Tales From The Storm Chasers

Liverpool vs. Chelsea : 27 April 2014.

Here was a match that I had been dreading for some time. As our league campaign has spluttered and faltered over recent weeks – defeats against the combined talents of Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Sunderland perhaps convincing all of us to believe the manager’s comments of us being likely championship bystanders – the Liverpool juggernaut continued at a heady pace. How grateful I was that a Manchester City win last week meant that a defeat for us at Anfield would not hand the title to them.

We are not friends.

The mild dislike of ten years ago seems like a distant era; another time and two different clubs. Since then, the increasing animosity between Liverpool and Chelsea has grown. I was once ambivalent to Liverpool to be honest. Their glory years were in the past. As our stock gradually rose, theirs appeared to stagnate. Then came Mourinho, the ghost goal in 2005, a chant about “history” and one of modern football’s newest and most bitter rivalries.

Liverpool, confidence high after a stretch of winning games, were now championship favourites. To some in the media, the title was already won. As I prepared for the trip to Merseyside – sandwiched between the high drama of Champions League dates with Atletico Madrid – my whole body was filled with dread. Our team would be weakened. Liverpool were on fire. The momentum was with them. In addition to concerns about the football side of things, there was also the worry of going into the cauldron of red noise of Anfield and the jibes between both sets of fans. I wondered if the atmosphere would be blighted by the “H” words of Hillsborough, History, Hooligans, Heysel and Hate. I missed the game at Anfield last season; I wasn’t sorry.

On this occasion, though, I was drawn in like a moth to a flame. This was a game I had to attend; despite my concerns about a possible mauling and the horrendous mocking that would accompany it, there was an unquenchable desire to attend. Regardless of the outcome, I had to be there. I wanted to be part of it. I wanted the buzz, the thrill, the risk of danger, the chance of sweet success. I likened my desire to attend the game at Anfield to mirror that of storm chasers in the United States; lured by the awesome strength and power of a tornado, regardless of the threat to human life, like sailors swept up against rocks answering the song of a siren.

We were the storm chasers.

The Scousers sing about walking through a storm.

On the morning of Sunday 27 April 2014, as I left my sleeping Somerset village at 7.45am, I wondered if it was our turn to walk through a storm.

I collected Oscar Parksorius just after 8am, then diverted back to Bristol to collect Dennis from his hotel in Clifton. Dennis is one of the many fine American Chelsea fans who I have made friends with over the past ten years. He was in Bristol with work for a week but, what luck, was able to attend three Chelsea games during his spell in the south-west. As I drove north, we chatted about all sorts. I was, however, keen to give him a couple of facts about Liverpool Football Club which, I am sure, he was not familiar.

“Dennis…let me tell you this. Liverpool fans, along with many others, always harp on about us having no history, no past…that we are a small club with money. Well, let’s talk about attendances. If Liverpool’s highest ever gate at Anfield was ranked among Chelsea’s highest ever gates at Stamford Bridge, where would it come?”

Dennis : “I have no idea.”

Parky : “Eleventh?”

Chris : “At number sixty-seven.”

Dennis : “Wow.”

Yes, it’s true.

Stamford Bridge – 82,905.

Anfield – 61,905.

And sixty-six gates at The Bridge between the two figures.

“And here’s another one, Dennis. All-time averages. These figures are from 2004. Chelsea’s all-time average home gate in the league, dating back to 1905, was around 31,000. In that time…1905 to 2004…one league championship. Liverpool’s average all time…with a mighty eighteen championships, was around 34,000. That is just three thousand more. So tell me – doesn’t that suggest to you that it is our fans that are more loyal? In ninety-nine years, one title. Yet in in 2004, we were the club with the fifth-highest lifetime home attendance. I know we were blessed with a big ground, but we still had to fill it.”

We stopped at Strensham for a McBreakfast and then headed north through Birmingham. We dipped into Stafford to collect Dave The Hat, newly arrived on a train from The Smoke.

“The train was full of Scousers. Ugh.”

We drove on, the weather brightening with each mile. The laughs were roaring. The others supped on lagers, ales and ciders while I concentrated on the road.

“Dennis – this will be my nineteenth trip to Anfield with Chelsea. In all that time, just three wins. The 2-1 in 1992, the 3-1 in 2009 and the 2-0 in 2010. Hardly rich pickings.”

This would be both Dennis’ and Dave’s first visit.

Lacoste Watch –

Dennis – Brown.

We spoke briefly about the game. Dave and I both foresaw an early goal and a potential gubbing. We were, of course, going to be without key personnel. I inwardly groaned. In the back of mind was another piece of trivia. Our last really heavy league defeat against any team was the 5-1 loss at Anfield in 1996. By itself, that is a rather astounding statistic; in almost eighteen years, we haven’t conceded a heavier loss. In that period we have beaten other teams by mightier scores; Tottenham (6-1), Arsenal (6-0) and Manchester United (5-0) to name just three.

As we drove over the Manchester Ship canal, we were diverted by a barrage of Madonna / food puns and it took our mind off the game.

“Hollandaise.”

“Poppadom Preach.”

“Like A Pear.”

“La Isla Fajita.”

“Like A Gherkin.”

As I slowed at traffic lights before sweeping north on Queens Drive, Dennis exclaimed –

“Oh look at that.”

Over on the side of the road, just by the pavement, was a hubcap, welcoming us into the city.

Too funny.

On previous visits to Merseyside – and certainly in the hooligan era of the mid-‘eighties – trips to either Goodison or Anfield could be tense affairs. On one occasion I was chased by a few Liverpool scallies around Lime Street. On other occasions, the threat of physical harm was never too far away. Although I didn’t expect the same level of danger in 2014, I did warn the others that a visit to a pub would be silly in light of the animosity twixt Liverpool and Chelsea. There is no love lost. The idea, once I had parked up a mile to the south of Anfield, was for us to keep our heads down, avoid the locals and then let our hair down in the bar in the away end.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Dave – who is a man of Kent – bounced towards two locals, leaning back, arms all over the show, doing his best Micky Flanagan impersonation, and enquired –

“Owright mate – gotta liiiiiight?”

Dave couldn’t have given the game away more easily if he was wearing hob-nail boots, a Pearly-King suit, eating jellied eels, singing a Tommy Steele number and doing a Cockney knees-up.

Good grief.

We walked up Utting Avenue towards the grey steel of Anfield at the top of the hill. The streets were full of red favours. A gaggle of local women in onesies walked past; surely the perfect item of clothing for the city of Liverpool. There were three police vans outside “The Arkles.” Once inside the away end on Anfield Road, we could relax.

A pint of lager for the driver.

My mood was still sombre, though. I still had visions of a defeat. And possibly a heavy one.

5-1, 1996.

We chatted to four lads from Trowbridge who had been involved in a head-on collision at some lights at 8am. Thankfully, despite the car being written-off, they were OK.

The storm chasers were in town.

I pulled a face as Big John walked past.

“It’s all about Lisbon, mate.”

And I guess it was.

The general mood among my friends in the crowded bar was that we would be very grateful for a 0-0 draw. The team flashed up on the TV screen.

Schwarzer, Dave, Brana, Kalas, Cole, Mikel, Matic, Lamps, Schurrle, Ba, Salah.

I didn’t flinch. It was as I thought it might be. It was hardly a team of youth players.

For a change, I was watching the game alongside Lord Parky. Our seats were in row two. As I edged in to seat 80, I looked down at a carrier bag in front of a middle-aged chap; in it was a Manchester United logo’d match ball.

…mmm.

I didn’t recognise the people immediately around me, except Cathy who was sitting five seats along to my right. Like me, her camera was at the ready. I was hoping for some nice photographs in this game. Thankfully, my large lens was not garnering too much attention from the match day stewards. Behind me – five rows back – was Dennis. Dave was sitting – OK standing – with Alan and Gal, further towards the rear. Our end was packed. There wasn’t a spare seat in the house. There was an over-riding feeling of nervous tension.

The flags and banners were being waved with gusto in The Kop. Ah, The Kop. On one memorable occasion, I watched Chelsea from the old, vast, unruly and unregulated old Kop; the 1992 game, the 2-1 win. I have in fact, watched Chelsea from all four sides at Anfield. I’d guess not many Chelsea fans can claim that.

The stadium then sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and I took it all in. The benchmark for me was the infamous Champions League Semi-Final in 2005. Anfield was electric that night. In 2014, it was loud, but not as loud as in 2005. I remember the European-style whistling in 2005, too. It was one of the noisiest atmospheres I have ever experienced. By contrast, when we went to Anfield four years ago and virtually set up the championship with a 2-0 victory, I have never known Liverpool’s stadium to be so subdued.

The game began and after one minute, I was already watching the clock high up between the Centenary stand and The Kop. It always gets my attention. I have become obsessed by the clock at Anfield.

Let’s keep them out. One minute, five minutes, ten.

The stadium was rocking during the first twenty minutes as Liverpool dominated possession. An early shot from Ashley Cole was not followed up with any other real Chelsea chances and we dug in. Coutinho blasted over right in front of me. This was torrid stuff. Cole cleared off the line and Sakho shot over. I watched him as he shouted in despair. Being so close to the pitch was wonderful, though. I was able to marvel at the speed and skill of both sets of players. Liverpool kept finding players out wide, but cross after cross was either blocked or headed away. I was unhappy with our time-wasting and was worried that it would end up with bookings or worse.

As the minutes edged past – twenty, twenty-five – the noise quietened and I was more hopeful. Chelsea began to cause the home team problems, especially from set pieces. On more than one occasion, corners were whipped in. Our presence was increasing. The Chelsea choir responded. In the home areas, a new song –

“We Are Liverpool – Tra La La la La.”

We responded –

“Oh Dennis Wise.”

Thirty minutes.

A third of the way there.

“Come on Chels.”

Ba was toiling well, and we began to enjoy periods of possession, moving the ball around, making Liverpool chase. The noise was definitely lessening. I don’t often sit/stand with Parky and his fervour was astounding. It seemed that every time a Liverpool player had possession for more than two touches, Parky would bark out :

“Hit him, stab him, hit him with a brick.”

My eyes picked out Luis Suarez – I’ll admit it, my eyes hurt each time I saw him, such was his prowling presence and threat of danger. His one real chance was spurned though; his shot flashed over.

In front of The Kop, another corner flashed in and the leaping Tomas Kalas – the debutant – headed wide when he really should have tested Mignolet.

Thirty five minutes, forty minutes.

Then, a miracle. A slip from a Liverpool player and Ba pounced. He ran untroubled from just inside the Liverpool half. What a daunting sight if he dared look; twelve thousand steely eyes on The Kop praying for him to fail. Ba kept his composure and shot. The ball was struck low. I kept my composure and snapped just as the ball crossed the line. Twelve thousand Liverpudlians in The Kop looked on aghast. Three thousand Chelsea fans in the away corner erupted.

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES.”

I turned to my left in order to hug someone, anyone, but was met by four stony faces. There had been warnings of Scousers somehow – how??? – getting tickets in our area, and here was proof. I smiled at one chap, and pointed  –

“Sussed.”

He looked worried, but I was in no mood to grass anyone up. The mother and daughter next to me…mmm, half-and-half scarves, surely a telling sign…were quiet too. I just smiled at them.

“Get in Chelsea!”

A song swept our end –

“Steven Gerrard – You’ve Done It Again.”

Oh boy…so it was his slip. I simply hadn’t noticed who was involved, being so low. After his back-pass to Didier Drogba in 2010 on the same ground – and the same end, too – he had done it again. I may be hung, drawn and quartered for saying it, but Gerrard is a great player; I love the way he pings long passes around, knee over the ball, textbook. On this occasion, though – with thoughts of the premature celebrations and his protestations in the Liverpool huddle a few games back – I could only laugh.

There was a sense of huge bewilderment in our end at the break; we had weathered the storm. We had defended heroically. We just might do this.

We just might do this!

The second-half followed along similar lines. There was much possession from Liverpool, but simply magnificent and resolute defending from the entire Chelsea team. The second-half of Chelsea at Anfield in 2014 will be remembered by these few motifs…

The sight of Steven Gerrard, alone, in acres of space at the centre of every Liverpool move. I was surprised how much room we gave him, but I think it was decided that we would simply defend deep and repel all of his prods into the runners ahead. He resembled an NFL quarterback, but whose wide receivers kept running into blocks.

The Liverpool finishing; so poor. On not one occasion did I feel that our goal was under threat. There was not one single expectant hush from The Kop, as so often happens before a goal is scored. Even the “oohs” and “aahs” after each wayward shot were quiet.

The performance from Mark Schwarzer was magnificent. He kept on coming and claiming cross after cross, then scrambled down on a few occasions to foil Allen and others. Seeking extra confidence ahead of the return leg with Atletico, this game was a Godsend.

Willian replaced Salah. As the sun beat down on us in the away end, it was our turn to play. Runs from Willian and Schurrle caused panic in the home support and Mignolet reacted well to deny Schurrle. A Matic shot skidded wide. Ba held the ball up so well and proved to be quite a handful for the Liverpool defence. Behind him, everyone had run their proverbial socks off.

Gary Cahill replaced Schurrle, and Jose went with three – no, five – at the back. I am not a fan of changes to shape late on, but – there again – I know fcuk all about football. The Chelsea fans seemed too nervous to sing. It was excruciating. The minutes ticked by.

That bloody clock.

More wayward shots from Liverpool.

With the end in sight, Mourinho acted as chief cheerleader, beating his chest, pointing at the watch, scowling at us, demanding more support. It was an incredible sight.

To be honest, I felt myself bracing for an equaliser in the last fifteen minutes. This was my game plan. I remembered my pre-game thoughts; an equaliser, though tough, would be “OK.”

Into four or five minutes of added time, we were tested at a corner but Schwarzer saved from Suarez. Thankfully, space had been at a premium all day long in our box and those intricate through balls from Gerrard into Suarez had been noticeably missing.

Space, however, took on an extra dimension in the last minute. Chelsea won the ball just inside our own half and the ball was played to Fernando Torres.

“Oh my God, son – go on…do it.”

I had time to raise my camera and photograph his run at Mignolet, his pass to Willian and the walking in of the ball into the empty net.

Game. Set. Match.

The Chelsea end exploded once more.

It was time for a few crazy, magical photographs of the players celebrating just yards from me. I probably heard their voices, but it is a beautiful royal blue blur. I scrambled up on to the seat in front. Arms outstretched. I yelled until I could yell no more.

At the final whistle, complete bliss.

From behind, came a raucous chant –

“We’re Gonna Win The League…”

I joined in, but I was far from convinced, despite our magnificent performance at the home of the champions-elect. Another song brought me greater cheer :

“Portugal, Portugal – We Are Coming.”

I shook hands with Cathy, our smiles wide. Parky was going mad, as per normal. Dennis, the Anfield virgin, was beaming. I could only begin to imagine his emotions. Then, Dave, arms wide, lapping it up.

I was now 4 wins in 19, but Dennis and Dave were 1/1.

There had been a storm and the storm was caused by us.

Walk on now, Liverpool.

As we sidled out into the evening sun, we roared once more. I looked at the reactions of a couple of grizzled Liverpool stewards, maybe veterans of Rome 1977, Wembley 1978, Paris 1981, Rome 1984 and Istanbul 2005. I think I caught one of them smiling as we sung once more. England’s new European specialists were taking centre stage now –

“Portugal, Portugal – We Are Coming.

Portugal, Portugal – I Pray.

Portugal, Portugal – We Are Coming.

We Are Coming In The Month Of May.”

We kept quiet on the steady walk back to the car, save for a few knowing winks with some Chelsea faces. Once inside the sanctity of my car, we roared. We were soon met with a dilemma of the game taking place at Selhurst Park, though. Really, we should have wanted City to drop points, but we just wanted the whole day to be remembered as the day that Liverpool were knocked out of the title-race.

“They won’t come back from this. I think its City’s now.”

“Unless Everton can beat them…”

“Nah. We’ll probably finish third.”

“Just like Jose says.”

“And who can argue with him?”

It was a gorgeous drive south. Dennis, especially, was just so happy. We smiled as we heard Brendan Rodgers and then a few Liverpool fans on “606” blaming Mourinho and Chelsea for their defeat. It was just like old times…Liverpool blaming Chelsea…

Jog on.

I had whispered to Dennis, walking back to the car in Liverpool –

“This could be the best week of your life.”

On Wednesday, let’s make sure it is.

Image

 

7 thoughts on “Tales From The Storm Chasers

  1. Excellent, blog and through your account I was able to relive the day. We woke at 6:45am to watch the game and I am sure that we woke the neighbours when the 2nd goal went in . I am based in Canada , EXPAT used to live in London, life long Chelsea supporter through the good times and bad.

  2. Just want to thank you for these reports. I look forward to them after each match. Its the next best thing to actually being there!

  3. Thought I had read this but had it pinned to read. Anyways – Oscar Parksorius – You continue to top yourself. Excellent read.

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