True football fans – so they say – are born into a team, or if not, then you don’t pick your team, your team picks you. A generalised oversimplification, undoubtedly – yet one that will have many nodding gently with agreement or recognition of their own past ‘recruitment’. The idea is that this will be the first in a series of potted biographies and insights into individual fans beginnings, from the first dumb adumbrations of becoming a Red, to the moment of realisation that henceforth, they would never walk alone. We hope you enjoy them and maybe in some cases, see parts of a pattern you may find familiar.
The young boy was sat in the back of the car, on the old brown leatherette bench seat in the days before seat belts. He was fascinated by the trafficators that would flip out at right angles to the main central doorpost of the car, flashing orange and indicating a left turn or right turn. Beyond the high window through which he sometimes struggled to see more than the sky, the snow swirled in deep arabesques, coating the big sandstone buildings under a pristine wintry blanket of cold quiet. Every now and again the driver – who was also his case officer – would speak in a clipped North London accent that would have been difficult to fully understand even if the boy’s grasp of English wasn’t still somewhat rudimentary. The car continued to shush it’s way quietly through the ever deepening snow of that deep, harsh winter as it headed west down the long, curving road lined with neat and well-kept large semi-detached brick and slate built ‘H’ plan houses of the interwar years and the occasional deep-set Edwardian villa.
Earlier that morning, the case officer and his charge had left the temporary abode of a children’s home somewhere south east of the city, and – armed with a handwritten sheet of instructions – were now searching out the meeting place where the boy would be given up into the custody of his intended adoptive father to be on a trial basis. The case officer didn’t know the city of Liverpool well at all, and so it was agreed that rather than try and take the boy to a house on the northern edge of the city which in this kind of weather which had been raging almost uninterrupted for more than two months now he would have little chance of finding, a meeting place that would be well-sign-posted and easy to find would suffice and from there, in convoy they could follow the adoptive father to be to the boy’s future new home.
After a seemingly interminable and slippery drive down this broad, white, skeletal tree-lined road, the case officer with some relief in his voice exclaimed ‘Not far now – next left – then on, under the bridge…(he referred to the paper) on past the cemetery and… turn left again at the church on the corner’. The boy nodded – he was getting rather cold and the thin gabardine coat and short trousers were not helping. A few minutes later and with a curse under his breath, the case officer managed to miss the left turn at the church and eventually made a left further down the hill at the next main junction, hoping he could make his way back from there. Unlike the earlier road, this area was neither leafy nor broad, but quite tight and narrow, lined by old Victorian two-up-two-down houses, some in a seemingly poor state of repair, one painted red which almost shone in the snow. At length, they turned left off the road and into a large snowy car park which had very few cars but much well-trodden snow. They pulled up near a high wall that blocked off the backs of the nearby houses, leaving them in the shadow of an enormous old barn-like construction of brick, wood and corrugated metal that occupied the large centre of the car park. They were momentarily approached by a small old man in a long coat and a flat cap who emerged from this huge edifice and asked if they were going to be there long. The case officer explained the situation and said they should not be there too long. The old man grinned and leaned in to shake the boy’s hand, wishing him luck.
All this time the boy had been distracted by strange singing. A loud, joyous singing which grew louder still as he was invited out of the car to stretch his legs. There were clearly many, many voices taking part in this singing. He did not recognise the tune but did recognise the lustiness and energy with which it was sung – he had never heard anything like it in his short life. He felt it that maybe it should have frightened him, but it didn’t – it excited him and for a few moments he forgot to be cold. He was still standing, mouth open listening to this swelling wall of sound that even Phil Spector wouldn’t have been able to match when behind them, a shiny black Ford Consul pulled into the car park, aligning itself and stopping next to their rather older car. He didn’t see the dapper little man with the scarred lip and friendly face get out, shake hands with the case officer and make his introductions. His reverie was finally broken when the newcomer placed a gentle hand on his narrow shoulder and said ‘Hello Jan, lovely to see you again lad! Are they winning?’
‘I don’t understand?’ The confused boy replied wrinkling his face. He then smiled as he recognised the man, but didn’t understand the question.
The little dapper man returned the boy’s smile. ‘Liverpool – that’s what you can hear – it’s the Liverpool football fans singing so I think they must be winning, don’t you? This’ – he pointed at the large barn-like building – ‘ is Anfield! This is where they play – there must be fifty thousand people in there today!’
As the shiny black Consul had a heater, it was agreed the boy should travel back to his prospective new home with his prospective new father. He sat in the front, and was amazed by the fact the car had a radio in it, which as they made their way up Utting Avenue was blaring out Susan Maughan’s Christmas hit, ‘Bobby’s Girl’.
It was Saturday February 16th 1963 and I was about to start on a road that would eventually lead four years and several court cases later to a new family and a new name that would last for almost 40 years and a new passion that would last the rest of my life.
…and Liverpool beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-1.