A Life in Liverpool Matches, December 26, 1981
Liverpool 1 Manchester City 3
The tickets are light blue in colour. They sit on top of the gas fire, wedged to the wall by the heavy slate ashtray – an ashtray deemed too posh to be used for my mum’s discarded Silk Cuts. It is, as my Nan would say, “for best”.
Football, at least in our house, is following a similar pattern.
Forget paying on the gate, the 1980s, that decade of aspiration, sees me and the old man going to the game with ‘proper’ tickets. No longer willing to put up even with the gentle conditions of the Paddock terrace, Dad ensures our match days at Anfield are now spent in the cramped confines of the Kemlyn Road stand.
And being in the stands (where you sit, confusingly) means getting organized and buying your tickets in the week leading up to the game. My dad, a gentle Yorkshireman, who moved to Liverpool to teach geography in the late ’60s, is a world leader at being organized. The tickets have been in the house for two weeks already.
Of course, it being Boxing Day, my parents’ friends, most of them with names like Val, Keith, Gail and Dave, pop around for Boxing Day sherry, to talk about The State of The Country and That Bitch Thatcher (mum is quieter than ‘Red Gail’ on this subject). I’d find their adult chat boring enough (I’m only ten), but ever since the tickets were unveiled yesterday, my only thought has been Liverpool’s match with the less glamourous of the Manchesters. Sod the rest of Christmas.
By 12:30, I can tell the arl feller is shaping up to make his move. He’s fiddling with his cheesecloth shirt, checking his watch and making it clear, by the finality with which he closes the drinks cupboard, that the sherry (which only comes out at Christmas) will not be further depleted. I take the plunge and pick up the tickets, feel them in my fingers, flip them over and examine the little diagram of the ground on the back. Kemlyn. Road. Stand.
As I put these passports-to-joy back behind the ashtray, I see the stamp of fixture again: Liverpool versus Manchester City, kick-off 12.00pm.
The game has already been on 30 minutes.
No, this can’t be right. Tell me, Dad, that this isn’t happening, that I’ve read it wrong, that the game between Liverpool and City is starting at 3pm. I hand him the tickets.
“It says the game’s already begun,” I blurt out. I’d cry if I was a couple of years younger.
He looks at the ticket. The conversation stops.
He studies the front of one, then shakes his head and sucks in some air in the manner of a plumber about to deliver an exorbitant quote.
We can still get to the game, of course – on a good day it’s only a 15-minute drive to Anfield, we’d be there for the last half hour if we get a move on. But even when I’m thinking this, I know that we’re not going anywhere. I kid myself that Bob Paisley will get a call from my Dad, telling him to stop the game, until we’ve made our way to the ground. But, alas, no – and soon the conversation has moved on, and the drinks cabinet has been opened once more. This is really (not) happening.
I’ll get this feeling several times over the following years. When Sharpe put us to the sword with his wonder goal in 1984, I was listening to it in the living room, the voice of Radio Merseyside’s Graham Beecroft’s (s)creaming in delight as Everton threw off the shackles of decades-long mediocrity. I’d still loved to have been at that one, just to see the idiot in the glasses run on to the pitch to hug his hero.
Then there was the ‘Battle of Goodison’, the FA Cup semi of 1985 against Man United, a game remembered as much for the war on the terraces as for the heart-stopping action on the pitch. A match you just had to be at.
I listened to it in a country lane halfway between Bickerstaffe and Kirkby.
Once you actually start attending matches, you realise that there’s nothing like being there. You kid yourself that the game cannot exist without you. It’s only as you get older, as you start to focus on other things – and maybe realise that most players look on their profession as just a job – that these moments get rarer, until for some people, missing the game doesn’t feel like missing out at all.
The loss against City was a hiccup in what was a near-faultless Championship-winning season for Liverpool. In the end, I accepted what had happened and took my disappointment like a man: by putting on my Liverpool tracksuit (Umbro, flared bottoms) and going out for a ride on my Grifter. As the Reds let in a third, Bob Paisley was no doubt thinking that he should have given my Dad a call. Big mistake, Bob, big mistake.
Originally in Well Red magazine, issue two out now