St Helens Rugby League Club won a third consecutive Super League Grand Final on Saturday, and in addition to a bulging trophy cabinet, the Saints also have a piece of Anfield history inside their Totally Wicked Stadium…
Hung up in the corner of the stadium, between the West and North Stands, are Anfield’s red nets.
The nets that Luis Suarez scored 40 of his 42 Anfield goals in. The nets that were hit seven times when Jurgen Klopp’s men beat Borussia Dortmund 4-3 in one of Anfield’s greatest European nights. So why are they at a rugby ground?
When Klopp took charge of Liverpool in 2015 he didn’t just inherit Brendan Rodgers’ players, he inherited his nets.
The dismissal of King Kenny Dalglish as manager in 2012 wasn’t the most popular of decisions by FSG, and plenty of Reds questioned if Rodgers had the right credentials to take over. He did well at Swansea and they played good football, but was he really cut out to manage Liverpool?
As part of a PR charm offensive, Rodgers put the names of three supporters into envelopes…only joking. He brought back the original This is Anfield sign and Anfield’s red goal nets that, like trophies at Goodison Park, disappeared in 1995.
“Brendan and his family were given their first glimpse of Anfield the day after he was unveiled as manager as part of a private tour of the stadium,” said LFC Museum curator Stephen Done.
“At the end of the tour, we stood on the Kop and Brendan commented that he always remembered the goals at Anfield having red nets.
“The 1980s were formative years for him, in terms of him starting to watch and play football, and he seemed to recall the red nets quite vividly. He suggested we bring them back.”
So they did.
Initially installed in the 1960s – nobody quite knows the exact game, but images suggest it was probably in 1967 – Anfield’s red nets were removed at the end of the 1994/95 campaign.
Not because Jamie Redknapp almost cost Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers the Premier League title by scoring the last goal in them, but due to some of Roy Evans’ players saying it made the Anfield goals harder to see against a backdrop of red. So that’s why Nigel Clough was crap.
By the time Stan Collymore was marking his Liverpool debut with a superb long-range strike to give the Redmen a 1-0 opening-day Premier League victory against Sheffield Wednesday, the Anfield nets were white.
This was new, as prior to red the nets had been black, in keeping with old Football League regulations that they must be dark in colour.
The white netting remained until Rodgers took charge and a new set of red nets – which were difficult to acquire as they aren’t routinely made – were sourced and installed.
The first player to score a goal in them? Fabio Borini, against FC Gomel in a Europa League qualifier. What a time to be alive.
Perhaps they’d still be there now, hanging off the back of the Anfield goalposts, if it hadn’t been for a Thursday evening training session on September 8, 2016. That was the night when Klopp took his players to Anfield to train in front of the new Main Stand for the first time.
Klopp wanted his players to acclimatise to their new surroundings ahead of a home game against champions Leicester.
He wanted them to experience their new dressing room and tunnel – the This Is Anfield sign went back up that day – and he wanted to sit in his new seat on the bench, not that he uses it very much.
While his players were training, the red nets caught his eye.
Perhaps it was because the stadium was empty and the red seating at both ends of the pitch made a difference, or maybe his players couldn’t hit the proverbial cow’s arse with a banjo during shooting practice, but Klopp and his staff concluded that the players would see the goals better from their peripheral vision if the netting was white.
If that gave his team an extra few goals he felt it was worth sacrificing tradition for, and the Anfield ground staff were duly informed to make the change.
The following day the red nets were removed and replaced with bright new white ones. The ones that Mo Salah has scored all of his 74 Anfield goals in – something you can read about in the new edition of Liverpool FC Magazine.
It left Liverpool with a set of unused red nets that disappeared from public life until October 2018.
Having qualified for the UEFA Youth League in 2018/19 courtesy of the first team, the Liverpool under-19s opted to play their home games at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium.
The first was a 5-2 thrashing of PSG with Curtis Jones and Rhys Williams on target in a match played with white netting. But by the time Barry Lewtas’ side returned to St Helens to face Red Star Belgrade, Anfield’s red nets had magically appeared.
Liverpool U19s have since faced Napoli, winning 5-0, and Salzburg, winning 4-2, at a red-netted Totally Wicked Stadium, but since November 2019 have played UEFA Youth League games at Kirkby after finding Saints’ rugby pitch unsuitable in the winter months.
Two years later, and Anfield’s red nets remain hung up inside the home of the threepeat Super League champions, almost like a piece of memorabilia on the wall.
Where they end up remains to be seen, but as long as Klopp is in charge at Liverpool they won’t be returning to Anfield.
Chris McLoughlin is senior writer at Reach Sport, publishers of the official matchday programme and Liverpool FC Magazine. You can get the new edition of the magazine here.