Thursday, 19 November 2009

Memories of a Liverpool FC fan: First time on the Kop

BIT of an old one, but thought it was worth posting: my thoughts and memories about the Kop (and Istanbul) for Stephen F Kelly's book, The Kop: Liverpool's Twelfth Man, which you can buy here

MY first memory of standing on the Kop was a midweek League Cup tie against Crewe Alexandra – we won 5-1.

I’d actually “sneaked” to the match as there was no-one in my family who was really into footy like me - and my mum and dad didn’t like the idea of me going without an adult. But I just had to go - and it didn’t disappoint. I can still remember getting to the top of the steps of the Kop and seeing the inside of Anfield  for the first time “for real”. It was great, I had butterflies in my stomach – I can still picture the Annie Road - without the second tier and a Wonderfuel Gas advert on the top of the stand.

From there on I was hooked, and I got to as many games as money would allow. Myself and a couple of friends from school in Huyton stood in the same spot on the Kop for years and we’d see the same felllas week in, week out. We were soon up to speed on the rules, too – how to avoid the crush barriers, how to be aware of the fellas just out of the alehouse who’d soon be dying for the toilet and wouldn’t think twice of aiming their piss down a rolled up Echo and into your pocket!

We followed the same routine before every Saturday home game– visiting my mate’s grandad near the ground beforehand and avoiding his dodgy scones (the same ones were put on a plate week after week!!).

Then there was my “nan sweets” – a bag of ├ęclairs my nan gave me before every game which I dished out to my mates at half time.

Back then everyone would pile in the ground hours before kick-off - I stood on the Kop as early as 12.30 for some of the big Saturday games (which were all 3pm kick offs then).

But it was all part of it – booing the opposition players as they come out for a first look at the pitch, studying the warm-ups, baiting the away fans and so on…

We used to dare each other to shout things – if you got it wrong you could almost hear thousands of people scowling down at you at once. I got it right once, someone threw a bog roll at Nottingham Forest keeper Steve Sutton (a bit of a thing at the time) and on my own I shouted “wipe yer arse Stevie”. He did, and I’m sure he gave us a little wink. I was buzzing – and everyone was grinning at me – for that moment I was the funniest lad on the Kop.

The Kop also influenced my love life. My comprehensive school crush asked me to take her the match but her dad didn’t want her standing on the Kop. So we watched from the Anfield Road. As the Kop cheered every home player’s name, I sulked. It wasn’t right sitting there. “What’s up?” she said, “What’s different about the Kop?” “Well they cheer the players' names for a start,” I said. “We can do that here” she said before proceeding to cheer at the announcement of the much-maligned Barry Venison. “Ar, ey love, you don’t like him do yer? Where’d you get her from lad?” boomed a burly bloke in front. The shame - that was it, the next date was the Kop, no matter what her old fella said!

Outside our school at 12 I’d told her – it was Spurs, the last game of the season and bound to be a sell-out. One o’clock she turned up – we didn’t get in and a tout wanted 70 quid for a ticket. That was it, back to Huyton, not a word to her, other than to snub her offer of watching a video at hers. And that was that – we never went out again – she’d got between me and the Kop!

I always remember a derby on the Kop when it was still standing. Just as the game kicked off I spotted a Bluenose I knew. “What you doing here?” I shouted, to which he responded by chanting “EVER-TON” and raising his arms in triumph.

With that we took the lead, David Burrows, I think it was, banging one in after just a few seconds. 1-0! I’ll never forget his face – the shock – it was priceless – how to silence a Bluenose in one easy step!

Since those days, I’ve sat in every stand at Anfield but I still find myself studying the Kop when You’ll Never Walk Alone kicks off – it’s not the same anywhere else in the ground – I’m not sure half of them even know the words in the Main Stand...

I make sure I’m back on the Kop for the big European nights and, for me, Chelsea in 2005 was the best ever. That’s the loudest crowd I’d ever been a part of in 17 years of going to Anfield. It was unbelievable – everyone sung, everyone stood and everyone was everyone else’s best mate – I was hugging strangers left, right and centre on the final whistle like I’d known these people all my life! No-one wanted to leave – we were in the European Cup final – the stadium announcer had to tell us all to get off in the end, almost half an hour after the final whistle.

Istanbul was just as impressive – It was like a home game, we had that many fans there. Out of everyone I could have sat in front of I sat in front of the biggest pain in the arse in the world. Nearly 40,000 Liverpool fans were standing on their seats before the game, waving flags, showing off their banners, but this man wanted me to get down off my seat, emphasising his point by pushing me off at one point. Needless to say it was close to a scrap, but my mate sensibly advised they wouldn’t let me watch the game in a Turkish prison!

Then 3-0 down, 3-3, win on penalties, the rest is history...but as we celebrated and created a huge pile of Reds I found myself hugging a stranger again, both our faces contorted with delight – then I realised, it’s only the man who wanted me to get down off my seat! It didn't matter though, at that moment I would have hugged anyone!