Red All Over The Land – Issue 202

BuxZBAkIEAAImckThere was a late availability sale for today’s first game of the season just days before you read this. I would think it would have lasted all of 2/3 minutes before the sold out signs were up, such is the demand to see the reds in action. The decision to up the criteria of CAT A and B games to 14 instead of 13 (which had been in place for 5 years) caused quite a stir and took a lot by surprise. But it’s the drop from 14 to zero for games such as Everton, Man City, and Arsenal that continues to cause angst amongst reds. Surely 14 to say 10 or 7 games recorded on cards from the previous season would be a fairer system, and of course rewards loyalty. We all know that the club has to make money and attracting new “members” is a large part of that – and the success of last season has generated thousands of new members in the clamour for a match ticket this season – basically Liverpool are box office at the moment and the free for all sales are really pot luck nowadays. Hardly a fair system.

I recall last season’s sales in July were pretty easily navigated, November’s slightly less so, but the side were beginning to show signs of a top 4 challenge at that stage so the interest was there. Nevertheless, match tickets for games such as Sunderland last March were readily available before the realisation hit that we could go on and win the league. So what happens should we slide ever so slightly this coming season? Let’s hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, I can’t see us getting as low as 35,000 as we did for Bolton in 2011, Joe Cole bundling the ball over the line in the 90th minute for a 2-1 win in what was a freezing day. But the chances are that the “super-fan” will turn their attention to something else in which to spend their money on and leaving the loyal supporter to once more fill the gap left by the part-time fan. The increased capacity can’t come quick enough.

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Southampton have been the butt of many jokes this summer as they seemed to off-load half their team to Liverpool and Manchester United but gaining upwards on £80 million in the process. Whether its good business remains to be seen as Ronald Koeman tries to stamp his own mark on a side that have been a joy to watch since their return to the top flight.

The two clubs have had many battles and the south coast side were serious title contenders to the reds the year Joe Fagan won the treble. Danny Wallace was always a thorn in the side of the Liverpool rear-guard and his two goals in the home fixture at The Dell in March 84 opened the title race wide open for a time, with the saints eventually finishing second to Liverpool. It was a fine side that Lawrie McMenemy assembled, with Shilton, Mills, Moran, a young Mark Wright and an ageing Frank Worthington pulling the strings. Frank was one of the entertainers of the game, and in 1972 Bill Shankly tried to sign for the reds. The recent failed medical involving Loic Remy reminded me of this. Worthington was a notorious womaniser; the breakdown of his move to Liverpool is one of the game’s enduring urban legends. Having all but signed, the deal fell through because he failed a medical. The rumour was that he had a dose of the clap. In fact he had high blood pressure – but that was brought on by excessive sexual activity. Bill Shankly told him to have a break, and return for a second medical. Worthington went to Majorca, continued his lifestyle and duly failed the medical again. It just wasn’t to be.

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The Fields around Anfield Road are certainly different this season with the demolition of houses to make space for the long awaited stadium expansion. It doesn’t seem like that long ago since we were marching in protest against G&H after their broken promises, remember, “The spade has to be in the ground within 60 days”. A few months before the end of last season we were marching down the Anfield Road for other reasons, as thousands gathered to welcome the team bus before the lads entered the ground. It was unique to Liverpool FC and it’s something that will hopefully continue on into this season.


Just A Little Respect

The below article was written after Brendan Rodgers first home league game in charge. The game in question was against the then champions, Manchester City. Even the most optimistic red could not envisage the dramatic turnaround in fortunes that this season has produced as Liverpool Football Club chase the ultimate prize once more.

August 2012 and it’s the first game home league game of the season and the champions of England run out at Anfield. How many times has that happened? Quite a few as it happens. But this time it’s not the redmen running out as league champions but those in the sky blue kit that take the plaudits from the away end. The super-rich Manchester City finally claimed the top prize in English football in dramatic circumstances last May on what can only be described as SKY TV’s ultimate wet dream. The citizen men of Manchester hadn’t won the top prize in 44 years and now boast some of the worlds top players. How times have changed. We once put 10 goals past city in three days back in October 1995. But I’m not bitter or jealous, how could I be. They have a long way to go.

18 League titles, 7 FA Cups, 8 League Cups, 5 European Cups, 3 UEFA Cups

Midday down at the Albert Dock and the sun is beaming down. Another new era at Anfield has begun with the appointment of Brendan Rodgers. His first competitive game at Anfield couldn’t have gone any better with the defeat of FC Gomel in the Europa League. In league terms the new regime has had a rocky start. An opening day 3-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion is up there with the 1-0 shock defeat to fellow Black Country side Wolverhampton Wanderers on the opening day of the 1981-82 campaign. It was a season that ended with a League championship and League Cup success. We can only dream of league glory these days. But still, Brendan will get the time and hopefully the finance to enable us to compete once more.

18 League titles, 7 FA Cups, 8 League Cups, 5 European Cups, 3 UEFA Cups

I feel like one of the players on an early morning stroll – getting the pre-match nerves out of my system if you will. It’s great to have the footy back again. Euro 2012 was a welcome distraction, even if it does play havoc with pre-season plans. Then the Olympics stole the limelight, it was easy to get caught up in the emotion of it all as well. But let’s face it, whether it’s Beth Twiddle or Katie Taylor grabbing the headlines, all I really wanted to know was the Charlie Adam tackle on Gareth Bale THAT bad. Bale did himself no favours at all in crying to the press about big bad Charlie. But Tony Pulis and Stoke must have been impressed with Charlie’s enthusiasm, so much so, that they paid £4 million for more of the same.

As usual there was a good crowd around the docks soaking up the last rays of the summer and as I walked across the road towards Liverpool One I could see a commotion outside the Hilton Hotel at Liverpool One. As I get closer I can make out the Ellison’s coach outside the hotel and a large group surrounding the coach. Closer again, and the majority are decked out in our new home kit. Even closer again, and it’s the Manchester City coach and our supporters are at the ready, the clicking has begun, the phones are out. How did it come to this?

18 League titles, 7 FA Cups, 8 League Cups, 5 European Cups, 3 UEFA Cups

Frankly, I was embarrassed at what I was seeing, maybe I’m also overreacting? It’s the modern game isn’t it? Football celebrities everywhere, believing the hype, pumped up by the SKY machine. Bullshit. I don’t have a big problem with parents and kids, well maybe the parents should know better. But groups of grown men were standing around in LFC gear waiting for god knows how long in the hope that they might just catch a snap of Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez’s arse in a photo? No, sorry, but I’m out. I was brought up in the era when visiting teams were scared out of their wits to come to Anfield – the game was over before it even started. It worked as well; we nearly always came out on top, particularly against sides like city. Even when they did turn us over, a Boxing Day 3-1 victory in 1981, we went on to win 20 of our last 25 games to win the title once more.

18 League titles, 7 FA Cups, 8 League Cups, 5 European Cups, 3 UEFA Cups

I swiftly move on towards the centre of Liverpool One and meet up with a few reds and as we are standing there in the middle of the main shopping area we become engulfed by a crowd of people, not kids, but grown ups and they are all in pursuit of the city squad who are having a pre-match walkabout. It was one of the most bizarre sights I have ever seen – one man stops and proudly tells me he got a picture with Mancini, and wait for it, Brian Kidd. Brian fucking Kidd, the man who nearly leapt as far as Bob Beaman onto the Old Trafford turf when Steve Bruce scored that goal to send Man Ure on their way to the title in 1993. Still, it’s something to post on facebook isn’t it. “Me and Brian Kidd on the day the champions came to Anfield”. Nice.

It’s not right is it? It’s certainly not Liverpool Football Club. I’m not saying abuse teams; just don’t treat them as if they are some sort of gods. It’s the support we give our team that unnerves the opposition – it always did.

Look what it delivered.

18 League titles, 7 FA Cups, 8 League Cups, 5 European Cups, 3 UEFA Cups

Fast forward to April 2014 and what a transformation – City come to town but this time not as Champions of England but still in the shake up for top honours. Vying for the title with City are Chelsea and one Liverpool Football Club who are currently playing some of the best football their supporters have ever witnessed. The feel-good factor around the club is infectious. The atmosphere in and around the ground these last few home games has reached fever pitch as Brendan Rodgers and his team chase the big prize, breaking records as they go about their business. The penny has dropped. Something tells me that City won’t be met with such a welcome party this time as they leave their hotel for this shoot-out, a walk around Liverpool One? Not a hope.

This is different. This is Liverpool. We are Liverpool. And it won’t be long before we add to our remarkable;

18 League titles, 7 FA Cups, 8 League Cups, 5 European Cups, 3 UEFA Cups

 


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……


When Super-Sub came to town

“And Fairclough is onside, this now could be interesting, FAIRCLOUGH, Super Sub strikes again.”

That goal in 1977 sealed victory for Liverpool over St Eitenne and would go down in Anfield folklore. A magical moment in the clubs history, as they advanced to the semi-final and then final to claim their first European Cup. Just 9 years after ‘that’ goal and ‘that’ celebration as he ran arms outstretched in front of a heaving KOP, Supersub himself, David Fairclough, was rumoured to be on his way to my local club, Finn Harps F.C. For a 14 year old Liverpool fanatic living in Donegal, Ireland, this news was hard to believe. It was the last days of summer, 1986.

Ask any football fan to name an Irish side from the North West of Ireland and they’ll more than likely come up with Derry City. After withdrawing from the Northern Irish League in the mid 70’s the club languished in junior ranks until 1985 when they entered the southern League of Ireland to great fanfare. Starved of senior football for over a decade the people of Derry got behind the club in great numbers with crowds hitting the 12,000 mark. To the ailing League of Ireland they were a breath of fresh air. For my club, Finn Harps F.C. and their supporters it would mean much more. Ballybofey based Finn Harps were located just 25 miles away from Derry. Up to this point in our history we only had one so-called ‘derby’ game and that was against Sligo Rovers, a mere 80 miles away. Now we had local derbies to look forward to and we may have a flame haired striker in our ranks to boost our chances of success. I just needed convincing the proposed arrival of Fairclough wasn’t a rumour to combat the Derry City bandwagon.

The club badly needed something to cheer about; I was too young to remember the 1970’s, when it was commonplace for crowds to exceed 3,000 every fortnight at Finn Park. There was an FAI Cup success in 1974, along with UEFA Cup adventures against the likes of Aberdeen, Derby County and Everton. But by the mid-80s only a few hundred spectators would enter through the turnstiles as the crowds were lured away from the domestic game by the live broadcasts of English League games on TV. Let’s face it, a cold and frosty Sunday afternoon at Finn Park didn’t have much chance against the likes of Rush, Dalglish, Robson and Hoddle on the box in front of a cosy fire.

Clubs had to attract spectators and with the Irish obsession with the game cross-channel, the signing of ‘stars’ on a game to game basis began to take off with Irish clubs. This was nothing new, Dixie Dean made a number of appearances for Sligo Rovers in 1939. Whilst the 1970’s saw George Best, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks, Rodney Marsh and former German international Uwe Steeler lining out for various Irish clubs. That trend was set to continue and Liverpool’s own Terry McDermott and Ian Callaghan lined out for Cork, Denis Tueart and Alan Sunderland had just signed for Derry and then it was our turn. The rumour was true. I couldn’t believe my eyes; a small heading in the Irish Independent confirmed it. ‘Super-Sub for Harps’ – David Fairclough could be playing for my club, hell, he was playing with Dalglish and Hansen just a few years before. I can vaguely remember listening to BBC Radio 2 when he scored a hat-trick against Norwich in the famous Justin Fashanu ‘Goal of the Season’ game in 1980. Now he could be a few feet away from me at Finn Park in a few weeks’ time.

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The headline gave me hope – maybe it was true

The news spread quickly and the local press were all over the impending transfer coup.  It turned out that Harps had tried to secure the signature of Fairclough the season before. They kept that well hidden from me! Speaking at the time, club chairman Fran Fields said;

“We wanted a big name player for the cup last season and we had more or less agreed to bring Fairclough over for a month. But Oldham pulled out at the last minute and insisted we take the player for six months. But we kept in touch with David over the summer and being a free agent this season he has agreed to join us. But there will be no monthly contracts this time, with promotion in mind we hope to have him here for the season.”

Now that was a statement of intent – so this wasn’t to be a PR stunt to get spectators through the turnstiles. It seemed Fairclough would be here for the coming season and he was only 29. It didn’t matter if he was 49 to me, this was David Fairclough. Surely it was just a matter of crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. However, the next David Fairclough to Finn Harps story sent a shiver down my spine.

The Donegal Democrat newspaper stated that David was coming over to Finn Park to see the set-up and if he is impressed he may sign. “IF HE’S IMPRESSED?”  What Finn Harps should have done is travel to Merseyside, sign him and only then show him his new surroundings. He couldn’t back down then! You see, Finn Park, like a lot of grounds in Ireland in the 1980’s left a lot to be desired. It was basic to say the least; Everton had to change in a hotel 12 miles away when they played Harps in the UEFA Cup in 1978. It wasn’t the clubs fault, improvements had been made but you need people to come through the gates as well. I was sure David would not be impressed. But the Finn Harps manager Tommy McConville was upbeat. Speaking to the newspaper, he said;

“David Fairclough has played at the highest level and would be a big asset to us. He is also a big name and would take some of the limelight off Derry City. He is a proven goalscorer and is still in his prime.”

Chairman Fields continued to express his delight on the impending capture of the Liverpool legend.

“I have always wanted to get him and I am hoping that he will like the set-up here and make up his mind to join us. We are going to have a lot of talking to do this weekend but I am hopeful that it will be successful”

Even Super-Sub himself was quoted, it was getting ever closer.

“I am looking forward to coming over and I am very pleased that people are willing to ask about me and enquire about me. Although I have been to Dublin many times and have relatives in Termonfeckin outside Drogheda I don’t know where Ballybofey is so I am looking forward to visiting it. I am a free agent at present and although I have talked to one or two clubs in England I have not found anything suitable.”

Although I was only 14 years of age that last line was like a dagger to the heart “Although I have talked to one or two clubs in England I have not found anything suitable.” Now unless Roman Abramovich had an uncle sipping vodka around the town in the mid 80’s there was no way Finn Harps would have the finance to pull this deal off. But at least Fairclough was coming to have a look and he was rumoured to be playing in the pre-season friendly against the Northern Irish League side, Larne, on the day he arrived.

The press exposure certainly worked and a large crowd turned up for the game to see the superstar from Liverpool. And he didn’t disappoint either, making an impressive ‘home début  and of course scoring in a 3-2 victory for the home side. Maybe he was impressed with the gentle surroundings of Ballybofey and was willing to give it a go in Ireland. Promotion here we come, and then watch out Europe.

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Back row second from the right – David Fairclough

Much to my dismay it just wasn’t to be for Finn Harps and Fairclough. I’m quite sure the Finn Harps board tried their utmost to persuade the striker that his future lay in Donegal, but Belgian side FC Beveren finally secured his signature. He spent two successful years in the Belgium league before returning home to Tranmere Rovers and Wigan to finish a successful playing career.

Who would Finn Harps turn to now? A few weeks later the club finally got their big name. Former Southampton and England striker Mike Channon was on his way to the Ballybofey outfit. How many times would we see the famous windmill goal celebration that season? Sadly it never materialised at all. It was to be a very short-lived affair, the contract was on a match to match basis but it really should have been a minute to minute basis, he lasted only 49 minutes and retired injured, never to play again. Maybe it was the Finn Harps experience that was the final straw for Channon to throw his lot into becoming a successful racehorse trainer.

Over the next decade Finn Harps remained in the lower reaches of the league before finally gaining promotion to the top flight in 1996. Since then they have become somewhat of a yo-yo club but with a new stadium on the horizon, there is much optimism around the town for a return to the top flight and once more challenging for top honours.

Surprisingly the Finn Harps/David Fairclough story became something of an urban myth around the Donegal region. I would mention it every so often and struggled to convince fellow fans; well it was nearly 30 years ago. My biggest regret was not having a camera at the time to take a picture of the man in action. It seemed everyone had forgotten about the day Supersub lined out for the Harps, until last year that is. Whilst attending a league game one supporter came up to me with the ‘golden shot’. There he was, in the back row, one David Fairclough, chest pumped, ready to give his all in a pre-season friendly game in a town he had never heard of just days before.

I obtained a copy of the picture and just weeks later it appeared along with a brief article in the Liverpool FC fanzine, Red All Over The Land. Being a regular at Anfield I would see David walking around the ground to take up his position in the commentary box before most games. Getting to the ground early before a league game in 2012, I managed to get a word with him about his brief stay in Donegal. He was puzzled at first, I’ll put that down to my accent, but when I produced the picture he remembered some details about the occasion. “It was raining wasn’t it?”  Well it was the North West of Ireland, it’s always raining. “And I scored one?” He remembered that anyway, once a goalscorer always a goalscorer and off he went with a smile on his face.

Of course it wasn’t as important a strike as any of the 55 he scored in the red of Liverpool. But for a 14 year old lad to witness one of Liverpool FC’s great icons score for my local club he will always be David Fairclough, League and European Cup winner and one-time Finn Harps centre forward.

Press Art – Courtesy Barclay Ramsey, Finn Harps Club Historian