He’ll pass the ball 40 yards, he’s big and he’s fuckin’ ‘ard

I’ve been lost for words for over a week now, trying in vain to take the contents of my head and commit them to a little white box. I almost had it, scribbled notecards starting to fill on the train home from Liverpool, until some nosy bastard next to me started reading over my shoulder. It’s difficult enough to condense the realisation of a childhood dream without the additional pressure and self-censorship of an unwanted intrusion.

For this particular story, a person should overlook certain facts – my brief flirtations with pretending to support ManUre or Chelski in my teenage years – simply the acting out of a teenager hitting her dad where it hurts. Ignore too the complicated mess of my extended family from whence I derive any claims to Scouserdom. No, it starts and ends with there being one team in England that could compare with the mighty Steelmen of Lanarkshire – in Liverpool I have found not a second club, but a joint first.

I knew my grandad had a strange accent compared to the rest of us – particularly flaring up around words like ‘curtains’ or ‘skirt’. Before I had worked out regions and their accents, I had been taken to Fir Park and indoctrinated in the ways of the ‘Well. As a family we could always love our team easier than people we knew, and when my Dad and Grandad couldn’t drive down to Anfield, they made do with the football ground across the road. Heysel and eventually Hillsborough put paid to any chances of my being allowed on the Kop during my childhood, and so I was content with my boys in claret and amber, with the Redmen only being part of my world when Match of the Day was on. Alas, while my love of Motherwell FC has not waned, my attendance and participation has become another casualty of my need for a larger home, a bigger stage.

I’ve always prided myself on being a ‘real’ supporter – for me contentment is not just the Sky Sports subscription, it’s the cold and the freezing rain, the overpriced drinks and as many layers of your team colours as you can muster while retaining motor function. It doesn’t matter how shit your team are for any given ninety minutes, you have to be there to earn the right to heckle or encourage, and shouting at the telly just doesn’t cut it.

Shift work, relative poverty, and inversion of priority and a scarcity of tickets had been convenient excuses, but when I was offered tickets for a home game against Wigan, I was determined that nothing would keep me from those fields of Anfield Road.

Gloss over the engineering works, having to actually see something called ‘the Midlands’ and sleep deprivation, it was all about the game, and anticipation is the best form of adrenaline. I knew where I was going without having any clue where I was going (this didn’t work out so well on the way home), the floodlights like a homing beacon, and the swarming crowds a pretty handy clue as to my direction. Strolling up the side of Stanley Park and bantering with the programme seller was the first welling of emotion, and for a second I thought I’d burst into tears there on the pavement.

Although I couldn’t get tickets for the Kop itself, it was the end we emerged from the battered side streets at. It seemed fitting somehow, that like my beloved Fir Park, this would be another stadium nestled in the midst of an otherwise unassuming neighbourhood. Gently battered by the crowds, too excited to think about souvenirs or even a ceremonial Bovril, I dragged a surprisingly willing girlfriend down to the Shankly Gates and that bit closer to the start of it all.

A moment of quiet at the Hillsborough memorial, and anyone who gets on at Liverpool supporters for being mawkish or enjoying victimhood would do well to stand there for a moment and think about their words.

Inside there was relief at a decent view, even in the corner, and a defiant shedding of my coat to proudly display my shirt emblazoned with Torres (and I ordered it way before he proved what a superstar he is, it’s all about having faith). Speaking of faith, for someone who has long since given up on God (the actual one, not Robbie Fowler) this is my religion, with plastic pews and toes numb from cold. The missus even got caught up in it all, if her swearing and singing over the course of the evening are any indication.

The daft pop songs as filler were fine to pass time while the seats slowly became occupied, but at Anfield there’s only one song that everyone is waiting for. I can’t adequately describe my reaction to those opening notes, but I’m tearing up now at the power of just the memory. To be there, despite everything that said I would never be, with a lump in my throat and eyes stinging, singing without regard to tune those ever so famous words of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, scarf held aloft and 40,000 voices in time with my own, well… what can I say?

On a personal level, the minute’s silence for Phil O’Donnell seemed especially fitting, a meeting of two worlds and a chance for me to pay my respects to the big man publicly. The result in the end, was an uninspiring draw, but I was there and ultimately nothing else mattered.

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5 responses to “He’ll pass the ball 40 yards, he’s big and he’s fuckin’ ‘ard

  1. It was very, very awesome.

  2. kosherdillpickle

    This brought tears to my eyes petal, what a fitting tribute.

  3. This is lovely. Well done, love!

  4. lovely written! great style

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