In the mid noughties I was on the bus to Anfield on European match night when some supporters of the opposing team got on. I think they were with one of the Swiss or Austrian teams – blonde, buff and bronzed, the lads had each bought an England shirt to better suit the big occasion.
But as we drove along streets of metal-grilled windows, they became noticeably anxious and when we passed a burnt out shell of a home, the silent look they shared spoke volumes:
‘W(here)TF are we going?’
The answer of course was Anfield Football Ground and the irony is that anyone taking the time to look, would see many of those tinned-up houses had detailed brickwork that you’d find in no modern housing build – if they were in Chelsea or Kensington, they’d be cherished and worth millions, not tagged for potential demolition.
The match day atmosphere is something that most working class men will have known since childhood. Riding in on the bus more recently, two men in their seventies (presumably brothers) were reminiscing with one of their sons, about moving in to a new home when they were kids, in one of the streets running off Anfield Road, where they’d sit on the front step and compete to see who could name most of England’s football grounds.
‘We started to struggle when we got down to the old third and fourth division, didn’t we? I don’t think I could name any of the new grounds. What’s Man City’s called now. Is it the Yeti or something.?’
On every pre-COVID bus to Anfield you’d see two and three generations of Liverpudlians going to the match – kids, parents and grandparents – like they have done for over a hundred years.
For many dads and grandads, match day represents a regular family catch-up and a bi-weekly pilgrimage back to the area from where it all began, and this local, generational bond is what (has and still) keeps the whole thing together.
The football match was also a first big social outing for the many, where we grew the confidence to shout for a cause and scream at the pantomime bad guy (the ref), and these days it is becoming the last bastion of politically incorrect noise: – have you noticed that the most cutting songs are never aired in those sterile COVID TV song-overs?
If I was a fat controller, ‘You can stick your prawn sandwiches up your arse’ would be piped in every week.
Standing in front of the Kop, checking my compass to see precisely where the sun was about to set, I got nudged by an elbow.
‘What’s up, lad. Are you lost?’
As I was explaining myself to a grinning Scouser, one of the Shun the Sun campaigners came out to roll up his banner, helped by one of the Stewards.
‘Do ya want a picture?’
The two of them unfurled the banner again.
‘Hey ******. Might you lose your job if you’re on the picture helping me?’
‘F*** it! I’ll onlee lose thirtee quid!‘ was his considered reply.
The City of Liverpool has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to football grounds – where else will you find the homes of two of the world’s most famous football clubs, separated by a once-proud public park and linked by some fine, organic examples of real community housing?
Believe me, there’s nowhere else like it.
And so it boggles my mind that an area that should be the preserve-at-all-costs centrepiece of the City of Liverpool, has taken turns at being a demolition hot-potato on both the red and blue side of Stanley Park.
I don’t doubt there’s more money to be made from knocking down and rebuilding, but there is greater human potential in making the best of that which can never be remade.
Judging from the new Main Stand at Anfield, which does sit well into the surroundings, more people are waking up to the potential this whole area offers. I just hope it extends to other areas of the city, which has some of the finest examples of terraced streets in England, and which – like Liverpool Football Club – grew out of a community amounting to more than profit and loss.