Thursday 19 September 2019

Ros Dee: 'Liverpool and its football magic are forever tied to these shores'

'Whatever it is, this week, with the club's momentous European win, and as they now hope beyond hope to also bag the Premier League this weekend, Liverpool - club, city and people - seems to belong to all of us.' Photo: Getty Images
'Whatever it is, this week, with the club's momentous European win, and as they now hope beyond hope to also bag the Premier League this weekend, Liverpool - club, city and people - seems to belong to all of us.' Photo: Getty Images

Ros Dee

Liverpool, August 13, 1966. It's a Saturday afternoon and I'm with my father in Goodison Park, home to Everton Football Club. We're here for the Charity Shield match - that season's First Division league winners against the FA Cup champions. King-of-the-castle stuff.

Everton are the cup holders and arch rivals Liverpool - their hallowed ground of Anfield just a stroll from Goodison - are reigning league champions.

I am nine years old and a tiny figure in the crowd alongside my father, a life-long Everton supporter.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

What do I remember about the match?

The World Cup being paraded by Alan Ball and Roger Hunt, both players on the winning English team that summer - yes, I remember that. That I had a raging toothache. I remember that too. That Liverpool won 1-0. Yes, I just about recall the result.

But most of all I remember a particular man. Who on Earth is he, stomping up and down the touchline, shouting, pacing, living every moment with the Liverpool players?

"Who's that, Daddy?" I ask.

"That's no mere man," explains my father in surprisingly respectful tones, "that's Bill Shankly."

Shankly - Scotsman, socialist, old-fashioned right-half. And football manager. Before we called it soccer. Before the prawn sandwiches, the Armani suits, and the millionaire lifestyles.

The name stuck with me.

And when I went home across the Irish Sea that night, it wasn't the players - even the legendary Ian St John - that I was thinking about. It was Bill Shankly.

And so my Anfield love affair began.

A love affair that's shared, of course, by so many people on this island. Why?

Well, with 75pc of Liverpudlians claiming Irish heritage, with the city's modern Catholic cathedral long dubbed 'Paddy's wigwam', and with even the name of Anfield said to originate from the townland of Annefield in Wexford, Ireland and Liverpool will always be inextricably linked.

Which is partly why, when it later came to my college of choice, I pitched up at the University of Liverpool in the autumn of 1975.

Shankly, my hero, had just gone. He resigned, suddenly, the year before.

I'd written to him when I was 14. He didn't reply immediately, so my mother (yes, my mother) wrote again, telling him what the club meant to me - the posters on my bedroom walls, my encyclopedic memory for results and transfers, how much I adored the floppy-haired Alun (with that distinctive 'u') Evans.

Soon after, a letter arrived. The red liver bird crest on the envelope. "Dear Roslyn", it began. "Best wishes, Bill Shankly", it ended. Gold-dust through the letter-box.

And now here I was, a student in my city of dreams. And, boy, did it live up to expectation. The Kop became my Mecca. The players my heroes - Steve Heighway, Kevin Keegan, Ray Clemence, Phil Thompson... And through all the highs, and all the lows, I stuck with them. For better or for worse.

And it didn't come much better than the glory days of the 1980s.

Until, of course, 1989 brought the horror of Hillsborough when 96 fans perished on that dreadful April afternoon. I recall sitting in my flat in Dublin that day, my baby son on my lap, transfixed in front of the television as disaster unfolded on the pitch in Sheffield.

Just as Liverpool fans sat transfixed last Tuesday night, full of joy this time, as they watched the miracle of Merseyside play out against Barcelona.

"My nerves are shot," I texted to my son at one stage. He knew exactly what I meant. And he's a Manchester United supporter.

So maybe it's that Irish thing again, with those ties that bind us to that city on the Mersey. Whatever it is, this week, with the club's momentous European win, and as they now hope beyond hope to also bag the Premier League this weekend, Liverpool - club, city and people - seems to belong to all of us.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss