Despite plans for a new stadium, Liverpool are still at Anfield Road – one of the tradtional grounds in English football. It is located in the Anfield and Breckfield neighbourhood, hidden behind narrow streets and rows of housing, shops and pubs. In many ways, the essence of English football.
The modern day neighbourhood, however, is a sad sight. The neighbourhood has been selected for regeneration with the houses condemned. Most of them stand empty, with boarded up doors and windows and barbed wire on top of the fencing. What would have been a romantic walk to the ground, now gives you the impression of entering a war zone. In some of the houses, you see posters in the windows condemning politicians and Liverpool Football Club alike: This is Anfield, they proclaim.
The use of the text, inscribed over the players’ tunnel at Anfield, is ironic. Because no other English club has managed to brand themselves as strongly as Liverpool with the “This is Anfield” sign and the “You will never walk alone” anthem. Coaching youngsters in Denmark, quite a few have been brought up Liverpool fans by their fathers and uncles, brought up with Liverpool’s succes in the 70’s. They are arguably the most die-hard supporters among the kids, and they subscribe to the image of Anfield Road as the most atmospheric ground in the UK referring to this branding. Even my director at the Danish Museums Association, who does not take an interest in football, has exclaimed his fascination by Liverpool’s “You’ll never walk alone”.
I visited Anfield back in 1981 as a Manchester United away supporter and I must admit, I didn’t notice it back then. I was so excited by the United supporters totally outsinging the home crowd. They may have sung it – but then everybody did in those days. You can see United supporters singing it quite often in recordings from those days, But as branding gradually crept into football in the 80’s it was taken over/left to Liverpool.
A good colleague of mine, a West Ham United die-hard, had somehow managed to get me a ticket for the away section at Anfield Road once again. And I most admit, I was curious whether the atmosphere and the “You’ll never walk alone” could live up to the branding.
It truly was a spectacular sight seeing fans around the ground (not especially the Anfield Kop) raising their scarves above their heads as the playback of the tune started on the PA system. But I was a bit disappointed that the PA was the main sound to be heard all the way. To me, it sounded more impressive hearing the 19.000 Sheffield United supporters taking over the Greasy Chip Butty Song at Bramall Lane, than having the playback leading the 44,000 Anfield crowd through. And more impressive to witness an impeccable observation of one minute’s silence to the Hillsborough victims.
Speaking of silence, the silence within the ground once the game started was so striking that the West Ham supporters started to send out “Shhhhhh” s followed by songs asking “Is this the library?” or “Where is your famous atmosphere?” – or even asking the Liverpool fans if they should sing their songs. From what you could hear at the West Ham end, the Kop only mustered 2 or 3 feeble chants in the first half. So when the Liverpool crowd started an aggrieved moaning, as all the West Ham players had taken advantage of a stoppage in play to go to the touch-line to drink, the West Ham support responded with a “we had forgotten you were here” chant. Apart from that, there were a few shouts for handball (mimicked frequently afterwards from the West Ham crowd whenever a Liverpool player lost the ball), and moans at refereing decisions.
Things improved slightly in the second half, as Liverpool were attacking the Kop. Whenever play approached the West Ham goal, the crowd got up from their seats, and corner kicks now triggered a “Liverpool” chant.
The West Ham section was not that big. And the atmosphere was very laid-back. One of them said to me that you could really see that it was an early kick-off and people just weren’t ready for it. Maybe they didn’t expect to get anything out of it. So it was not a passionate support as you sometimes get from travelling fans. But there was a lot of mockery of the lack of Liverpool support, as well as a lot “I’ons” chants, and “I’m forever blowing bubbles” songs going up. And despite the PA announcing that any visiting supporter persisting in standing risked eviction from the ground, it was just met by a “Stand up, if you love West Ham”. And all through the match, the entire West Ham section stood up, whereas all the Liverpool fans sat down; and all through half time, the West Ham section sat down, while the Liverpool fans stood up.
Perhaps this was a bad day to see Liverpool – disappointingly to their supporters drawing 0-0 against West Ham. On the train back to Liverpool Central, a Liverpool supporter shook his head and said: “this was one of those games where nothing was right”. When I visited Liverpool museum curator Stephen Done back in February, Liverpool had also drawn 0-0 at home the previous night- Stephem said that on such a night – with bad weather and the team not really hitting form – the crowd ought to get behind the team, but with all the tourists that just didn’t happen. They expected to be taken for ride, and when they didn’t, they just sat there, silently frustrated or even discontent. You could argue that the same applies for Manchester United or any other of the big clubs that attend footballing tourists.
There were quite a few tourist at the game. When I arrived at Liverpool Lime Street, the queue for taxis to the ground was only rivalled by the queue to leave luggage at the station before going to the match. The Scandinavians were far more dominant than the Asians here, compared to Manchester United. There was also a big number of matchday-scarves, sign of tourists. So that may go some way to explaining the quietness.
Having said that Liverpool showed good hospitality to the away support. Signs at the snack bars inside the ground welcomed West Ham United, the body-search was nowhere near as strict as at Tottenham, my latest away ground, and the stewart at the exit told me to “take care” as I left the ground. There was generally a friendly atmosphere, going all the way down to the players. When Sturridge was warming up for Liverpool, he laughed at and applauded the West Ham supporters chanting, which made them sing “Sign him on”. And Jamie Carragher also adressed the West Ham support in a good humoured way. The West Ham players were great with the fans – applauding before and after the match, John Colling, arguably man of the match, threw his shirt to the fans. And despite the disappointing atmosphere and the sombre surroundings, Anfield Road is a nice ground with particularly the two one-tire stands without corporate boxes standing out.