Us Chosen Few

Dang. Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse – one of my favourite phrases, as three-year veterans of the Far/Near Side will certainly be aware – they go and get better.

When Michael Owen raced through the Sheffield United defence onto Steven Gerrard’s quite exquisite pass, my colleague placed a hand on my shoulder in preparation for the inevitable, which should alert you to the fact that my colleague hasn’t gotten to Anfield much this season, as I fully expected Owen to make a bags of it. But he didn’t, and much backslapping and mental brushing-up of our Welsh followed – not that you’d need much Welsh in Cardiff, the city by the Taff not renowned for being a hotbed of resentment about the perfidy of Edward I. At least, that’s the impression I get from observation of Cardiff from afar. Hopefully I’ll be able to make some first hand observations at the beginning of March.

But first, we’ve got to get tickets. But first first, we’ve got to breathe in the heady vapours of yet another win in a big cup game. As usual, there were many memorable moments from Tuesday’s match. Meeting absent friends in the Albert for a few loud drinks amidst demands to get your ‘air cut / grow some ‘air. Standing on the Kop for the entire 120 minutes and some top-notch renditions of Scouser Tommy. Marvelling at the mind-boggling ineptitude of the referee, who if there was a mistake to be made, made it. The instant of stunned silence immediately after Diouf’s goal as people absorbed the fact that he had scored. A brilliant goal! Diouf! Appreciating a genuinely warm acknowledgement of the Kop’s greeting from their goalie Paddy Kenny – too many goalies seem to be ignoring this of late. Observing the keen sense of outrage among the regular patrons of the Albert that the pub was closed after the game. Whatever were the staff thinking, not wanting to open for fifteen minutes to allow everyone to tank up on as many bevvies as possible before hitting the tiles in the Blue Angel? Hanging’s too good for them.

Then there was Neil Warnock, an acute bodily smart localised in the area of the sphincter if ever there was one. His periodic eruptions at some perceived injustice were worth the entry price alone, particularly the dummy-spitting (pun unintended) episode at the end when Stephane Henchoz happened to divest himself of his excessive saliva in Neil’s presence (allegedly – Shankly’s sub judice-obsessed legal eagle). For all of that, you have to give Warnock credit for his reaction to the cheap “Warnock, Warnock, what’s the score?” chant that thundered around the ground at 2-0. It was impossible to tell what he actually did – rumour has it that he used the universal finger language to tell us the score – but we could see he reacted, bringing a roar of respect from the Kop. Well, perhaps it was mostly a roar of derision, but I thought that it was good to see a manager not behaving as if he was directing operations by watching the telly, oblivious to the tumult around him. He’s still a beaut, but a beaut with a sense of humour.

All the above reminiscing, a full sixty hours after the event, is firmly based on contemporaneous memories, uncontaminated by the distorted filter that is television. Not a lot of people know (and even fewer care) that this game was my 52nd trip to Anfield, and the memories of each one are as vivid as the day they occurred. I can’t understand how everyone doesn’t feel the same way. Perhaps it’s because I’m a latecomer to this match-going lark, forty-seven of those games taking place in the last eighteen months since I moved to Liverpool. Yet you encounter people, not necessarily of advanced years, who can’t remember their movements from the FA Cup final two years ago, and you think: huh? How can you not remember that game? How can you not remember EVERY game?

It’s difficult to exaggerate the depths of memory about each Liverpool game I’ve been to. Taking a game at random from my spreadsheet of sad . . . Aston Villa in the league last year. Not a good un’, that game. I was sitting in the back row of the upper tier of the Anny Road End. It was Dudek’s first game for Liverpool, and it was wince-inducing to see him join the huddle with ten men who wouldn’t have known what he looked like only a week before. Dublin scored with a bullet header from an exquisite Merson free-kick midway through the first half. Gerrard equalised early in the second half with a scrambled header and it seemed inevitable that we’d turn the screw on them. But Hendry gave them the lead after we failed to clear the danger. Gerrard then got sent off for challenging Boateng, a dismissal that looked grossly unfair to me (ahem), a feeling aided by Andy D’Urso’s wretched refereeing performance. He booked Vignal for bouncing the ball in frustration when Liverpool didn’t get the throw they should have, stood blithely back when the entire Villa team piled into their fans after Joachim’s massively deflected third goal and then added seven minutes of injury time to make it look like he had been even-handed. Oh, the memories still hurt.

I could go on, about our 2-0 win over West Ham earlier in the season – my old man was at that one – or the 0-0 draw with Arsenal, memorable for an outrageous Ray Parlour miss in front of the Kop. But if you haven’t gotten the message at this stage, you must be dumber than George W. Bush. The sights, the sounds, the smells; they’re all there and more vibrant than a Nintendo game. 52 games, and every one of them an event. That doesn’t even include five away games, including a trip the Nou Camp and hammering Everton out of sight at The Pit. Obviously games like that would be memorable, but speaking as someone who can’t remember his other half’s phone number, being able to remember so much about losing to Grimsby in the Worthington Cup is amazing / depressing / all of the above.

(The more observant among you, which shouldn’t be many, will note that my memory of Steven Gerrard’s tackle on George Boateng is a bit dodgy. Please note that that is how I remember it at the time. Just because I was wrong doesn’t mean that the memory is wrong. And you’ll have to pay for the use of that excuse, Arsene Wenger. I’ve copyrighted it.)

Those who have been to European Cup finals and saw the Reds win enough championships to the point where it became dull may frown at such nostalgic pap. But there are many, many more Reds out there for whom a trip to Anfield is a precious thing than there are who treat it in the same way they treat showers i.e. something you do on a regular basis (although I’d hope most of you take showers more than once every ten days or so). Hell, I met one lad last season who had travelled from Malaysia. Not much scope for going along next week if the result didn’t turn out okay.

We’re very lucky, those of us in a position to get to the ground regularly, which is why it amazes me to see some of the gobshites who do no more than bitch and moan incessantly about the whole shooting match. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people around the world who would give up a kidney for the privilege of seeing most, if not all, of Liverpool’s home games. If people in the ground would learn to be a little more grateful and a little less cantankerous, then who knows? Perhaps it might mean a more light-hearted, enjoyable atmosphere at Anfield which in turn translates into a relaxed team who play with an insouciance and vigour that allows them to sweep teams aside like in the days of Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish. It’s not likely, but it’s worth a try.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to queue for my tickets for the Worthington Cup final. I can be contacted at any time over the next three weeks at The Tent, In Front Of The Kop, Walton Breck Road, Liverpool L4.