Those were the days, my friend
We took the Stretford End
We took the Shed, the North Bank Highbury EASY!
We took the Geordies too
We fought for Liverpool
We are the Kop of Liverpool FC
One of the spookiest thoughts imaginable is what the brain is. Think about what your brain is. It’s a mushy collection of cells with electrical signals being fired through it, and that is what we all are. Everything that a person amounts to is contained within that imperfectly protected organ – rub your temples and you’ll realise how badly protected it is. Reducing your brain to that is frighteningly reductive, which is one of the reasons I argue for the existence of a soul. Besides, it must be a soul that gets Wayne Rooney from A to B because it surely isn’t a brain.
(Meow! If any Evertonian were to read this, it would be proof that Liverpudlians are obsessed with them. And I’ll admit that I’m obsessed with running down the Blueslime. Four wins in a row at Goodison wood suggest that it’s an obsession with every increasing returns.)
But even the most shrill advocates of classing human beings as a chemical scum on the surface of an insignificant planet in the outer rim of the Milky Way (© Stephen Hawking) must marvel at the way the human mind works – or the freaky way mine works, it’s still a marvel. Really. The thought processes that struck me when I was last caught singing that song above must have been in danger of overheating the cranial goo, so numerous were the electrical pulses that flashed through my brain. Many’s the time I’ve sang that song – it’s a particularly good chant in the ground, being neither as vacuous as merely singing a player’s name or as anally-retentive as Liverbird – and it was only against Ljubjiana that the meaning of “took” came to me. In truth, until that moment I had never even considered what it “to take” really meant. It was a bit like singing the Irish National Anthem, knowing it word for word but not knowing what each word meant.
“To take”, of course, means going to an away match and occupying the home sides terrace. It doesn’t mean 50% +1 of the terrace must be Reds, merely that those present outsinging the lily-livered Southern softies. This is an alien concept to me, partly because it’s an anachronism in this age of sitting in the stands, partly because standing in the away terrace is so commonplace in Irish sporting venues as to be not worthy of comment. We all just love each other in the Emerald Isle, dontcha know.
Anyway, singing the nameless ditty above made me think of Peter Etherington’s most recent opus, My Youth, My Kop, where he spends some time on the nature of certain LFC-based songs. If you’ve read the book or its prequel – and if you haven’t, you should; follow the link! – you’ll find many examples of taking the opposition terrace. The most amusing stories are the heroic failures, such as the botched taking of the Stretford End when he had to be manhandled from the terrace by the bizzies, but not before he had smashed his boot full force into the face of one of the animals trying to rip him asunder. Ah, those were the days, when breaking a Manc’s nose was not only permitted but positively encouraged. Allegedly.
So while dwelling on Peter Evo, my brain, in true Homer Simpson style, foisted the notion of part-time fans into my consciousness. If you’ve read the book – and if you haven’t etc – you’ll know his darkest secret, a secret so diabolical that no amount of hyperbolic scene-setting can prepare you for the horror (that, and I’m getting lazy in my old age). The secret, a secret no doubt wrenched from him like a calf from a blue whale’s womb, that he missed the 1977 European Cup final in Rome.
Now that football is officially no longer acceptable to the Daily Mail, the easy thing to do would be to scoff at someone claiming that the only thing they truly regret is missing a match that took place 26 (and a half) years ago, a long way from Skelmersdale. But I think almost all of us have wistfully envied the 27,000 (approx) people who were there that night. To put things into context, think of the clubs in Europe that have won more than two European Cups. Real Madrid, Milan, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Liverpool. Each of the others, to a greater or lesser degree can claim to come from one of the great cities of Europe. Yes, even Munich, which was the top city in Germany before reunification and host of the most infamous Olympiad since Sparta spiked the Athenian team’s retsina in 722BC. Liverpool, with all due respect to the 2008 European Capital of Culture, is a provincial kind of place. The city of Liverpool punches way above its weight internationally because of two things: the Beatles and Liverpool FC. And Liverpool FC’s status as one of the great clubs of Europe began that night in Rome. To miss it was to miss that which will never, ever be repeated, so one can sympathise with the man who turned that Manc’s nose into face pizza when he expresses dismay at not being there.
Which brings us back to the might of Olimpia Ljubjiana. This was my fourth game of the season after Chelsea, Spurs and Leicester. I knew by then that I would miss Arsenal (couldn’t get a ticket), Leeds (wouldn’t be in town) and Man U (didn’t have a stub from the Arsenal game). How times change. Two years ago, I was distraught when circumstances prevented me attending St James’ Park and missing my first domestic game of the season. Many more away games would slide by that season but not a single home game was missed. The chicanery utilised that season to get tickets would have impressed the most resourceful of touts – and not once at Anfield did I resort to feeding their thieving gobs, and only twice away (at those places with only one thing in common, Bolton and Barcelona, that thing being the letter ‘B’). No force on earth could keep me away from the ground, best exemplified by the Chelsea game where I turned up having had about twelve hours sleep in the tumultuous five days since beating Roma, the potent cocktail of chemicals flooding through my veins giving me a headache that would flatten an elephant and my stomach performing more somersaults than John Major’s dad. Had Dr Shipman come to me before the game and offered an op that would ‘ease the pain’, I would have gladly accepted – but could you wait until after the game, Doc?
The Chelsea game was, of course, utterly brilliant as Smicer’s last minute volley caused my neighbour to bodily haul everyone around him into the row in front and moved the Arab bloke behind me, bereft of any English beyond ‘Liverpool’, to burst into tears of unspeakable joy. But it’s always brilliant. Even when it’s crap, like losing to Barnsley or Man Utd, it’s still brilliant because there is nowhere in the world that I’d rather be. Over the course of the 69 games in which I’ve seen the Reds, I’ve spent roughly £2,000 on match tickets (according to the spreadsheet; sad but true), including a couple of freebies from a season-ticket holding friend, long may his wife continue to insist they take their holidays in April, but also including at least £150 on tickets for other people for the Worthington Cup final. It’s a lot of money, but while £27 for a turgid 0-0 draw with Spurs in August may well have been better spent on a dozen or so ales in the Albert, £150 to put the Mancs in their place is a bargain at twice the price.
So money in itself isn’t the issue, and getting to the game is still a wonderful adventure, even 69 games on from the beginning. It’s the hassle that gets wearing though. Spending an hour-and-a-half on a phone line, staying in a hostel with a heroin addict or queuing from 6.30 a.m. seemed perfectly reasonable two years ago. But not doing the dishes for two weeks, lying in bed for q whole day or blithely ignoring cigarette butts burning a hole in the carpet seemed perfectly reasonable two years ago. I’m not willing to slum it anymore, not for Liverpool FC or anyone else. If you can get to Anfield, great. If you can’t, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes, not having enough can be enough.