Sunday 4 December 2016

'Liverpool has a connection with supporters that is unrivalled'

Published 01/06/2015 | 17:33

Liverpool was the venue for the culmination of Carlsberg’s ‘Join The Greats’ Campaign. 20 Irish fans won a VIP trip over to see Liverpool’s home game against QPR and also the once in a lifetime opportunity to #JoinTheGreats and play on the hallowed Anfield turf. Check it out on @Carlsberg on Twitter or under the hashtag #JoinTheGreats
Liverpool was the venue for the culmination of Carlsberg’s ‘Join The Greats’ Campaign. 20 Irish fans won a VIP trip over to see Liverpool’s home game against QPR and also the once in a lifetime opportunity to #JoinTheGreats and play on the hallowed Anfield turf. Check it out on @Carlsberg on Twitter or under the hashtag #JoinTheGreats
Liverpool was the venue for the culmination of Carlsberg’s ‘Join The Greats’ Campaign. 20 Irish fans won a VIP trip over to see Liverpool’s home game against QPR and also the once in a lifetime opportunity to #JoinTheGreats and play on the hallowed Anfield turf. Check it out on @Carlsberg on Twitter or under the hashtag #JoinTheGreats

Standing on Anfield's half way line, I peer around the quiet, almost deserted stadium.

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It's Sunday morning, the day after matchday.

Just hours earlier, the arena erupted after Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard scored the winning goal at the Kop end against Queens Park Rangers.

It was a piece of Liverpool history - Gerrard's final goal on his home turf while wearing  a Liverpool shirt.

I'm in the company of over 80 Liverpool fans from various countries who have been given the unique opportunity by Carlsberg to step on to the pristine Anfield pitch.

Unsurprisingly, it's an experience that leaves many of them overwhelmed.

A sense of awe captures the faces of the competition winners as they receive a team talk in the famous Liverpool dressing rooms from the likes of Dietmar Hamann and Roy Evans.

The privilege of touching that symbolic "This is Anfield" sign before running out onto the pitch will remain etched in their memories forever.

Liverpool was the venue for the culmination of Carlsberg’s ‘Join The Greats’ Campaign. 20 Irish fans won a VIP trip over to see Liverpool’s home game against QPR and also the once in a lifetime opportunity to #JoinTheGreats and play on the hallowed Anfield turf. Check it out on @Carlsberg on Twitter or under the hashtag #JoinTheGreats
Liverpool was the venue for the culmination of Carlsberg’s ‘Join The Greats’ Campaign. 20 Irish fans won a VIP trip over to see Liverpool’s home game against QPR and also the once in a lifetime opportunity to #JoinTheGreats and play on the hallowed Anfield turf. Check it out on @Carlsberg on Twitter or under the hashtag #JoinTheGreats

Taking a penalty against the Kop and having a kick-about with club greats such as John Barnes and John Aldridge will be retold time and time again to their children and grandchildren.

The experience provokes emotion and goosebumps for a group of ordinary Liverpool fans who simply dream of a return to the good old days.

The three day trip kicked off with dinner with several Liverpool legends in the city's stunning cathedral.

Inside, the words "I felt you and I knew I loved you" are spelt out in pink neon lights on the cathedral's wall.

The work is by English artist Tracey Emin and was commissioned to mark Liverpool hosting of the European Capital City of Culture in 2008.

Emin later explained that she wanted to allow people to contemplate love when they visit the Cathedral.

"It's something we just don't have enough time to think about," she says.

A visit to Anfield with 80 Liverpool fans quickly illustrates the love these fans have for their team.

It's played out in the various questions and answers sessions with Liverpool greats such as Phil Neal, Terry McDermott, Alan Kennedy and David Johnson.

These fans are passionate and devoted, but they are also frustrated.

That frustration was palpable just hours later as the team struggled against a QPR side they should have seen off by the time the referee blew the half time whistle.

The atmosphere in the stadium was flat at best. It reflects a season which, once again, was trophy less.

A season which saw defeats at the hands of inferior opponents and multi-million euro summer signings delivering below-par performances.

I have attended many games at Anfield - but this was one that needed a jolt of life, and badly.

That lift came when Steven Gerrard proved his worth once again and illustrated exactly why he has a special place in the hearts of Liverpool fans.

Gerrard later greeted the group, over 20 of whom were Irish, in the stadium's Carlsberg lounge.

It must be said he is a highly affable character face-to-face, grateful to every fan for their unrelenting support.

Visiting Anfield is always a special occasion for Liverpool fans. The club has a connection with supporters that is unrivalled.

As this group of fans headed their separate ways following their Anfield experience, they took a few moments to  remember the club's darkest day. 

The scrawled messages of love, tears and grief provide a reminder for fans of all clubs of one of the greatest horrors that befell the sport.

Above the flowers, scarfs and teddy bears congregating just off Anfield Road sits the most sobering sight of all.

The Hillsborough memorial plague which lists, one by the one, the names and ages of the 96 Liverpool fans who went to cheer on the team they adore and never returned.

From the 10-year-old boy who had dreams of pulling on a Liverpool shirt of his own one day to the pensioner whose death left seven children fatherless.

Liverpool Football Club is going through a dark period on the pitch.

But the events at Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989 underly the unique message that remains the club's trademark: "You'll never Walk alone".

Niall O'Connor is political correspondent with Independent News and Media and is also a Liverpool fan.

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