Kop Memories

The following article is the first in a short series of articles on SJF: ‘Football and society, then and now’

By Sheila Coleman

My friend Diane (Diane Graham) and I first went to see Liverpool play when we were seven. We lived in Kirkdale, a neighbouring area of Anfield. All members of my family were fanatical Evertonians so none of them would take me to see Liverpool. At that time Everton were the more successful team. However, I have no recollection of ever liking them. I believe that I was born a red therefore it was only natural that I sought refuge with Diane’s family who were all Liverpool supporters.  It might seem strange in the present day to think of two little girls heading off to a football match totally unsupervised but we had no sense of danger, only excitement at what the day would bring. As Diane says: “I think we were quite unique as very few little girls were interested in football at that time but we both came from football mad families so it was in our blood!”

The Kop, Anfield

The Kop, Anfield

Most games were on a Saturday and that day would be packed with fun from beginning to end. In the morning we would take in a film at the local cinema (we were ‘ABC minors’ – a film club for children), hopefully catch a wedding at our church (we sneaked into many a wedding album) and most importantly we would then go to watch our beloved Liverpool FC.

We wore whatever clothes our mother’s made us wear. We didn’t have much money so choice was limited. We did however, have our Liverpool scarves; hand knitted in our beloved red and white.

We went in the ‘Boy’s Pen’. This was long before the age of sex discrimination legislation and no one ever thought that girls might want to see a match. It could be quite rough in there. A large number of boys in a penned area now seems quite a frightening prospect but I guess we managed to stand our ground. The Liverpool writer Dave Kirby wrote a brilliant poem about the Boy’s Pen but I reprimanded him for not saying about the girls who bravely entered it!

The main reason for going into the Boy’s pen was because it was the cheapest area in the ground. If we had no money at all then Diane and I (sometimes with my younger Evertonian brother Philip) would go up to the ground and wait till three quarter time when all the gates would be open ready for people to leave. We would sneak in for the last twenty minutes and often managed to catch a late goal or two. I still marvel at our ingenuity of not letting poverty get in the way of our sport.

The only time we went to an away game when we were young would be to a local derby game at Goodison (Everton ground). They were extremely popular games and so were ticketed occasions. This was long before the days of voucher systems. Diane and I would get up at the crack of dawn to queue for tickets and were always successful. We had great staying power when it came to our beloved Liverpool.  Diane recently reminded me of a neighbour stopping our mothers and commenting on what good little girls we were to get up for early morning mass!

After the Boy’s Pen and when we had a bit more money we started to go into the Paddock. This was a much smaller area than the Kop and was along the side of the pitch adjacent to the Kop. It was a very safe area and was never as crowded. It contained a mixed crowd of age groups and was therefore ideal for families.  Diane recalls going there with her mother who would bring a packed lunch and a flask of coffee. During winter months the coffee would be supplemented with whiskey or brandy and duly shared around to keep fellow fans warm!  Diane and I would enjoy watching the game from the paddock but always looked longingly across to the Kop with a steely determination. There was never any doubt that was where we were headed.

We were eleven years old when we first went on the kop. A rite of passage. It was no place for the fainthearted. A confidence was needed to literally stand your ground. However, as young girls we were smart enough to stand in front of the barriers and from that position always felt safe.  Our favoured spot was in the middle, halfway up and firmly in front of a barrier. With the benefit of hindsight I suppose that there must have been times when I was frightened yet I would not have defined it as ‘fear’ at the time. For me, it was sheer excitement. The adrenalin rush was amazing and it was very much living in the moment. I also felt that no harm would befall me, as there were so many ‘friends’ around me.  The degree of camaraderie should never be underestimated. The Kop functioned as a single entity. You literally went with the flow.  It was like a natural force and was an amazing experience.

I can recall one game when we had just scored. I lost a shoe in the ensuing sway. I can still remember thinking that the thrill of the goal would outweigh any punishment metered out by my mother. However, someone shouted from further down that they had found a shoe and I tugged at the sleeve of a man standing next to me and told him it was mine. The shoe was duly dispatched hand to hand back up through the crowd and my mother remained blissfully ignorant.

I also remember an occasion when I was leaving the Kop after a game and fell over. What could have been a disastrous situation was averted by someone quickly shouting that a girl had fallen and people stood firm around me until I was safely back on my feet. These two examples show that although the environment was not ideal from a safety perspective, nevertheless, there was a high degree of commonsense and camaraderie that prevailed which negated any danger.

The bigger games at Anfield held in excess of 50,000 people. It was quite common for fans to faint in such a large crowd.  If someone fainted in the kop they would carefully be passed over the heads of the crowd (a bit like crowd surfing at concerts today!) until they reached the awaiting St John’s Ambulance for first aid.

The Kop was extremely quick witted and would respond to any event with an appropriate song.  Diane recalls the rivalry between Liverpool keeper Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton. Both England goalkeepers. Shilton had been chosen ahead of Clemence for the England game against Poland and had an awful game. The next time he was playing at Anfield he ran to take his place in the Kop goal. Traditionally, opposing players received a good welcome by the kop but on this occasion they all started singing Poland’s number one record!

Also the local rivalry between Liverpool and Everton was enduring but good-humoured. The late Gordon West, Everton’s goalie, was nick named Mae West by the Kop and whenever he came to Anfield, someone would run on the pitch from the Kop and present him with a ladies handbag. He always took this in good spirit.

The singing was something else! In those days it was commonplace to sing popular songs, especially Beatles songs. An old BBC report shows people singing ‘She loves you’. It is hard to imagine so many people singing in unison and believing that it would start with one person and grow to the entire crowd singing. However, as I said previously, the Kop functioned as one. Culturally, football and music were the twin passions of Liverpool people. This is still largely true today. It is what makes our city so special. We are a diverse group of people and bring a richness of cultural differences to the table.

The singing of “You’ll never walk alone’ is tied up with the popularity of Liverpool groups at the time. Gerry and the Pacemakers were second only to the Beatles. When Gerry recorded YNWA (from the musical ‘Carousel’), it seemed a natural progression from the pop charts to the terraces. The words were appropriate to showing support and solidarity but an added poignancy was added after the Hillsborough disaster.  Although I have heard it sung thousands of times it still fills me with emotion. My most memorable singing of the song is a Hillsborough related story. I was an academic researcher who monitored the legal proceedings after the Hillsborough disaster. I attended the (now discredited) inquests into the deaths. On the final day of the inquests the coroner recorded ‘accidental death’ verdicts against all the dead. Families were distraught and many began crying. He told them to be quiet or they would have to leave the court. He said that the names of the dead would be read out and he would leave the court in silence. The names were duly read out but as he was exiting the courtroom a bereaved mother began defiantly singing, “When you walk through a storm…” She sung for us all, everyone one of us who could have been her dead son. I will never forget her dignity and courage.

My team when I was a child featured Peter Thompson, Ian Callaghan, Roger Hunt, Big Ron Yeats, Chris Lawler, and Tommy Lawrence. Managed of course by the legend that was Bill Shankly.  Roger Hunt was my all time favourite. I loved him as a player and also felt he had a kind nature.  I saw many famous players over the years and I am always thankful for having seen George Best play.

Some games are legendary. The St Etienne game for example, which is a popular favourite. However, Diane recalls a Derby game in 1970(?). Everton was doing well that season and had beaten us in the previous game and were winning 2-0 in this game. They were smugly singing about winning the league, confident that they would win this game. However, Steve Heighway, John Toshack and Chris Lawler had different ideas and we won 3-2! That was the Liverpool we loved best. The Liverpool that fought back. Even today, I am never upset if an early goal goes against us. I always feel it motivates the crowd to push the players harder.

Fog was quite a common feature at matches in wintertime. Evening matches would be most affected but the dark winter days meant that there were times when you would not see a goal for the fog. It was common (and sensible) to shout ‘who scored the goal’? It would be unthinkable in the present day to play a game in such conditions.

In the past there was tremendous loyalty shown to players by the Kop even if they were off form. They would not have been booed. It is so different today but I put that down to the changing economics of the game. Many players do not have the same passion for the game and that is obvious to the discerning fans.

A lot of football grounds, across Europe were in a severely dilapidated state by the 1980’s. Disasters were a consequence of such dilapidation (e.g. Heysel). The Hillsborough Disaster, however, was caused by the breakdown of police control. Police were trained in crowd control rather than crowd safety.  The report of Lord Justice Taylor recommended all seater stadia as a means of ensuring that no such disaster would ever occur again. There is still much debate as to whether this was the right course of action. Nevertheless, as a consequence of new legislation it signaled the end of the Kop.

I was not on the kop for the last game, however, musician and kopite Peter Hooton recalls:

To be quite honest he last day of the Kop was pretty much an anti climax. I had stood/swayed on the famous terrace for many years witnessing fantastic comebacks, great victories and some agonising defeats! But to be beaten by Norwich for the last game played was very disappointing. The game was played in a ‘surreal’ atmosphere it was as if nobody could really believe this was the end of the famous terrace. I mean how could you demolish a terrace that had thousands of fans ashes scattered on it? The Kop was full an hour before kick off and the last Kopites were ushered out about an hour after the final whistle but it still felt like a dream/nightmare! Jeremy Goss of Norwich is credited as scoring the last goal in front of the ‘old Kop’ but some of us know the truth. A mate of mine called John Garner ran on to the pitch at the end of the game with his own ball and dribbled from the half way line and smashed the ball into the Kop net. For Kopites this was our symbolic ‘last goal’ and it was right and fitting!

Personally, I am not against standing. It was not standing that killed people at Hillsborough. It was a prevailing culture that saw fans treated like animals; corralled to the stadium, herded into pens – even the language is animal terminology. However, I respect the views of those that support all seater stadia, especially those that lost people in the disaster. Football matches are not the same. Sitting is not the same. Many people stand up from their seats. Is this any safer?

I miss the Kop in as much as it was a part of my childhood. I miss the collective nature it encouraged. I often wonder if it helped form my socialist views. I look back on those days of simple pleasures where two little girls could safely walk to Anfield, watch a game of football and walk home. Thrilled by the team and the crowd in equal measures.

Did Diane and I pass on our passion for Liverpool to our children? No!  My son had little interest in football and Diane’s daughter supports Everton!  As Diane said: It’s a good job that a mother’s love is unconditional!

Sheila Coleman is a former University lecturer and researcher. Her research in the aftermath of the Hillsborough Disaster (monitoring the legal proceedings)led to her being an active member of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. She co-authored the first critical accounts of the disaster and has consistently challenged the established version of events in particular the inquest verdicts of accidental death. These verdicts were finally quashed in December 2012 after twenty three years of campaigning.
Sheila is currently employed by Unite the Union as the North West Region Community Co-ordinator where she is involved in assisting communities to organise and campaign around issues affecting them.
This article was first published in November 2012 in German in a special edition of the magazine ‘11 Freunde’
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