A Life in Liverpool Matches 8
Wimbledon 1 Liverpool 0, 13 December 1998

There’s something different about this Liverpool crowd. It’s not its vast size, though this is the biggest group of travelling Reds I’ve ever seen outside of a Wembley cup final. It’s not just that actual Liverpool accents are – seemingly – in the minority, it’s more that this gathering feels like less like one you’d see at football and more like one you’d find it at a stadium rock gig. Christ, there’s women here. And some of them – gasp – are good-looking. Fit birds at footy! When did this happen?

I lean over to my mate. This is the first match we’ve been to together since 1990. In between, he’s been living abroad, I’ve been to university and we’ve both now ended up in London.

“Seen her?”
He looks at a brunette sitting a few rows in front of us.
“Fucking hell, la.”
“I know. Fit.”
“There’s…” he splutters, looking around Selhurst Park, “loads of them.”

We shake our collective heads. This is weird. In the old days, the only women at matches were mad grannies who sat in the Paddock swathed in giant scarves with the players’ names sewn on them or daddy’s girls who somehow got the family’s football gene. But this, this… it’s like going to Cream.

Speaking of which, weekends home are rarely about Anfield any more. Instead, it’s to Cream if we’re in the mood to dance or a trawl around the new bars that have sprouted up around Bold Street if booze is on the agenda. As a city, Liverpool is changing, the mega-club next to the Conti acting as an irresistible magnet for visitors just as the other institution in Anfield has done for decades.

Mates are foregoing suburban semis in Formby, the Wirral or Ormskirk for one-bed flats on the Waterloo or King’s Docks. There are skyscrapers rising around the waterfront and talk of adding a Fourth Grace as councillors and developers seal planning applications over lengthy lunches at restaurants in Victoria Street. And Liverpool FC, as you’d expect, are at the very centre of this brave new Scouse world. People you meet keep telling you’re that they’re “brewstered” or well on the way to this near-mythical state. Is this really the city that elected Militant?

While the ’70s and ’80s had belonged football-wise to the men in red, Liverpool’s nightclubs, if they had any credibility, were home to a very different breed. The idea of Graeme Souness or Alan Kennedy turning up to catch Echo and The Bunnymen at punk venue Eric’s was as likely as Alan Hansen ditching his Birkdale mansion for a squat in Lark Lane.

But today, it’s different. Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and David James are regulars in the VIP room at (the) Cream, rubbing shoulders and sharing drinks with DJs, soap stars, singers and local, er… ‘businessmen’. Footballers, yes, are seemingly cool. Some of them don’t even play golf any more.

And today, watching Liverpool play Wimbledon in the Dons’ adopted (and hated) home of Selhurst Park the pull of the newly glamourous game and the young men who play it is all too evident. Not only are these players prodigiously talented (and Fowler is a force of nature), but some of them are not ugly. In fact, Jamie Redknapp looks more like the member of a boy band than an integral member of one world football’s most famous midfields, while Jason McAteer is advertising shampoo. Just over ten years previously our top striker was John Wark, a man who luxuriated in the nickname “Doghead”.

Yet, despite the glitter, Liverpool are not gold. The talent is there, but these players perform like individuals – all chiefs and very few indians, with the game seemingly a distraction to the other more fun aspects of being a professional footballer. A group of them have been labelled the ‘Spice Boys’, such is their reputation for partying with the great and good of the British music scene. What our new manager Gerard Houllier makes of it all is unclear, but I suspect it’s something he hasn’t encountered before.

So, today’s game passes, not like a football match but more like a concert, with highlights, uptempo bits and even a slice of well-timed dramatic tragedy in the shape of Michael Owen’s missed penalty. We politely clap, try to sing a bit and then get off early, something I’ve never done in all my years of following Liverpool Football Club. They’ve lost. I’m not bothered. They’re not bothered. We’re all just playing our parts in making the Premiership The Best League in The Word. No-one is waiting for me outside to beat me up and not once have I been called a Scouse bastard. The scrunched-up ticket in my jeans pocket has left little change out of 20 quid, double what it was just five years preciously. This is football as showbiz, the football that we warned them against. And the world loves it.

This article first appeared in Well Red, the essential Liverpool FC magazine


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