Liverpool vs. Chelsea : 31 January 2024
Although our heads seem full of the two domestic cups for the moment, here was a sobering trip back to normality and the league campaign. They really don’t get much tougher than this one.
Liverpool vs. Chelsea.
I was up early, at 5.30am, and I soon found myself outside PD’s house in Frome at seven o’clock. Salisbury Steve had driven up to Frome to join us and, despite being pleased to see Steve, there were a few special words for PD.
“Happy birthday mate.”
It was PD’s sixty-second birthday. I am not sure how that is possible, but it is. It doesn’t seem too long ago that I first met PD on a train home from Cardiff City almost forty years ago.
We left Somerset behind us and soon crossed the border into Wiltshire where I picked up Parky at just after 7.30am. By a twist of fate, the game at Liverpool was on the seventh anniversary of a match that we had attended at Anfield during our championship season of 2016/17. That was a Wednesday too.
And just as we celebrated PD’s fifty-fifth birthday with a famous pub-crawl in central Liverpool in 2017, we were also looking to partake in something similar for his sixty-second birthday. In 2017, we visited four pubs on Dale Street. I had a similar strategy for 2024.
Regardless of the football, we all hoped for a dent time.
There was heavier traffic than usual. However, after stopping for the usual breakfast at Strensham Services between Tewkesbury and Worcester, I was happy with our progress. We didn’t speak too much about the game. I did utter an opinion that most Chelsea supporters, I suspected, would swap a loss at Anfield – “even a heavy loss” – for a triumph in the up-coming League Cup Final.
It was a familiar drive into Liverpool. We crossed over Queens Drive at The Old Swan rather than take a right turn to either Anfield or Goodison and after a few miles, the huge carcass of the former Littlewoods Pools building appeared on our left. This was once an impressive art deco structure but has been abandoned for many years. It is currently awaiting a revamp as a media and studio centre.
We had a little chat about the football pools, and how Littlewoods and Vernons were based in Liverpool, whereas Zetters was based in London. I was reminded that the former Liverpool Polytechnic was re-named as John Moores University after the first owner of Littlewoods. The buildings of this university dominate the final approach into the city. John Moores was a director and chairman of Everton at various times from 1960 to 1977. His nephew, David Moores, was Liverpool chairman from 1991 to 2010.
One wonders how much pools money was filtered into the support of the city’s two football clubs over the years.
Driving into the city was easy. I easily spotted the two cathedrals. I dropped down the hill with Everton’s new stadium was just out of sight to our right. My route took me close to Walker Art Gallery. In March of last year, on my way home for a short break in Newcastle and Edinburgh, I had dropped into Liverpool’s city centre to visit an exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery about casuals. I spent around ninety minutes, appropriately enough, at the exhibition which detailed the rise and spread of casual subculture, which some say began on Liverpool’s Scotland Road in 1977. Although, the geographical roots are often argued, Merseyside is surely the spiritual home of the casual movement.
I really enjoyed the scope and detail of the exhibition, which I caught during the last few days of its run. Not only were there detailed descriptions of how football and fashion fused together, there were vintage original pieces of clothing from the original era, plus some excellent pieces of art from the football world. I was pleased to see a copy of “The Face” from 1983 that I still own to this day. The exhibition was superb and I loved it. It was right up my Gwladys Street.
I include some photographs.
I then drove within touching distance of Lime Street station, always the scene of much shenanigans in past decades. I remember arriving there for the first time in May 1985 and how I gingerly caught a bus up to Anfield for my very first game in the city. I remember putting on a “Scouse accent” as I paid the driver for my ticket. These were nervous steps for me. Liverpool had a gruesome reputation as being unsafe for away fans, despite the media’s view of the city’s football fans as being cheeky rascals and no more. I remember seeing a Chelsea fan on the bus that I recognised at the time. I have not seen him for years and years so I was pleased to see him at Middlesbrough a few weeks ago. I was pleased that he still goes.
Around that time, Liverpool had been the dominant force in English football since the mid-‘seventies. In those four seasons of First Division football from 1984/85 to 1987/88, I went to every Chelsea game at Anfield. It seemed a massive match in those times.
1984/85 : I travelled up by train from Stoke-on-Trent and watched from a packed away corner as we narrowly lost 4-3. This was a Saturday morning game, with the risk of crowd trouble ruling out a later kick-off. I was surprised how quiet The Kop was.
1985/86 : another trip up by train from Stoke, another morning game, and a fantastic 1-1 draw, with Pat Nevin knocking in a very late equaliser. There were around five hundred Rangers fans in our part of the Kemlyn Road. When the goal went in, at our end, I literally could not move.
1986/87 : another morning game, this time on a Sunday afternoon, and live on TV. A poor performance from us, we lost 0-3. I would later spot myself on the TV coverage on two separate occasions, a big thrill back then.
1987/88 : I travelled up from Somerset for this Sunday game, again on TV, and in a close match we narrowly lost 1-2 despite going ahead in the first-half, the winning goal being scored excruciatingly late.
These four away games have taken on a seminal role in my own Chelsea story. I enjoy so many memories from those four seasons; the players, the songs, the tribalism, the fashions, the real element of danger, the sense of place, the whole nine yards. They seemed huge, they seemed significant, as though I was taking part in some sort of Footballing Zeitgeist.
Back to fucking 2024.
The plan was to leave Dodge at 7am and be parked-up at midday. I pulled in to the car park opposite our Premier Inn at 11.58am.
It’s a good job I work in logistics.
The first two pubs of PD’s birthday pub crawl were revisits from 2017.
Famous for its sloping floors, it was eerily similar to seven years ago; quiet, save for a few foreign Liverpool fans dotted around. The floor was sloping and so were my two pints of “Estrella”, sloping nicely straight down my neck.
We sat at almost the same table as 2017, but – alas – the jovial Evertonian landlord had moved on. It was quieter than seven years ago. A pint of “Prava” and a pint of “Madri” went down very well. We were starting to relax nicely. This was Steve’s first-ever visit to Liverpool. I tried not to bore him to death with intricate details of too many past trips.
This one was right next to pub number two, no more than a ten second walk away. We arrived here just before 3pm so I soon sorted out tickets on my ‘phone for the Aston Villa cup replay which had gone on sale at that time. Fair play to Villa for knocking a further £5 off the cheap price of £25 for Chelsea season ticket holders. The drinks – another “Madri” for me – were going down well.
“Ye Hole In Ye Wall.”
And this pub was right next to pub number three. This is allegedly the oldest pub in Liverpool, dating from 1720. As soon as we walked in, we loved its warmth and cosiness. A special mention of my mate Francis – with us in 2017 – who got a round in, remotely. Top man. We were joined, in the cosy snug, by our friend Kim from California, now Liverpool, who came by to wish PD a “happy birthday” and to enjoy a few laughs. I managed to snag a ticket for Kim for Anfield last year, but we were not so fortunate this season.
“The Denbigh Castle.”
And this was right next to pub number four. It was now 5pm, but the game was still hours away. It seems pointless, now, moaning about it but instead of having evening games at 7.30pm, or 7.45pm, or even 8pm, games are now held on occasion at 8.15pm, as was this one. It’s fucking pathetic. Just another twist of the knife. As if travelling large distances for midweek games isn’t difficult enough.
PD was happy because they sold “Thatchers” in this pub. I am surprised they sell it in Liverpool.
We were joined here by my friend Brij, originally from California but now residing in Boston and working for the NHL Boston Bruins. I first met Brji in Ann Arbor in 2016 ahead of our friendly against Real Madrid (still, officially, our largest ever paid attendance of 105,826) and we have loosely followed each other on Instagram for a while. He recently told me that he was over in Europe on a short break and I was lucky to be able to spirit up a ticket in the away end out of the ether. He was buzzing with excitement. It was great to see him. I was pleased that he shared many of my dislikes of modern sport. I could see that we would get on fine.
“The Tempest On Tithebarn.”
We arrived here around 6pm. This was a modern pub, unlike all the others, and the décor was a little odd. It was strange – or maybe not, in fact – that we had not spoken too much about the game that would be occupying our hearts and minds a few hours later. Another lager. Phew.
One final pub, all of a lengthy one-minute walk from the previous one, but still time to lose PD and Parky on the way. The lagers were starting to slosh around a little now. It was 7pm, and the final call of a pub-crawl that had been really enjoyable. This was a lovely old pub with wooden panels and glistening mirrors and beer pumps. This one was a quick visit. I didn’t even take my coat off.
At about 7.20pm, Brij volunteered to sort out an Uber up to Anfield. We waited outside for a few minutes, and thankfully one arrived. We were deposited near The Kop at 7.50pm. Within ten minutes we were inside the away concourse. The five of us were split up. I made it to my seat – 140, Row 18, a decent seat in line with the six-yard box – just after the “YNWA” stuff.
I didn’t fancy bringing my SLR on such a busy afternoon and evening, so my pub camera had to suffice. I didn’t take too many shots.
Neither did Chelsea.
The game began and I did my best to try to work out who was where, how, why and what for.
Disasi – Silva – Badiashile – Chilwell
Gallagher – Caicedo – Enzo
Sterling – Palmer – Madueke
The game began with us facing The Kop. Behind me was the newly opened top tier of the Anfield Road Stand. Liverpool began strongly, as expected and attacked at will. Petrovic was soon called into action.
In one of our early attacks, Raheem Sterling advanced on the left with a barrage of boos cascading down from The Kop, and his pass inside found the raiding run of Conor Gallagher. He went deep inside the box, but fell. From one hundred yards away, my view was not great. “No penalty” and the game continued.
Liverpool continued their ascendency, their players fleet-footed, ours with boots full of lead. Not long after, Darwin Nunez launched one from well outside the box, our defensive so easily breached, but the hard strike clipped the bar. The same player again slipped through our defensive line after a long ball from deep. His low angled shot from in front of us was thankfully turned onto the far post by Petrovic.
This was just horrible.
Nunez was shooting for fun. We seemed miles off the pace. We found it impossible to build moves. It just wasn’t working.
On twenty-two minutes, Diogo Jota slalomed his way through our defence, past Thiago Silva and Benoit Badiashile, and slammed the ball low past Petrovic.
It was on the cards.
There was, however, the slight hope that VAR might assist our cause with a long check for handball. Nah, the goal stood.
More Liverpool efforts, Petrovic the hero a few times.
In the away end, the minimal singing has stopped. I stood in silence.
On thirty-nine minutes, utter calamity. Moises Caicedo gave up possession cheaply, and Liverpool exploited acres of space on our left. Conor Bradley ran and slotted in at the far post. I sadly captured this one on film. Our hopes were raised a little, but another VAR check did not help us.
In the closing embers of a dire half, we conceded a penalty after Badiashile coughed rather too loudly at Jota. Thankfully, Nunez slammed the kick against the outside of the post.
It stayed 0-2.
At the break, three substitutions.
Malo Gusto for Chilwell.
Mykhailo Mudryk for Gallagher.
Christopher Nkunku for Madueke.
Early in the second-half, a decent break from Gusto down the right and the ball was played deep into the box, rather like a bouncing bomb. Mudryk – who had that crazily optimistic debut at Anfield just over a year ago – fluffed his lines and the ball flew way over.
The mood in the away end was as sombre as I have known it. Spaces began to appear around me. That passionate, rugged, defiant “fuck’em all” support of decades ago was nowhere to be seen.
On sixty-five minutes, as simple as you like, a long ball from deep by Van Dijk to Bradley. He skipped past Badiashile and slung over a cross. In front of the goal, in front of The Kop, Dominik Szoboszlai leapt up and headed down and in. The whereabouts of our central defenders at the time is not known.
The home fans in the top tier of the “Annie Road” sang.
“Liverpool, Liverpool – Top Of The League.”
Neighbours in my row departed to pubs, trains and automobiles. There were seven empty seats to my left and five empty seats to my right. Earlier in the evening, I had been concerned that after such a long spell of drinking since just after midday that I might well be slumped asleep in my seat by 9.45pm.
Now, I almost wished that I was.
Carney Chukwuemeka replaced Caicedo.
Caicedo and Fernandez had been awful, just awful.
On seventy-two minutes, Chukwuemeka turned and ran at the Liverpool defence. He passed to Nkunku, who slipped past markers with some nifty footwork and slid the ball in. It was a really fine goal.
Liverpool 3 Chelsea 1.
Our spirits were raised slightly.
A few of us lone souls yelled :
“COME ON CHELSEA.”
But this was ridiculous. If we had gained a point from this game, the team would have deserved to have been jailed.
Nunez hit the bar yet again
On seventy-nine minutes, any silly thought about an unwarranted draw was extinguished when Luis Diaz crept in behind a sleeping Badiashile to sweep in a low cross from Nunez.
Late on, a Chelsea debut for Cesare Casadei who replaced Palmer, and – worryingly – this is the first time that I have mentioned his name.
We gathered together outside and decided to wait a while to hunt down a cab. We walked the short distance to “The Arkles” and drowned our sorrows. This was always an odd pub in that it was an away pub but one that allowed home fans in too. To be honest, there never was any trouble in all the years that I have dropped into it at Anfield. We had a couple more pints, and one was bought for us by a Liverpool fan from my neck of the woods. He came from Gloucestershire I seem to remember. Brij and I chatted away to him. He was friendly enough and slowly but surely the agony of the game slowly subsided. Behind me, Steve, PD and Parky chatted to two Liverpool fans from Ireland. I am sure that we were the only Chelsea fans in there. We did not leave “The Arkles” until almost midnight.
We caught another Uber down to the city centre and at last had a bite to eat. At about 12.45am, we slipped into “Pop World” and had a few nightcaps. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
We finally took another cab back to the hotel, and we must have hit the sack at about 2am.
It had been a long day.