“Bring on the Champions!” – What it was like to be on The Kop as fans returned to Anfield

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Jeff Goulding was one of the lucky 2,000 at Anfield on Sunday evening, part of history as fans returned to Anfield for the first time in 270 days. This is what it was like to be there.

It’s a sight we’ve all become familiar with since 2015, and how we have missed it.

With the final whistle blown and the players trudging towards the tunnel, having shown their appreciation to the supporters on the Kop, a grinning Jurgen Klopp made his way to that famous old terrace.

The sound of the applause grew and shouts of approval filled the cold night air. We all knew what was coming, we had waited so long to see it, and with great smiles on our faces we greeted each fist pump with a giant roar. The boss touched his hand to his heart and signalled his delight that this communion had finally returned.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 6, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 4-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It was the perfect end to a magical evening in L4, lit up by some incredible performances and of course, four goals.

 

Denial to joy

Yet earlier, with barely an hour to go before kick-off, Anfield’s streets were a bleak affair, save for the flicker of Christmas lights dancing in the windows of Skerries Road. The sight of Homebaked with its storefront shuttered and The Park pub standing silent and lonely on Walton Breck Road were dark reminders that this was no ordinary match day.

On flagpole corner, where the Kop meets the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand, a solitary stall selling scarves and badges had been erected, and in the faint glow of the turnstiles, a small group of Kopites had assembled, clutching not their season tickets or fan cards but their mobile phones as they waited for temperature checks.

Yet another reminder that though we may be climbing out of the Covid nightmare, we are merely at the foothills of our ascent.

Still, there was no quietening the excitement in my belly. Like many of us, after nine months without going the game, I had buried the longing deep down, convinced myself that I could find joy in watching the Reds from my couch and settled into the now cliched “new normal.”

But it was all a lie. Denial is so often the first stage of grieving, and as I passed through that turnstile the gloom of the streets outside was left behind. The brightness of the concourse and the staircase to Block 207 were calling me home. This was Anfield, not as we know it, but it’s still our place and it has never looked or felt better.

All of us had been given scheduled times to arrive so that meant many were in early to greet the players as they ran out to warn up, just like the old days. When the goalkeepers and their coaches appeared in front of us they were greeted to rapturous applause and roars of approval.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 6, 2020: A Liverpool supporter cheers on the players as they warm-up as the club welcomes 2,000 spectators back into the stadium, pictured before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

And with so many local postcodes represented in those red seats, this was also a time for in-jokes of a more local flavour. “Free the Lobster Pot One!” shouted one Kopite, a reference to Liverpool’s embattled Mayor who is currently “cooperating with the police,” and his apparent love of chippy teas.

But it would be a chant of “Bring on the Champions!” that would send a shiver down the spines of everyone in that old stand and all those watching from afar.

How long we have waited to sing that, our pain extended long into a new season. To bellow that out from the Kop, finally, after 30 years of waiting felt like its own reward.

For all the pain and grief of the last nine months, the Kop could breathe again. And though we were just 2,000 strong, you’d have to go back a long way to hear our anthem sung with more passion and joy.

 

Showing appreciation

This was once more a makeshift Liverpool team, a team selection made out of necessity but no less effective than the one that marched to an unassailable lead last season.

Every one of them is good enough to call themselves a Liverpool player, and the 2,000-strong army in the ground would let them know at every opportunity.

The frequent applause and shouts of appreciation for Neco Williams was in stark contrast to that dished out by the anonymous keyboard crowd on social media. And, as the young lad jogged off the pitch in the second half, he turned to acknowledge his admirers. He looked like he had grown a few inches in stature, I am sure he felt the same.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 1, 2020: Liverpool's Curtis Jones (R) celebrates with team-mate Neco Williams after scoring the only goal of the game during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and AFC Ajax at Anfield. Liverpool won 1-0 to win the group and progress to the Round of 16. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In goal, Klopp had opted once more for the man who had once been his third choice, Caoimhin Kelleher. Against Ajax he had been in inspired form, and here he showed he was no one-hit-wonder. He wasn’t called into action often, but whenever he was needed, he rose to the occasion magnificently. Chants of “Ireland’s number one,” may one day prove to be prophetic.

However, it was on the half hour mark that the crowd would show the football world and one player in particular what we have been missing.

The Kop’s rendition of “Si Senor,” an ode to Bobby Firmino was as emotional as it was enduring.

We may say that football without fans is nothing and we are right to do so, but its worse than that. Without our songs, our flags and banners football is a soulless affair. The game against Wolves may have marked a new beginning, but was also the end of zombie football with its canned crowd noise and empty seats.

 

All Things Must Pass

This is a Liverpool team full of heroes. Not since the days of the sixties and the seventies has the power of the collective been so evident at Anfield.

Missing a host of superstars, including a £75m defender and a £65m goalkeeper, they somehow grow closer together. They are more than resilient, they are anti-fragile. This Klopp team doesn’t simply withstand pressure, they grow stronger for it. The sight of Joel Matip, absent for so long and plagued by a series of injuries, rising to head home a brilliant Salah cross and claiming Liverpool’s third was certainly evidence of this unique fighting spirit.

All that remained was for Trent Alexander-Arnold, on for his more than able deputy, Williams, to reprise his role as the world’s greatest right back and assist king.

Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum (right) celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game in front of returning fans during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. (Jon Super/PA Wire/PA Images)

It was a goal that guarnateed smiles on every face as we filed out of the light of Anfield and into the gloom of the streets beyond.

This was a performance that would warm through the days and nights to come. How apt that once again George Sephton, whose voice has been the soundtrack to my life as a Kopite, should find the most fitting of swansongs for this wonderful night.

George’s musical selections are sometimes controversial, occasionally acerbic but always on point.

After the magic of the Barcelona fightback, he chose Lennon’s Imagine. That was a masterstroke, but his playing of All Things Must Pass as 2,000 of us filed out of the ground, marshalled by hi-viz Covid Stewards captured Anfield’s zeitgeist to perfection.

4-0 was the least Liverpool deserved for a night of endeavour, grit and sheer bloody-mindedness. With Klopp’s men continuing to show undiscovered depths of endurance and belief, there’s no telling how far this squad can go.

If they claim the ultimate prize at the end of the season, they will lay claim to being the greatest in the club’s illustrious history. Who would bet against them doing just that right now?

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