With no football until Sunday, this week we’re delighted to bring you a part-serialisation of Liverpool fan Keith Salmon’s acclaimed autobiography, ‘We Had Dreams and Songs to Sing’.
“Rarely has a book shown how interwoven football is into the fabric of everyday life. A superb illustration of why the game matters and why it’s important not to surrender the sport to the profiteers and corporate con men. We Had Dreams And Songs to Sing shows that football still matters and, more importantly, it shows why it matters!”
– Tony Evans, Football Editor – The Times
Today we begin the three-part part-serialisation with a chapter entitled, ‘The Anfield Pilgrimage’.
The Anfield Pilgrimage
You always remember your first time! Your first time at anything. Good, bad or indifferent, and football is just the same. Your first game, your first away game, your first Cup Game, your first European game. There is a rule though, your first reserve game doesn’t count. It has to be the first real first team match. Let’s get this right, I don’t remember becoming a Liverpudlian because I was born a Liverpudlian.
Pilgrimage usually refers to a once in a lifetime religious experiences such as trips to Mecca, Lourdes or Easter at the Vatican. Football fans are lucky as they make pilgrimages on a regular basis, for nine months a year at least fortnightly, this is very fortunate. Have you seen football fans go cold turkey during the summer months between seasons? It’s not a pretty sight. Watching any sport on TV will generally replace the love of their life (that is football), indoor bowling from Milton Keynes on a wet June afternoon is always a winner as is the Golf from Macau at 4am. No wonder everyone is so relieved as pre season gets underway.
Even though they don’t really count, I do remember my reserve game outings as they were fairly regular. My dad used to take me to every reserve home game, as he got in for free with his season ticket. Probably the only thing that stopped me talking about football, was watching it. There were so few opportunities to watch it, no Sky Sports providing 24 hour coverage and live games in those days were generally only Cup Final’s. I had to rely on Football Focus (BBC 1) with Sam Leitch and On the Ball (ITV) with Brian Moore. Pundits in those days were only for major shows such as the World Cup Final.
The reserve games were an adventure. A short bus ride from home, and we always got a seat on the bus, a long walk up the hill (or carried by my dad, if I was lucky, really lucky as I was a fat little beggar then at six years old) and we entered into a wonderful world. My wonderful world consisted of an empty stadium, except the main stand, which always held a decent crowd (well it was free to most wasn’t it!) and a team on the pitch dressed in all red. Heaven!!! I knew the names of the players as I digested every line of the one page match programmes that cost about one penny. I was watching players like Steve Ogrizovich, a mountain of a man who never really made it at Anfield but had a wonderful career at Coventry City, and Hughie Macauley who was a reserve crowd favourite but I don’t remember him making it past the bench for the first team. He ended up working in the Youth set up at Liverpool. The reserves were managed by Roy Evans, later to become first team manager, he was still young and learning following an early retirement from playing. If you were lucky you could see one of the first team favourites returning from injury to get match fit, not just from Liverpool the opposition often brought their stars of the day, whether it was to get fit or as a punishment for going out on the piss the night before a game. The opposition stars would generally be singled out for the wags in the crowd to take the piss out of them. By the way the word wags had a different meaning then. It referred to humorous people, not blonde girls in stilettos spending a fortune in designer shops and leeching off their husbands and boyfriends who just happen to be footballers. If it wasn’t bad enough playing for the stiffs they now had a load of Scousers ripping the back out of them. Hand on heart I couldn’t tell you which stars I saw except for Ian Callaghan once and that was because he was a hero of my dad’s. Generally once the top players like Toshack, Keegan and Hughes were fit they went straight back in to the first team. The teams I watched wore red but contained kids desperate to make it and people who were past their sell by dates.
Reserve days out were great. We went in the turnstiles, which clicked as dad pushed me through the same gate so he didn’t have to pay for me. As I ran up (I never walked) the steps, the bareness of the concrete faded as the first landing became a vibrant sea of people.
We always seemed to come out by the tea bar, which seemed to have a very limited supply of food in those days and if it came to more than six items I would be surprised. We got tea or Bovril (no coffee, god forbid in the seventies), diluted Orange juice in plastic cartons and a free straw (my favourite), pies, Eccles Cakes (the ones with dead flies in them) and plain crisps. That was it. The tea tasted like piss but the Bovril was great. It was a dad’s drink on a cold night as the wind whistled through the stand. The Bovril always took ages to cool down enough so I could take a drink, it was still like molten lava and burnt my tongue for weeks. Health and Safety didn’t drive the world then, so the lesson had to be learned the hard way. I tried the Eccles Cake once and besides the dead fly thing it was so dry I never bothered again.
Orange juice and plain crisps were my staple match diet unless it was freezing then I would get a grown up Bovril. We could always get served as well, even at half time the queues were surprisingly small. As long as the old bird behind the bar could see me, the pleasing sound of ‘what would you like sweetheart’ would float over the counter.
Even at the age of six, I would go on my own. My dad had it planned, sit near the entrance right by a tea bar, and if I got a bit fidgety, it would be a big honour for him to let me go the tea bar. He could watch the match in peace for five minutes and he never worried about me as I couldn’t get out of the ground. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, far from it. It was that people didn’t have to worry in those days. Perverts were not on the agenda and you didn’t worry every minute your child was out of view.
It was just what you did and it was fine as there was no risk. By the time the second half had run its course the stands would empty out and a blanket of cold would wrap around us. No matter how warm the day seems, football grounds are cold places when empty, a bit like churches. Once the worship is over there is an emptiness that brings with it an element of coldness. The walk back down the hill towards the Mersey would be a nightmare for my dad as he had to go through every shot and every header of the men in red. I re-lived every second of what was probably uninspiring and sisappointing, but to a six year old it was a Cup Final. It was great as Liverpool won a lot (generally they won the reserve league), which means a lot to a little boy. When we got on the bus home, everybody would know where we had been and how the Reds had got on. Once we got home my mum got a re-run and I gloated to my brothers Ian and Kevin, as I was the chosen one who had been on the pilgrimage with my dad.
The next step on the ladder of superiority to my brothers was when I went to my first game where I saw the first team play. Keegan, Toshack, Hughes, Callaghan, Smith, Clemence, shall I go on? I was a reserve regular at six and it was only a matter of time until I went to watch the first team. Maybe a pre-season game, a friendly or even a testimonial is the usual introduction to the first team. Not for me though, I got the full treatment. I got taken to a league game in front of a full house, with the Kop baying for the lambs, well West Bromwich Albion, to be put to the slaughter. I was mesmerised, not by the football but the crowd. The Kop in full effect was as awe inspiring to me then as it is to any onlooker now. I had to keep remembering to watch the action on the pitch while the red tide pounded against the away team’s battered defences. It was a good job that one of the goals in the 2-0 win was a penalty so I couldn’t miss it, otherwise I might not have realised what made a crowd of people erupt with such unbridled delight.
The game is not what I remember the most; it’s the journey that sticks in my mind. The day started like any other Saturday going to watch the reserves play. We put our coats on, me and my dad, walked out of the door almost forgetting to say bye to my mum. Up the street to the bus stop to wait for one of the buses to take us to Everton Valley, where we were then to head up the hill to Anfield.
As the bus arrived it was busier than normal with standing room only. I remember standing by the bit where people put their luggage (I’ve never seen any luggage, just shopping bags). I was holding on to the silver pole like a crap lap dancer, holding as tight as I could, with my dad towering above me and shielding me from the crowd. I was chattering non stop and if I asked him once why the bus was that busy, I must have asked him a hundred times. His reply never faltered ‘must all be going to the shops son’. ‘God the Kwik Save was going to be busy’ I thought.
As the bus pulled up at the bottom of Everton Valley, the doors opened and the first men jumped off before it stopped, doing that little run that makes them lean backwards so they don’t fall flat on their face. As I said Health and safety didn’t exist in the 70s, if you fell off a moving bus it was your fault, no one else’s. As I said before most people would use public transport to get to a game and buses were dropping off their cargo of fans by the minute. This resulted in the mass movement of humanity up Everton Valley and towards the mighty Kop. I was lost amongst the adult bodies and could, from time to time, only catch glimpses of the Kop roof, and normally nothing or no one was in my way. God the shops were going to be busy today!
With my dad keeping a tight grip of my hand we took a left turn down one of the terrace streets near to the Kop, this leads to an alleyway that arrives at the side of the Kop and the Main Stand car park. This way we could miss out on the pushing and shoving and get into the car park without getting separated or crushed. As we turned left at the end of the alleyway there was a mass of bodies, moving against each other – left to right, backwards and forwards. There was no direct route to anywhere, if we had a 20 yard walk it ended up as a 40 yard walk due the torturous route. I have seen this car park hundreds if not thousands of times over the years and it has never been as busy as that day, or was it just that I was only six years old?
Inside the ground the familiar layout was not so familiar now, with thousands of people pushing and jostling to get to their seats. Even the tea bars were heaving with people in queues, though as you may know there is no such thing as a tea bar queue on match day. It’s just a mass of people trying to get to the counter and I made my dad get my plain crisps and orange juice. No dead fly cakes or Bovril as it was spring time and that called for spring rations. Dad stood me by the wall where he could keep an eye on me and try to get served at the same time. If he said don’t move I wouldn’t. Could you do that now? No! I think you would be terrified. I wasn’t scared of my dad or anything, I just knew that if he told me to do something I would do it and not question it. I was also, if truth be known a little scared of getting lost, how would I find him in all those people?
Orange juice in hand, crisps in pocket it was getting to our seats which was the problem. It was at this point that my dad told me we were here to watch the first team play. All my real heroes – Keegan, Clemence and Hughes – not Hughie Macauley and his colleagues. I couldn’t wait to get in there. With my dad providing a protective cordon around me, we headed up the stairs and towards the light. The feeling as I head from the belly of the ground into the stand and can see the pitch and the crowd for the first time still excites me to this day. As you head up the ten or so steps, you change worlds. The sky comes into view first, then the top of the stand facing, and then the glorious green pitch (and if you’re lucky it has men in red already on it). Then finally your peripheral vision starts to reel in the sights of the terraces (as was) and the seats and bodies. As a young boy the noise was immense and I was smitten, love at first sight. I was sold. There was nothing else for me, and outside of my wife and baby boy, (not forgetting my own family) nothing has ever really come close. I realise it now, right now whilst I am writing this for them.
As the teams came out, that was that, I can’t remember anything after the kick in, outside of the Kop swaying and singing and the penalty. Everything else must have been pretty good though as it has stayed with me for over 30 years.
The walk up has changed over the years, more cars than buses, different people, but it is always still familiar and welcoming and like the call to prayer in Istanbul all those years later the ground is whispering or sometimes even shouting ‘come on it’s time to worship’.
And every week another little boy will be lucky enough to go to his first proper home game with his dad. Just like I did, and like I hope Charlie will one day with his dad. With me!
Look out for part two of the ‘We Had Dreams And Songs To Sing’ part-serialisation on This Is Anfield tomorrow when Keith shares with us a moving chapter on the Hillsborough Disaster. For more information and how to buy the book, please visit www.wehaddreamsandsongstosing.co.uk.
Read This Is Anfield’s Max Munton’s review of the book here.