Melbourne Victory v Liverpool: You’ll never walk alone

Few people believe that it was a kid from Manchester who put me on to supporting Liverpool football club, but it’s true.

How a kid from Manchester comes to support Liverpool is a story for another day, but it was early May 1986 at MacKilliop College in Werribee, when the new kid – Neil Cochrane – was sat next to me in my year 9 homeroom. Neil and his family had just moved to Werribee from Manchester for his father’s job. What atrocities Mr Cochrane had committed to end up in Werribee has never come to light; I like to convince myself that his posting was more to do with contributing perhaps specialised knowledge for the nearby CSIRO labs or some engineering expertise to the then Board of Works and it’s numerous (cough) ‘projects’ Werribee and southern Little River are most famously known for.

After the TSIP (traditional settling in period), the talk between the new kid with the funny accent and I turned to sport. Such was my naivety as a 14 year old, I found it preposterous that he’d never heard of the VFL, let alone picked a team to barrack for. He was equally aghast that I had no allegiance to an English football club.  I said that I’d seen the FA Cup final on Channel 2 a few times, but that was about it. “You should support my team, Liverpool”, said Neil in his thick Mancunian accent. “We’ve just won the League this year and we play Everton in the F.A Cup this Saturday.” “And”, he smiled, adding the coup de grace of his pitch, “there’s an Australian named Craig Johnson plays for us. You should support us.” So, the home of the Beatles has an Australian playing for them? Count me in.

Every club has its stories and Liverpool’s are well known: 18 League titles, seven F.A Cups and five Champions League titles. Tales of Liverpool’s hatred for the red half of Manchester (and vice-versa) and the joy that defeating Liverpool brings any of the other teams in English Football. Champion players like Gordon Hodgson, Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalgleish, John Barnes, and Ian Rush and of how Bill Shankly taught not just a football team to be proud of who they were, and to believe that they matter, but an entire people.

And then there’s the ugly truth about how a government, a police force and select media outlets tried to blame 96 innocent Liverpool supporters for their utterly needless deaths at Hillsborough in 1989. That somehow, dead scousers at a football match was an ugly hooligan getting what they deserved – never mind that some of the body bags laid out on the pitch at Sheffield that horrible day contained children and counted the elderly among the dead.

While it existed long before Hillsborough the singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has become an  important ritual to any Liverpool supporter. From afar, I and many like me, have sat in awe and watched those lucky tens of thousands who pack Anfield to the rafters every home game sing Gerry Marsden’s version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song as though their lives depended on it, which in some cases might not be too far from the truth, given your average supporters’ love of their club, be it, Red, white, blue, black and white… whatever.

I’ve been to plenty of Grand Finals at the MCG, and seen some pretty special cricket matches and other soccer games at the Temple Down The Road, but nothing – absolutely nothing compares to the chills up my spine that the singing of You’ll Never Walk Alone generated. I’ve never been to a Liverpool match at Anfield (and given the way the English Premier League is structured, and my work, it’s likely I may never) but last night, I and 95,000 other people at the MCG got to experience what it must be like to stand amongst the faithful in the Kop, as Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal or Everton stand, facing down the mighty men in red prior to kick off; Liverpool supporters uniting in spirit with the players saying ‘no matter what happens in the next 90 minutes, we’re with you and no matter how bad things may get, we have your back. We’re here’. It’s more powerful a message of unity than any contrived focus-group tested and approved tagline like ‘Whatever It Takes’, ‘They Know We’re Coming’ or ‘Side by Side’ can ever dream of evoking.

The game itself never really reached any great heights as a contest; it was never going to. Both teams are in pre-season mode and nothing was on the line. But for a few hours last night, myself and others from our neck of the woods got to make believe that we were at Anfield. That it was we who were standing in the Kop, that it was us telling the team that we have your back, that we’re here for you, and you’ll never walk alone. And it was our chance to lend our voice and our solidarity in spirit to Anfield faithful and Liverpool supporters the world over. That for a brief moment in time, Stevie G, Luis, Daniel Agger, Raheem Sterling, Lucas, Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique were playing for us.   And they didn’t let us down.

Justice for the 96. You’ll never walk alone.

About Stone Cold Steve Baker Thompson Harvey Duckworth

Weapons-grade Grump. Quixotic. Jack of all Trades and Master of None. Ex-power forward for Melbourne Superules FC. Quoter of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm at inappropriate moments. Gun-for-hire, sleep enthusiast, contrarian. Meshuggener. Nebbish. Kibitzer. The dude abides.

Comments

  1. cowshedend says:

    Congratulations on a fantastic piece,the passion smacks you in the face, love it.
    ‘Come on you Reds’

  2. Steve, I’m the type who never watches pre-match stuff. I avoid the ANZAC rituals and refuse to cop national anthems. Last night is the first time I genuinely reckon the occasion before the game outweighed the rest – obviously a timid friendly. It is the greatest anthem and, somehow, is always heartfelt. I do not support Liverpool but would love to one day visit Anfield.
    Thanks for your story. Terrific stuff.

  3. The singing is always an important component of English soccer, but “Walk Alone” has a significance beyond the others – “Forever Blowing Bubbles” for example!
    It is great to enjoy the English model but important not to imitate, which is where, amongst a myriad of other cringe factors, the Fanatics fail miserably.
    I recall being at one of the MCG soccer “blockbusters” one night and having a critic next to me decry the lack of crowd verve straight after kick off (“not like this at home”…). I told him to wait until something happened. The first goalmouth scrimmage triggered the familiar ‘G roar. “We”, I explained,” yell when something happens, not when it doesn’t”. I wasn’t being sarcastic. It is our way. The Barmy Army chant through the doldrums. We scream at a bouncer.Vive la difference.
    Liverpool’s song is magnificent. And it is theirs. You were privileged to have walked with them last night. Thanks again for sharing the occasion.

  4. Andrew Starkie says:

    Great Steve, real passion. But you’ve brought back some frightful memories from Hillsborough. It was a cover up. Disgraceful.

    Tell me, who kicked the winner for Arsenal against Liverpool to win the League back in the 80s? Wright? I watched it live on TV. I always watched the one hour div 1 highlights show, Match of the Day, as a kid. Brilliant show: goals and highlights. Simple.

  5. Andrew Starkie says:

    And all those FA CUp finals.

  6. Starks…I think it was either David Rocastle or Michael Thomas (not of WPA fame, of course).
    Not sure that either of them played too often after that.

  7. What a great piece! Makes me wonder why I bother to read the sports pages at all – congratulations on capturing the real essence of the G and being able to transmit it via the written word. Not many can do this today!

  8. Stainless says:

    Steve – great report.

    I’ve followed Liverpool for 40 years. Like you, I was persuaded by a school friend to follow the Reds. Like you, I have never been to Anfield or even seen them ‘in the flesh’ until Wednesday. Like Crio, I don’t do anthems and chants at sporting events, but what an incredible exception was YNWA!

    It’s unfortunate that such a wonderful crowd and atmosphere was rather wasted for what was really a training run for Liverpool. While the incomparably professional Stevie G was on the park, the game had a semblance of a real contest. His goal was sublime in the build-up and execution. Credit also to the young Melbourne Victory side which was feisty and competitive throughout. However, once the Reds ‘activated their sub’ – the entire team – the significance of the match was exposed for what it was.

    Since Liverpool seems incapable of building a decent stadium to replace the historic but increasingly inadequate Anfield, perhaps they could consider doing a Hawthorn – Launceston arrangement and play a few home games in Melbourne. 95,000 passionate fans every time would certainly stick it up the Mancs and their poxy little ‘theatre of dreams’!

    BTW – yes it was Michael Thomas in 1989. If I remember rightly he later transferred to Liverpool for a while.

  9. Andrew, Surely you have read Fever Pitch?

  10. Steve Baker says:

    Michael Thomas scored the ‘winner’ in the 91st minute *grrrr*

    Starks: Yes! I remember the Ch2 highlights shows on Monday evenings. Was essential viewing through summer holidays.

    Stainless: Hopefully City of L’pool and Fenway Sports can reach an agreement on expanding Anfield. Move to Stanley Park/new stadium too costly (see Arsenal & the Emirates and their fall off while spending on players has been limited). The apoplexy from Robbo/Ralphy/Caro/KB/Smith et. al would be worth the price of admission if the Reds were to ‘Launceston’ themselves down here.

    Crio: The Fanatics are first against the wall, come the revolution. Dead-set embarrassing and about as funny as having jock itch

    Glenda, Cowshedend: too kind. thank you.

  11. Steve, I used to get to a fair few games during my London stint . Those Thatcher years were dramatic and everything was politicised. Tact was unnecessary. I remember the Shed baiting sides from the “Black Country” regarding the pit closures. Black players, too, were taunted ceaselessly. Police were abused to their faces – marbles were used to bring down police horses and incite riots. Fences were erected to stop pitch invasions. Glory days indeed!
    A vivid pre match was one afternoon when Man U visited Highbury. It was the season opener, a match dedicated to acknowledge the life and recent death of the influential administrator Stanley Rous (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_Rous). Back then, a minute’s silence was observed – in recent years it became a “moment’s” silence or even a minute’s applause! An appropriate still fell over the ground.
    The truce was shortlived. A whisper echoed from the the Red End…”Charlie Nicholas is a wanker, is a wanker…”. Two or 3 times it repeated before the Gunners’ fans chorused back…”Norman Whiteside…”. Chaos, of course, broke out and, ultimately a pretty dull match on the field (“boring, boring Arsenal”).
    It still makes me chuckle.

  12. Stainless says:

    Steve
    I remember watching that Michael Thomas match live – it was such a big deal to have a title decider game that SBS (I think) televised it, which was very unusual back then.

    Thomas redeemed himself by scoring a ripper goal for Liverpool in the 1992 FA Cup Final against Sunderland, which we won 2-0.

  13. Andrew Starkie says:

    Yep, have read all his books, i think. Nick Hornby. Peaked at Fever Pitch.

    ABC televised Michael Thomas game live. Watched it live Saty arvo in Wbool.

  14. Andrew Starkie says:

    Did S Gerard go for punching a DJ for not playing Phil Collins. Credit to the DJ for not sacrificing his principles. Phil COllins? Good God!

  15. As a Liverpool fan for exactly the same reason (Thank you Johnno) who has been to Anfield twice and sung the song, it was amazing the other night and was far better than hearing only 45,000 of us at Anfield.

    For the many scousers there that travelled they will take this back with them and be speaking about the time 95,000 people sung with gusto and I am just proud I had my 12 year old son with me to experience it.

    YNWA – Justice for the 96….

  16. Dennis Gedling says:

    Great stuff. The game itself is never the main thing about these pre season tours. It’s the build up, the town being besieged and your team coming to your town. Had this with Celtic visiting Perth a couple of years ago.

  17. Dan Crane says:

    I have a feeling that LFC will return. It was lovely to watch the redmen without the pressure of a competitive fixture….even the Luis Suarez situation was forgotten about. YNWA

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