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Birth of an Obsession

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Birth of an Obsession

The first time I saw Liverpool, I’ll be honest, I was a Huddersfield Town fan. It was a mid-season game in 1970 at Leeds Rd in the old First Division. I was 9 years-old and was there with my Dad and Big Tom, work-mates at the same Colne Valley mill and both life-long Town fans. The game I don’t remember much of, save Ray Clemence in a green peaked cap and a very muddy pitch. It ended in a nondescript 0-0 draw. It was a season of consolidation for Huddersfield who were back in the big league they’d once graced with such distinction after a 14-year exile in the Second Division. As for Liverpool, they’d started the campaign like a runaway train until the limitations of Shankly’s transitional squad pulled them into the sidings and left them looking to the FA Cup for glory.

So the game itself has faded and gone. But what I do remember with clarity is the crowd, especially the Liverpool crowd. In those days there really wasn’t much segregation of opposing fans and the travelling Liverpool support had been ‘given’ the Terrace. Older RAWKites might remember the Terrace at Leeds Rd (now demolished). It was a vast bank along one side of the ground that contained most of Huddersfield’s considerable capacity. To competely fill it Liverpool would have had to bring 45, 000 or so.  There were many thousands of Kopites there, but not that many, and consequently there was a fair bit of mixing going on. We had our regular spec near the top right-hand corner of the Terrace, and normally there was no difficulty claiming it since against the likes of Hull City and QPR there was enough room up there to have organised your own 11-a-side, which, as improbable as it sounds, some of us younger lads occasionally did.

Liverpool though was a different proposition. When we got into the ground it was clear that ‘our spec’ was on the fringe of the large Liverpool support. “What do we do Dad?”. “We’ll get our usual spot lad, we’ll be all right”. I wasn’t so sure. Football hooliganism had started a couple of years before, and by 1970 it had become something of a national obsession. Liverpool may have had a reputation as “the best-behaved supporters in the land” (“when we win”) but it was clear, from some of the things we’d already seen, that they hadn’t come to Huddersfield to have tea with the vicar.

Some of them had raided the juke box at the Market Tavern outside the ground and all the ‘45s were being flung down to see if they could reach the pitch (as I say it was a big terrace). People below were being hit on the back of the head by ‘Two Little Boys’ and Edison Lighthouse. I also knew about the razor blades that were undoubtedly tucked under the lapels of their Levi jackets, because Alan next door had told me he’d heard of a man – a would-be head butter - who had clutched such things in both fists only to fall bleeding to death in front of his intended victim.

We worked our way up the gangway towards the Liverpool supporters and edged along to our crush-barrier. There was this lad on it, a skinhead with thin eyes and even thinner lips, and a badge saying ‘I am a Kopite’ on his crombie.  He saw me being pushed towards him. “Dis yours?” That sing-song accent, a full symphony squeezed into two words. The first time I’d heard it in real life. I was too dumbstruck to speak.  “Aye that’s where he normally sits”. The first time I noticed that Dad had an accent too. “Well what we waiten’ for then?” And I’m hoisted up by the lapels (no razors in my jacket, fortunately). “Yawright la?”. I am allright - with my Dad’s shoulder behind me.  And with big Tom to one side. Yet, looking at them, they don’t seem too bothered, and a football conversation starts around me. But here we are, and it’s strange. Tom, me and my Dad on our barrier amidst all this red. Of course I’ve got a blue and-white scarf round my neck. “Everton is it, son?” says someone on the other side of the barrier “No, it’s Hudd….” A first lesson in sarcasm. Learned.

Truth be told, there was a significant part of me that was already wanting a red and white one. Not that this feeling had come completely out of the blue (as it were). For a good ninth of my life I’d already liked Alun Evans. The glowing yellow, helmet-like haircut that he possessed (I use the word advisedly) on the Panini cards – like something out of the ‘Village of the Damned’. I liked Hughes too. I can’t tell you why. The famous boyish enthusiasm might have subliminally connected I suppose.  My mum, who knew nothing about football apart from the fact that her husband and son adored it, once said he had a nice smile. I also liked Heighway – but for pure football reasons, that even 9 year-olds start to have. My Dad used to say “Look how close he keeps the ball to his feet when he’s dribbling”.  “See how he appears to leave it behind to invite the tackle”. “Look at the way he drops his shoulder, then goes the other way”. I looked and began to see. “You know last week, he threw a dummy, and 20, 000 people behind the goal had to pay to get back into the ground”. “No!” “There hasn’t been a player like him since Finney”. That was as big a compliment as you could get from Dad. He loved Finney.

At 4.45 we walked back down Leeds road with Reds everywhere heading for the station. Strange songs were being sung.  Songs that seemed to last for ever unlike the short brief music-less chants that fans of other clubs had brought. And there’d been some big matches recently. Leeds United had come to Huddersfield that year, Man Utd, Everton, Man City, Arsenal, all the big clubs that were battling for supremacy in the late 60s and early 70s. But there was something about this occasion that stuck. Not the scoreline, not the football played. It really wasn’t a great Liverpool team (although it was getting there). Not even the fact that the man with killer razor blades had turned out to be such a sport. Just the occasion. 

I went home with that terrible thing – split loyalties. But in football you can’t stay agnostic for long. By the end of the season I was a Liverpool fan, and the obsession had begun. The FA Cup Final appearance against Arsenal undoubtedly clinched it. I had a pal, Steve, who’d been born in Liverpool but whose folks had come to Huddersfield in the mid-60s. On the morning of the final we sat under a tree sheltering from the rain near our footy pitch on Coronation Rec and he’d got out his red silk scarf with little white FA cup motifs all over it. Steve had been talking about the Final for what seemed weeks, telling me how Bill Shankly was like God and therefore could ordain a victory. Under the pouring rain he did a David Coleman-type running commentary of how the game would unfold in the afternoon, replete with crowd noises. “It’s Heighway, passes in field to Brian Hall – another brainy footballer – who swings the ball out to Alec Lindsay. Ohhhh. Yes the crowd liked that. Cross comes in! Toshack. Yeeeees. One-nil. Awwww. Don’t know if you can hear me above the din. Awwww. The Kop have gone wild”. It was exciting listening to him, as vivid as the real thing, and he had me gripped as Liverpool ran up a 5 – 1 win (Steve had given Arsenal an early disputed penalty just to get the juices going ).

By the time I’d had my dinner and was on the settee with Dad in front of Grandstand I was a complete and utter Red.  I know I watched in awe at the build up as the Liverpool supporters – our supporters – taught their polite southern rivals how to prepare for a Cup Final (you see, some things never change). I watched as that bloke in the white uniform on the bandstand, who used to do the pre-match entertainment at Wembley, got the Liverpool fans to sing YNWA and then tried to get ‘Good ol’ Arsenal’ going only to find he was getting got another chorus of YNWA instead. I distinctly remember him waving his baton and imploring “Come on now, come on now gentlemen. You’ve had your turn. Let the Arsenal supporters sing their song!”. As if! (I’m not sure the band-stand guy lasted much longer)

Of course we lost the match - Heighway’s extra-time goal being wiped out by an equalizer that still nobody has claimed and then, for the winner, a deflection off Charlie George’s erect cock – or something like that. Arsenal had done the double. “They’re not a good team” said my Dad. “People won’t remember them”.  He was right, but it took me many years to understand the importance of what he’d said.

The following year Huddersfield got relegated – the start of that ignominious drop to the Fourth. Dad was too old to change allegiances, though he was as fed-up with the situation as me. So when he was flush he took me on a Hanson bus from Huddersfield to watch the Reds at Elland Road and Bramall Lane. Then, in 1972, we started going to Anfield.  I’ve posted on that experience in another thread, and on what it was like to be on the Spion Kop in the 70s. Needless to say it was fantastic. Like being at the centre of the world.

All I’ll say here is that – and I hesitate to go here – I always felt I belonged at Liverpool. As soon as I stepped off the train at Lime Street I was may have been conscious of being from somewhere else. I’m a Yorkshireman for God’s sake. The red brick instead of the blackened stone, the pervasive smell of sea salt in place of manufactured wool, the way a mere 60 miles can twist English from one strange idiom to another. But the two places shared things as well. The same wryness of humour (though the rhythm of story-telling is completely different), the same commitment to decent community-based values, the same proud history of working-class struggle against the boss-class.

Shanks, remember, had come to Liverpool from Huddersfield, and he clearly loved both places. He says in his autobiography on page 91 that, as manager of Huddersfield, he tried to buy a young Ronnie Yeats and a young Ian St John from Scotland, but the club had no vision and refused him the money. They also got rid of his two best players – Ray Wilson and Denis Law. You can imagine what a team Shankly might have built had these local mill-owners put their hands in their wallets. Indeed, with Law, Wilson, St John and Yeats in his team, he may never have gone to Liverpool. I know about the authenticity of my obsession. Like any Liverpool supporter, even one from Huddersfield, I shudder at page 91.


really enjoyed that mate, nice read..

Read that and had to sign in to tell you how good it was.  Brilliant read, thanks.

It was Steve Heighway who pulled me in as well, once I saw him with the ball at his feet, I thought "that's how we play football too on the road, try and beat everyone".

Then I went into school, someone told me Heighway was Irish, and I was done for.


great read, really enjoyed it.  my dad tells me loads of stories like that.  though were from liverpool and you where not, the stories are so similar.  i am probably guessing you and my dad are similar in age. 

anyway great read.



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