It was this piece on the BBC web site that inspired me to write about my team – Liverpool Football Club. The article titled Doctor Who, JFK & Beatlemania – West Ham’s last win at Anfield was scant consolation that we, Liverpool fans always refer to the team as ‘we’, had been soundly beaten at home 3 – 0 by West Ham. But it reminded me of the halcyon days at Anfield back in the 60s and 70s. The home ground of LFC is known as Anfield. During the reign of Shankly then Bob Paisley, it became known as Fortress Anfield such was the tremendous win rate at home. The last time West Ham had won at Anfield prior to last weekend was September 1963! The Spion Kop, Anfield’s fabled ‘home end’ for the most fanatical of our supporters, had not yet adopted “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as their anthem as Gerry and the Pacemakers, a Liverpool band, had still to release their version of the song from ‘Carousel’.
The 60s and 70s were great years for Liverpool Football Club with many major honors added to the ever growing list of trophies. This was not the reason I started to support Liverpool. It is a feature of many of today’s football fans that they are attracted to a team purely because it has won a few titles. Often those titles are bought by billionaire Russians or Arabs who bankroll their way to success. A classic example of that would be Chelsea and Roman Abramovich.
“No history, no class “, is what we Liverpool fans say about such clubs. My support began when I was a kid in Huyton, Liverpool. In those days you used to support a local team and I had a choice between Liverpool and Everton. At that time Everton were by far more successful than Liverpool. The Reds were then in the second tier of English football while Everton were competing with the best in the top tier. However I wanted the red of a Liverpool shirt so Dad bought Liverpool FC shirts for both me and my brother that Christmas. That was it – no looking back and no changing allegiances – ever!
Liverpool is a football crazy city. As kids and teenagers then young adults. we all played the game as often as we could. A part of the ritual of growing up was ‘going to the match’. It is this aspect of being an avid Liverpool fan that needs describing to a modern breed of LFC fan. You see Anfield is not like it was back in the day. There are many reasons for that such as grounds turned into all seater stadiums and success breeding complacency among supporters. However Anfield can still be a formidable venue especially for the really big game or on supercharged European nights. That’s when we get to play the giants of European football, the likes of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, one of the Milan clubs or even Chelsea.
My first visit to Anfield was as a kid aged 11 years old. In those days there was a ‘Boys pen’ adjacent to the Kop. We used to join in with the chants and singing from the Kop with our shrill unbroken vocal chords. My mates and I soon discovered that a big gate built into the wall surrounding the ground was always opened at half time. The idea was to let people out who wanted to leave early for whatever reason. It was not intended to let us kids in Scot free at half time. but who could resist such an open invitation?
You rarely went to the match alone. It was almost always in a group of mates and I include my brother as my best mate. So I graduated to the Kop. This was still the days of second tier football but Bill Shankly had arrived as the new manager of Liverpool Football Club and was putting together a very exciting team on the pitch. He signed the likes of Ian St. John and Ron ‘Rowdy’ Yeats. The former was a tricky, barrel chested Scot who was an exponent of the deep lying centre forward role. Yeats, also a Scot, was a tall no-nonsense defender. The team was built upon this spine.
We were racing ahead in the league and playing great football. Anfield was filled to capacity for every game. There were long lines of fans queuing to get in through the turnstiles at the Kop end of the ground. The pavements were chocker full of people, newspaper sellers and police on horse back. I recall one game against Watford when we won by a hatful of goals. We were already 5 or so goals to the good and St. John decided to indulge in a piece of showboating. Out on the wing he flicked the ball up to his head then dribbled past 3 or 4 opposition players bouncing the ball under control on his head! It was fantastic! The crowd roared its approval and a’hero’ was born! We love our heroes at Liverpool Football Club.
That same season I also went to my first game at Anfield under the floodlights as it was a night game vs. Everton. It was a now defunct competition called the Liverpool Senior Cup. Historically it had always been used by the likes of Liverpool and Everton to give a run out to the second string or those returning from injury. However this was the Shankly Liverpool and I believe he wanted to prove a point or two against the rivals of Everton. Both teams turned out full strength teams. Liverpool narrowly won but the atmosphere under the lights was great! There is something extra about watching a top class game of football under floodlights. The grass glistens as does the sweat on the brows of your heroes. The sound seems louder and there is almost a mystical eerie feel to the whole event.
Under Shankly we were promoted to the top tier of English football in the 1961-1962 season. All hell broke loose! We won the title two years later and qualified to play in European club football for the first time in our history. Liverpool was the place to be! The Beatles were becoming national and then international icons, and the Kop adopted many of their songs to belt out on match days at Anfield. The BBC made a documentary about the incredible Kop so spreading the word about the famous Spion Kop.
It was a special magical day out in those days when we went to the match. Every aspect of it is ingrained in my memory. I was now a teenager and looked old enough to purchase and drink beer in pubs. The regular bunch of mates included me, my brother and about four of our friends. We would set off from home about 11 in the morning and make our way to the Rocket pub at Broad Green. Special buses ran from there to Anfield so we had time to have a couple of beers before catching the bus to the ground. As soon as we got off the bus we would have another two or three beers. The pubs close to the ground were full of fans and we learned the art of ‘fighting’ and nudging a way to the bar and ordering our pints of beer – pints of ‘golden’ as a mixed bitter and lager pint was the fashion then. This was all part of the rites of passage from boyhood to manhood. The pubs were noisy, everyone talking about the game, our players, and those of the opposition. It was non-stop commentary on all things football and all things LFC! The match day atmosphere was building.
You could glance out of the pub window and watch the procession of supporters en route to the ground. It was time for us to leave and make our way round to the Kop end. More long queues. The days of pre-paid ticketing had not yet arrived. You paid at the turnstile gate to gain admittance. There were people everywhere – making their way around to their favored part of the ground, away fans bunched together walking to the Anfield Road end, people queuing in chip shop doorways, fans being disgorged from yet more buses, police every few yards, police on horses supervising the orderliness in the long lines for the turnstile gate, newspaper vendors, vendors of football scarves and other football memorabilia and little old ladies with their shopping bags full of groceries after their excursion to the local shop. It was a beautiful madness. But the best was yet to come.
Anfield in those days was not blessed with urinals. And what did exist were fairly primitive. Now you can imagine that after drinking beer before the game most men will feel the need to relieve themselves. The need to pee usually came on just as you heard the turnstile click after you had paid your entrance money. A glance to the left and right told you that there was no chance of using the official urinals. So you had no choice to go onwards and upwards. I say upwards because the spectator area of the Kop was only reached after climbing a lot of steps. By the time you got to the top there were two choices or perhaps three.
First, you could stand at the top facing towards the Walton Breck Road and pee. The problem with that was there was always likely to be a police officer who snuck up behind you, pushed you in the back and growled “Put it away!”. Invariably that resulted in you wetting your pants. Secondly, you could make your way to your favorite spot on the Kop. Ours was central and and about halfway between top and bottom but behind the goal. The Kop when full in those days held 25,000 fans. You would grab your newspaper, always the match day Liverpool Echo, and use it as a funnel as you peed through it! Golden rule – never piss on the guy in front of you especially if he is bigger than you! I recall one BBC Match of the Day commentator saying “Oh my goodness someone has let off a smoke bomb on the Kop.” Smoke bomb my ass! It was clouds of steam from so many Kopites carrying out the rolled up newspaper ritual! Thirdly, you could just piss your pants – I doubt whether anyone would have noticed!
Our favorite spot on the Kop was called a ‘spec’ as in “OK I’ll see you at our usual spec.” We always made sure we had a barrier at our back. Steel barriers were fixed into the concrete all over the terracing on the Kop. I guess they were about 20 feet apart from each other. They were designed to reduce crushing when the crowd surged. Let me tell you in those days of standing during the whole game the crowd did often surge. It was scary to experience it. The Reds would attack the Kop goal and the fans would naturally push or lean forwards to try and get a better view. When this is magnified by 25,000 people it can result in the most violent of surges. I have been turned around completely in such a surge, left breathless by the pressure of other bodies pushed up against mine and almost fell over on one occasion.
Robin, one of our mates was a little on the frail side. He could not cope with it and after 2 or 3 matches he stopped coming with us. Fans often fainted during these surges and Robin did so at every game. How do you assist and evacuate a friend who has fainted in these circumstances? Easy, it was routine on the Kop to lift them up into a horizontal position so that several people would be supporting them from below. They would then be handed over to those in front so that the faintly fan could be ‘airlifted’ pitchside and there receive treatment from the St. John’s Ambulance crew.Watch here for the Kop in full voice. back in its heyday in the 1960s.
These surges were part of the experience. The chants and singing were also a great part of match day. We had a full repertoire and the Kop soon became famous for its tuneful (on most occasions) renditions – She Loves You Yeah Yeah, Mighty Quinn but the word Emlyn substituted for Quinn, We Love You Liverpool and of course the now famous You’ll Never Walk Alone. The repertoire was endless and ever changing; constantly being refreshed with new songs and new chants.
On top of all this we were witnessing an era of total domination of both the English game and in Europe too. We even won our first FA Cup in 1965! There were displays of beautiful flowing football. There were battles on the pitch too particularly when Don Revie’s ‘dirty’ Leeds United played there. It was intoxicating! Football in subsequent years became more sanitized and I think the poorer for it. Those days were great and you got home covered in stale sweat, maybe some urine on your shoes and with a hoarse voice but we were all part of Liverpool FC’s great history.
In trying to give you a flavor of those experiences on the Kop it would be remiss of me not to mention the humor. Liverpool is noted for its comics and as someone once said ” Liverpool – you have to be a comedian to live there!”
The Kop was noted for its ribald humor in a city already known for laughter lines and a rough dockland environment. I will only recount some of the funny tales. We were playing at home once on a very misty day and the fog thickened up so much that at one stage the opposite Anfield Road end was invisible from the Kop. Liverpool were attacking the Anfield Road end and all I could hear on the Kop was a great roar. I knew a goal had been scored. Immediately the Kop as one sang, “Who scored the goal?. who scored the goal?” The response from the opposite end was as immediate, “Sir Roger Hunt, Sir Roger Hunt”
On another occasion playing ‘dirty’ Leeds, Tommy Smith was subjected to a brutal tackle. One neighboring Kopite yelled “Rip his leg off Tommy!” Quick as a flash another Scouse voice added. “Yeah, and hit him with the soggy end!” The humor is truly Scouse and witty. Any ground in England and any supporter of any team has witnessed the directive to an errant linesman to “stick yer flag up yer arse!” but only on the Kop would a fan have raucously added, “Yeah sideways!”
Liverpool fans have always treated one another like family. That has become even more evident in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster and the Justice for the 96 campaign. We have both a glorious history and tragedies to share. Wherever I have been in the world I have met Liverpool supporters. It’s like having family members in every country I have traveled to.