang warfare meeting with the Nogzy, the Crocky Crew, Combat 18 and the Ku Klux Klan all in attendance.
I arranged to meet an old mate who is Liverpool born and bred. I've not seen John for the best part of a decade and thought it would be an ideal chance to meet up, chat about nights out of the days when we were both young and single and use his knowledge of the area to find a quiet, safe spot to park with the chance of finding my car in the same condition I left it in. On the day before the match, John advised me to hide any hint of sky blue on both myself and the lad. It didn't fill me with confidence that the night would be an enjoyable, worry free event.
I needn't have worried. We parked on the Everton side of Stanley Park on a side street just off County Road. There were no scallywags asking if they could "mind your car mate?" and we had a short walk through the Anfield estate towards the ground. We stopped at a pub imaginatively called "The Twelfth Man" (come on Liverpool, more originality needed please) and due to the plan to keep my Salfordian accent under wraps, I happily allowed my tour guide to get the lagers in.
With Scouse John queueing at the bar, I thought it a good time to text the missus to let her know we'd arrived and were near the ground. After all the all the meticulous planning including tucking my City shirt in, zipping up my Boca Juniors jacket and keeping my big gob shut, I managed to out myself as the enemy in a new and imaginative way. As I unlocked the keypad on my phone, the gold eagled crest of Manchester City appeared, spinning away with the Etihad Stadium as a backdrop and sending me into a frenzy as it went. I scanned the pub to try to spot the first flying pint glass. Nothing. Not a clenched fist raised in anger. The only response my infiltration drew was from one of the two thirty something thugs to my right, one of which having spotted my screensaver leant in to his accomplice and shrugged "Fucking hell, he's brave coming in here la, d'yer wanna gerroff to the ground?"
We had another pint and set off into the cauldron of hate known as Anfield Road. I stopped at a badge stall to add a Liverpool crest to my growing collection. I told the vendor I wanted an '80's retro Liverpool badge. Rather than chase me away down the street for even having the audacity to speak with an Eccles twang, he scanned his cork pin board and found me a rather splendid badge much to my liking. We left John at the corner between the Kop and the Main Stand, arranged to meet at the same spot after the match and headed towards the Anfield Road stand that was housing us away fans.
A brief stop for a few moments' silence at the Hillsborough memorial made me reflect on the devastation brought to families across Merseyside. People reached out to place a hand on the marble and wiped tears from their eyes. My lad asked why they were touching it. I could only guess that these poor people were directly affected by the tradgedy.
We got in the ground ten minutes late due to some piss poor organisation from the Merseyside club and saw the first tense scenes of the night as City fans became increasingly frustrated at being outside whilst the action was going on inside.
Once in the ground I have to say I enjoyed the atmosphere and admired the scene before my eyes. The home fans are spoken of in glowing terms by all quarters in the national media for having a unique atmosphere that is unrivalled in world football. A load of old bollocks. They sing at the start, they sing for a good ten minutes after a goal and they sing when Steve Gerrard does something half decent.
When injury time is almost up and the game looks to be in the bag, a rousing rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" is aired. Now usually, I despise this terrace anthem. I mute the telly whenever Liverpool are on the box as the teams walk out. Last night though, there was no mute button to be pressed. All I could do was watch in awe as all four sides of Anfield held their scarves aloft and sang their hearts out. Don't tell anyone but it was quite emotional.
The final whistle sounded, the Scousers erupted and a female steward offered a helpful piece of advice to get my lad out of the ground as quickly as possible in case of any mither. This was the third time in half an hour she'd gone out of her way to be nice. She'd already told George (my son) that she wanted us to win the league and not to be too down if City lost the match. We left the ground and walked back around to the Kop, met John and had a pleasant stroll back to the car.
I found Anfield to be one of the most enjoyable matchday experiences of my City watching career. The place is traditional, hostile and steeped in history. The home fans are ridiculously blinkered whenever there is a refereeing decision to be made but maybe that's why they seem to recieve more decisions than away teams at Anfield.
All in all, I walked away from Liverpool with a revised view of the club. Maybe a few feral youths who attach themselves to the club drag the name of Liverpool through the mud. Maybe the club, from top to bottom, could have handled the Suarez affair a lot better.
Let's not tarnish the reputation of an entire stadium full of people because of the misguided actions of a minority though. For once, I'm going to rise above the Scouse bashing and form my own opinions of the club and on Wednesday night's evidence, it's a great place to watch football.