The National Express bus to Manchester from Milton Keynes had just rolled into Birmingham for a pit stop. The morning so far, the last day of autumn had presented magnificent crisp and clear English skies. In only a few hours I would be settling into my seat at Old Trafford for the rugby league World Cup final. Expectations were high for a grand battle between Australia and New Zealand. The erm, “sheep shaggers” were reigning World Cup champions and were ready to roll Australia once more.
Every year, sometimes two or even three times a year I make the pilgrimage from Australia to Europe to follow football matches. OK, maybe I am a tad crackers but we all need to have a passion in life right? And, if I am being honest I have always felt more at home in England than I ever have in Australia. My love for football runs deep within my veins. Nearing the age of 37 I still feel like a teenage boy when I enter a ground for a match. It’s where I want to be.
In the meantime my bus had pulled into Chorlton Street coach station in Manchester and with a hop, skip and a jump I was on the tram to Old Trafford and the afore mentioned World Cup final. For the record, Australia belted New Zealand 34-2 in a comprehensive performance. The game was won well before half-time which was a shame for the neutrals. Ohh, if only England had held on to secure victory over the Kiwi’s at Wembley in the previous weeks semi-final.
Later on the final evening of November i’d find myself on the train to my spiritual home, Merseyside. Catch up with John, a very kind and generous friend whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for around 5 years now was on the cards. As always it was an absolute pleasure to see John. He’s one of the most laid back, down to earth and thoughtful people you could ever wish to meet. He may be a blue nose, but he’s a proper boss one at that. I dearly hope for John’s sake Everton pip Arsenal to fourth place and a shot at the Champions League next season. The Toffees have played some decent football this year and the prospect that both halves of Merseyside could go head to head with the best in Europe in the final months of 2014 and beyond is a mouth watering prospect for football lovers the world over.
This. Is Liverpool!
Next morning I was hitting up more train rides to greener pastures, football pastures at that. These trains would lead me up Chorley way, where another generous friend, Lorraine would be waiting at the station before we’d set off on a cross country adventure to Hull for Liverpool’s away match against Hull City.
As would be the norm when one is in a bit of a rush to be somewhere else, Merseyrail are sure to be running late. The choo-choo finally pulled out of Lime Street 30 minutes late. Normally it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle however Lorraine was awaiting me with Simon and special guest.
The special guest passenger would be Alan Kennedy, or “Barney Rubble” as he has been coined. Who is Alan Kennedy you ask? Well, where does one start? Alan Kennedy is a 508 game veteran from Sunderland who began his career at Newcastle before completing an esteemed 359 game career at Liverpool. In his time on Merseyside he netted 20 times and won the league 5 times. Ohh, he also scored in two European Cup finals which is no mean feat.
We had to pick Alan up from a service stop near Leeds. He’d run a charity fun run earlier in the morning wearing a Santa suit and was now hungry and sporting a hearty rash between his legs that required attention. Thankfully Lorraine had some moisturising cream on hand and before long one of Liverpool football club’s most decorated players had his pants down in the front seat as he massaged the pain away with a soft cream. Yep, within twenty minutes of meeting a childhood hero his pants were down around his knees and his hands were between his legs. Surreal!
It was tricky to think of something worthwhile to say at first. After all it isn’t every day you can enjoy the pleasure of a European Cup winner in the same car is it? And the last thing you want to do is sound like a proper bell end asking tongue tired questions. Instead I kept quiet for the most part, only chipping in where required. I knew a chance would come later in the day where we could share more of a decent chat. Besides, the banter between my three comrades was more than enough to keep me entertained.
By mid afternoon we’d reached our destination.
Apparently Hull is set down to be the UK’s next “City of Culture” in 2017. To be honest the only thing I knew of Hull prior to now had been that Mick Ronson, David Bowie’s axe wielding side kick in the late 60’s and early 70’s had once been a resident of Hull. Ohh, and I know Hull has a population of around 250,000 people.
So now we’ve come to the KC Stadium, home of Hull City AFC and a rugby league team, also known as erm, Hull. The ground holds around 25,000 people and is very similar to other mid sized English stadiums in Bolton and Wigan. Today the ground was also the 50th English Football League ground I would visit. To celebrate my personal landmark I was hoping for a convincing win by the red men.
The home side pressed hard and snatched a goal in the 20th minute before Steven Gerrard equalised soon after. Unfortunately for the red men and the travelling supporters, Hull City picked off a couple of late strikes to seal a 3-1 defeat for Liverpool which would only make for a frustrating and disappointing journey back across the country.
As darkness fell I found myself in the car park soaking up a post match dissection fresh from the mouth of Alan Kennedy. Yep, here I was once more with a 5 time English first division winner, taking in his musings over a loss to a side that, in all honesty should never have been allowed to play that well to beat us. Regardless I was going to soak up as much information from Alan as I could. Listening to his post match analysis is like stepping up to a completely new football level. Here was a man who had been there, done that and collected many winners medals to prove it.
A short while later, Lorraine and Simon arrived back at the car, both looking as frustrated and disheveled as all the other travelling reds who were piling out of the stadium. Losing can be a tough pill to swallow for football supporters. However, when you have just spent a whole day on the road along with money for your match ticket, food and beers, the loss always smarts a little more. We now had the pleasure of traffic jams, growling stomachs and BBC’s 606 football phone in to embrace.
In the aftermath of a Liverpool loss there is always the inevitable merry band of frustrated supporters spilling their emotions over national radio phone ins. We are told, by the disgruntled, how the manager should have done this and applied that differently. Why this player isn’t up to it and how it will be impossible for Liverpool to finish in the top four by seasons end. Anyone would think the world was about to end according to the prognosis delivered by some.
It’s only December 1st for christ sakes!
What upsets me most after a loss would have to be the callers demanding that the manager be sacked. And sure enough, today we had our customary post Liverpool loss caller demanding Brendan Rodgers be sacked!
“I’ve been a supporter all my life. I’ve been behind this club since the days of Shankly!” our wise advisor commanded.
He continued, “Rodgers has got to go! He’s not Liverpool Football Club material. He lacks a real football managers brain.”
With that the disgruntled caller continued, venting his spleen at Brendan Rodgers lack of ability as a human being, let alone a football manager. He was wound up and cut off by the hosts in due course. This gob shite was, what I would consider, an obscene phone caller. His atrocious views irritated me no end. His voice has remained firmly pressed in my thoughts ever since.
When we went top of the league over Christmas I had him in my thoughts. And now, a mere six games away from Liverpool’s first league title since 1990 I still vividly remember this obscene fellows rampant voice, bleating away like a spoilt child. Supporters like this absolute bell end press my grumpy buttons every time.
Still, above all else I shall remember December 1st 2013 as the day I met football royalty. It is also a day where, out of the kindness of her own heart, Lorraine played a massive role in helping me get to yet another Liverpool away match. And, as the old saying goes, everything comes in threes. I had the pleasure of meeting Simon, another top red and brilliant value thanks to his blunt and cheeky wit.
One day soon I may have to write more about all the wonderful and generous acts of kindness offered to me by fellow reds. At one point they had all been strangers, though, through a mutual love for one football team they have all gone above and beyond for me many times over. Be it a match ticket, lift to a ground or a place to stay, in my life over the past 14 years there has never been a moment where I have been left wanting by friends, old and new.
The one thing you learn about life as a football supporter is that your unwavering love and passion for your team is always far more important during the tough times as it can be following a cup final win or, dare I say it……a league title win.