With another match with Liverpool getting a little nearer I was thinking about some of the reverse fixtures and my trips to England’s City of Culture.
I have to confess that I hate going to Liverpool, and not just because of the results. I have not been for a while, but I doubt that it has changed that much. If you call singing a player’s name when they score to be a great atmosphere, or leaving your second most valuable asset in a run-down area patrolled by primary schoolkids part of the Scouse sense of humour, then you must be part of the media hype.
When I first went there in the ’80s we had no chance. Liverpool had a great side but that did not bother us. We went for a day out as the Chelsea fans usually gave a good account of themselves. I can remember the taunts of “Edgware Road” and the attacks from Stanley Park which were part of the Anfield experience. Hickey’s boys used to keep the locals occupied and arrive in the ground at ten past three, which meant that we had time to get in safely to watch another defeat.
One particular game I can remember was in 1986 in front of a crowd of 25,856. Yes, even Anfield felt the brunt of low attendances in the dark days. The game was on television and Chelsea lost 0-3 in front of ITV’s ‘Big Match’ audience. The match is a bit of a blur but I can remember a constant chant of “Chelsea, Chelsea” for the last 20 minutes. Something that came be a regular occurrence at Anfield. I also recall David Speedie getting off his arse to take a swing at Gary Gillespie. I had the misfortune of a seat near the end of a row right next to a copper who muttered, “Yes!” every time they scored then looked at me with his baton raised as if to say, “Go on, say something. I’m dying to use this.
A year later and another TV appearance. This time John Hollins’ job was on the line. A slightly bigger crowd of 31,211 and a converted penalty from Gordon Durie failed to stop the inevitable – this time a 1-2 defeat. During this visit we had the support of a couple of hundred Rangers fans who constantly sang anti Tottenham songs in an effort to keep the Chelsea fans upbeat when the atmosphere went a little quiet. At the end of the game the Anfield police forced the Rangers fans from the terrace. Just as they disappeared the Chelsea fans called them back and the police could not contain them as they spilled back onto the terrace for one last encore.
The best laugh of the day was on the way home. I was driving and my passengers had fallen asleep within minutes of leaving Knotty Ash. Just outside Manchester I tucked in behind a Rangers supporters’ coach and put my car clock forward by two hours. I gently rocked the car awaking my sleeping buddies. From the back I heard the usual, “Where are we?” so I put on a worried voice and said that I had made a wrong turn somewhere and had been waiting for a chance to turn around. “I’ve been following this coach for the last two hours,” I told them. “You what? That coach is going to bloody Scotland!”
The next time I travelled to Merseyside for a Liverpool match was in 1992. Can you remeber Chelsea Independent’s red “penalty” cards at the 2-1 win, when we actually got a penalty at Anfield? Yep, we did it. We finally beat them in their own backyard in front of a crowd of 38,681. Mind you, we did have to wait 56 years. Vinny Jones and Dennis Wise did the business and we also had the luxury of a missed penalty. Vinny’s goal was an absolute cracker in front of the Kop. He ran all the way to celebrate with us behind the other goal. I reckon he was more surprised than we were when it hit the back of the net.
The game was marred by that horrendous tackle on Paul Elliot by Sheep Saunders. The only reason Saunders got away with it is that the judge and jury were not there. If they had been they would have seen that Saunders and the rest of the Liverpool side were clearly wound up from the start. Something to do with Vinny and Dennis at a guess. I’m sure I’m right in saying that Saunders had just been nudged by someone when he went into Elliot and you could see on his face that Elliot was going to get it. You could also tell by his goal celebration that he was fired up.
The next few games I cannot remember much about at all, only that I went and Chelsea lost. In September 1992 a crowd of 34,199 saw Mick Harford score in a 1-2 defeat and Hoddle’s Chelsea lost in March 1994 by the same score in front of 38,629, with Chelsea’s goal scored by Craig Burley.