RED STARR’S & RED RUM

Liverpool at home to West Ham on Grand National weekend – sadly we don’t play on the actual race day or morning of the national anymore. Shame really as it was the ideal start to what is a great sporting spectacle. Wonder how Channel 4 will do with its coverage? What has the BBC left, Bowls from Preston and Snooker oh and Match of the Day. Sad days indeed for the BEEB. Anyway this weekend’s fixture takes me back to the last time we played at home on Grand National day, it was my first time on the KOP.

Liverpool FC Vs Ipswich Town, April 9th 1994. That was the game I had earmarked to finally experience the KOP atmosphere for the first time. Although I had been at Anfield before, I had yet to stand on the famed terrace for a game. I did venture onto the terrace the year before after the 4-0 demolition of Coventry City (which avenged a 5-1 score line in favour of the sky blues earlier in the season). This was due to a kind steward who let me onto the KOP despite the crowds going the opposite way down the stairwell. Somehow I think it wouldn’t happen nowadays. Travel agents (remember them) had been visited a month beforehand and the flights departing from Dublin with Manx Airlines were booked for myself and my mate Adrian. We were ready to go. Accommodation could wait until we got there, I don’t think a Commodore computer could do much in those days in regards to booking hotels and the like. The only function that PC had was to ruin my fingers whilst competing against Daley Thompson in the decathlon PC game. I furiously pounded the keyboard to make to go as fast as possible. In fact I can readily claim to have Repetitive Strain Injury long before it became almost fashionable!

Once we arrived in Liverpool on the propeller powered plane (at least this particular Manx had a tail) it was straight to the search for accommodation. We headed to the usual haunts. The Lord Nelson Hotel, all the hotels on Mount Pleasant Street, even The Moat House was tried (as if I could afford it). Everywhere FULL UP!! All I could hear from my mate was something about it being a huge weekend in the city and horse-racing. Was nothing for it, a few bevies was needed and quick, after three Red Rums we headed to Lime Street where there was always an assortment of B&B’s. The fact that many of these establishments were available on this the Grand National weekend should have been a clue to our abode, not that I cared too much. We were relieved to get anywhere to put our heads down for the next two nights, and at ₤12 a night we shouldn’t have expected too much. Although a light bulb would have made the weekend extra special we thought. I hadn’t rummaged around in the dark drunk since the previous summer in a tent at a summer rock/pop festival back home. I do recall a young Kylie Minogue being well down the bill, well she was never heard of again anyway!

It was always a tradition for Liverpool or Everton to play their home game on Grand National Saturday as an early K.O. (11.30) so the locals can attend the great racing spectacle later in the afternoon. So after waiting until dawn (so we could avail of daylight in the room) we got ready for the game. We had to get there early, as The KOP was not all-ticket and cash was being taken at the turnstiles. Even so a large crowd had gathered to get in early to get their usual spec. Plenty of Out Of Towner’s like us were in the vicinity but I was in and that’s all that mattered. AT LAST I was on the KOP for a game, and there would only be two other games after this for the Standing KOP as well….what a close shave I was thinking. The banter was as I had expected it to be, we weren’t setting the world alight that season but Ipswich Town were having a downright awful season and would finish bottom that year. The singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” took on that extra bit of significance for this supporter. I was used to holding my scarf up and singing towards the KOP but now I was ONE of them, A KOPITE, one small part of the most famous terrace in world football. Nothing can describe that feeling. I can remember it as if it was just last week.

Liverpool won the toss, another good omen; we would be attacking the KOP in the second half, yippee!!! I was sure there would be goals galore in the second half and I would be there to suck the ball in along with the rest of the famous Kopites. The last two games of the Standing Kop were against Newcastle United, which was a tough assignment, and on April 30th Ipswich Town’s East Anglican neighbours Norwich City were sure to roll over and succumb to the atmosphere and celebrations that would take place that day. Lucky sods!! Or so I thought at the time.

Well what a dire affair my game turned out to be, not only that, but it was a very cold April morning. We had snow, hail and rain and it was freezing. This was despite being surrounded by my fellow supporters as well. I shudder to think what the Paddock and Anny Road end would have been like on that particular day.

After a forgettable first half and equally forgettable second it was looking bleak for a breakthrough goal until Don Hutchison who had replaced Robbie Fowler was bundled over in the box in the 75th minute. The referee pointed to the spot much to the crowds delight. “Knock it in Don” I roared, only for Julian Dicks to amble forward and grab the ball, a few gasps from the KOP was heard. Just drive it down the middle Dicks (which incidentally he never managed to do as a golf professional a few years later, no claret jug for Julian I’m afraid). Nevertheless, today he had delivered, bang, straight down the middle it went. Get in there!! It was the last meaningful action in the game to be fair, but I was happy enough, I got my goal at my end, and the three points were in the bag. Wonder which Liverpool player will forever be remembered as the last to score in front of the standing KOP I thought, not knowing then that I had just seen him.

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My own KOP last stand

We made our way down to the players entrance for a few photo opportunities, the players seemed to have got changed in record time as there was a race meeting to go to now. There’s an idea, why not go to Aintree for the afternoon. A photo or two of the players in shoulder padded suits with John Barnes the winner or make that the loser in the fashion steaks, a pin stripped getup that was influenced by an American Football Umpire and before we knew it we were in a taxi across to Aintree racecourse.

This was the year after the false start fiasco at the National which led to much merriment inside the racecourse as the race approached. Having as much knowledge of horseracing as Everton has of European Cup victories I was in need of inspiration. Local comic Freddie Starr was on the TV monitor and I overheard a few punters saying he had a runner in the big one. That’ll do for me, so it was Freddie Starr’s horse Miinehoma at £20 on the nose (I was an expert now you see) and back to the ale until the race started. Of course he romped home in style and it was only when I went to collect the winnings that I even bothered to look at the odds, a cool 16/1 he was. This betting lark was a doddle. It was great collecting the winnings, I was even sure I had seen the Queen on one of the notes smirking at me as I stuffed the notes into my pocket. Then again my mate and me were well bladdered at this stage and remained so for the duration of the night in town.

What a night in town we had after that, we drank most of winnings of course as we partied up and down Matthew Street. But I did treat myself to a little something, a spanking new 100 watt light bulb.

Well I might as well splash out……

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