No matter how much the broadcasters of today might try to paint the end of the 2011-12 season as the most exciting in the history of the game, it was not. Nowhere near. 1st v 2nd for the title, home of the leaders, still the dominant force in English football. 2nd place team requires a two-goal victory, a margin of defeat that the home side had not tasted on their own ground in over three years.
Having procured our tickets barely a fortnight earlier, arrangements were made for the meet-up in Guildford. Time off work secured, the pub beckoned and that last pint was almost costly. Welcome though as we travelled to Anfield in Larry’s van; an escort with room for driver and a passenger in the front, third person in the back. No seats. Still, fairs fair, one person in the back on the way up, the other on the way home. Alcohol certainly helped with the bruises suffered, numbing my pain as Anfield drew closer.
Hearing “A Place In The Sun” by The Men They Couldn’t Hang – a band I used to see regularly with Jon and Al – on the radio as the sun shone through the windscreen brought a sense of well-being, a rarely heard single in those days (in any day) seemed to make the day complete. Anywhere inside the Home Counties was considered fair game for a TMTCH gig. What memories of those nights as well; dodgy pubs in Harlesden (I knew the Irish branch of the family would come in useful some day); dubious hairs in a raita, never stopping to find out what joys the curry would bring; ales quaffed here, there and quite possibly everywhere; tales for another arena.
Nothing prepared us for the traffic though; horrendous to the extent that we just made kick-off. And the match. I remember snatches of it, quite big chunks from our vantage point by a terrace entrance, close to the home fans. Alan Smith’s goal? Surely he touched it? Didn’t he? The opinions of the officials were all that counted and not enough credit was given to the referee and linesman for having the strength of character to withstand the pressure from Liverpudlian players and supporters alike.
Mickey Thomas blew it. Grobbelaar saved a tame shot with what seemed like minutes to go and then the glorious moment. As the ball hit the back of the net, I felt lifted by the wave of emotion, genuinely leaving my feet, turning and sinking to my knees in the open space with an old couple standing in the entrance to the terrace, tears in the man’s eyes. It remains and difficult moment to capture in words; sheer undiluted joy. The lifetime of disappointment before and since can be forgotten with moments like this.
Even the bricks that rained in on us from the footbridge as we left the city could not dim the moment. I wonder what happened to those kids as several cars pulled in and gave chase. I don’t actually, it doesn’t take too much imagination.
I bought a copy of each newspaper the following morning. And on the Sunday as well. For a month or two, I bought every football magazine that was published. All the clippings and a photocopy of my matchday programme and the ticket are in a scrapbook which still sees the light of day every now and then.
It was an amazing night and even though I enjoy title wins and cup triumphs, nothing comes close to the emotions of that night in May.
(Click on images to enlarge)