In celebration of the 96; An emotional Anfield day for SSLJA
Where do I start, on a day that promised so much and delivered so much more my dream to visit Anfield for a match I was left with even more of a passion for a club I was already passionate about. Liverpool FC & the In Celebration of the 96 match was a 2-2 draw that left me wanting not just more in terms of the football, but wanting more in terms of the entire day itself, even though it nearly ended with a costly mistake financially.
5.30am was my wake up time on the morning of the match (but I actually woke up at 5.20am) and my coach was a 5 hour journey beginning at 7.30am, but I think i slept more on the coach up than i did at home (I woke up at least 4 times throughout the night) due to the excitement of rockin' up to Anfield for the very first time. Victoria coach station was the departure point and on my way i was, with the anticipation building with every minute that passed.
The coach journey was supposed to drop me into norton street coach station for 1pm, but fortunately I had my first stroke of luck as the coach (which was supposed to stop in Manchester originally) went straight to Liverpool, so with that time in the bank I got some snaps of the Liverpool Empire & around St. Georges Hall.
So onwards to Anfield and oddly enough I was going to get the bus up from Queens Square, but I ended up jumping in a taxi with 4 other people, 1 of which was a Leeds supporter which made for some interesting chat about the Cellino situation and more!
As we turned the corner coming up Rockfield Road I caught a glimpse of Goodison Park and even though I knew the grounds were close, it really dawned on me how close they are to each other and how small Goodison looks.
Anyway, we pulled up to Anfield and I was in awe of the ground as we got out of the taxi, it was amazing being somewhere you've fantasized about going to for almost 20 years. One of the more emotional parts of the day for me was walking around the ground to the Hillsborough memorial, oddly enough we saw Jake Humphrey of BT Sport taking pictures with people and 2 things ran through my mind... 1. He's pretty tall and 2. He was wearing a lot of makeup!
The Hillsborough memorial was emotional, I've seen pictures of it on TV and pictures of the Shankly gates but seeing the scarves and flowers up close, seeing the amount of different club scarves hanging from the gates & the bouquets of flowers by the memorial on the corner of the Anfield road end really made the day even more real for me. The 2 clubs, 1 massive family banner really made me think, 'football unites'.
So, as I bid farewell to my new friends and entered the ground i've waited so long to sit in...ANFIELD and believe you me it felt tremendous. Finding my seat was pretty easy with the help of a steward but unfortunately finding a match day programme was impossible as they'd all sold out even though I got to the ground almost an hour & a half before kick off.
But still, an emotional moment was about to hit me and that moment was leading up to the match. The moment I speak of was when you'll never walk alone was sung in an opera style by a local youngster and I actually did shed a tear at that moment, hearing that song live at Anfield would have been emotional enough but knowing this was a day In celebration of those 96 who lost their lives due to a horrific tragedy just really hit home.
On to the match and even more emotion for me because even though they are older (and in most cases more portly, more on that later) it was tremendous to see some of the players who I grew up watching on tv in the flesh, live and in living colour!!! Seeing God aka Robbie Fowler & Steve 'Shaggy' Mcmanaman linking up gave me flashbacks of watching them back in 95/96. Seeing Fowler & Michael Owen linking up & having Dietmar Hamann & Sami Hyppia back on the Anfield turf gave me memories of 2001, which were especially fresh as I happen to be reading a hardback copy of Robbie Fowler's autobiography.
On the Michael Owen side note, there were 2 hilarious things happening throughout the match. One was Michael Owen as the panto villain of the day as when the teams were being read out before the match Owen's name received a fair amount of jeers & throughout the match he was subject to a lot of cheers but a few jeers too. The other hilarious side note was Jan Molby being urged to 'SHOOT' every time he received the ball which was made doubly funny as I heard a couple of kids behind me say 'who's the fat kid' in reference to the honorary Scouser Mr Molby.
I did notice that the International legends generally were, let's say, 'leaner' than the domestic legends but on a beautiful day for football & with the International reds having a lot more of the ball (Luis Garcia looking especially lively) it was the domestic reds who made the breakthrough and fittingly it was native Scouser (Toxteth to be exact) Robbie Fowler who sold Sander Westerveld a delightful dummy & rounded him to score in front of the Kop End after being sent through by Jason McAteer.
Fowler rolled back the years and 1-0 is how it stayed for the remainder of the first half and one thing that most won't have seen on tv is the half time entertainment which came in the form of a penalty shootout involving Clare Balding (who scored both her pens), Liverpool supporters Russell Howard (who scored 1 pen and put 1 wide) & Colin Murray (who had the same conversion rate as Howard, 1 in 1 wide) and the special guest of the day John Bishop, who being another native Scouser, ended up being very involved in the main game (more on that later). All of those penalties were taken against the club mascot Mighty Red who tried valiantly to keep the net from bulging too often! On the subject of Mighty Red, his dancing as he went back down into the changing rooms before the second half was hilarious, he was shaking them tail feathers with no shame at all, this was after John Bishop got a mexican wave going around Anfield, which he actually filmed!!! Great stuff & we still had the 2nd half to go!
So the 2nd half began and a good few subs were made and Luis Garcia's fancy footwork was involved in the buildup along with Hamann who set up Smicer who's shot took a huge deflection off Michael Thomas went flying past David James to level up things for the international reds.
When that goal went in I did feel a bit for David James, but more for Mark Wright as he'd been solid all match but never got the clean sheet his performance deserved, but part of that sympathy is me being part of the defenders union and defenders, like keepers love clean sheets, no matter what the occasion.
John Bishop came on for Luis Garcia and Bishop got involved in a match that all of us would give our left arm to be in and you could see the childlike excitement when he came on, he really got stuck in! Bishop actually nearly scored a dream goal at the Kop end, he smashed the post and Bruno Cheyrou smashed in the rebound, 2-1 international reds and the subs kept coming!
The repeat subs kept the game fresh & lively and one of the subs who came on in the 2nd half was Jamie Redknapp who was pulling out some party tricks and silky skills, he's a lot taller than he looks on TV and I guess being on TV has made sure he's stayed in good shape.
Another side note was the running battle between John Aldridge & Sander Westerveld, there were a good few chances for Aldo but Sander was always up to the task denying Aldridge or beating him to a through ball, but it was great to see the banter between those 2.
2 penalties were given in this match, the 1st was given against David Burrows and John Bishop conspired to miss it, was a good save by David James though and it was all smiles afterwards from James & Bishop. There was a flashback to 97 and an infamous celebration when Mr Fowler looked like he was sniffing the penalty spot before Bishop went up to take the kick, which I personally got a chuckle from as did many of us inside Anfield who remember.
About a minute later another pen was given and Robbie Fowler ended up taking it, but there was a huge holdup after Hyppia brought down Fowler just inside the box. The holdup was because we saw that Kenny was going to come on and we all started chanting 'KENNY KENNY, KENNY'. Fowler was going to step aside as everyone including Owen & Redknapp and even Jan Molby of the international reds urged the King to take it but Kenny ended up letting Robbie Fowler take it and 'God' beat Sander Westerveld in what ended up as the final goal of the match, was a brilliant penalty and the game ended up staying as a thoroughly entertaining 2-2 draw.
2 Fowler goals (1 penalty), Cheyrou & Smicer (Michael Thomas o.g) were the goals scored but the memories i'll have of this day were many more than I could ever count, rarely are there moments that leave me speechless but my arrival at Anfield was one of those moments.
Margaret Aspinall's post-match speech after the trophy presentation was the final emotional moment of my day as she is a true survivor & a great campaigner not just for justice for her loss on April 15th 1989, but for the loss of 95 other lives on that day too.
On my way home I was on cloud 9 but now an new challenge presented itself...how to get home!!! (Well back to the Norton Street coach station) After taking the scenic route around the ground taking some snaps of the Paisley gates and the posters of King Kenny, John Barnes & more outside the centenary stand I made my way back the way I cam and following my instincts (as google maps was no real help) I made my way to the bus stop and ended up just making it to my coach (which fortunately left 10 minutes late) after i'd sweated buckets running from Queens Gate up to Norton street.
To quote/paraphrase WWE hall of famer the Ultimate Warrior (who recently passed away) from WCW back in 1998 - 'History tells us, that a mans legacy is built from the premise, that within his life, the moments lived, once lived, become a piece of his history'.
My first ever visit to Anfield on April 21st 2014 for the 'In celebration of the 96' match is a moment, a big moment for me as a football supporter, a Liverpool supporter and a big moment in my life thus far and will definitely stay with me as a piece of my history. To be in that great stadium makes me want to achieve greatness in my life even more, so in closing I say thank you to Liverpool Football club, thank you to the Hillsborough Family Support group (HFSG), thank you to the international & domestic legends teams & managers, because you've given me a moment which I will never forget.
Liam 'Lja' Angell via Facebook - 22 April at 00.17 AKA Straight Shootin' LJA says 'In Celebration of the 96' was an amazing match to be at, THANK YOU Liverpool FC, you've given me a life long memory that shall be passed down to my kids, and my kids kids, loved every second of my first time up at Anfield, April 21st 2014 will never be forgotten
Justice for the 96 #jft96 R.I.P You will never be forgotten, today was in celebration of all of you!!!
I'm Straight Shootin' LJA & that is not just my opinion, but my first ever Anfield experience in words!!!