Liverpool, past and future.

Posted by Rushian on September 15, 2004, 02:19:05 AM

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was number one when I last visited Anfield. Many of the younger readers won’t remember Band Aid’s single, which was to raise money for the starving millions in Ethiopia and spent five weeks at number one at the end of 1984. It was a song of tragedy and of despair but, most importantly, it was an anthem of hope. Some called the record patronising, given the automatic supposition that “we” were better than “them”. However, no-one can argue that the record was made with the best of intentions and that the £8 million plus which was raised was put to good use.

It was 29th December 1984 when I last stepped through the turnstiles at Anfield. Liverpool were playing Luton Town in the First Division and we won 1-0, courtesy of a John Wark strike. Watching the Masters’ football on Sky last weekend made me realise just how much time had elapsed since my last trip up north (I live in South London, only about ten minutes’ walk from Selhurst Park).

Wark played for the Liverpool team last week and he, like so many of the others, looked decidedly middle-aged: what was left of the players’ receding hair was generally greying, the waistlines weren’t quite as trim and the reactions that little bit less sharp than in their playing days. But you could see that the skill and passion of the men was still there. That competitive edge never leaves you, although the wisdom of age does tend to temper one’s outright aggression a little. Such is the course of nature.

An excellent book called “The Earth” by Richard Fortey explains how, over hundreds of millions of years, the face of our planet is shaped by vast forces from the bowels of the planet: how rocks are shaped and transmuted; how layers of sediment are deposited then buried; how the very face of the planet changes, so that what was once one enormous land mass known as Pangaea has now become the continents and islands which we see on our maps and globes today. The drifting of the Earth’s continental plates means that change, although, imperceptible, is constant. The Atlantic Ocean, for example, is becoming wider but only at a rate equivalent to the annual growth of one’s fingernail. Long after man has gone from the earth, as a result of major geological upheavals and climatic changes, other forms of life will fill the void. But life will go on.

Nothing is forever, then. But mankind is a creature of habit: we like consistency in our lives, so that we are reassured and comfortable. It is for this reason that some of the ugliest traits of our species can sometimes rise to the surface: racism and xenophobia are the outward manifestation of our species’ inherent fear of the unknown. When I was last in Liverpool, my father and I, together with his friend and two boys, were subjected to racist taunts as we walked along Anfield Road to the match. Liverpool has always been a melting pot, as any city founded on trade will be, but the legacy of the Toxteth riots was still in the air and the economic ruin of the Thatcher years was taking its toll.

Stress often leads to conflict, both for individuals and for societies, and that was the case back then. How refreshing, then, that I could walk around central Liverpool, all the way over to Pier Head, then back to the Walker Art Gallery and not even get a strange look, let alone a comment, from any of the people in the street last week. A mini pub crawl on Friday evening, to the Philharmonic, the Pilgrim, the Grapes and Dispensary, passed by similarly uneventfully, as did my trip to the match itself. Times are better now, of course: Liverpool will be the European Capital of Culture in 2008 and there is a renewed optimism in the air. Smart shops, excellent hotels and restaurants and a proliferation of trendy bars have revitalised the city: things are on the up in the old fishing port.

And things are looking similarly rosy for the team. After the desperately negative, grinding, monotonous years under Gerard Houllier, we are now starting to play a more flowing, attractive, dynamic game. Rafael Benitez has arrived and brought with him the players who are going to take us forward over the next few years. It is, of course, asking a lot of them to emulate the success of that great team featuring Dalglish, Molby, Hansen, Wark et al which I saw all those years ago but there is a good chance that our new manager will take us closer than we have ever been to recapturing our place at the zenith of English and European football.

This is not the place to go into great depth about the team, but a core of Gerrard, Alonso and Garcia is going to be very difficult to stop by the time they have all got to know each other’s games properly. It would not surprise me if we were to celebrate our accession as European Capital of Culture with the Premiership title or Champions’ League trophy.

I could go on about how I had a tear in my eye when I visited the Hillsborough Memorial before the match and when I went into the HJC shop. I could tell you about the pride that filled me as I sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and passed the huge flag over my head on the Kop. I could go into great length about the details of the game: every lung-bursting run by Stevie, every deft flick by Garcia, every crunching tackle by Josemi, every towering header by Hyypia and every pinpoint pass by Xabi Alonso. I could expound at greater length at my excitement when we scored, or about how I laughed when Robert Earnshaw tried to get a piggy-back off Sami.

I am sure that I don’t need to tell anyone about how drenched I got leaving the stadium and wandering around for a quarter of an hour before finally being able to flag down a taxi on Walton Road, bedraggled but elated. None of these things needs any further explanation. We, as football fans, know all about the euphoria of a good game, as well as the despair of a poor one. Those same emotions which coursed through my veins over the duration of the afternoon will have been similar to those experienced by over forty thousand others who were there on Saturday.

Nothing is permanent in the grand scheme of things but some things are “forever” in our own minute time on this planet. My love for the Mighty Reds is one of those few lasting things. Girlfriends come and go, cherished possessions get lost or broken and houses are bought and sold. But Liverpool runs through me, constant and immutable. When I breathe the air of the Mersey, even on a grey day like Friday, there is that sense of freedom and of hope which I just don’t get in London.

Were it not for work and family commitments, I would strongly consider moving up to Liverpool, to be part of that exciting future and, of course, to watch my beloved Reds in action more often. I feel that same optimism which was expressed by Band Aid all those years ago and is so perfectly encapsulated in our own mighty anthem. There is always hope and the future may well be brighter. No-one, of course, knows with any real degree of certainty what that future may bring; “the best laid plans…” and all that. But on Saturday I couldn’t help but feel that for Liverpool Football Club, as well as for the city itself, the future is very bright indeed.

You’ll Never Walk Alone.

© Ajay 2004

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