A Life in Liverpool Matches 10 Liverpool 2 Manchester United 1, 13 September 2008
The walk to Anfield is a little different today. I step out of Kirkdale station, down the same streets and jiggers I've been using for years until the fortress at the top of hill appears, a lumbering giant asleep in a bed of Victorian terraced houses. Unusually, though, I'm early. The badge-sellers are silently setting up while unsmiling, fat men in catering caravans take out concertinas of frozen burgers for the last stage of their journey into the bellies of other, perhaps even fatter men. This though, does not concern me – for now, Anfield, and Liverpool's match against Manchester United, can wait.
For the first time ever, I continue down Walton Breck Road away from the ground and toward the Liverpool Supporters Club, an unremarkable building that’s barely registered in all my years following the Reds. This is where coaches from all over the UK (and beyond) often deposit their scarlet-clad cargo for an afternoon some of them have spent their whole lives dreaming about. Today, though, the clientele is different, more focused, determined. This is not a football crowd, it's a union mass meeting.
The Liverpool flags and banners being waved on the triangle of grass outside the club tell their own story. References to players and past glories are few and far between, except for one – and it is in his name that we are stood here today. His angry Scottish defiance, his determination to turn an ordinary north-western football club into not just the most successful team in England but a cultural force way beyond that of a mere sports team is at the heart of what is driving us to this unremarkable plot of land. This meeting, this protest and the march that will follow are done in his name. This is the Spirit of Shankly.
Recently, it has become clear that Liverpool's apparently moneybags owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett are in fact skint, and using the club as collateral on a wild gamble which they hope will pay dividends when they re-sell it. So hard-up are they that every bit of money Liverpool FC earn is used to pay back interest on the the debt that the pair used to buy the club. This means no new players, no support for the manger (who Hicks calls “Roffa”) and certainly no new, 70,000-capacity Anfield, despite the Americans' claims that there’d be “a spade in the ground” within 60 days of them taking over in 2007. The fact that Hicks looks like an absolute twat in his scarf merely adds to my distaste of the man. These two are bleeding us dry.
Over the last few months the Spirit of Shankly, the country’s first football union, has come together to fight them as realisation has dawned that the club can only suffer while Hicks and Gillett (plus his despicable and badly-named son, Foster) are at the helm. The march has been organised to show Liverpool fans all over the world just what's being done to their team. Anyone who cares about the club is here, including some who’ve given up their favourite sport of hitting people from Salford just to march. Sacrifice comes in many guises.
Inside the club, which resembles one of those depressing windowless caverns where top flight darts matches are held, there's a table with a queue of people waiting to sign up for the SOS. I’m quickly accosted with a “fucking join, Teasdale, you mingebag, it’s a tenner,” and soon I’m a member too – though the SOS badge I'm given is bit big and dare I say, ‘wool’, for my tastes. No matter, such is my socialist fervour I’m one step way from buying that poster of the dead soldier with the word ‘Why?’ written underneath.
The crowds gather outside the club until the word is given and we make our way up toward the ground, a a 4,000 strong wave of defiance and targeted anger. I’ve been given the ‘Scouse Solidarnosc’ banner, which is both striking to look at and a pain in the arse to carry. As we walk up the hill to the ground, the pavements are crowded with people taking our pictures, some of them obviously unaware of what we're marching, others knowing full well what it's all about but suspicious of our motives and the fact they might to actually have to miss 15 minutes of valuable pre-match drinking time – and they're “not having that, lad”.
Being in a football crowd often makes you feel powerful. Anyone who's been to an away match will tell you about the primal thrill of walking with a large group of like-minded individuals on the way to a ground. This feels similar, but there's a purpose here, too – a positivity a world away from the thrill of just being part of a mob in search of conflict. It really is a union march, just without the scruffy bastards in PLO scarves.
One thing is undeniable: a point is very publicly being made today, and as the march turns into the car park behind the Main Stand, somewhere inside Anfield, Tom and George, here for the big Man United match, are just starting to get a sense that the fans of this particular “franchise” might not be so easily fooled after all. It’s the scarf, you see, Tom – you do look like a twat in it. We should have spotted you a mile off.
Originally published in Well Red, the brilliant Liverpool magazine