Dan Holland examines the reasons why more often than not there is a lack of atmosphere inside Anfield.
Some may find the timing of this article strange after last week’s raucous performance from the Liverpool fans which I have no doubt inspired the comeback against Zenit, an evening which came so close to etching itself into LFC folklore. But for me this underlines the points I am to raise in this article.
I have been attending Anfield on a regular basis for some 16 years, in those 16 years financial restraints prevented from seeing the majority of games for two seasons. But that aside I would class myself as a regular and passionate follower of Liverpool Football Club. During these years I have noticed the atmosphere diminishing season by season, be it an early kick off, late kick off, weekend, Monday night or midweek, the noise from the ‘terraces’ is nowhere near what we or the rest of the world come to expect from Liverpool fans.
There is however one exception from this, European nights when we reach the knockout stages or when the result really matters in the group stages, on these evenings there is still nowhere better. Celtic may argue with this so might Galatasary but from my very biased point of view the noise generated inside Anfield, the passion, the backing we give to our team will never be beaten.
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Let me recall a few of my more recent memories of those European nights. March 2002, Gerard Houllier makes a return to the Liverpool dug out on an evening where we needed to beat a Roma side to progress through to the Quarter Finals of the Champions League. Before the kick-off as our spine tingling anthem was being sung with pride a mosaic is unveiled on the Kop, there was the usual mix of flags and scarfs being waved in the night sky. As the game got underway the atmosphere was frenzied, we took an early lead as Jari Litmanen scored a penalty, this only turned the volume up and chants of “Allez, Allez, Gerard Houllier” rang around L4. Deep in the 2nd half Emile Heskey scored with a flick header at the Kop end of the ground. The noise that resulted from that goal was immeasurable; the mass hysteria that followed meant you could feel the reinforced concrete structure that is our famous Spion Kop literally move beneath your feet.
May 2005, we welcomed a pre plastic flag Chelsea to Anfield after our 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge. The result from the 1st leg ensured a very nervy evening with any potential away goal being fatal. The game got off to the best possible start with the Luis Garcia goal that Chelsea fans still dispute. Was it? Wasn’t it? I think I speak for all Liverpool fans when I say, who cares! All I know is it prompted a carnival atmosphere inside Anfield, with all fans dreaming of a first European Cup Final in 20 years. As the game progressed the nerves increased but that didn’t deter the Liverpool fans from encouraging their team and giving them the kind of vocal support that would help you find that extra grit and determination that was needed. In the 95th minute the ball fell to Eidur Gudjohnsen who had what looked like a simple chance to put his side in the final as there would be no coming back from that. As the ball dropped to his feet he was met with a wall of noise coming from 12,000 kopites – facing that is there any surprise he missed. Liverpool fans again helped their team progress.
Other notable evenings for me are the 2007 Champions League Semi Final against Chelsea and the 2005 Group Stage game against Olympiakos, but the list is endless going back over 40 years. Why now is our truly unique and special atmosphere confined just to this sort of evening?
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Every game starts with promise, scarves held aloft, flags waved and passed across people’s heads, You’ll Never Walk Alone sang with such passion that every person inside that ground home or away feels the hairs stand up on the back of their neck. But after the opening few minutes’ falls near enough silence until the team spur the fans into action – it used to be the other way around. Not many games pass where the away fans sing either ‘Can you hear the scousers sing’ or ‘where’s your famous atmosphere’.
What has remained is the unrivalled backing we give our players and manager, booing is seldom heard inside the ground, this is reserved for the pubs or the drive home. So why has the atmosphere gone from the majority of our home league games. I have a few suggestions.
The obvious one is that we are no longer challenging for honours in the league so fans maybe see it as unimportant or are just totally unimpressed with the performances on the field. If indeed this is the reason I see it is a disappointment as I feel we as fans could be the 12th man more often and maybe help generate a few extra points a season. The most recent example of this would be the 2-0 defeat to West Brom. I think a cacophony of noise inside the ground that evening may have helped lift the players during an otherwise poor performance and had one player responded on one occasion at 0-0 it could have turned no points into 3. Now I know that is all hypothetical but I hope you get my point.
Could the reason be all seated stadia compared to the old terraces? Now this is a very emotive subject especially within our great club so I won’t dwell on it but all I will say is that our away fans don’t let all seated stadiums stop them creating an atmosphere nor do the visiting fans to Anfield, so I can only assume this isn’t the reason either.
The third and final reason for me is the main contributor to a sterile atmosphere at a lot of games. The allocation of tickets combined with the cost of tickets – when I say the allocation of tickets the easy sector to criticise are your corporate supporters but as they sit in quieter sections of the ground usually I think they are the least of our problems.
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Now I am unsure as to how to classify the type of fan I am pinpointing here, I can’t say the out of towners – as I am one of those, but due to my regular attendance and understanding of ‘The Liverpool Way’ I class myself as an honorary Scouser as do a number of other people who live outside Merseyside and are either season ticket holders or regulars at Anfield. By regular I mean those who attend at least two thirds of games in a season.
When I say the term true Liverpool fans this may sound very dismissive of a large number of people who visit this site and I don’t mean to underestimate your value to the club or your credentials as a Liverpool fan but in my opinion there are too many occasional visitors and tickets are too accessible. You can spot the fans I mean at any home game; they are the ones who come to their seat with bags full of shopping from the club shop and they are wielding a camera/camera phone anytime a player comes within 500 yards of them. If anyone sees me with my camera in the Paddock it is for purely journalism reasons I promise.
I know football is now a business and these fans who buy bags full of shopping from the club shop are swelling the clubs coffers and that is why the club encourage them to attend. But in doing so they are compromising the atmosphere inside our once feared ground. The problem is they don’t get regularly enough to games to know all our songs or dare I say speak the same language. They know the obvious ones and will join in on the two or three they know. They don’t have the local sense of humour for impromptu chants.
Such as the one that was started in last season’s FA Cup match against Brighton. In a response to the usual “Luis Suarez, you know what you are chant” a small section of the Kop responded in super quick time with “Your from Brighton WE know what you are”. At one time this would have reverberated round Anfield but unfortunately this ended as quickly as it started.
In an ideal world I would like to see ticket prices slashed and the crowd made up of season ticket holders with a small number of corporates and ‘occasional’ fans. This to me would vastly improve the atmosphere inside the ground and who knows possibly make a small difference to the onfield performances.