On a Saturday afternoon a little over forty years ago, I got into the car with my dad and drove for thirty five miles. Little did I know that over the course of the next few hours something huge was about to added to my life. The drive took us from the textile towns of East Lancashire to the sprawling city of
Liverpool on the banks
of the river Mersey. We went from the valleys
to the flatlands: from a skyscape of mill chimneys to a skyscape of dockyard
We parked up and had a pint in an extraordinary thin pub which was packed with larger than life characters who spoke in an accent I could barely comprehend. At thirteen years old, I duly worked my way down my pint whilst dad sank two or three. The guys in the pub would have frowned with disapproval had I chosen the Coca Cola that I would have much preferred. And my dad would have been uneasy to have been seen in the company of a Coca Cola drinking thirteen year old son. This was
1973 and rules were rules.
Then it was out of the nicotine stained darkness of the pub and out into a sparkling autumn afternoon and a walk across the manicured Victorian magnificence of
Park to where the high stands of Anfield crouched in the midst of a warren of
tight terraced streets. Stanley
It wasn’t my first football match. For five years we had been season ticket holders at Turf Moor,
– my dad’s boyhood team. But he had been driven to cursing distraction by the
antics of the club’s butcher chairman who had sold all the best players in
order to build a new stand and call it after himself. Well dad was having none
of it. Our season tickets were not renewed and the plan was to adopt and pick
and mix approach. His plan was to tour the venerable stadiums of the north of
choosing a different venue each week. England,
Anfield was the first venue.
And the last.
From the minute I reached the top of the steps and took in swaying sprawl of the Kop, I never wanted to go anywhere else and I never have. Forty one years and well over a thousand games later my fortnightly trips down the M6 are still a central part of my being.
I was not born and raised in
I have never lived on Merseyside. Instead I am a once a fortnight day tripper
to the city. Of course everything has changed beyond all recognition. On that
distant afternoon, I looked over the muddy pitch to where the great Bill Shankly
took the acclaim of his disciples on the Kop like a modern day Emperor. Shanks
epitomised the city in 1973. A hard as nails lifelong Socialist from the tough
school of the Ayrshire coalfield. He was no frills and a the kind of working
class hero that John Lennon had committed to vinyl. The Pool was a tough place
back then; a place where the life expectancy of a scab was measured in days. A
city built on the backs of African slaves that had been sticking up two fingers
to the rest of the country for as long as anyone could remember.
Shanks was the granite face of the city with his gravel humour and hard man charisma.
What was there not to like for the wide eyed thirteen year old? I became an adopted son and the city was more than happy to adopt me.
Liverpool isn’t fussy about who it adopts. Once upon a
time it was hundreds of thousands of starving Irish families. Now it is
weekending Scandinavians who come in with Ryan Air for two days of Beatles and
Liverpool FC. Now it is the 60 million strong worldwide Diaspora of Reds who
log onto the club website every day in Kuala Lumpur
or Shanghai or . Soweto
We are each and every one of us shaped by the vision Bill Shankly once sold to a city that was tailor made to hang on his words. It isn’t just football. It never has been. It is that unique, stroppy city by the sea which keeps getting knocked down and keeps getting back up with a bloody nose and a cocky grin.
We are partisan.
And like all partisans, there are always two sides of the coin. There is the love of our own team but equal in every respect is our bottomless contempt and loathing for the eternal enemy at the far end of the
East Lancs Rd –
Manchester United Football Club.
It means that if we get beat 1-0 it never feels so bad so long as they have got beat 2-0. Being seventeenth is no great problem so long as they are eighteenth. A Mancunian failure can give more pleasure that a Scouse success.
Schadenfreude defines any partisan. Schadenfreude joins those who loathe the enemy as much as they love their own.
Is it a thing to be proud of? No. It just comes with the territory. Back in 1973, falling under the magic spell of Shankly’s Anfield had nothing to do with hating United. That came later. That came once I became an adopted son. That came when I became partisan.
It creeps up on you and once it has you in its grasp it never goes away. It is neither pretty nor commendable. It’s just the way it is.
Over the weekend I realised that I am now a part of another similarly partisan group – the ones who fought for a ‘Yes’ vote. The media was awash with stories that a coup was about to dispose of Ed Milliband and replace him with Alan Johnson. The prospect of this happening sent a familiar sense of dread down my spine. With Milliband at the helm, it looks like a racing certainty that Labour will be subjected to a complete and utter humiliation next May. Johnson? That would be a nightmare. All of a sudden the enemy would have a new boss who might just to start to turn the ship around. All of a sudden they would have a guy who isn’t public school and Oxbridge. Instead they would have a guy who talks like a human being who once upon a time delivered the Royal Mail. I realised that the feeling of dull dread was identical to the familiar feeling I have known for so many years when the papers are filled with rumours that the Mancs are about to sign a new multi million pound superstar striker.
It’s not just that I want my side to win. I also want the other side to lose. Heavily. Utterly. With complete humiliation. Were United to fall apart like Leeds and Rangers and be relegated to the depths of the third tier, then I would no longer have the biggest game of the season to look forward to. Would I care? Not a chance. Losing the hugeness of United coming to Anfield would be a tiny price to pay for the utter joy of watching the Mancs collapse like a house of cards.
There is seldom any logic to Schadenfreude. If I sit down and read the list of the Labour Party’s proposals for the upcoming election, I dare say there wouldn’t all that many I have great objection to. But such sensible logic doesn’t even begin to come into it. After the lies and general obscenity of the Better Together campaign, there is no room for sensible logic. I am no more born and raised in
than I was born and raised on Merseyside. But after the referendum campaign, I
certainly feel like an adopted son. Scotland
I found being a part of ‘Yes’ triggered the same partisan emotions that Shanks triggered all those years ago. It’s us against them. They’ve got all the money whilst we make all the noise.
When I read Alan Johnson’s article in the Guardian this morning where he promised in capital letters that he would never, ever stand to be the Labour leader, it reminded me of hearing the news that Paul Gascoigne had chosen Spurs ahead of United. Or when Alan Shearer chose Newcastle over United.
Of course there are plenty of sensible and logical reasons for anyone on the side of ‘Yes’ yearning for a complete Labour wipeout in May. Such an outcome would surely bring the date of our eventual
much closer, just like Man United in crisis means Liverpool
have a better chance of landing the title.
But I might as well be honest. There is little calculated logic behind my hopes for a springtime wipeout of the Red Tories.
To see then wiped of the face of the Scottish political map one by one will give me every bit as much pleasure as watching Messi’s Barcelona dismember United in Rome like a sadistic five year old pulling the legs off a spider.
I guess that means I have become a partisan. Something tells me that I am not alone!