Liverpool 2 Tottenham Hotspur 2
Sunday 4 February 2018
This was ground no.69 for John. Due to the number of Liverpool tickets that find their way onto the tourist market, and our arlarse reluctance to pay the price of a small house for one, it had become something of a holy grail.
My previous trips to Anfield (with the exception of a poorly-subscribed Europa League game during Roy Hodgson’s tenure) were all as a visiting supporter, and today was no exception. Thanks to our friend Pete we were going to the match as Spurs fans, and thanks to the Premier League’s price cap for away tickets we were paying far less for the privilege than the daytrippers would.
Although this was John’s first visit for a match, we’d wandered across the park prior to a game at Goodison a year or two before and he’d been struck by all the things that were striking about Anfield at that time – its ordinariness as a structure, the number of tourists hanging round even on a non-match day, and the painful contrast between the smart stadium and its bomb-site neighbourhood. Such was not always the way. Liverpool 4 has never been the most wealthy of areas, and in fairness not the most welcoming to away supporters. But this used to be a proud community, and this football club used to be the centre of it.
Most weekenders gravitate to the back of the Kop because that’s where the shop is, and the big picture of Bill Shankly you can have your picture taken in front of, and the “authentic” pubs that only open on a Saturday. (Ironically, back in the day this part of Anfield was somewhere any sensible visitor avoided like the plague.) Many completely miss the most interesting feature, a flagpole in the Centenary Stand corner. This is actually a topmast rescued from Brunel’s flawed masterpiece, SS Great Eastern, which was broken up across the Mersey at Rock Ferry. It was placed there in 1890 by Everton, the ground’s first occupants.
The Kop occupies a disproportionate and arguably overstated role in Anfield folklore, so I’m not going to wax lyrical about the attractions of having someone piss down your leg. The opposite end is far more interesting and also better known to visiting fans. Until 1965 it was an old-school wooden enclosure with a corrugated-iron cover. That year, on the back of Liverpool’s FA Cup win, it was rebuilt in concrete with a cantilevered roof that wrapped around both corners. Standing accommodation at this end survived for just 17 years before succumbing in 1982 to the club’s pressing need for more seats. A single claustrophobic wedge was left for visiting fans in the Kemlyn Road corner, where you entered at pitch level and had to fight your way up onto the often dangerously overcrowded terrace.
By the early 80s the Annie Road End competed with the adjacent Kemlyn Road stand for the distinction of having the most randomly-coloured seats in League football. The story goes that because manager Bob Paisley didn’t want to lose sight of reserve-team players against a backdrop of red, the newly-seated stand contained blocks that were, in the words of Simon Inglis, “a glaring shock…from left to right orange, ochre, violet, red, emerald green and cream.” Next to this exuberance the Kemlyn’s own gaudy appearance was almost restrained, though it made up for it with a quite alarming design which was, again in Inglis’ words, one of “clashing styles and unconventional angles.”
Both the Annie and the Kemlyn are still in situ, albeit much modified. The former has acquired a new roof and an upper tier, completed in 1998 and opened for Ronnie Moran’s testimonial against Celtic (following which it had to be hastily strengthened after dealing badly with several thousand Glaswegians bouncing up and down on it). The latter, built in 1963, was not a success. It was hemmed in by the houses behind and had a small capacity as a result. The proximity of those houses also meant that the roof cantilevered sharply upwards, limiting use of the back few rows. In its favour, however, it was architecturally stunning and – because of the massive floodlight gantry it supported – eminently practical.
The Kemlyn’s seating deck (complete with authentic cramped 1960s legroom) survives as the lower part of the Centenary Stand, the top tier of which was constructed behind it in 1992. Kemlyn Street had long been an irritation to the club, and during the Eighties – in a precursor to their current enlightened community strategy – Liverpool began buying it up with a view to expansion. Elderly sisters Joan and Nora Mason weren’t for moving, however, and their house ended up isolated in solitary splendour, with a derelict one either side to hold it up, while the club waited for them to finally accept the money and retire to Southport.
Since the introduction of a residents-only parking scheme a year or two back, the days of “mind yer car mister?” are long gone around Anfield and Goodison. The scams aren’t, though. Last time out I’d swerved scalls in high-viz selling parking spaces on vacant driveways and stopped up streets. To avoid any nonsense today we met up in Maghull, drove across Kirkdale via Stanley Road and parked up in the grounds of North Liverpool College, a futuristic building that looks like a fish. It was early and the only people on the prowl were taxi drivers. Matchday at Anfield is bonanza time for Liverpool cabbies. They cruise the streets like basking sharks, if basking sharks played Penny Lane to Norwegians.
What’s to say that hasn’t already been said? It’s big nowadays – if a 13,000 seat Kop wasn’t impressive enough, try a new Main Stand seating 20,000 and very possibly visible from space. But Anfield was always about shady inner-city ambience: hemmed in by the V-streets, the Kop looming moodily over Walton Breck Road, and yes, even the notoriously edgy nature of a visit back in the day. Much has been written about Liverpool FC’s dubious role in the “redevelopment” of L4. While the dinky new houses are (for now) clean and appealing something has been lost, and still more vanishes with every tinned-up terraced street that falls to the wrecking ball. Maybe the Mason sisters weren’t so daft.
Flesh and wine
For all that, there are still one or two proper pre-match boozers about if you know where to look. One is the admirable Grove Hotel. The community it once served has largely gone, but it hangs on in there. From the outside it doesn’t even look open, but step through the doors (no bouncers here) and you’re straight into a fug of warmth and welcome. Good times.
A word about pies. The Homebaked co-operative community bakery (for many years Mitchells’), opposite the Kop on the corner of Oakfield Road and (inevitably tinned-up) Donaldson Street, has gained a massive reputation both for its produce and the sound people who run it. Like the Grove, this place is a survivor of the old Liverpool and nicer for it.
The away fans’ corner in the lower Anfield Road stand is not a great vantage point. Stood near the back (the whole Spurs support stood, for the whole match), beneath the overhang of the upper tier – and therefore showered with cement dust when Liverpool scored and their fans above our heads jumped up and down – it was hard to see everything that went on.
People watching at home on TV had a far better idea of whether Spurs should have had the two penalties they were awarded in the final ten minutes, and apparently they shouldn’t. In the event Kane hit the first straight at Karius, and scored the other in the dying seconds. In between there was a goal of sublime individuality by Lucien-from-Liver-Birds lookalike Mo Salah, who pirouetted through the Spurs defence like a ballet dancer before firing into the roof of the net from an acute angle.
Salah and Kane are the scoring sensations of this season, and Salah had pounced onto a gift to give Liverpool the lead before Spurs properly settled. From then on it was pretty even till half time, after which Spurs took proper control of the game and deservedly equalised when Wanyama smacked home a corker in front of the Kop (where three of the afternoon’s four goals were scored). And so to that crazy last ten minutes, and a draw that felt like the fairest result.
Teams and goals
Liverpool: Karius, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Henderson (Wijnaldum 65), Milner (Matip 78), Salah, Firmino, Mane (Oxlade-Chamberlain 65). Unused subs: Moreno, Mignolet, Ings, Solanke.
Tottenham: Lloris, Trippier, Sanchez (Lamela 71), Vertonghen, Davies, Dier, Dembele (Wanyama 79), Son (Llorente 92), Eriksen, Alli, Kane. Unused subs: Vorm, Sissoko, Aurier, Winks.
Goals: Liverpool, Salah 3, 91; Tottenham, Wanyama 80, Kane 95.