A Perfect Day in Liverpool Four
After having a fitful night's sleep I woke up knowing that the today could mark the beginning and the end of several things connected with Liverpool Football Club. It was another of those must win games for the club and it had the added mystery of not knowing whether Rafa Benitez would still be the club's manager at the end of the day. The rumour mill had been in full swing over the last few days linking him with the now vacant job at Juventus.
After having breakfast and leaving the hotel, I walked down to Liverpool One and saw how magnificent the wheel was. It stands proud in the middle of Chavasse Park and it is as though it had been there for years. Crossing the road and going towards the ferry terminal I noticed how many Liverpool supporters were already on the streets. They were all clutching their purchases from the LFC shop and I guess filled with the same anticipation as I was feeling.
The River Mersey was strangely quiet with no shipping going in either direction apart from the Mersey Ferries. I watched the river for a while before going into the ferry terminal and there before me were 4 Beatle Penguins. That was the sign I was looking for. The day was going as planned, I had seen the wheel and come across four penguins after being annoyed that due to the postponement of the Tottenham game a couple of weeks earlier I thought I had missed the penguin trail.
A quick cappuccino was drunk at the Costa Cafe and looking at my watch, I knew it was time to head for the place I call home. I made my way towards the taxi rank in Queens square and it seemed as though quite a few fans had the same idea. Several taxes ahead of mine were full of fans, so I guess we were all heading the same way. The taxi driver, I had though was very quiet and even queried it when I said Anfield . When I said I was going to the match - he turned around and said what a woman alone? I am sorry, but that annoyed me a little - Apart from a couple of times when my daughter has been with me, I have always been alone until within the stadium walls - yesterday, I had quite a lot of Irish people round me and it did not take long for us all have a good banter about the players, manager and how we thought the game would turn out. To be honest I am not sure, the taxi driver really wanted to go into Anfield as he insisted on parking a fair way down the road which gave me a short walk, but that did not matter.
I did as I always do and paid my respects at the Hillsborough Memorial before entering the ground and finding out where my turnstile was situated. This time I had a ticket for the main stand and was unsure as to the entry point but once found I joined the crowds and waited and watched as the ex players, reporters and staff from LFC arrived. One of the first people I saw was Christian Purslow, who seemed to be in a world of his own, something was obviously on his mind as he rushed in and out of the building several times. I was tempted to ask if I could have word, but thought better off it. Then Kenny Dalglish arrived followed by David Fairclough.
The team coach arrived, but of course you could not see anyone because of how it is parked and the fact that it is a blacked out model. I really do feel sorry for the children that are there to see their idols as they go in - they simply do not have a chance. Of course, it was in a complete contrast when the Bolton coach arrived. As the players disembarked, some of them did acknowledge the crowd and Owen Coyle waved as his name was called, which in its own way speaks volumes.
This over, the tannoy announcement said that the turnstiles were now open and I made my way to the one that would lead me to my seat. Now I am not a lover of heights but on realising after talking to a steward where it was, I gritted my teeth and made my way up. I was at the place I call home and nothing, not even one of my greatest fears was going to get in the way. I sat down and after savouring the atmosphere for a while decided to eat my lunch - an Eccles cake, whilst all those around me seemed to be eating pies and they smelt wonderful.
The players were now out on the pitch and everyone was playing the guessing game as to who would be on the team sheet. I guess the main question was, would Aquilani start and what system would Rafa use.
We were soon put out of our misery by Peter McDowall who announced the team, yes Aquilani was starting but it appeared that David Ngog was playing up front on his own. This worried me a little because, although he has improved, he is still a novice. Lucas was only a substitute which seemed to cheer the crowd up, but I find that a very misguided train of thought as he has improved this season and I am sure will continue to do so. Other than that the team, was as I guess expected and I prayed for a good game and a win.
The ground was now full and the clock was inching towards kick off point and you could feel the anticipation that had built up within the ground. I now had all eyes on the pitch but felt extremely sorry for the young lad behind me. He could not have been more than eight years old. It was his first game and he could not see a thing, even with everyone sitting down. In the end I think his dad and uncles managed to get him comfortable on top of the seat. I know that there are parents and children seats but surely there must be a way that people with small children are seated in the lower parts of stand once these are gone - after all they are the adult fans of tomorrow.
The game started and Liverpool seemed to be ready for the fight from the beginning. I was extremely pleased to see the confidence that had been lacking in previous weeks had returned. Stevie G and Jamie were continually shouting at the other players and urging them on, which is just the sort of thing that a captain and vice captain should do. Aquilani, although still lacking in some match practise, I guess seemed a lot more confident than when I had watched him for the first time. Some of his moves and passes were extremely good and I am sure will improve over time. I had my reservations when I learnt how much he had cost originally but I am beginning to believe that yes it was money well spent. Everything was going well and although there were several instances that amounted to cautions from the referee, Liverpool were in total control of the game and it was not long before Dirk Kuyt scored our first goal. Anfield was suddenly alive and the belief that we could actually win a game returned. Although the noise was muted, the atmosphere was returning and the singing in certain parts of the ground was getting louder. Half time was suddenly upon us and to be honest with Liverpool in their stride it was a shame that the referee blew the whistle.
We now had a fifteen minute break which to be honest turned out to be rather silly. Peter McDowall had announced that there was going to be special event which involved the day's sponsors, Thomas Cook. Suddenly on the pitch were sombero's and a couple of deck chairs. I am all for people winning competitions but I think the two men on the pitch deserved to have the prize money split between them. It was a shame that one lost by a matter of seconds.
The second half was now upon us and after saying a silent prayer, I hoped that we could hold onto the lead we had. Liverpool does have this awful habit of becoming a bit slap dash as the match nears its close. Today though was different, the team were determined to hold onto the lead and in fact were doing everything they could do ensure the score was going to be higher. The amount of time's the goal mouth was nearly breached was the best I had seen for a while. It was just unfortunate that they were either wide or hitting the bar. Stevie I thought was in good form, the feet movements he made told me that he is finally over his injury and I think give it a couple of more games, his name will be on the score sheet. The lads were playing very well and then we got to the magic 63rd minute. It happened as it always does, Rafa made his first substitute and Aquilani was replaced by Maxi Rodrigeux. I was shocked; I will be honest, seeing him on the pitch. I don't know what I expected, but here was a small man who was also very slight - good home cooking needed I think. But saying all that, for the amount of time he was on the pitch, he played well and I was impressed. The game quickly restarted and there was a bit of a muddle around the goal mouth which resulted in a Bolton own goal. That made us two up and although they were playing reasonably well, it did not look as though Bolton were going to score in their own net. The rest of the substitutions were made on each side very quickly and as the clock marched towards the ninety minute mark, the game seemed to take on a new importance. The effort that being put in by the team was fantastic, Stevie and Jamie, were still urging the rest of the lads on and it was wonderful to see. I must admit I gasped a couple of times when it looked as though Jamie was going to have a shot at goal. What a perfect late birthday present that would have been, had he scored.
The game finally game to a close, Liverpool had won a game and it appeared that their confidence had returned. I just hope that the momentum can be kept up and perhaps that fourth place will be ours. I know I have had my reservations but on yesterday's performance that could easily change.
The manager's too, seemed to have enjoyed the afternoon. I have not seen Rafa Benitez so demonstrative on the touchline for quite some time. I don't know what is happening with regards to all the rumours, but I sensed that he was a much happier man. Owen Coyle (and I do not wish to take offence) reminded me off an old style scout master with his shorts, top and long grey socks, but I guess that is his trademark style.
All in all it was a wonderful afternoon that was unfortunately spoilt slightly at the end by the Sprit of Shankly and their demonstration. I am all for us the supporters standing up to the American owners, but what I witnessed yesterday told me that the time for these demonstrations is over. I left the ground behind Jimmy Case and his partner, who like the rest of us were being pushed along by stewards and the police so that they could encircle the protestors. The look on his partners face as she turned and looked at me quickly was of sheer horror. I just smiled back because I honestly did not know what to say. We do not need that at our beloved club. So what I will say is, if any one from the Spirit of Shankly reads this, please have a rethink, protesting inside the clubs grounds will not get you anywhere. It will just cause further resentment against you by fellow supporters and members of Liverpool Football club.
That aside though, once back in the city I went into the Lobster Pot and bought the most wonderful fish and chips before heading for the journey I did not want to make. I had to make the journey back down south - a journey which I hate every time it is now done. This time though I left not only with a heavy heart as I was leaving the city I love but with a wonderful smile on my face that said we did it. I just wish I could come back for the Liverpool derby next week, but unfortunately unless a miracle happens that is something that will remain in my dreams.