One of the lucky 53,000 or so that were in attendance as Liverpool earned a 2-0 win over Burnley on Saturday, Steven Scragg reflects on a life-affirming experience.
A few weeks ago, I was falling down a succession of internet rabbit holes, basically in a bid to avoid making prolonged eye contact with a looming book deadline.
I became obsessed with the Bold Street ‘time slips’, phenomena in which unassuming shoppers are transported back in time to the mid-to-late 1960s. These instances reputedly last for a few minutes, disorientating the participant, before they are returned to their own epoch.
Anfield, on Saturday afternoon, felt like a bit of a time slip.
Stepping into an environment you know so very well but have largely been denied access to for the best part of 18 months, it made for a surreal event. All the familiar landmarks were reassuring ones, while each glaring difference to the one in the mind’s eye was jarring.
Over in Tuebrook, the old disused Dockers’ Club and car park are now being built upon. A housing estate is steadily growing, at a location you should still be able to pick off some relatively cheap parking while daydreaming that it would be the perfect place for an episode of Scooby Doo to unfold.
Added to this, The Flat Iron has had an external lick of paint that does not look quite right.
I was present for the Crystal Palace game, back in May, in which a restricted few thousand of us were permitted to watch Liverpool clinch Champions League qualification. It was football, but not as we knew it.
The visit of Burnley represented at least a temporary return of the old normal, and it was almost intoxicating.
My dad will celebrate his 83rd birthday on Tuesday. Unexpectedly, for me, and probably him as well, he had tears in his eyes as he made his return to Anfield. He went on to profess that he had harboured doubts that he would ever do so again.
Since the loss of my mum, almost three years ago, a game that has always been important to him became something of a lifeline. The quiet days of midweek would be swept away with a trip to the football.
It was the definitive light at the end of the tunnel, and the walk from the Dockers’ Club car park and back kept him fitter than your average octogenarian.
Massively sociable, a man who loves nothing more than good company and a chat became a prisoner of his own home, and exclusively locked within his own company instead.
For somebody that is 83 going on 23, this has been a global pandemic that will have undoubtedly taken years off his life.
My dad can no longer withstand a prolonged walk to and from the ground. I have to drop him off, then strategically fetch the car as close as common-sense allows after the match. It sounds mad, but the near-83-year-old has aged noticeably these last 18 months.
Anfield was a full stadium on Saturday. It made for a lovely, but surreal sight. The technology was overcome, but it meant being in the ground over an hour prior to kickoff.
During that hour, we chatted about football and non-footballing topics, while I answered a few emails and waited to see if all those familiar faces of pre-pandemic football returned to take up their seats too.
I took my eye off the wider expanse of the stadium for a while. At one stage Anfield looked no more populated than it had for that Palace game three months ago, but then I looked up from my phone to see it was suddenly around two-thirds full.
It took my breath away, and my phone was put back into my pocket. Now it was me who was feeling a lump at the back of my throat, and the potential for a tear or two.
It was the many pre-match tributes that were made before kickoff that finally broke my resistance. My thoughts also drifted to my dad’s brother, my uncle Dave, who we lost amongst this absolute shitshow of a pandemic.
A win was procured, and it felt good. Not just because it means we keep pace as the new season gets out of the blocks, but because once the game was up and running, it almost felt like I hadn’t been away at all.
Soon my dad was complaining about our midfield and I knew all was at one with the world, at least for 90 minutes of football.
Even the rough that came with the smooth was very welcome.
I quite enjoyed somebody kicking the back of my seat, I didn’t mind the surreptitious clouds of vape being blown in every direction by the fella diagonally and to the left. I didn’t even begrudge the Burnley supporters their hackneyed songs.
Goals were celebrated, songs were sung, hugs were dispensed. Every experience was hypersensitive, and it felt wonderful.
This is still an uncertain time that we live in, there is no guarantee it won’t all turn to shit once again, but Saturday was one of the best days of my life, and I’ll embrace every game I get to share with my dad as if it were the very first, all over again.