The first time I saw the Reds play.

Charity Shield Programme WPOn the far side of my primary school was a field. It marked the end of London Transport’s Zone 6 in North Kent, so it was an easy train ride from Meopham to Wembley. The Wembley I grew up with no longer exists, there are a few photographs and some tucked away memories. You know the Wembley I mean, the one with Kenny Dalglish jumping over the hoardings. I was too young to remember that. Apparently I watched it, aged four. My old man and I did lots of things together. And my first trip to Wembley was no different. It was also my first Liverpool game, the 1982 Charity Shield.

Back in that North Kent school, one kid supported Chelsea, the others supported Spurs – the Ricky Villa and Glenn Hoddle inspired Cup winners of the previous two years. Then me, Liverpool. Title winners, European Champions three times in six years and Milk Cup perennials. But to the many eight year old voices of reason it didn’t count, the F.A. Cup was the one to win.

I read Shoot and Match, got the News of the World Football Annual with all the facts and trivia, I knew all the home grounds, so also knew they were wrong.

Come 21st August it was the Charity Shield both teams wanted to win. As Champions, we faced off with Tottenham Hotspurs in the football league curtain raiser, the first meaningful match since Rossi, Tardelli and Altobelli helped Italy romp past West Germany in the World Cup Final only 41 days earlier.

So I was off to Wembley, unsure if my knees had gone all trembley, but I was certainly excited. My father’s secretary seemed to have football connections, she gave me a Panini sticker album with a huge box of stickers, I got West Ham memorabilia – Dad worked in Stratford, east London in a building that also no longer exists. She may not have been responsible for the tickets, but I recall some sort of conversation.

I know we went by train because I remember eating a pork pie on the way home, but the road to Wembley is lost forever. The first memory I have in near exact detail is looking for our seats. I say seats; it was a bench with stickers. Arriving early I scoured for 136 and 137, or was it 156 and 157, too many Scouse backsides had worn the numbers away. We got settled with our packed lunches, flask of coffee and watched the ground fill up.

Positioned to the right of the Queen, and just a few rows closer to the pitch, we had a great view. Even when the burly Spurs fans with highlighted perms sat in front of us with their white and dark blue caps and replica tops. Every noise was audible, from footsteps to conversations, food wrappers rustling and the endless singing. It was total surround sound but with nothing really discernible.

Ian Rush scored in the 32nd minute and I simply cannot remember anything about it. For a first game and first goal it was not a good start, I get the vague feeling it as away to my right on a break. But why would Ian Rush ever not be in the opposition box?

Beer glass. That’s what I can see clearly, flying over our heads landing several rows down. The noise increased and a few fans were standing up, waving fists and goading. There was a sudden surge of testosterone and there were men everywhere climbing over benches, wrestling and throwing punches. The two Chas and Daves in front of us stood up, Dad leaned forward and put one hand on each of their shoulders. All 5ft 8 of Yorkshireman told them firmly to “Sit down, my son doesn’t want to see this,” as he pushed them back on to the bench. I looked at them, then at my Dad, and then back to the Spurs pair. The police came in, all truncheons and old style bobby helmets. Pretty soon it quietened down. Our section looked like it had 30 minutes before kick off they’d led so many fans away.

The chunkier fan in front of me turned around with his hand out to shake my Dad’s. “Thanks mate. That could have been us going out.” “It’s alright,” came the understated Yorkshire reply.

The violence didn’t end there. For some reason in the second half Garth Crooks punched Graeme Souness.

When Liverpool went up to collect the shield after winning 1-0, our spec offered us a great chance to go across and hope to shake hands with our heroes. I think I got part of Rushie’s sleeve. Or was it his scarf? I’m unsure, there was such a pile up of adoring fans of all sizes, this primary school weakling wasn’t going to get far.

The train journey back was highlighted by the aforementioned pie. But charging up the path when we arrived home, my mother opened the door, “I’ve seen it. The fighting. Are you alright?” We were alright. Looking back at what I’ve seen since, the fighting seemed a little tame, especially with the police intervention, all playground scrapping and Young Ones comedy violence.

It was the beginning of what became Bob Paisley’s final season as manager. He bequeathed a team that would become legends in red for Smokin’ Joe Fagan, culminating in the European Cup win in Rome. Yet I didn’t know it at the time, I didn’t analyse players back then. But I do remember Barney’s celebration when he scored that penalty. I watched that game with my Dad, too. Allowed up late to watch it, Mars Bar and all!

30 years later, a search through the Internet and YouTube and those missing pieces of my experience cannot be found. But of one thing I can be sure, my first Liverpool game was a typically 80’s affair, a flask of coffee, a punch up, rozzers, Rush scoring and, of course, Liverpool winning.

This article first appeared on The Tomkins Times 12 December 2012.

2 Responses to “The first time I saw the Reds play.”
  1. Olav says:

    Nice work, Alexander. We were kept hungry in Australia on a diet of only late round FA cup games and a handful of First Division (or Premier League) matches. I think I remember this one myself…

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