Tales From The Passenger Seat

Liverpool vs. Chelsea : 1 February 2009.

I feel unsurprisingly deflated, so this one might be a bit on the brief side.

This is how my fourteenth trip to Anfield with Chelsea panned out.

The trip up to Liverpool was a bit different to usual. My friend Buller had contacted me during the week and had asked if I fancied going up in his car. I didn’t need much persuading as it meant I could relax a bit and even have a few beers before the game. He used to live in the next town, but has moved down to Christchurch on the coast the past year. He was staying with his friends Becky and Chris in Warminster and so I drove over to Warminster Services for 7.45am.

Becky and Chris are Liverpool fans and go to a few games at Anfield.

It seemed strange sitting in the passenger’s seat on that familiar road north. Alan and Gary were on the official Chelsea coach and pulled out of Stamford Bridge at 8am, although Al had to catch a night bus at 5.30am in order to get up to Chelsea in time. His was to be a long day – more of that later. We stopped at Keele Services and the weather was bitter. A coffee apiece soon warmed us up. There was a slight hint of blue skies as we approached Liverpool but we expected a grey day. I had my thermal socks on, plus four layers of clothes. I had come prepared.

Buller had to meet some friends at The Marriott Hotel just opposite Lime Street Station and we were parked up in good time at about 11.30am or so. I used to travel up to Liverpool from my college town of Stoke for the Liverpool v. Chelsea games in 1985, 1986 and 1987. I was once chased by a pack of scallies from Liverpool Lime Street around the corner to the National Express Coach Station after a game in 1987. In those days, they used to keep the away fans penned-in for thirty minutes. All well and good, you might think, but of course it just gave the locals time to regroup and plan on picking off loose stragglers on the walk down Everton Valley, along the famous Scottie Road and down into the bear pit of Lime Street on match day. That wasn’t particularly pleasant.

I spent about two hours or so in the cosy bar of the hotel, getting stuck into a few pints of Staropramen. There were a couple of Chelsea fans there, but mainly red-shirted Liverpool fans. We couldn’t believe the room prices – £170 for a standard double. I joked that for Everton home games, the prices were probably £50! Of the two clubs, Everton always appear to have more locals attending games. The foyer was full of Liverpool fans from Scandinavia and Northern Ireland. I waited for Ohio John ( mgoblu06 ) to arrive. He had travelled up to Merseyside on the Friday and was making his way in to town from Studentland out near Edge Hill. He showed up and we had a couple of pints and a review of Wednesday’s game at The Bridge and we also looked ahead to the Juve game in March. John is certainly making the most of his time in Europe.

At about 2.30pm we caught a cab from Lime Street up to the ground where we were to meet three of John’s mates. As it happened, we headed for King Harry’s, tucked away by Stanley Park, which was the same boozer that myself and NYC Mike popped into before the game in April at Goodison. I hoped it would be a lucky omen. I called Mike to tell him – he was on his way to Nevada Smiths. There were a few other Chelsea in King Harry’s. It was jammed. John and myself popped outside to wait for the arrival of the three Liverpool fans…perfect timing, it began snowing! Anyway, the Scousers arrived – I said enough to be polite – and we exited at about 3.30pm. We walked along a back alley, the garden walls with barbed-wire and glass to deter break-ins. The cladding of The Kop loomed in the distance.

I wanted John to take it all in…the busy match day scene on the Walton Breck Road, The Kop, the takeaways, the colour, the buzz. OK – the area around Anfield is not pleasant, but it’s certainly vibrant. I took a photo of him underneath the Shankly statue. One last photo of us together outside the Centenary Stand ( where John watched the game from ) and I then walked around the corner to take my seat in the away section.

All the familiar faces. Had a quick chat with Cathy and Dog. Having had nothing to eat since 7.15am, I was quite, how shall we say, light-headed. I had plum seats, row 11, right behind the goal and level with the cross-bar. Oh, and about four seats away from the plastic mesh separating Us from Them. I had pre-warned John about the noise from The Kop at the start of the game when they do a rousing rendition of “YNWA.” Well, I thought the noise from The Koppites at the start was pretty awful. There just wasn’t the gung-ho fervour of the European nights which I had been part of in 2005, 2007 and 2008. No whistling, no “Ring Of Fire.”

Whether or not it was because of the biting cold, the atmosphere was poor the whole game really. Maybe both sets of fans were of the same opinion – that this would be Manchester United’s title. This game was not as special as the media were portraying it.

Well, what a poor game. I didn’t take many photographs in the first-half as I was grimly hanging on to the notion of plenty of Chelsea attacks in the second period, plenty of close-ups of goalmouth scrambles. I couldn’t be more wrong. Both teams were guilty of misplaced passes, over-hit through balls and a generally lacklustre game of football. The silence from the 43,000 at times was deafening.

Of course, the Frank Lampard incident was the turning point. I wasn’t particularly well sighted, but it didn’t appear to be a bad challenge. The subsequent barrage of text messages, from Chelsea and Liverpool fans alike, bore witness to that opinion. One from a co-worker, Del, a Liverpool fan –

“Poor poor decision.”

There were obvious grumbles around the 3,000 away fans. If we could nick a point, this would be a tremendous achievement. Although we created very little – was it just one shot in the second period? – I got the impression that Liverpool appeared to be a team low on confidence too.

I noted orange and yellow snow clouds over The Kop roof.

Of course, as we all know, two late Torres goals gifted Liverpool the three points. Suddenly Anfield came to life. The noise was sickening. I patronisingly conducted the nearby Liverpool fans, their faces suddenly joyous. Received a few “Liverpool” texts. The final whistle came and we were put out of our misery. As I used the gents before exiting the stadium, Morrissey’s new single was played on the stadium PA. A native of Manchester piling on the gloom in Liverpool. The irony was not lost on me, nor Alan, who muttered

…”Christ, as if I wasn’t depressed enough.”

I met up with Buller, Becky and Chris outside the Hillsborough Memorial. The snow was now falling again. We set off on a route march down to the city centre, alongside the locals. I had my jacket up around my ears, I just walked and walked, heads down, let’s get out of here. At least this time, unlike in the ‘eighties, we were relatively safe…I looked up at the tower blocks and recounted the oft-told story of locals taking pot shots at the away fans with air rifles. Thank God those days are behind us, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

I texted a few close friends…

“Just lost, it’s snowing, I’m in Liverpool, 200 miles from home…CAREFREE  ”

Oh that gallows humour.

We had a post mortem in the hotel bar – time for one more pint of Staropramen – and on the long drive south. Liverpool weren’t great were they? However, we showed all our usual tendencies of late and simply didn’t deserve it. Buller, who played a bit when he was younger, thought Ballack and Malouda were woeful. I had to agree.

What would become of our season? We mulled this over as we ate up the miles.

Home at midnight. It had been a grim day out alright. My record now stood at one win out of fourteen at Anfield. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ho hum.

( Alan texted me this morning to say that he got back to Chelsea late in the night, got as far as South Kensington, but due to the snow, all night buses were not working. He had to walk to Victoria and book into a fleapit hotel…from 5.30am on Sunday to 10am on Monday and he still wasn’t home. )

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