2001 - A (Cyber) Space Odyssey.
The years pass in the blinking of an eye. I blink and I see a boy in a red shirt, in the garden in 1974, playing football, not watching it. I move house and I move school. And I blink and I see boys in red scarves on sofas, in 1977, and 1978. Blink. At Anfield with a scarf tied around my wrist. Arms raised. I move house and I move school. Again. Blink. In scarves in 1981 and 1984. Again. Leagues are won. Blink, blink. Cups are raised. I move house again. Away. Again, again. And I move to university. And I see a ban from Europe, and I see a fall from grace. And I see Hillsborough happen on my Sheffield doorstep. Tears blinked. And then no glasses are raised. And then no cups are raised. and I fall out of love with football, out of love with Liverpool, for fifteen years long years. No glasses are raised, no cups are raised. A scarf folded away and set aside. And then I move for work, and then I'm married and mortgaged and have children. Glasses are raised. And then again; I'm married and mortgaged and have more children. Glasses raised again. And raised again. And the years pass. And Cups are raised. And I dial up the world to join in...
...cars and girls and music took my eye off the ball, took the ball away from my feet, took the game away from my heart. Work took me back to Liverpool, but I barely set foot in Anfield. I worked on Saturdays bashing away at the tills in HMV on Church Street, but even when I was free I preferred to play five a side instead of go to the game. I thought I was all grown up, and all grown out of it, in love with my city again, but not with the game. All grown up by then, and then moving away from Liverpool, and now with a wife, and a child, and a mortgage and and a car, and then a business to run. By I had fallen out of love with the music, and I fallen out of love with the girl, and I was absorbed by parenthood, and I was driving a five door family car. I blinked, and I found myself thinking about football again.
I found myself thinking about football again because something was stirring in the heart of L4; a Frenchman had arrived who had belief, a swagger and a style that whispered about the way things used to be, the ways of doing things well and doing things properly. Cups were raised. Chins were raised and glasses were raised. It stirred something in my heart when not much else did. Those old feelings. Sick on a Saturday afternoon as teatime ticked around to 4.45, tense on a Thursday night when we played on far foreign fields. By 2001, I was as hooked as I had been as a child, I found my scarf at the back of a drawer, and all of my Christmases arrived at once.
It felt different, and I felt different. Something else was different. The world had shrunk in a short space of time. The world now appeared in Windows on a screen in the living room. One day, that Window opened up at liverpoolfc.net and then suddenly, it wasn't just the mouse that clicked. I realised that people were talking to each other about football. On the world wide web, people were sharing knowledge, information, passion about Liverpool Football Club. I read a lot, and I learned a lot. I missed a lot of it too, and over time I forgot most of it. But one day for whatever reason, I found out I could buy match tickets online. Actual match tickets. From 250 miles away. Sent to my EH4 door. Like all of my Christmases coming at once.
I was effectively reliving my childhood, dreaming of watching the Reds, but this time I had a credit card, and for the first time in an age I was going to Anfield. I took my Dad. And we went to see Liverpool return to the European Cup - even if it was now the Champions League. And even if the majority of our fans couldn't care less. On a mild and bright August night, Liverpool were back in the European Cup for the first time in age. For the first time since Heysel. Despite the glory of Dortmund just three months earlier, the qualifying stages of the Champions League were met with widespread indifference in L4, but for me in EH4 I was quite excited. I had my tickets, and I was going to see Liverpool play in the European Cup.
I can't tell you much about the match. I'd imagine that if you've read this far you've realised that romance and whimsy give me greater pleasure than the minutiae of match statistics and performance analysis. Up the steps from the belly of the main stand. The green grass and the red shirts never failing to bring back those most cherished memories, the things we draw upon when we think of our Club and when we think of Anfield. Every time I see that pitch. Like all of my Christmases arriving at once. I remember that we sat in the main stand, up behind the Directors Box, and I think that it's odds on that my Dad was worried about traffic on the way home. I remember that I had the scarf around my neck that I had tied around my wrist when I had first entered Anfield twenty odd years earlier. I remember that the ground echoed, two thirds empty, as we put four goals past the mighty FC Haka of Finland. And I remember that the cheers that night were youthful, a ground full of kids living the Anfield dream. I was the biggest kid there. I remember being pleased for Jamie Redknapp, back in the team after a season long injury. I remember that Robbie scored, and that Emile scored. A second string squad played that night, but it held the nucleus of a team, a team that would take on Europe - Hyppia, Gerrard, Riise, and (still) amazingly, Traore and Biscan.
I remember seeing Liverpool Football Club cruising into the Champions League group stages. And I didn't know it that night, but I was going with them. I remember going to Porto to see us play Boavista, and I remember going to the Camp Nou to see us grind out a 0-0 against the might of Barcelona. And I remember most vividly a trip to Cologne to suffer heart stopping excitement and crushing disappointment at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen. I remember the feeling. I remember the emotion. I remember what it was like when I was a kid. I will never forget that again as long as I live. Like all of my Christmases arriving at once. for the rest of that season, and the next few that followed, I could call myself a match goer.
And that was that; the season came and went, and along the way I discovered RAWK. Another Window opened. I met RAWKites and match goers, and dyed in the wool Scousers, and out of towners and out of country fans, and I met people on my doorstep and people outside Glasgow chip shops. I met people on the Ramblas, on coaches in Germany, in hotel rooms in Cardiff. I opened Windows on the world. In pubs by the Millenium Stadium and by the banks of the Bosphorus, the Mersey and the Thames, I drank and I sang and I dreamt; and we cheered and we raised cups with our team and we raised glasses with our new found friends.
When I opened that Window, and clicked to confirm the transaction, I had no idea that one game in August would lead to all these years of pleasure and heartache, the highs and the lows, a real and unreal online and offline odyssey. The Club has been to the peaks, and been to the depths, and now lies somewhere between. And RAWK remains an infuriating wonder, a mess of conflict, a benchmark, a laughing stock. And a beacon for Truth, and for Justice. It's also a virtual palace of gilded dreams. I wouldn't wish it any other way.
I took Liverpool Football Club to my heart before I was old enough to think. Red And White Kop took me to Istanbul. And all of my Christmases came at once. Thank you, FC Haka.