I have been enthralled by the exploits detailed in various publications and books of the band of maniacs who followed their teams into Europe. How I envy them. I have never been the best of travellers especially as the most my wallet will stretch to is bus fares. Anybody who is over 6ft will sympathise with the problems associated with the design features of a bus required to carry as many passengers as possible with the minimum of leg room (and why, please tell me, do I always get a seat over the wheel arch which further limits stretching possibilities).
My feelings towards bus travel for long periods are affected by my ability to feel travel sick in anything more than a large car with full control of the windows. This was proved to dramatic effect while I was at school when travelling in the school mini-bus, on an orienteering trip, I tried to be sick out of one of the small windows at the back that only open 1 inch wide. The guy whose jersey I redecorated was, and still is, less than pleased with my efforts.
This leaves the car as the safest way for me to travel and stay on speaking terms with my fellow travellers. The constraints placed upon me in my youth by the lack of cash restricted my visits to other football grounds (come to think of it, the same reason applies now). I know that some strange looking people in anoraks have visited all the grounds in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales where professional football is played (do they play football in Wales?). I have heard of one chap who has photographs of corner flags from all the grounds he has visited (please imagine a “Nigel Mansell” voice saying the following and you get the idea of how interesting the photographer is at parties “....Now there is a very interesting story attached to the snap of this corner flag....”) I make no apology that I am nowhere near ticking off all the grounds of teams in the Premier League, let alone Scotland. The travels may have been few but always memorable.
My first football trip to watch a club match abroad, so to speak, was to Anfield. I had been to Wembley to watch Scotland but I am trying to forget Stewart Kennedy’s efforts to stick the head on his goal post in the 5-1 defeat of 1975 (he missed that as well). Hibs were playing away from home so I thought I would follow suit. Going to watch a match that did not involve Hibs was not my initial intention when I and my girlfriend agreed to go for a short break with another couple to the Lake District. I can assure you that football was not the first thing on my mind.
We arrived at our hotel on the Friday morning to be met by the owner, who on identifying us as Scots (I think the kilt and the heather behind the ear was a mistake), insisted that he open the bar and let us try the beer that had won the “Best Lager in England” award (going by the taste, the competition must not have been too fierce). Well as you might have suspected, I and the other guy were keen to sample an award winner but as it may have ended a beautiful friendship at an inappropriate moment, we declined but promised to return. We did out duty of oohing and ahhing at the local sights and shops to keep the girls happy, and then returned to the hotel and kept our promise but after 6 pints of Slalom lager the evening went downhill (did I really write that??).
Now being a bit biased in my youth, and disliking all things English, I was not as up to date as others on who was playing who in the English First Division (now the Premiership) that Saturday. It transpired that Liverpool were at home to Derby County and my mate managed to convince the girls that “Liverpool is world-renowned for the quality of its shops” (he went on to sell freezers in Alaska), and they agreed to move on. The four of us arrived in Liverpool early and we lads headed for Anfield, both with our Hibs scarves on. A pub (surprise surprise) was found about 400 yards from the ground. The doors were closed and people were waiting outside but you knew they were open by the noise of the cash register ringing away providing squadrons of angels with their wings (“It’s a Wonderful Life” fans out there will explain that reference).
At that time I had never queued to get into a pub, and I still think it strange to see people freezing to death outside a pub waiting for bouncers to let them in when there is an empty pub next door. At last our turn came to be admitted to the delights of an English boozer. As I said, this was early but the pub was heaving with bodies, several of which I suspect were incapable of standing for some reason but the crush held them upright. Numerous pints later, off to the game, still with Hibs scarves on but now accompanied by stupid grins.
We ended up in the Kop and what an experience that was. Noise, crowd, food smells, beer at half time (O.K., it was warm and only half pints but it was better than Bovril), and to top it all off Liverpool took Derby apart 5-0. The Hibs scarves and the badges we bought did mark us out as idiots as everybody else was wearing red or black and white, but it did break the ice with the cops who were encouraging us to “move along now” at the end of the game. Liverpool police seem to have pre-empted, by a number of years, the use of longer truncheons when dealing with potential troublesome situations. The sight of a 2 and a half foot wooden baton was enough to keep the crowd I was carried along with in order.
The badges I mentioned were the only things with green on them for sale by the local vendors and it seemed sensible at the time, though I shudder when I recall what they said (“Get Knotted Forest”...very witty!). I still have the programme from that match and I am thankful for its existence to enable me to produce details of the line-ups that day, as my mind was slightly befuddled after a wonderful day out. Only when I eventually managed to drag myself up to my loft to retrieve the aforementioned programme to identify the teams did it hit me what or rather who I had viewed all those years ago.
The programme date is 14 October 1978, cost 20p and Liverpool were top of the league after 11 games (won 10, drawn 1 and lost nil). Liverpool (labelled Red Shirts in the programme), managed by Bob Paisley, lined up as follows: Ray Clemence, Phil Neal, Alan Kennedy; Phil Thompson, Ray Kennedy, Alan Hansen; Kenny Dalgleish, Jimmy Case, Steve Heighway, David Johnston and Graeme Souness. The Derby County team, managed at the time by Tommy Docherty, does not appear to have as many household names as the Red Shirts but here they are: John Middleton, David Langan, Steve Buckley; Gerry Daly, Aidan McCaffery, Victor Morland; Steve Carter, Steve Powell, Bill Caskey, Charlie George and Jonathan Clarke.
The fact that the Kop has changed from the famous venue it once was to the all seated area that current legislation demands will no doubt have an effect on the atmosphere that a crowd will generate. I would dearly love to return to see if the place is anything like I remember... and to stuff that badge down the souvenir sellers throat!