By Séamus Leonard
With my impending emigration to the USA in early 2013, last Saturday’s clash with Fulham at Anfield gave me a chance to savour a final trip to Merseyside before I up sticks.
Since making a long-overdue visit to the world-renowned venue to see a game in August 2007, I have been lucky enough see the Reds in action 12 times there. Eight of those visits have coincided with home field wins, while four games have ended in ties.
My record away from Anfield is horrendous in comparison – a 3-1 loss to Fulham at Craven Cottage in October 2010, the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in last season’s FA Cup final, and a 2-2 draw against Everton at Goodison Park earlier this year. Even Roy Hodgson had a better record on the road than that!
The home field comforts have more than made up for the away day blues, however. I have seen Derby County hammered 6-0; a 4-0 drubbing of Burnley; Manchester United beaten twice; a late Fernando Torres brace sink Chelsea; the thrilling (and frustrating) 4-4 draw with Arsenal; and Everton beaten by a 10-man Liverpool.
One of the most memorable moments for me would have to be bearing witness to the return of ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish as manager in the 2-2 tie with Everton in January 2011. But the pièce de résistance was when I watched from the Kop as Real Madrid were humbled 4-0 in the Champions League knockout stages in March 2009.
Such heady days seem a distance away now, and heading over the Irish Sea on Saturday morning I would have settled for any kind of win. As it transpired, Fulham were awful. The atmosphere wasn’t brilliant for large parts, either. It didn’t help that our seats at the very back of the Upper Centenary Stand were as far from pitch level as you can be at the stadium.
The lashing rain also played its part in dampening the crowd noise, but it was still unusual to be able to clearly hear the orders Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina was barking at his defenders.
But if the atmosphere was below par, the home side’s performance certainly was not. The defense had a quiet day at the office, but there were still no blunders to open the door for the Cottagers.
Centre-back Martin Skrtel played his part in financing my trip when he powered home a volley to give the Reds the lead. I had him backed at 25-1 to be first goalscorer. My only regret was not betting more than a paltry £2 on it.
The much-maligned Stewart Downing provided a sublime assist for captain Steven Gerrard to double the lead before the former Middlesbrough winger drove home a vicious shot to make it 3-0 early in the second half. Then, in injury time, Jose Enrique – ignoring my vocal protestations against the employment of short corners – perfectly executed the tactic before slipping the ball to Luis Suarez for the Uruguayan to put the seal on a welcome 4-0 result.
Of course, any trip to Liverpool is always more than the match. The postgame experience can sometimes surpass what you witness on the hallowed turf. After the final whistle, we made our traditional dart to The Sandon pub, just a stone’s throw from the stadium. There we found fans from Borussia Mönchengladbach celebrating their annual friendship trip.
Then it was into the city centre to help the Scousers enjoy the last Saturday night before Christmas. Even when the results and/or performances haven’t been up to scratch, the Liverpool nightlife has always ensured I’ve gotten my money’s worth!
The voyage home consisted of its usual mixture of discussion of all matters relating to Liverpool and hazy recollections of the antics of the night before.
Anfield is likely to receive a facelift by the time I get back there again. Liverpool’s parent company Fenway Sports Group has said it wants the club to remain at the current location, rather than moving over to nearby Stanley Park and into a brand new stadium.
Hopefully FSG follows through with that plan because there is still something magical about the old place. A couple of new stands will not alter that, but they will provide for the extra revenue needed to help compete financially with domestic and European rivals.
However, all the money in the world could not buy the history and aura of a place like Anfield. Players and managers will come and go, but as long as Liverpool Football Club protects its prized asset, there will be a golden sky at the end of the storm.
- Stoke 3-1 Liverpool – Two Steps Back at the Britannia (lfcboston.wordpress.com)