When I think back now – its kind of like, yes I’ve been to Anfield, I went there to watch Liverpool v. Tottenham Hotspur, and it was 12 years ago and now that I’ve done that I can tick it off without any real need to visit Anfield again. Anfield is the home of the world famous Liverpool Football Club, which was actually the first club team I chose to support. I think it was around 1986 when Paul McCoubrey at Kilmaine Primary School supported them and up to then I just liked Northern Ireland and Glentoran and didn’t really have an English club team. Although I did kind of follow them, I never really got into them, and indeed when I went to “Norman Whiteside’s Soccer School” I needed a football shirt. The Northern Ireland one my Dad had didn’t fit me (though I used to wear it anyway with white shorts and pretend to do Whitesides in the back yard) so they took me to Lifestyle Sports in Bangor and bought me a Rangers FC tap, which I loved. It was the squared one, and had “McEwans Lager” as the sponsor. I loved it, but they soon replaced it with a Manchester United tap for some reason. At the time wearing a Rangers shirt in Northern Ireland would have limited the places I could go anyway, but the Man United tap they bought me, I wore it ONCE and then refused to wear it. I hate Man United and I couldn’t think why my Dad bought me it! Instead I started watching Tottenham Hotspur, who my Dad supported anyway, and I got into them with Paul Walsh, Paul Stewart, Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker. Over the next few years they became my team to follow before moving to Bournemouth. I couldn’t have classed myself as a Tottenham Hotspur supporter, as in my life I’ve only been to about 7 or 8 matches (while my attendance at AFC Bournemouth is over 150, Glentoran is over 200, Northern Ireland is over 120) though I did watch Spurs results and matches each week. Liverpool, Manchester United, Spurs, Man City and Wimbledon all tried to be my team of choice and all failed, I finally settled for AFC Bournemouth and never looked back.
I had been to four Tottenham home matches at White Hart Lane 1993 – 1995, and then the opportunity came to attend an away match. In 1996 we never really left Northern Ireland that much, but this was one we couldn’t turn down. My cousin Gary was (and still is) a massive Tottenham Hotspur fan and he was also in a local Boys Brigade (his being in the Cregagh area of East Belfast). Boys Brigade were big on football, and also organised coach trips to football matches “across the water”). The BB I attended usually did Ibrox trips (which I’ll definitely recount again sometime soon) to watch Rangers, but Gary’s BB had chosen to attend the Liverpool v. Tottenham Premier League match on Saturday 3rd February 1996. The idea was always to fill the coaches full for these trips, and though I wasn’t in the same BB, my Dad got in touch with Clive from Gary’s BB to ask if me, Dad and my brother Marko could join in the trip. Immediately we were told we could! I was just 15, so didn’t have a job and my Dad paid for the trip (thanks Dad) though I used pocket money on the trip to fund myself! I’m sure the cost was a bulk package and probably cost between £100 – 200. I really don’t know the exact amount, and I cannot remember.
It was all very well organised. My Dad had parked his car at either Gary’s house or Belfast harbour as we met up with the others in the BB at Belfast harbour for the boat. It was the Friday night ferry boat from Belfast – Stranraer. The sailings would take about 3 and a half hours, on the Stena Line boat (this was previously the Sealink Larne – Stranraer route). The boat was the Stena Caledonia, formerly the St. David and on board the boat we had our Friday night feed and chilled out in the lounge. I didn’t even drink alcohol much then as I was 15, but we sat in the bar and Dad had a pint, letting me have a shandy. Brother Marko was there as well, and for us three it would be the first Tottenham away match we had went to. All the BB boys were all over the boat in different parts, I didn’t spend the whole journey with Dad and Marko, sometimes I was with Gary and his mate Alan. It was also on the boat that Dad met Jackie Patterson (one of the BB officers) whom my Dad had known from years before and his time growing up in what was a rough East Belfast. Dad enjoyed chats with Jackie, probably reminiscinces and I bet he hasn’t seen Jackie again since this trip, such as is the way with life.
I was still at school at the time and seem to recall getting the Friday off, or at least a half day, even though the bus and ferry journey wasn’t until early evening. The boat journey went fast and also on board I called into the shop, and bought a disposable camera, what an inspiration that was as otherwise I’d have no photos to remember the trip by. Those photos survive on this blog entry today, even though they aren’t great and miss out key parts of the actual trip. They at least serve their purpose, and for something like £3.99 it was surely a February bargain. I didn’t start the film until we actually got to the gates of Anfield, however there was much more in store for us on the way…
The Stena Caledonia must have sailed us into Scottish Stranraer around 10 pm (again I cannot be sure) and from there we got back on board our coach, which was comfy, spacious and had room for about 50 odd. I don’t recall any spare seats on board and it was mainly BB boys aged 12 – 16, with some officers and parents. I sat with Marko on the bus, with Gary and Alan nearby and Dad sat with Jackie Patterson. The bus would drive us through the night into northern England and sleep would be at your own discretion. I didn’t really need any. 15 year olds have an abundance of energy!
The bus journey was very pleasant – the craic was good and although you weren’t supposed to have beer or alcohol, a few lads had their own carryouts near the back of the bus. I didn’t sleep and we had the music pumping on the bus. Back in early 1996 the main channel was “Long Wave Radio – Atlantic 252” (there’s a “blast from the past” – whatever happened to that radio station?). We had that station on the whole way and we sang along to quite a lot of the tunes, I can vividly recall the Dubstar song, “I’m Not So Manic Now.” The vocal on that song is amazing, a girl called Sarah Blackwood who is quite attractive, lines such as “the winds whistling”, “my minds twisting” and “I was making myself the usual cup of tea when the doorbell strangely rang” echoed through the Belfast party bus as we drifted into south Scottish wilderness and the older folk amongst us fell asleep. Petrol stops were good banter, we’d grab the odd Burger King or Little Chef on the way, while I recall also having an Oasis magazine and a football magazine for reading on the bus. Oasis were massive in them days. Up to now I forgot to mention that the trip included a visit to Manchester on the way to please all the Manchester United fans, a guided tour of Old Trafford was guaranteed on the Saturday morning at 9 am.
We’d been up all night on the bus listening to the following tunes as I remember (12 years on…):
Oasis – Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back In Anger
Pulp – Disco 2000
Blur – The Universal
Cast – Sandstorm
Babylon Zoo – Spaceman
T3 – Anything
Robert Miles – Childern [sic]
Eternal – I Am Blessed
It was good to listen to such a range of tunes on board the bus and as morning arrived we hit a bit of rush hour traffic as we approached Manchester. Most of the people on the trip were Liverpool fans, with some Manchester United fans and some Spurs fans. There were even some fans of other teams on the bus, who had come along anyway, well the chance to see Old Trafford and Anfield, two famous grounds in one day was quite something.
It was the first time I’d ever been to Manchester, and the city looked big to me, I was surprised at the trams there, as my Granda had told me of the trams and trolleybus days in Belfast – my Granda Sam was a bus driver. We neared Old Trafford and although I hated Manchester United we were getting a guided tour of the stadium as part of the weekend trip. I didn’t take any photos for some reason during this bit! Even though we got to go pitchside, in the corner where the teams come out and were given a full guide around “the theatre of dreams” (God only knows why its been nicknamed that!) At the time Manchester United were favourites for the league and cup (which they won), but the previous season they had failed in both and came second, losing the Premier League on the final day to Blackburn Rovers and the final of the FA Cup to a Paul Rideout goal in a 1-0 win for unfancied Everton. The stadium tour took us up to the museum as well. In there Dad and I looked out for George Best and Norman Whiteside memories, photos and souvenirs, which we found a few as the tour guide walked us round. I do remember thinking “what a great stadium” but also on part of me thought “I’d rather stand in the pissing rain watching Glentoran in a stand that’s about to collapse”, some justification is required on why you would support a club with so much money anyway! During the tour any time the guide asked “is there are questions?”, a few guys always shouted out “yeah mate, wheres the FA Cup?!” or “yeah mate wheres the premier league trophy?!”, which was crackin banter and the tour guide was left speechless. Typical Belfast sarcasm. Don’t choose a sense of humour from anywhere else!
After the guided tour, we called into the Manchester United Superstore. I bought something in there as a souvenir, possibly a Man United tin of Cola or a match programme, I often do that even at teams I don’t like, as above all I’m a football fan, and Manchester United is an undoubted part of football history. After that it was back onto the party coach, where we had plenty of time to kill before the trip to Anfield and the big match. This meant lunch and a quick dander round the city centre of Manchester, another first for me. The coach parked somewhere convenient and we slipped out into the Pedestrian Precinct where I browsed Oasis CDs in Virgin Megastores. I didn’t buy any that day, even though I was at the time collecting all of Oasis back catalogues, I remember Gary bought an Oasis CD – if my memory is any good it was the “Shakermaker” single, if not I’m mistaken. After Virgin Megastores, we headed into the Arndale Centre which is massive.
I can’t remember what lunch was or where we had it, but it was somewhere near the Arndale Centre, before we headed back to the coach, due to drive to Liverpool. The match, obviously was a 3 pm kick off, none of this 12.45 or 5.15 shit we have nowadays due to the commercial impact of SKY Sports and Setanta Sports. In those days there was only 1 or 2 televised matches a week, normally 1 Sunday at 4pm and 1 Monday at 8 pm, the rest of the matches were ALL at 3 pm on Saturday. That’s the way it should be. The bus trip from Manchester to Liverpool was very unmemorable and I don’t recall any particular incident! Soon we were parked up in side streets of terraced housing, which totally reminded me of those near Glentoran’s Oval, except this was Liverpool, and we were close to Anfield. We had parked very close to the stadium, less than 10 minute walk and the roads and streets were jammed with cars. Of course in them days there was the running joke that cars parked in Liverpool were always nicked or at the very least a stereo stolen. It was less likely that our party coach would be nicked – for one the driver stayed on board while we went to the match.
We got out of the coach and walked together to the famous gates of Anfield. We posed for some photos there, taken by my Dad. Luckily one of these photos came out, and survives on here – the photo is of me with a dodgy Spurs hat and scarf, Marko with his Spurs scarf and accompanied by Clive (the leader of Gary’s BB – the 25th Belfast I think) and Jackie Patterson. Its a great wee photo and one to serve my memory looking back. We mingled there for a while, some of the guys bought scarves, I bought a few programmes for mates back home (I think Jordie McCluskey and Colin Palmer – both Liverpool fans from my school classes at Bangor Grammar – both wanted programmes). The pre match banter was class. The place was buzzing, and we were all seated in the Liverpool End, The Centenary Upper Tier section CE8. The match ticket on the day was only £16 – a bargain in those days to watch a Premiership match. Nowadays you’re talking £40 odd for the same seat in the same fixture. Amazing what difference 12 years makes.
We got in early to get our seats admire the stadium, soak in the pre match atmosphere and get ready! The famous Kop stand was to our left. Gary, Marko and I all wore Tottenham Hotspur FC scarves with no problems whatsoever in the home end. I think this is because we were part of a youth group and most of us were Liverpool anyway. On the bus down we had all done a sweepstake for first goal scorer and time of goal. I had had a dream a few nights before and it was so vivid it had to be real – in my dream Teddy Sheringham scored a second minute penalty in the match and Tottenham won 1-0, so I went for that for the sake of £1. Liverpool were big favourites, though the previous three matches between the sides had seen no Liverpool wins, with a 1-1 draw at Anfield, a 0-0 at White Hart Lane, and clinically a 2-1 win for Tottenham at Anfield, a year before in a FA Cup Quarter Final, a match where German Jurgen Klinsmann jinked in behind the Liverpool defence in the last minute (at the Kop End) to send Spurs through to the Semi Final.
We were all set for the match. In the programme the 1st Bangor Liverpool Supporters Club also got a mention although we didn’t meet any of the lads from it. There were 50 of us from Belfast up high in the stand, and me Gary, my Dad and Marko formed our own mini “Spurs end.” It was bright for kick off, but as the photos show, the sky light faded as the match got underway. Tottenham started as the better team on the pitch, with Chris Armstrong making impressive runs down towards the Liverpool Kop End. In the second minute he went down in the box. “PENALTY!” I shouted…in a vain attempt for my dream to have turned out right, of course Armstrong simply fell over, it was no penalty and the third minute arrived and it was still 0-0. I hadn’t won the bet, but we were hopeful of a Tottenham win. Even our right back and left back (often the subject of criticism) Dean Austin and Justin Edinburgh were both playing out of their skins. Stopping every Liverpool wing attack in the McManaman and Fowler era at Anfield. Half time arrived and it was still 0-0. Both teams had done OK, with no real cutting edge.
It was such a great afternoon and is a fantastic memory to relive now, having to dig out memories from my brain which I thought had gone…anyhow the second half didn’t actually offer too much, but as time went on, a 0-0 was always a better result for Tottenham at the Anfield Fortress than it would be for the Reds. And “we” hung on for it. Dean Austin had an inspired second half, as did most of our defence and Erik Thorstvedt in nets. In front of a packed Kop and 40,000 fans, the match finished 0-0. It was a great 0-0, end to end, with both teams being defensively very strong and robust. It was my first English League match as an away fan and my only ever match supporting Tottenham away from White Hart Lane. As the crowds dispersed over a bleak Anfield, we were tired and boarded the coach with no bother. It took a wee while to get out of Liverpool that night due to traffic, and the trip to Stranraer in Scotland was a sleepy one, I don’t remember it. The trip back to Northern Ireland on the “Stena Antrim” was quite the same. I was there, but I don;t recall any details. Maybe Gary, Marko and my Dad will. Maybe it didn’t matter. We had all had an enjoyable weekend, getting back late on the Sunday before bed time and a Monday morning English lesson reminded me of life’s madness all over again. That was Anfield and I’ve done it.
Match – Liverpool 0-0 Tottenham Hotspur
League – Barclays Premiership
Date – Saturday 3rd February 1996
Attendance – 40,628
Who Went – Jonny Blair, Marko Blair, Joe Blair, Gary McCullough, Alan Cowan, Jackie Patterson, Clive and many many more lads from the Cregagh Road 25th Belfast Boys Brigade
Countries done – Northern Ireland, Scotland, England
Places done – Belfast, Stranraer, Manchester, Liverpool
Stadiums visited – Anfield, Old Trafford
News that weekend –
B.B. King guest starred on CBS-TV’s “Touched by an Angel”
Spurs got a 0-0 draw at Anfield
Songs that were out then – Babylon Zoo – Spaceman, Robert Miles – Childern [sic]
Favourite memory – Being with cousin Gary at a proper Tottenham Hotspur match for the only time in my history. I later returned to Anfield in 2015 as an AFC Bournemouth supporter in the away end. I have also since seen AFC Bournemouth play Spurs (twice) and Liverpool at Dean Court.
Thanks to – Joe Blair, Gary McCullough, Marko Blair and all organisers at 25th Belfast Boys Brigade.