The First Time I Ever Saw The Reds – No.5

The First Time I Ever Saw The Reds – No.5
December 17, 2012 Tony Mckenna (Macattack)

By Tony McKenna.

The Event:

Liverpool v Dynamo Dresden (UEFA Cup, 4th Round; 1st Leg; 7th March, 1973)

Attendance:

33,270. (LFC history.net)

Liverpool Team:

Clemence; Lawler; Lindsay; Smith; Lloyd; Hughes; Keegan; Hall; Boersma; Heighway; Callaghan.

Subs:

Lane; Webb; Toshack; Thompson (Phil); Brownbill.  (LFC history.net)

Result:

Liverpool 2 v 0 Dynamo Dresden

Scorers:

Hall (25 mins).

Boersma (60 mins).

Statistics:

Possession: Not known

Shots (on/off target): Not known

Corners:  Not known.

Free Kicks: Not known.

Joy:  100 per cent.

Disclaimer:

The Author apologises, in advance, for the lack of match statistics.  This was in the days of the pre-Tomkins Times era, pre-Opta, pre-Internet; and when long distance communication, for ordinary people, was mostly conducted via contraptions known as Red Telephone Boxes.

The Author was a mere eight years of age; accordingly, the match report will be limited in scope, being sporadic, vague and blurred; but snatches of childhood memories are sharply infinite, some of which are referenced herein.

It was also the time when Milk Floats, now almost extinct, roamed the earth in droves; and when the UEFA Cup held a certain magical lustre for an emerging generation of LFC fans. Now unwanted, unloved and re-named the Europa League – reportedly soon to be defunct – this piece, nonetheless, represents the beginning of dreams.

It was also, revealingly, an era when Liverpool enjoyed a period of stability and continuity in terms of ownership, managers and playing personnel.  It will be noted that, of the aforementioned team, six players survived to start when Liverpool reached the pinnacle of European success – four years later – in Rome on the 25th May 1977.  Can you name them?

Prologue:

It was a ‘surprise’, my Mum said.  I was eight years old; my mind ran the gauntlet of possibilities; not another budgie, I hoped, nor a goldfish; and surely not New Brighton baths on Sunday, it was far too cold?  No, this one was more special, this was something I had never encountered before, I could tell by Mum`s demeanour; but first, I would have to eat my tea.  Which I could not; the edge to my appetite had suddenly eroded, so she told me what the surprise was anyway.

My Football Universe did not start with a ‘Big Bang’ but rather with a ‘small silence’; initially, the shock made time stand still.  Finally, holding more joy than I could contain, I boomed upstairs to my bedroom where photographs of Clemence, Keegan, Heighway, Callaghan and Hughes adorned the wall. I shouted rabidly: “I’m going to see you”, over and over, until my Mum followed me in an attempt to placate and calm my burgeoning excitement.

Well, it’s good to get the embarrassing bits out of the way early.  But I am sure that I may be forgiven: my Uncle was taking me to the Match that night; the world suddenly spun on a different axis.

Football Consciousness:

The backdrop to this story would be incomplete without a mention of ‘football consciousness’.  This seems to unravel and develop in tandem with your cognitive development; you begin to understand much, yet, at the same time, you still know very little.  Nonetheless, you are lured inwards to a beginning when football begins to matter.  A good barometer, for my generation, would be to recollect the first time you watched the F.A. Cup Final; not just seen it in passing, but actually sat down and became enthralled from start to finish.

Ironically, my first one was the Liverpool v Arsenal Final of 1971.  I sat with my family, and sadly, watched the Reds incur a 2 – 1 defeat.  This began an oft repeated ritual; through tears I ran off to lock myself in the bathroom; it took my Mum about 20 minutes to coax me back out.   I categorically state, of course, that this no longer happens. Nowadays I am far more mature… I am usually out within 10 minutes.

Whilst your applause for that joke diminishes you will, no doubt, get my drift; there was, in my defence, nothing lame about the impact of my discovery. Like footballers, I learnt that I hated losing, more than I loved winning.  This has never changed.

That said, it was the perfect time for my football consciousness to exit the cot.  Serendipity rang a bell that chimed to coincide beautifully for any sixties child; soon, Liverpool would never seem to lose at all.

A Pilgrimage:

Well hardly a pilgrimage; I lived a couple of miles from the ground on the Fairfield/Kensington border, boxed in by two main roads, Edge Lane and Prescot Road.  But as we journeyed in the car, it felt like a pilgrimage; I was far too young to breach my neighbourhood boundary alone. Beyond my street, and front door, many places were mostly unexplored.  So this was still very much an adventure.

Another Uncle gave us a lift to the ground; I sat in the back listening to my Mum`s brothers talking about the game.  They said something about having already vanquished ‘East’ German opposition (Dynamo Berlin), but this one would be tough; apparently, Dresden had won their League quite recently and were on course for another… the news injured me.  ‘East’ German also seemed to be a notable distinction to observe; not just geographically, but also with some suspicious mystique attached.  Curiously, I also remembered the mention of an ‘Iron Curtain’; having no grasp of Churchill’s metaphorical quote, I thought this very strange.  What use was an ‘Iron Curtain’?

At the ground, my Uncle chaperoned me through the coiling crowd. As we darted through the human traffic, I felt vulnerably small; occasionally, I stumbled whilst trying to keep up with his brisk pace.   I saw the stadium roof lit up against the night sky; I seemed to walk faster then.

We then had to pass through a revolving gate; there were lots of them.; I felt trapped, claustrophobic; they were scary, and so repetitively noisy. Looking back, they seemed to echo the fatuous rattle of dud machine guns … they called them turnstiles.

“Where`s the pitch?” I felt let down.  A child’s expectation craves immediate resolution, but I had to wait.  It was all stone walled corridors and interminable stairs, until we rested at a pit stop where my Uncle purchased a cup of tea, two packets of fruit pastilles for me, and a programme each.  Anticipation was now acute; eventually, my Uncle breathed the immortal words:  “Let’s go to our seats”.

This Is Anfield:

We mounted yet more stairs, smaller in flight this time, and walked through a hole in the wall.  At once – a cold, but comfortable, wind loomed from the opening, ushering me unto an unfamiliar world. Amidst the crowd speak of thousands and a spectacle the size of a spaceship – it felt like an ambush. My cognitive map had no prior point of reference, no equal, no comparison, for such size, noise, colour, space and dimension.  It was the Blitz in high definition, and I felt a beautiful fear.

Haloed in the night, and made surreal by floodlight; a gigantic, green, real- life, Subbuteo pitch – the playground of the gods – hemmed in by pyramid sized terraces.  I could see, yet could not believe.  It felt like a place of sacred consequence … like Church. Only there were more people… more people than I had ever seen in one place before. Yet somehow, I felt either alone, or that I was not really there.  Was this really happening?

This was a place mostly heard through the static hiss of an imperfect radio in my small bedroom; or else, seen in mere, dull monochrome, on an inglorious black and white television, and all too infrequently.  No round the clock, Sky TV, football feasts, in those famine ridden days.  But now, real life offered a view through a magical prism, refracting colour, reverberating sound; not once before had I been exposed to such huge stimulus.

A Pitch Full Of Stars:

The Kop started to sing; a preparation for battle,or so it seemed. I became intimidated by the awe and wonder of it all.  Then: rippling applause, whistling and escalating cheers, heralded a new significance.  My uncle held me aloft, all too briefly, but enough for me to see an empty green pitch being invaded by men in contrasting shirts: vivid red versus bright yellow.  I focused on the red.

The photographs on my bedroom wall suddenly sprung to life.  I knew the players’ numbers but hardly needed them.  I spotted Keegan; his diminutive size and haircut being distinctive enough to distinguish from other players; then, Heighway, his wide legged gait, slightly shorter hairstyle, and of course, Clemence, goalkeeper supreme; he was the easiest to pick out, by virtue of his position.  Then my Uncle’s arms must have tired; he lowered me back to my seat.  Hey, what gives?

I had now seen Liverpool Players in the flesh.  Yet, reality could still be questioned.  My mind tripped into a mode of self-contradict.  Was that really them?  Maybe they were actors; lookalikes standing in for the real thing.  But no, that was definitely Keegan, Heighway and Clemence…or was it?  It was all too much.

The game commenced; no gung-hoed rush to arms, or playground cavalry charges to goal, that hallmarked the limit of my playing experiences at that time, but rather the cautious tentative exchange of passes strewn back and forth.  Why don’t they have a go?  Go on, get up there.  I could score from that centre circle.

I was too young to understand that the players may actually adhere to a plan of tactical and formation design.   That night, I was merely a child bedazzled by the beauty of Stars, knowing nothing about the physics behind their role or reasons for their existence.  Innocence is pure; uncontaminated by complexity, the simple things will suffice:  I just wanted to see Liverpool score.

But seeing became a problem.  The crowd became inconveniently galvanised at the dictate of the play; periodically, they sprung to their feet when a move beckoned promise, or else to protest at the referee or an opposition player. Then all I could see was the backs of grown men, who, in the throes of total abandon, roared words an eight year old was not supposed to hear.

Half a Goal:

Another early lesson learnt then; when you go to a match you do not really go to ‘see’ the game; well, not all of it.  It was more the glimpses and snatches of orbiting jigsaw bits, trail blazing at speed; then punctuated by total eclipses to nothingness…never the full uninterrupted picture.  But this never mattered; you were there, even if, at times, you never really felt that you were.

Suddenly…Brian Hall flies through the Anfield airspace…he heads the ball.  Crowd… Jack in the Boxed…eclipse…nothingness…can’t see. And in that nothingness, of just a second long, eternity made me wait forever.  Then it broke.

Crowd swell…roar…a jounce to my fledging heart… the rapture of pandemonium delight, thundered by thousands, making me sick with excitement.  I had seen my first ‘live’ Liverpool goal.

Of course, I had not really seen it.  I had clocked Brian Hall’s header; a ‘clear-cut chance’ no doubt, because the crowd rose in frantic anticipation; I never actually saw the ball hit the net.  So it was really only ‘half’ a goal, if you know what I mean.  But, like the striker who counts deflected shots off defenders, I claimed it anyway. After all, the truth would not have been the greatest story to tell them in school.

Sure, I knew that honesty was the best policy … but where a lie would be better?  I decided I would have to tell a lie; one of the earliest, if not the first. This became doubly necessary as it happened. Phil Boersma scored the second goal in the 60th minute, and I did not see that one at all … not even half of it.

Rites of Passage & Reflections:

However, sitting in my seat, looking down on that pitch, I felt like I had trounced Charlie Bucket and his Golden Ticket.  Now, reality had delivered an alternative to the spell binding, but fictional allure, of the Chocolate Factory. Story books, and indeed, comics, fairy tales and play time games – in fact, the whole world of ‘make believe’ – would rescind in importance from hereon; this kid would no longer be ‘kidded’; he could now think for himself.

I was just a year or so on from a belief system pliable enough to be conned into the Father Christmas myth.  At that juncture, your sense of space and dimension matures and develops; you begin to think: no way can Santa get down that Chimney – he’s way too fat! I had worked that one out …but incrementally… my mind was ill prepared for a gargantuan leap of size, space and dimension hidden within a football stadium … all in one fell swoop.

In retrospect, this was an important milestone in my life, as much a part of my evolutionary journey through the landmarks of crawling, to walking, then later learning to run without falling over.  Transition denotes all endeavours; we get older and better equipped; we may still do the same things  but we may do them differently.

In later years, I would go to the match independently, risking the Kop, at 12 years of age, for the first time – that was a mistake – then reverting to the Paddock to allow myself time to grow.  As an older teenager, but before turning 18 years, I would thrill to the prospect of an illicit pre-match pint; here, I learnt an invaluable lesson of one of life’s other rites of passage: alcohol never tasted quite as nice – once it became legal.

Epilogue:

The night shrunk to the solitude of my small bedroom in that fondly remembered terraced house; the place where my football consciousness had taken shape and formed.  Size, colour, space and dimension had rescinded to the closed darkness of my room; and, the shadowy outlines of Clemence, Keegan, Heighway, Callaghan and Hughes, on the wall.  The bonfire may have abated but the flames would never be totally extinguished; they could be stoked and rekindled at any time; indeed, in years to come, they surely were.

On that March night, in 1973, my world had changed. I recall being unable to sleep; God knows at what point I eventually succumbed…but before I did, I fretted to understand what had just happened, and I still remained perplexed at the stupidity of an ‘Iron Curtain’.  Then, I planned the story to tell in school…of how, I saw Liverpool score two goals.

And, if it was a little bit of a lie, maybe one day I will write a confessional piece that admits to ‘half a goal’, then post it on some website, hosted by an Author, who writes about Liverpool Football Club. Maybe it is time to own up.   But for a total of four decades, at least, my story would hold.

“I cannot go back to yesterday.  I was a different person then.”

Lewis Carroll – Alice In Wonderland.

 

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