A Life in Liverpool Matches Part Three: Coventry City 1 Liverpool 4, August 1987

“Can I go?”
“Do Nicky’s mum and dad say it’s alright?”
“Yeah, yeah – ’course they do, they’ve said he can go to the aways on his own for the last year.”

The last year!

Mum pauses.

“I think it’ll be OK. I’ll talk to your dad.”

This is a big deal. Since their divorce five years ago in 1982, my folks have barely spoken a word to each other, apart from frosty debriefings after parents’ evenings.

But it’s 1987, now, early August and the start of the new football season. I’m 15, just the right age to begin those treks across the country to follow Liverpool. As it’s never more than a fiver to get in anywhere, I sell it as a relatively cheap way of getting rid of me for the day. In May , there was a trial run for the Littlewood’s Cup final (where we lost despite Rushie opening the scoring), but I want real away games now, where there’s a chance that things might get ‘interesting’ off the pitch too!

And if I was my folks, I’d want me to go too – all I talk about is football and clothes. Plus there’s my habit of storing copies of Knave, bought from ‘Mr News’ in Aughton, under my bottom drawer. Who needs someone like that hanging about on a Saturday afternoon? Not my dad, certainly. I’m given the all-clear.

The Liverpool side for the 1987/88 season that Kenny Dalglish has assembled is, to my eyes, about as perfect as a football team can be. In eight months he’s bought John Aldrige to replace Ian Rush (off to Juventus), Peter Beardsley and John Barnes – a trio I’m convinced will lay waste to the First Division. Throughout July, me, Nick and our Everton mate, Wayne go down to Anfield every day just to meet the three of them when they come back from training. Each time we’re there I ask Beardsley for his autograph, usually on behalf of my mum.

“Aye, what’s her name, son?”
“It’s Sheila, Peter.”
“Right. Here you go.”
“Thanks, Pete!”

And each time, he signs it ‘Sheba’.

Early August. I ring up Nicky.

“Right, it’s Coventry, second away of the season after Arsenal.”
“Sound. Not too far. Your mum and dad say it’s alright?”
“Yeah, they’re OK.”

Tickets for the game aren’t a problem, not now we also luxuriate in the title of Kop season ticket-holders (I have a mock-leather wallet with the club crest on it to hold the little book in). We’re on football’s Easy Street, able to pick and choose what games we go to, when we want to – as long as our pocket money covers it and the matches don’t interfere with our school attendance.

To facilitate our trip to Coventry, we’ve joined something called the Anfield Travel Club. In our earlier trial run to Wembley we’d used a coach laid on by Barnes Travel on County Road, perhaps the most chaotic travel agent in the world. Now, though, we’re official and we get the bus from Anfield. They might as well just be done with it and make us part of the playing staff.

The day of the game is hot. Not a surprise as the first six weeks of the season are always hot. The coach takes us down the M6 through Stoke, Wolverhampton, Birmingham. We pass other similar vehicles full of Reds making their way to the match, scarves flying out of windows, flags in the back of windows, centre-spreads from gentlemen’s magazine waved at more innocent motorists.

There’s none of this behaviour with the Anfield Travel Club though. Our steward – yellow bib with ‘LFC’ stamped on it – runs our coach like a personal fiefdom. “Don’t be fucking about on here, lads,” he warns us from his little throne next to the driver. Bet he has his own ale stash though, the twat.

And then we’re there. Off the motorway, into the city, past detached houses, then 1930s semis, until we get to the terraced streets, always a sign that we’re in footy ground territory. Outside a chip shop near Highfield Road, a big lad, the sort of fella who’d be useful in pub scrap, catches my eye and gives me the thumbs-up. He’s not alone. People are happy to see us. You start to realise that being a Liverpool fan gives you certain privileges in towns like Coventry. We’re like The Beatles, but with better trainers.

Inside, we’re all stuck on a terrace with a floodlight at the back, with hundreds of lads perched on fences and ledges around it. For some reason, the photos from this match are always used in books as evidence of Liverpool’s well-dressed ’80s support, though in truth, the golden age of scally has passed. Today, the likes of Tacchini and Ellesse have been superceded by baggier, 1950s-influenced items by Maccano and C17. Within three months people will be going on the Kop with cartoons of Fred Flintstone on their jeans.

But on the pitch we’re a revelation. Without Rush and with Dalglish looking to spend more time on the bench, the attacking slack is taken up by Beardsley, Aldridge and John Barnes. And from the off, they click. The trio’s understanding is telepathic, Beardsley feeding balls to Aldo from the right, while the left wing becomes nothing less than a pedestal for John Barnes to show off his breathtaking array of skills. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best player I’ve ever seen.

One more thing. Barnes, signed for £900,000 from Watford, is Liverpool’s first black player since Howard Gayle. There’s been occasional racist chanting on the Kop for years – though never sang with any great enthusiasm – but with Barnes it stops dead. Simply put, how can you be racist to other footballers when your best player is black? Instead, the song from the sun-baked terraces at Highfield Road is loud, happy and gloating. “Johnny Barnes!” we shout, “Johnny Barnes!”

He’s ours. And so’s the league.

From issue three of Well Red, undoubtedly the best Liverpool magazine out there


  1. cracking read as always.

    Hibs away at Tynecastle was my first away day without my old man. Surprisingly we actually won that night...

  2. Jack, need more detail than that, lad. Need to know your clothing, the weather, food purchased etc


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