A cold December evening at home to Stoke City.
As first ventures to a football match go, it’s the type of fixture which will either scare you off, or have you hooked for the rest of your life.
This was Our Elsie’s first game.
Elsie is goblin number two in our collective of three children. Sam; goblin number one, went to his first, and so far last game, two years ago. A game at home to West Bromwich Albion, during the early exchanges of the insipid 2014-15 season. The season after the remarkable near-title-winning 2013-14 campaign before.
We won 2-1 that day, on a day he remembers best for the excellent finds of a free bar of chocolate and a 20p piece. The subtleties of being present at Anfield, on one of the few occasions when Javier Manquillo turned out for the reds, has since passed him by, as has the fact that he can forever boast that he saw Steven Gerrard play. Sam will be 9-years-old in January. He could feasibly live to see the dawn of the 22nd century, when a boast of having seen Gerrard play will bring huge quantities of reverence.
Sam is more into his movies than he is his football. He’s yet to ask for another visit to Anfield. Elsie on the other hand had asked now and then when she would get a chance to go to a game. She sat and watched the draw for the 3rd round of the FA Cup with me, and immediately asked if she could go to the game.
She had been inside Anfield before. She helped out with laying out the mosaic on the morning of the UEFA Cup semi-final 2nd leg against Villarreal, but she’s yet to see an actual game. With her Grandad away on family related Christmas manoeuvres, that chance finally came yesterday.
A 4-1 win at home to Stoke City will now be that indelible first game for her. Not a bad way to start your voyage of footballing discovery, while there was also a comforting vague near-symmetry about it.
Although it wasn’t my first game, I can remember being present for a 5-1 win at home to a similarly kitted out Stoke City in March 1983. I’d have been pretty much the same age as Elsie is now. At 4-1 last night, my inner-child combined with my very much grown-up OCD issues were desperate for a fifth goal to go in.
Without this intending to go off at an ‘when I was a lad’ tangent; the Boys Pen passed me by.
When I was a lad, I was either at the game with my dad, or older siblings of school-mates.
Walking around the ground with Elsie before this latest visit of Stoke City, I broke out into a smile when I heard a group of young children launch themselves into a medley of Liverpool songs and chants. Each and every one of those songs and chants coming from what you would consider to be the approved ‘playlist’ for the day-to-day, game-in game-out red.
Large groups of children are rare sights at modern Anfield, but it never used to be that way. Since the dawning of the Premier League and the introduction of all-seater stadiums the 11-18 age-group has dropped-off dramatically. I have no confirmed stats to back that up, but on sight and sound alone, I can categorically state that the community of match-going reds is very different now, when compared to what it was when we rolled Stoke City over in March 1983.
I was in my last year of secondary school when we won the last of our 18 league titles. I delivered newspapers six mornings a week. I earned enough from that to gain entry into the Kop. So, if my dad wasn’t taking me to a game, I could still go under my own finances and steam. Teenagers haven’t been able to do that for the last couple of decades or so.
It is argued in some quarters to be a token gesture from FSG, but any mobilisation of a group of children going to Anfield together at a cut-price, or even for free has to be applauded. Token gesture or not, those children will remember the experience forever, just as Sam and Elsie will. Just as I remember my first visit to Anfield. (Liverpool 6 SV Hamburg 0, December 6 1977, European Super Cup 2nd leg)
Within this air of symbolism, I largely missed the widespread embarrassment that others took to heart over the airing of some pretty poor choices of songs and chants at times last night. ‘Who Are Yer?’ did puncture my cocoon though.
Education. It’s all about the education you can offer. Ever the budding analyst and people watcher, Elsie took everything in and learned the Mane-Shakin Stevens song. She now knows what a Kopite is and that we applaud our former players. She absorbed the concept of the offside rule and seemed to understand it. She wants to go to Anfield again, just as long as it’s a daylight game, so she can see the view from the Upper Main Stand in all its glory.
Obligatory statements all-around of “She can come again” were dispensed by one-and-all.
It was a good win and a promising sign. Coming back convincingly after conceding the first goal against notoriously stubborn opposition, it was almost like 1983 all over again. At our peak, we used to respond with a skilful disdain to conceding the first goal. We did a very good impression of that last night.
Adam Lallana is returning to prominence, Roberto Firmino got a morale soothing goal, Sadio Mane scored again this Christmas to provoke that highly enjoyable song of his, and Daniel Sturridge netted his first league goal of the season. Sturridge is beginning to ramp himself up, and he could turn out to be a pivotal figure during the second half of the campaign.
Pep Guardiola came to watch last night. He’ll be back again on New Year’s Eve. It could be quite a party.