It is fair to say that, despite a previous incarnation as a baker, I am not a morning person. So it would be fair to admit that dragging my more than ample arse out of my pit at half-five on a Sunday morning left me feeling distinctly un-enamoured.
But there was a special reason for this early Sunday morning rise as, for his birthday treat, I was taking the boy to Anfield to watch Liverpool take on Southampton. With a 1:30pm kick-off, we had to set off at around half-six to make sure we were down the M6 in plenty of time for the kick-off.
Taking the journey from Scotland down to Merseyside meant we were following in the footsteps of many a Liverpool legend. Indeed it was only a few days prior to our visit that Liverpool announced they were naming their stonking new stand – and it is stonking – after Kenny Dalglish, arguably the clubs greatest ever player.
But Dalglish is not the only Scot to have served the club with distinction. In my childhood years, as well as Dalglish, there were the likes of Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, John Wark and Stevie Nicol at Liverpool. It is worth noting that all bar Hansen grew up as Rangers supporters – including Dalglish until he turned to the dark side.
It was this contingent of Scots that made adopting Liverpool as your “English side” was almost mandatory in the 80s – and I was no different. It seemed everyone at school had a preference for Liverpool in this period and it felt that most adults at the time did too.
Not only was there a contingent of Scots in the side but Liverpool as a city seemed to connect politically with Scotland also – with both displaying a large resentment towards Thatcher and the Tory government of the time.
Even culturally there was a lot to like about Liverpool. The Beatles were an obvious one in my house due to my dad being daft on them, but TV programmes like ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’, ‘Scully’ and even ‘Brookside’ – particularly young football scally Damon Grant – all made Liverpool as a club, and city, resonate with many of us north of the border at the time.
However around the late 80s/early 90s I started to drift away from Liverpool – put off by the seemingly increased link between them an Celtic. It had not always seemed that way. In my school in the mid-80s those of us who were Rangers fans wore the Rangers/Liverpool ski hats, with Celtic fans wearing a similar tea cosy-esque bunnet sporting Celtic and Man U on them. But a few years later it seemed our separated brethren from across the city were claiming the Scousers as their own too. And so I slowly became disinterested in Liverpool as a club.
That all changed about five or six years ago around the time my boy’s interest in football was starting to increase. Luis Suarez was starting to hit his peak at Liverpool and so we started a ritual known as “Suarez Sunday” anytime Liverpool were on Super Sunday. A Coke for him, a beer for me, a shared family bag of Monster Munch and we were away. He made a connection with Liverpool and adopted them as his preferred English team, and I reconnected with them. Since then, whenever they’re on the telly, we usually sit down to watch them and cheer them on.
That reconnection led to arranging for tickets for the weekends game for my boy’s 12th birthday with John Gibbons from the Anfield Wrap. John kindly agreed to help and I had arranged to meet him in the Glenbuck Hotel prior to the game to pick up the tickets. With arrangements confirmed, the boy and I headed off in the early morning sun for our first visit to Anfield to take in a game.
I must admit I went a bit overboard and tried to make the day all about Liverpool – including the soundtrack for our journey. So the CD collection was raided for albums by The Beatles, The La’s, Cast, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Coral. Part of this ploy coincided with my continuing vain attempts to get the boy into music – so far without any success – and I have to admit there was little sign that my plan paid any dividend on Sunday either. Still it did feel good to have “There She Goes” blaring out of the car stereo as we pulled out of our street on the start of our journey.
Four hours later – with a swift stop at Southwaite services included – we were heading into Liverpool city centre, where the plan was to park the car at Albert Docks and take a bus to Anfield.
However at this point I took a wrong turn and suddenly I realised I was at Stanley Park – which separates Anfield and Goodison – and before you know it I was pulling into car park right next to the stadium. Stroke of luck number one!
The second stroke of luck came as I went to pay for the parking. As I went into my wallet I was asked how many times I had visited Anfield by the steward. “First time for a game”, I informed him.
At this point another steward introduced himself as Chris and informed me that he wanted to create “good memories” of our trip to Anfield and that I would not need to pay for parking today – and indeed that I would be upgraded to VIP parking. He then directed me to drive to the top of the car park right next to the stadium. I did wonder at this point why I was picked out by Chris for preferential treatment, but not so much that I felt I needed to protest at his decision.
With the car safely parked in its VIP mooring, we made our way to the Glenbuck Hotel to meet John and pick up the tickets. John was there with a few mates and his dad, and he introduced us all and made us feel very welcome. They were all really friendly and there is some good banter doing the rounds. During the chat John’s dad asked me why Scotland doesn’t produce players good enough to play for Liverpool anymore – I was unable to provide him with an answer.
With the tickets secured we headed to the game. John had arranged for us to sit in his and dads seats in the top tier of the Centenary Stand. As we take our seats I get talking to the guy next to me, who is also really friendly. I inform him about the VIP parking stroke of luck, and my observation that there are a great deal of tourists doing the rounds. He informs me that there is an increasing amount of Chinese, Malaysian and Americans attending games at Anfield – and that they, as well as other nationalities, get preferential treatment compared to the locals. He cites my experience at the car park and informs me that a Scouser would never had been given that kind of treatment and that he has to park over a mile from the ground.
I can’t help but feel guilty. Here is a guy who pays his money every week to the club he loves, and yet he is treated shabbily compared to me – a first timer. I say to him that it feels like a lot of Premiership clubs are going the same way as the energy suppliers and Sky etc: don’t care if you’re a loyal and current “customer” of ex amount of years; more interested in throwing all the love at attracting “new customers”. He agrees.
The matchday experience compared to Ibrox is undoubtedly superior. There is a fan zone, a bar and toilets all located outside the ground for fans to use prior to entering the stadium. The concourse in the Centenary stand is similar to the rear of the Govan stand, but the toilets are much cleaner compared to the disgrace the toilets there have become in recent years. They also have big screen TVs in the concourses showing Sky Sports with updates from the other games being played. At half-time many fans mingle down there to do exactly that – and they can do so whilst enjoying a beer!
The game itself is a disappointment. Liverpool look a million miles away from the entertaining and dynamic team of the early part of the season and now resemble Rangers under Mark Warburton: loads of possession and passing almost exclusively in front of the opposition, no real cutting edge whilst looking nervy at the back. Early in the second-half it looks like they have caught a break when they are awarded a penalty, but James Milner decides that today will be the day he will miss his first penalty since 2009 and the game ends in a goalless stalemate.
After the game we head back to the Glenbuck to meet John and pass back his tickets to him before heading for some food and back to the car. As we arrive back at our VIP space Jason McAteer, who used to advertise Head & Shoulders, is chewing the fat with some guy at the car next to us and so the boy gets his photo with him.
And then, just like that, it is time to head home. Our stay at Anfield feels almost as fleeting as Danny Wilson’s, but it was still very enjoyable. If you get the chance to do it, I strongly recommend it.
Just remember to tell Chris in a non-Scouse accent it’s your first visit!