Liverpool Football Club: One Love, Thirty Long Years

I just loved batting but it used to annoy me when I had to bat during second half commentary! What I loved most and the fire which still burns brighter than most, is Liverpool Football Club. After 30 long years, the longest and most unexpected of waits is about to come to an end, and a team playing the Liverpool way, will lift the Championship in May.

I know the words of the song are “win the Championship in May” but I’m hoping it will be won a long time before that!

The last Liverpool team to win the Championship
The 1990 League Champions (Image: PA)

Saturday afternoons in Spring

The spring was always the start of something new as I looked forward to the start of the cricket season. I was born into a cricket family and Saturday afternoons with a bat in my hand was one of the enduring joys of childhood whether for school or club.

That was Saturday afternoons in the mid-summer mind you!! During May, August and September, I was never quite as concentrated. I was always finding a way to get news of what was happening at Anfield or wherever the Reds were playing.

Back then, of course, more often than not they would be playing at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. Life, in my formative years, was often found on Radio Two, which was the home of live sport on the BBC in those days (other than cricket on Radio Three!); the voices of Renton Laidlaw, Peter Jones and Bryon Butler were the soundtrack of my youth.

Through these early and latter weeks of the cricket season, my attentions were definitely divided. I can remember the eleven year-old me listening to the second-half of the 1985 Cup Final during the tea-break of an early season school match, receiving the news that the 1989 Cup Final had gone into extra-time as the new batsman came into join me. It wasn’t always easy but I generally found a way!

Those weekends during which the cricket and football overlapped were a chaotic type of fun, but as soon as I was old enough, winter weekends typically found me joining a ‘responsible adult’ on the pilgrimage north from Birmingham to L4, Liverpool.

Dark, Brummie and Scouse

One of the constant memories of childhood would be the black cab taking us from Lime Street to Anfield, the anticipation of how long the queue for the Kop would be and whether we would be starting long beyond the Kemyln Road. More often than not, we got into the Kop but the real added value was an education in that queue waiting to get into the ground.

Let’s face it, I was pre-John Barnes so my skin colour made it quite easy to pick me out in a line-up… other than being about knee high to anyone else! I never quite understood the accusations of racism in Liverpool because it was not something I experienced directly. But then again, I was there for a few hours a week and not living in the City. And when you’re in the Kop, you just belong. Skin colour doesn’t matter, being red does.

And boy did I have a new vocabulary. Back at school on a Monday and it was very typically a reprimand of “speak properly Kallicharan!”

Those days were just special and I lived for them. It was a different world for me. I didn’t come from a rich family; although my dad was an international cricketer, cricket was not a well paid sport and my parents really did make huge sacrifices to give me a very comfortable upbringing.

Dad had, himself, come from an impoverished background in Guyana, and mum spent much of my childhood juggling pennies to make ends meet while he was away playing overseas for much of the year. In short I grew up in a contradictory state of fee paying school but in a family environment where every penny was worked hard for and sacrifices made.

Liverpool and The Kop was where I first really understood about working class. It was the antithesis of private school education and it was a world with which I felt a much deeper sense of identity. People had very little, but Saturday afternoons brought the city and people together.

I learnt so much on those afternoons not just about football, but about life, about what it meant to have very little but to give yourself fully to others, to something that meant so much more than yourself. I had a great education in the classroom but I learnt so many of my values on the Spion Kop and I’m deeply proud of that.

Quite simply, from the youngest of ages, I had an affinity and affection with the city of Liverpool like nowhere else. It has always felt like home and, even now, when I arrive on Merseyside and see the clock inside Lime Street Station, I feel a deep sense of emotion building up inside of me.

I am a Brummie and always proud of it, but to be honest always identified more as a Scouser, albeit an adopted one.

To some that would make me a wool and so be it, but more of that later!

Glory Hunter?

It is certainly true that Liverpool won a heck of a lot during my youth!! However, the seeds of this life long affair were sewn  in the far reaches of the British Empire long before I was born.

Growing up in Guyana, my mum decided that Liverpool were her team. I’ve never quite decided whether it was her love of the Beatles or whether she liked the colour red, but they were her team and that was at the time when Shanks was busy bringing us out of the second division.

Fast forward to 1974 and she was giving birth to me in Birmingham. I might as well have been born with a red shirt, and it would only be a few years before the young infant me was running around in a v-neck with Hitachi emblazoned across the front of it.

My first two visits to a football ground were both to Villa Park, both in 1981. The first was in January 1981, sitting with our neighbours as Villa beat us 2-0 on their way to the League Championship. That evening, as was the theme of my childhood, they tried to get me to change allegiances but it was never going to be. Whilst Liverpool were not my home town club, they were already rooted deep inside every pore of me.

I felt a little reward for that love just a couple of months later when the Reds rolled back into town for the League Cup Final Replay against West Ham. King Kenny waved his wand and the rest is history. It’s sad really to see how low the League Cup has dropped in significance but it was a joyful part of my childhood.

One of the great days for me was later in 1981 when I was at Wallasey Cricket Club for a match during the testimonial year of the late Bob Willis. In attendance were a few of that great Liverpool team and in my arms for weeks to follow was the signed football which I was given that day.

For many Liverpool supporters, including those living outside the city, there is an essence of Shanks and a thought that “Liverpool was made for me and I was made for Liverpool.”

And that is certainly how I felt as a young man and do to this very day.

The famous Hitachi V-Neck

Pain and Defiance

It seemed to matter just a bit more in that season of 1989/90.

There was a deep pain, one which will never completely to dissipate. The season started a mere four months after that dark, fateful day in Sheffield and even after thirty years, there is a fight, dignity and compassion like nothing I have witnessed elsewhere.

History will say that 96 people lost their lives in a disaster at Hillsborough, but history does not begin to tell the full story. It destroyed so many lives beyond that, and the fight for justice and truth is one that I have watched in awe and been very privileged to be the smallest part of as a Liverpool supporter.

I tend not to speak about it often, but I had been at the corresponding fixture in 1988, a year previous, and would have been there in 1989 but for a school event that had been booked about a year in advance.

I can’t begin to understand the utter darkness and pain that survivors, witnesses and families went through and continue to even now, but there have been moments when I’ve wondered about how different my own life could have been.

It had such an impact on many of the players and staff emotionally, none more so than Kenny, and that is something that people need to contextualise when thinking about the 30-year wait for the title to return to Anfield.

For the fifteen year old me, there was also a misguided pain at the Arsenal defeat, a night on which I could barely drag myself away from the Kop, such was my inability to believe what happened.

Back to the Crease and Willow

It was Graham Taylor’s Villa who had pushed us hardest through that 1989/90 and the thought of losing out to them was unthinkable for this teenager in Birmingham.

So to Saturday 28 April, 1990. Two significant fixtures that day – Solihull School Cricket 1st XI against Loughborough Grammar School and, the slightly higher profile, Liverpool vs Queens Park Rangers at Anfield.

If the school won, nobody would really care apart from our teacher!! If the Reds won, we’d be Champions!

I would often listen to music while waiting to bat. It was a good way to shut out too much of the other noise and just lost myself in peaceful concentration. I wasn’t always hearing the music as much as visualising and imagining the first few balls hitting the middle of the bat, imagining my eyes and feet moving towards the ball in harmony.

Of course, in spring and autumn, you could substitute music for the football on Radio 2… and when that was the case, I was definitely hearing as well as listening.

With a 2pm start that afternoon, the perfect scenario was that we bat first, I’d have a little but great cameo and then be out early enough to be back listening to Sport on 2 not long after 3pm. The only thing that really went to plan was that we batted first!

Our opening batsmen seemed to bat for an eternity and the scoreboard didn’t move very fast. The first wicket fell at about 3.30pm, by which stage Liverpool were losing 1-0 to a Roy Wegerle goal and batting was the last thing on my mind.

In truth, I always seemed to get my head in the game once I was out there. I was fortunate enough that we lost a few wickets that day! I think we’d lost one more by the time I heard that Rushie equalised at Anfield and, inexplicably we were six down by the time our number eight came in and told me were leading 2-1. He wasn’t happy as a Villa fan!

And the inevitable followed. We dug in for the next forty minutes or so and concentrated on batting. As we walked off at tea-time, I turned on the radio to the voice of Kenny being interviewed and to Liverpool Football Club as the eighteen times Champions of England.

It was, perhaps, an anticlimax but never have ham sandwiches and Battenberg tasted quite so good. Besides, I’d be there when we won it next year.

This Time Next Year Rodney...

This time next year… came and went. And so did the next. And 27 others since.

1992 was significant on many levels really. I was on the Kop that Sunday afternoon when Rushie finally scored against the Mancs, handing the title to Leeds United in the process.

We should have been gutted that we were sixth and some eighteen points behind the eventual Champions, the kind of season that we’d not had since that year when Villa won it in 1981. Yet, there was delirium at denying our rivals from across the East Lancs Road.

It’s a theme that continued over much of the last 30 years, whether chasing United, Chelsea, City or Arsenal.

There have been unforgettable moments at Anfield and as far afield as Istanbul and Madrid, not to mention Cardiff as I spoke about here. We’ve finished second on four occasions, 2014 and last year hurting in different ways and evoking vastly different emotions.

There have been vast expanses of mediocrity along the way and some of the names to put on the shirt are enough to make the loyalest Koppites cringe. And yet there has always been hope in our hearts, other than the darkest days under the Hodge and as the Texans threatened our very existence.

Other than those darkest moments, I never felt we were anything other than a year from glory.

This time next year, we’ll be Champions again. This time next year, Rodney. And next year hasn’t arrived for 30 long years.

We’ve had it shoved down our throats from every angle. In a way, it was almost acceptable from the Mancs as they dominated for years. They are a big club, one that we detest but a massive global brand just like Liverpool. To take it from the likes of City and Chelsea in more recent years was a much more bitter pill to swallow. And still we’ve walked with hope.

And when, in 2015, we again felt as if we were sliding in the wrong direction after the trauma of the previous year, then came the man to turn doubters into believers, Jürgen Norbert Klopp, someone who’s very identity fits so well with the unique city.

Lime Street Station & The Clock
Under the Lime Street clock, feeling like I'm at home

Near and far

I’ve seen this 30 year journey from up close and latterly from afar. From Burnley to Barcelona, from Islington to Istanbul, I’ve seen tears of joy and despair, and loved every moment.

I was 26 when I finally got my hand on a season ticket. By that stage I was living in Liverpool, as I would for five years. I had that ticket for six years until the owner wanted it back.

By then I’d moved back to Birmingham and travelled with the local supporters club. I was fortunate to have a season ticket through them for several seasons, travelling home and away. What a time to be alive… well probably not compared with now, but I thought it was absolutely boss!

It was at the end of the 2014 season, when I moved to London, that I had to return that season ticket to the Supporters Club.

It was also the moment, for me, when I realised it just wasn’t possible for me to continue going to the match constantly. Cost from London and the more and more unpredictable kick-off times just didn’t allow it.

It was initially bittersweet, losing a massive part of my life and feeling that I wasn’t able to support the club in the same way from afar, losing that sense of belonging I’d had for so long. Yet, I knew it was just another part of my own personal evolution and journey, and I’m so lucky to have been able to experience what I had for long.

Since I married last year, my wife has encouraged me and I’ve started to get back to the odd match. To be at Anfield four times during this magical season has been just brilliant.

Four or five times a season is perfect to allow me to be the best husband I can be, putting my family first, but is also to nourish and feed my lifelong love of the Liver Bird.

The Anfield Wrap

As I said, in the past, not being able to go the match made me lose that sense of belonging.

Enter The Anfield Wrap even from a couple of hundred miles away, the TAW content makes me feel not only that unique sense of belonging to the football club and fanbase, but also deeply embeds me again in the sociopolitics of the city.

And to really understand the football club and our incredible supporters, you have to understand the city and its sociopolitical past and present.

Closing in...

We remember them with pride,
Those mighty reds of Shankly’s side ,
And Kenny’s boys of ’88,
There’s never been a side so great.

The Kop will be rewriting many a classic during the weeks ahead, in the same way that this magnificent and relentless Liverpool team is rewriting history. “A team that plays the Liverpool way and wins the Premier League in March (or April)” doesn’t quite have the same ring but nobody’s really going to care too much on the day which lies ahead in the not too distant future.

The last few seasons have been some journey and all leading to the inevitable and glorious let off.

I’ve been to a few matches this season and, of course, TAW has increased the enjoyment and belonging in a way that is difficult to describe.

I am from outside the city, but feel a deep sense of belonging in the city, and more importantly, a real understanding of what being part of this city means.

And actually, while that may make me less of a supporter in the eyes of a minority, that doesn’t ever bother me.

I am a Red, that Liver Bird has been on my chest since the day I was born (if not before), and I am going to cry like a baby when Jordan Henderson lifts that trophy in May.

And what’s more, when the title is clinched, I won’t be batting but will be somewhere in the L4 postcode. I may not be at the match, it may be at the Glenbuck, TIA or another local establishment, but I’ll have a pint in my hands, I’ll be hugging every man and woman in view, and be ready for the biggest party we’ve ever seen.

This club and city has given me a lifetime of love, belonging and memories. And the best is yet to come.

Up The Reds!

Rohan Kallicharan

Rohan is an award-winning mental health campaigner and speaker with lived experience of mental illness. He has been involved in a number of high-profile campaigns to raise awareness and break down the stigma around mental ill-health. He is a sub-3 hour marathon runner, HR Director and husband to Claire.