The worst of times, the best of times: Liverpool 1 Blackpool 2, Sunday 3rd October 2010

Posted: October 18, 2010 in Assorted Match Reports, Liverpool FC
When the fixtures came out this year there was one date at Anfield I looked for more than any other. Not Everton or United, but newly-promoted Blackpool – my partner Claire’s team. The last time a member of Claire’s family set foot inside Anfield it was 40 years ago during  Blackpool’s last season in the top flight – that was her granddad Len and he was in the dug-out at pitch-side as Blackpool’s first team coach that day – I suppose these days they’d call him an “assistant manager”.  To say she has the club in her blood is an understatement – the only reason Claire exists is that her granddad Len moved his family by chance to Blackpool to work for the club, after Stanley Matthews recommended him to his fellow tangerine legend Stan Mortensen, the Seasiders’ manager in the late sixties. That’s basically the only reason Claire’s dad ever met her mum in Blackpool, and the rest is history.

So I made sure we got tickets in the Annie Road End for this one, because we both knew that with tickets at the tangerines’ cramped Bloomfield Road ground so hard to come by for non-season-ticket-holders this season it just might be one of the few chances Claire would ever get to watch her team play in the Premier League. To me, teams like Blackpool seem to belong in the top flight – after all, they were there in that 1970-71 season when I first properly started following Liverpool. I remember collecting their players, with names like Jimmy Armfield, Tommy Hutchinson and Alan Suddick, in my first sticker book that season.

Even if the names of Blackpool’s current squad trip even less readily of the nation’s tongues, I for one wasn’t underestimating them. Claire pointed out just before kick-off that on the equivalent weekend last season the tangerines had lost 4-1 at Crystal Palace, and were still one of the favourites for relegation. But this season they had already chalked up two premiership away wins with the same bright, attacking football that rocked Forest and Cardiff in those romantic play-off come-backs back in May. Yes, they were destroyed in their only other two away games, at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, but let’s face it Liverpool’s football at home this season has had more in common with Newcastle’s or Wigan’s than with Arsenal’s or Chelsea’s. In Charlie Adam and Matt Gilks Blackpool have two of the premiership players of this season so far, with DJ Campbell the most astute loan signing of last season and Luke Varney one of the most astute of this campaign. Add to these a number of players born in Merseyside and North Wales, including of course the obligatory LFC academy reject (Gary Taylor-Fletcher) and you just knew they’d be especially determined to do well at Anfield.

So you can imagine how easy it was for their charismatic manager Ian Holloway to relax his team before kick off. “There’s nothing to lose lads. The pressure’s all on them. In their last two home matches they haven’t beaten Northampton or Sunderland.  The club’s in crisis, the loyal fans have been protesting against the owners before the match, a lot of them are calling for the new manager’s head already, and the disloyal ones will be getting on the players’ backs if they don’t score early on …they’ll be tired after a their European game in Holland less than 3 days ago… they think we’ll be a soft touch, but we’ll show them. There are 3,000 of our fans out there, and I bet they’ll be making more noise than the Kop, even if you do fall behind.  Let’s get out there and show them of a bit the old Wemberrley spirit.”

And so it came to pass, and it came down to passing.  Holloway’s plan was to attack with width from the off, and in midfielders Charlie Adam and David Vaughan they the best distribution on the pitch throughout the first half. It was no surprise when a Scottish mate told me a few days later that Adam’s arrival as a second half substitute for Scotland against Spain had helped transform that match too!

When Torres limped off after just nine minutes there was even more belief in the Blackpool ranks, on and off the field. We’d got tickets in the Anfield Road End as Claire wanted to see and hear the away fans at close quarters. “Just like a library, same as at Highbury” they chanted. After all, “Just like the Emirates, the atmosphere degenerates” wouldn’t quite work as well. “This is the best trip I’ve ever been on,” they continually  sang, even before they took the lead deservedly after half an hour.
“Come on down to the sea,
To see the Blackpool FC,
Come on down to the shore, don’t let me go home,
Don’t wanna go home, don’t wanna go ho-ho-home,
This is the best trip I’ve ever been on.”

There were also plenty of renditions of their own Lancashire version of the Blaydon races:
“Woah, the lads,
You never see us comin’,
Hardest in the land,
And you never see us runnin’.
All the lads and lasses,
Smiles upon their faces,
Going down to Bloomfield Road,
to see the Blackpool aces!”

And an intriguingly minimalist instrumental track to the tune of UB40’s One-in-Ten:
”Der der, der der der der,
Der der, der der der der,
Der der, der der der der,
Der der, der der der der…”

But my favourite chant was their version of a catchy song that is sung endlessly by a lot of German supporter groups these days, and which seemed to take Championship grounds by storm last season too, after Palace fans, Cardiff etc., took it up. I’ve noticed that Celtic fans, too, have recently been bouncing on the terraces to this one, under the influence of their friends at St. Pauli no doubt, but this was the first time I’d heard it at a Premier League ground:
“We love you, we love you, we love you,
And where you play we follow, we follow, we follow,
Cos we support the Blackpool, the Blackpool, the Blackpool
And that’s the way we like it, we like it, we like it,
Wo-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, Wo-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh,
Wo-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, Wo-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, Wo-oh-oh…”
With it’s Celtic & St. Pauli lineage, we could do a lot worse than get a version of this song going ourselves.  Yes, I know they all got their education from the Kop, but now it can work both ways. It’s got a beat you can bounce to, and most importantly it’s one of those chants you can keep going non-stop for ages. My fridge at home is covered with Euro ultra stickers, and one of my favourites from the St. Pauli Ultras shows a picture of their packed Sudkurve and the words “Keine Atempause”, which translates I think as “Not one moment of pause”. If you’ve been to a match at the Millerntor you’ll know that’s no idle boast.

Yes I also know it’s easy for away supporters to be louder and better than the home supporters at almost any ground in England these days, and I know it happens all the time at Anfield even when the home crowd aren’t as depressed as most Liverpool fans were that day, but I must say I was particularly impressed by the backing the Blackpool following gave. They come across as proper long-term hardcore fans rather than the bandwagon jumpers you get with some newly-promoted teams. They are determined to enjoy their season and at this rate they all will.

By the way, did you know there is already one Kop standard which was borrowed from Blackpool in the late 60’s ? Emlyn Hughes was the greatest thing we got off them in those days, but he wasn’t the longest serving. Ever wondered why “We hate Nottingham Forest ?” begins “We hate Nottingham Forest ?” Yes, because it fits, and yes because we particularly hated Forest in their ‘Clough era’,  but Liverpool fans had been singing this one for nearly a decade before Forest ever became a great team and a serious rival of ours. The words are as they are because I have it on very good authority from members of the late 60’s travelling Kop that they originally borrowed the song from Blackpool fans who sang “We hate Nottingham Forest, we hate Tottenham too…” after a couple of close-fought relegation battles, and actual battles with their fans too, between those Blackpool, Spurs & Forest teams in the late 60’s.  Whether from the Hit Parade, from Brazil or Greece,  Scotland or Blackpool….the great Kop songs all have to come from somewhere.

At that last league match at Anfield in 1971, Blackpool were leading 2-1 until a late own goal gave Liverpool a draw. When Gilks saved a point-blank header from Kyriakos in added time we knew that there’d be no late equaliser today… “Alan Hansen ! What a wanker ! What a wanker !” the seaside fans sang at the final whistle in reference to that TV pundit’s recent certainty that their side will go down. A few of the home fans boo-ed their own team briefly, but more of us stood and applauded Blackpool off.  Claire’s grandad Len’s Blackpool side went straight back down in 1971, and they may well do so again in 2011, but for now I hope they carry on enjoying every moment and do stay in this division, because so far it is most definitely what their positive football and their even more positive support deserves.

Before the match we’d planned to join the protest march against Gillett and Hicks, but  torrential rain had triggered accidents on the M62 and we only just made kick-off. So we made sure we stayed on with a couple of thousand at the end to stand and chant “You lying bastards, get out of our club”, “Liverpool Football Club is in the wrong hands” and several others from the new protest songbook. It was the best Kop singing and the best display of the “This is Anfield” spirit all afternoon. The Spirit of Shankly supporters’ union has been the embodiment of that spirit these past three seasons, and in the days that followed this match it became more and more obvious how much the pressure the supporters’ groups had applied in their campaign had been a key factor in the defeat of Hicks and Gillett. If and when we finally get our new stadium, I beg all concerned to let these loyal supporters stand together, as they did in dignfied but determined protest today, as they do at away matches, every fortnight. Then the true spirit of the old Anfield will always be preserved.


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