I was snowed in on Tuesday night and had to stay overnight in the middle of nowhere, well, the middle of rural Perthshire.
I hadn’t been planning to stay overnight so as well as not having a change of clothes, toothbrush, laptop and camera – all essentials for me when I stay away from home – I didn’t have anything to read. So I did something that I have never done before, something I was sure that I would never do, I read Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby.
It is not a good book. It is repetitious and full of poor excuses for his lack of emotional intelligence. But I read the book in just two sittings during which I was totally absorbed, immediately transformed back to my own adolescence and forced to confront my secret life as a football fan.
Actually, I’m wrong about that and Nick Hornby is right. In the same way that he is an Arsenal fan, I am a Liverpool fan. In many ways the actual football is incidental. I didn’t indulge my obsession as a teenager in the same way he did. As a young girl growing up outside Liverpool I was not allowed to go to games at Anfield alone and, since my Dad wasn’t interested in football, I didn’t develop the compulsion to attend every home match.
My passion started when I was about 8 years old and I have no idea why. I remember liking Bobby Moore and flirted with the idea of supporting Everton as I was in love with Nicholas Banner. I was only 10 and both flirtations were doomed to failure. Though Nicky did go on to play for Everton I was doomed from an early age to support Liverpool.
I say doomed advisedly. It is a curse. It brings out the very worst in me. I hate no one and no thing, except Manchester United. When I say that I support Liverpool I do. I support Liverpool and everyone who play against Manchester United. I know it’s pathetic, it shames me…but there you are.
Most of my childhood memories are lost to me but the ones tied to Liverpool games are fixed forever. I could bore you with many, many examples, as Nick Hornby does, but they would be repetition of the same pattern, so I’ll give you just one.
It was 1971, I was eleven. The school trip was for the top juniors and took the form of a weekend in London. I didn’t want to go. Saturday was May 8th, Cup Final Day. Liverpool playing Arsenal at Wembley. I wanted to watch it on TV. I was forced to go on the school trip and remember only the Saturday afternoon from about 5pm onwards. Up to that time we must have been to Downing Street. In those days you could wander right down to the front door and I have a photograph of me next to a bobby. We must have been to Trafalgar Square as I have a photograph of me covered in pigeons but I can’t recall either event. But just before 5 we entered the Planetarium. The headmaster, who knew I was a fanatic, told me that the game had ended 0-0 and that Steve Heighway had just scored for Liverpool at the start of extra time.
I was excited and felt sick at the same time. We were going to win the cup. Liverpool were not yet the all conquering team that they were to become. This would be the first trophy I would see them win.
I have no idea what happened at the planetarium other than it went dark. By the time the presentation had finished Liverpool had lost 2-1, to goals by George Graham (though it was later given to Kelly) and Charlie George. I couldn’t believe it. I cried all of the way out, all of the way back to the hotel and was excused tea so that I could go and cry in my bedroom.
I was allowed to stay up and watch the highlights on Match of the Day and I cried again. The sight of Charlie George laying on his back waiting for the Arsenal players to come and congratulate him haunts me still. In my minds eye I can see him shape to shoot, the ball hit the net and him fall to the floor with his arms above his head, long, straggly hair stuck to his forehead, head raised slightly waiting for his teammates to reach him, as if it is happening right now. He wasn’t even smiling. He just looked smug.
And here’s the thing, it still makes me feel sick to the pit of my stomach.
My support for Liverpool is something that defines me.
Take the Miracle of Istanbul. Liverpool go 3-0 down in the European Cup Final. As each goal went in I got texts from friends from all over the world, most of whom I hadn’t heard from form months/years before, some gloating but most sympathising. Then Gerrard scored early in the second half, 3-1. Smicer brought it back to 3-2 and then Alonso scored from a penalty rebound 3-3 and then victory after a penalty shoot-out! Absolute euphoria. I even took photographs of the TV celebrations, which I still have on my phone, and the texts flooded in. I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as I write.
The point is that at that moment in time people from all over the world were watching Liverpool and thinking of me! I hadn’t thought of it like that before but now, thanks to Nick Hornby, I do now.
I’m not so swayed by results these days. We lost away to Blackpool last night and my rage lasted a mere hour. Did you notice that. “WE” lost last night. The first “WE” was “Clemence, Lawler, Lindsay, Smith, Lloyd, Hughes, Keegan, Hall, Heighway, Toshack and Callaghan. (and no, I didn’t have to look up the names. I embroidered their names on my scarf; chain stitch in red and white wool circa 1972). The current squad are a bunch of overpaid journeymen, employed by an American consortium ruled by profit not passion…but I can still recite the team and it is still “WE”… I am still them.
The fact is that my mood can still be swayed by 11 men in red shirts, shorts and socks. Football, as Nick Hornby puts it, is a retardant stopping me from properly growing up. When faced with a home defeat I am no longer the successful businesswoman. I am, once more, the sulky 14 year old. If King Kenny pulls off an unlikely derby victory on Sunday I will be the excitable teen, texting all my pals and returning the taunts of those amongst them who support United (yes, I do have some, my hatred is abstract not personal).
It’s like Jean Brodie says, ” Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life”.