Writer Rick Duerden reflects on his first Liverpool FC game to missing being in the ground supporting his beloved reds…
Saturday 9th January 1993
Liverpool 1 — Aston Villa 2
My first ever Liverpool game.
This weekend’s opponents always bring back happy memories for me. Yes Liverpool lost but I’ll never forget the moment I walked up the steps, clutching my uncle’s hand and first saw the bright-green pitch illuminated by the floodlights.
3pm kick off in January in the early 90’s. Romanticism has surely taken over. In all honesty it was probably a turgid, mud-filled field half-lit by the weak January sun.
But still. In my mind’s eye, the memories are vivid.
I remember it was freezing cold. I remember getting the train into Lime Street. I remember having lunch in a cafe in Lewis’s department store. I remember walking down a weird stairwell at the back of the old Annie Road stand. And I remember the songs.
‘Johnny Barnes, Johnny Barnes, Johnny Barnes’
My Villa-supporting uncle took time to instruct me after the match that I was not allowed to stop supporting my team just because we lost. He needn’t worry. I was hooked.
I was embarking on a journey that would take in trips around England and Europe supporting the Reds. Great memories and great tales to tell. Another time. Right now, I only have thoughts of home.
My Liverpool home.
For more than two decades I’ve been making the journey to Liverpool. Making my pilgrimage, not just to support the lads in Red but to breath in the city itself. I’ve travelled there by train, car, bus, coach, ferry, even bicycle — another story to tell. Another time. But no matter the method of transport, the sense of belonging upon arrival has always been the same.
My City. My People. My Heart.
And then it all stopped. And at the cruellest of times.
Now this bunch of heroes, these champions of England don’t get to feel the ovation they deserve. And we don’t get to live the life of champions.
Next week we don’t get to play our part in a European Cup quarter-final. A part that we know makes a tangible difference.
Maybe next week some will be able to welcome the coaches into the stadium. A few more will get to experience watching the game in a group in a bar. Most will still continue to watch from afar.
It doesn’t seem like minutes since we were last there. Yet at the same time it seems like a lifetime. It’s funny how time works that way.
The same parking spot, the same walk to the ground. Same pubs, same seats. Jokes, drinks. The faces. The songs. Pre-match rituals, last minute dash to the toilet.
You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Come on Red Men.
‘Mo Salah, Mo Salah, running down the wing.’
Queue. Sneaky pint. What are the half-times?
Miss the second half kick-off. I’ve probably missed 90% of second half kick-offs.
Back in my seat.
‘He’s our centre-half, he’s our number four.’
The roar. The sense of togetherness. Hugging your mates. Hugging strangers. In this moment, nobody’s a stranger.
And now to celebrate with my people. To dissect and analyse and then forget, until tomorrow.
When in Liverpool, I can’t really explain it, but I feel 10 feet tall. I’ve been to the city 100s, 1000s of times and never once not felt at ease. I know it happens, but I’ve never seen any bother, everybody always seems on the same side.
I still get the hit of adrenaline. I still feel like I’m discovering new places. The city is buzzing with life. Buskers on the street corners. Everybody looking the business. Life is worth living in Liverpool.
Yet at the same time, I know every corner. I know what to expect. The familiarity and memories wrap themselves around me like welcoming arms.
That’s what I miss. I know we’ll have it again one day. Maybe it will be different now we’ve all missed out on the chance to do all of this with the added confidence of champions? Maybe we’ll have another chance to do that again sooner rather than later?
I’ve got the hotel booked for May 23rd, my weekends are boxed off in August. I know come the first opportunity I’ll be there.
I want to feel that alive again.
But I also know I need to be there for Jordan Henderson. For Jürgen Klopp. For Sadio Mané, for Mo Salah and for Bobby Firmino. For Trent, Robbo, Virgil, Joël and Joe. For Alisson Becker, Fabinho and, if they’re still there, for James Milner, Divock Origi, Shaq, Ox and Gini WIjnaldum.
‘Bring on the Champions!’
My champions. Our champions. Yesterday, today and forever more.
I can’t wait.