Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Being a Liverpool FC fan is in the blood.

The following is an extract from a book I am writing which is written by a fan for the fans, and because of this your comments at the end will both be appreciated and will effect the book. It is a very personal journey I am taking people on, but if you love LFC or are a Psychiatrist wanting to understand the mentality of a football fan this might be for you... Please do leave your comments at the end, and please add any anecdotes of your own that illustrate the points I am making. Include your name in Brackets if you are willing for me at include what you add in the book...

Being a Liverpool Fan is in the Blood, not optional... FACT!
By Neil Winnington 

Some things in life are analysed too much, with people claiming to be smarter than us trying to peg a reason for everything we do in life. From our handwriting to relationships, to the cars we drive, we’re told it can all be explained and that our tastes can say a lot about us.

Some things cannot be explained so easily, and our passion for Liverpool Football Club cannot simply be dismissed as tribal. This is no mere local club. There is a history, sentimentality and warmth that has grown and spread around the World.

This is more than a football club, it has taken on a personality of its own. It is bigger than any owner, manager, player or fan. We are all custodians of a living breathing life force which is only as strong as the elements within, and although wounded in recent times it is a force that will grow again because it’s heartbeat on the Kop beats as strongly as it ever did.

This is a book is a personal journey to share my passion and thoughts, which fellow kopites, and even fans of other clubs will understand but will leave those who don’t get it as bemused as ever.

Neil Winnington

Chapter One
It’s in the Blood!

My Grandfather was born a few streets away from the football ground at Anfield in Hartnup Street… No, not merely grew up, he was BORN in that little terraced house, so him supporting Spurs was just not going to happen. His passion for the club was the example I have followed and his pride lives on as I have tried to emulate him.

My father being a Liverpool fan must have helped break the ice on that awkward first meeting when my Mother introduced her boyfriend. I of course wasn’t around at the time, but knowing my Grandfather if Dad had been an Everton supporter or heaven forbid a Man U fan there might not have been a me to write this book.

Skipping a generation, my daughter was a red in every sense, but I’ll come back to my pride and biggest heartache later.

I remember the day I officially became a Liverpool fan. I say officially because it was never in doubt. My Grandad lived with us, and Match of the Day was always a noisy affair with the two men of the house screaming at the black and white TV while I was instructed to be quiet because the football was on.

I must have been young because the black and white TV was gone for most of my formative memories, replaced by a colour TV which had the colour and contrast set to make red VERY red. I was old enough to be talking though, but the rest remains pretty clear in my head, and my Grandfather recounting his recollections proudly to friends, patting me on the head helped make this memory one of those golden moments that stays with you for life.

“If you go in the back room, be quiet,” Mum warned me as I ran through the kitchen, “Your Grandad is watching football!”

I needn’t have worried, Mum was an only child, but reminded me again and again that I was the apple in my Grandad’s eye. The son he’d always wanted. My Brother likewise, but I benefited from arriving first, and that meant I could disturb the football without getting the silent treatment.

I ran into the room. Grandad was sitting in his chair by the door I’d just run through. The TV, a Granada rental TV with four channel buttons (even though only three channels existed), was positioned in the opposite corner and faced directly back to the old man’s throne. Nothing was said by Grandad, choosing to ignore the intrusion until I ran right up to the TV. I wasn’t stupid enough to stand right in front of the screen, I’d been told off often enough to know better, but just standing alongside the box seemed to make him nervous.

“I’m watching the football!” he said with a degree of distress in his voice. I knew that, of course. One of the teams was all grey, the other seemed to be grey and white stripes, but the team in grey were passing the ball among themselves, while the other team seemed to be running around a lot without the ball. Something about that team in grey appealed to me.

“Which team is that?” I asked, my index finger following one of the all grey men across the TV screen, much to the old man’s discomfort.
“Liverpool!” came the irritated reply.
“What colour are they?”
“Red!” replied Grandad, desperate for my hand to leave the screen.
“That’s my favourite colour.” I declared, and the old man smiled, “Which team is that?”
“That’s going to be my team!” I announced, my gaze now fixed on the screen as seriously as the old man’s. I didn’t turn round until after he’d answered my next question, “Which team do you support, Grandad?”

There was a sniff from behind me, and the old man was still clearing his throat when he replied, almost choking the word out.

I turned round to see that huge grin that only I got when I did something spectacularly wonderful that always confused me. Yet there were tears rolling down his cheeks, and he was wiping a tear from beneath his thick black, square NHS glasses. I’d never seen a grown man with tears on his face before, and tears only happened when someone cried, so I ran into the kitchen thinking I’d done something terribly wrong.

“Mum, Mum! Grandad is crying… and smiling, at the same time!”
Mum rushed into the back room and after a brief muffled conversation with a big smile on her face.
“Is Grandad okay?”
“Oh yes, he’s very happy!”

I don’t remember much more from that day, apart from Dad being called into the back room by Grandad when he got in from wherever he’d been. I was stood to attention in the middle of the room by Grandad as he told my Father about the good news, and I remember my Father smiling and both men making a huge fuss of me.

Ok, so it wasn’t an epiphany. It wasn’t an unspoken thing with me being a red from birth. It was always going to be the case that I’d support Liverpool, and it was always going to be the case that I’d be a Liverpool supporter, but I remember the day that I chose to be a Liverpool supporter. I definitely wasn’t brainwashed… Brainwashed? Oh I’ll come to that…

So you might be sitting there thinking this woolly-back, grandson of a proper scouser chose God’s own football team to support because his favourite colour isn’t pink!

It certainly doesn’t prove my argument that being a true red is in the blood. Well I had given my Grandfather that beautiful moment when his pride flowed with the tears down his face. My daughter Emily gave me several!

Emily’s story is one I will touch on from time to time in this book, but what happened to her is a book in its own right that is too painful to relive even now. It must be written, and she must not be forgotten, so for now Google Search Emily’s Song by Sam Blue, and if enough of you want to help you will find the way there.

Emily’s mother is Russian, but I met her in Birkenhead, not on the internet, as even I’d have assumed if someone told me they married a Russian. I don’t really want to bore you with the story that will follow in another book, but by the time her visa had run out and she had to return to Russia we were engaged, living together and she was pregnant with Emily.

I travelled to Pskov in Russia with my pregnant bride to be, and was pretty reliant on her translating for any kind of communication. Some things don’t need translating though, especially football, and Liverpool were on another European run after the miracle in Istanbul.

There was local interest because we were playing CSKA Moscow, and my pregnant bride to be teased me, finding it hilarious that I was getting so wound up, cheering and cursing with the eb and flow of the game as we lay side by side on a double bed watching the game on the TV.

I was confident of victory, but something even more important happened that evening. Stevie G scored a goal, and I let out a loud roar. Then Vika shouted something wonderful that any parent will recognise as special…
“She just kicked me!”

Yep, my daughter Emily chose that very moment to kick for the first time! I briefly thought of that moment with granddad, but this was a million times better, because here was proof beyond doubt that Emily would be a Liverpool fan. It was in the blood and I was the happiest man alive! Vika tried to reason that it was my cheering that earned the kick, and how could I be so sure Emily wasn’t a CSKA Moscow fan anyway? Don’t be stupid, woman!

In fact regardless of how horribly wrong it all went with her mother, Emily just got better and more wonderful and more precious, so much so that I counted the minutes at work, just wanting to get home to my little girl. Which is just as well, because no matter how tired I was upon getting home my wife would leave Emily with me and retreat upstairs to chat on skype or on the phone with the bastard soldier who’d broken up our marriage to sate his ongoing appetite for married women.

Our marriage had been miserable for me for a long time. I was too old, stupid, fat and ugly for so long that I was numbed to the insults, but I would do anything to save that miserable marriage for Emily, because I knew her mother could only stay in the UK as long as she stayed married to me, and I would take a lifetime of misery to protect Emily and make her little World perfect.

She was the most joyous little two year old a father could hope for, and she would sit happily on the sofa with me getting excited with her Daddy, even if she didn’t quite understand why… Even I’d concede that last point.

It was on such an occasion that Emily and I were watching yet another European night with Liverpool playing at Anfield. Once again Daddy was getting excited and Emily was jumping up and down on the sofa alongside me. Enter the dragon… in a foul mood as it happened, who launched into a tirade against me.
“What’s this doing on TV?” she demanded, “You can’t watch football with her. She’s a little girl!”

Well done for noticing, I thought, before insisting the happy dancing little girl alongside me was enjoying the match and was a Liverpool supporter just like I am! This obviously struck a nerve, because an obviously well rehearsed speech taking me back to that night in Russia when, for all I knew my shouting had disturbed the unborn Emily, or that she had in fact been a CSKA Moscow supporter kicking with disgust and showing her true Russian roots.

How stupid, but before I could respond a little voice by the TV won the argument for me. With the TV crew focusing their cameras and microphones on the Kop, my little daughter was copying the fans on TV holding an invisible scarf above her head and waving it side to side while singing “Ivervoo… IVERVOO!” bringing a tear to my eyes, and even forcing the ice queen to smile and concede the point before sitting on the other end of the sofa. Emily hopped up between us and hooked her arms around both our necks, trying to pull us together. Without words she had said what she wanted, the ice queen declared she was cute. I burst into tears.

Now I ask the most hardened fan to deny after that being a Liverpool fan is in the blood.

Emily gave my father many proud Grandad moments, but the one that sticks in my mind most I didn’t even witness. As any right minded Dad would do to his young apprentice… er, daughter I would teach Emily the things she needed to know, especially as Wrexham, where we lived seemed to be full of Manchester United fans…

I need to digress slightly at this point. Aside from Mickey Thomas, why the HELL are people in North Wales predominantly Man U fans when geographically Liverpool is closer??? Worse still they are the kind of angry nasty fans who spit hatred and bile at everyone who isn’t afflicted with their sickness!!!


I taught Emily, who was still barely speaking to show any nasty Man U fan brat of a kid the palm of her hand while proudly saying “Five times!”

Now Emily was as cute as cute got, with chipmunk cheeks and a smile that could melt the coldest heart. Mum and Dad were having Emily stay with them for a weekend to give her a break from the frost and hatred at home and to give me a break. They decided to visit our relatives who live in a farm on the outskirts of Macclesfield. These were relatives we’ve always been close to, and die hard Man U fans, which is forgivable because they at least live within a reasonable distance of the place.

My uncle Jonathon was the most vociferous Man U fan of them all, so a certain amount of good humoured banter would be exchanged, and by 2007-8 a sickening air of superiority was added to make it worse.

Knowing that they were taking Emily there, I made a point of getting Emily to show her Grandad “five times!” which made his face light up, and that was enough for Emily to know she was doing something very special and very right.

Apparently my Uncle Jonathon was introduced to Emily and thought she was a very nice little girl… then Dad whispered in her ear and she thrust her palm up facing her newly introduced relative and said more clearly than ever “FIVE TIMES!”

Apparently Dad was almost crying with a mixture of laughter and pride, and even Uncle Jonathon had a little smile before shaking his head and saying “Tell Neil he’s teaching his daughter some very bad habits!”

Emily loved attention, and loved to milk a crowd, so she would follow Uncle Jonathon around repeating “five times!” much to everyone’s amusement.

Like I said though… It’s in the blood!

Chapter Two
To Walk on Hallowed Ground and Stand Among Gods!

Any player weighing up an offer to play for Liverpool against an offer from a “bigger” club… Or a player who has just signed for Liverpool, and is only vaguely aware of our history, I urge you to read this chapter. For to understand the contents of these pages may well change you from being a player to becoming a legend!

I may not have grown up in the shadow of Anfield like my grandfather, but I did grow up in the 1970’s when Liverpool were not just the kings of the old First Division, but we were the kings of Europe, and half the team that did that had a scouse accent. Even when Jan Molby came from a village called Denmark HE learned to speak proper scouse!

The point was we did have early computer games and other toys, but we didn’t dream of fame coming from Big Brother’s house, but from donning the greatest kit ever devised by man and walking onto Anfield as a player.

Now non of us dared risk the ridicule of our peers to say it as anything more than a joking reference, but the obvious route to becoming a Liverpool player was to be outdoors playing the game because those scouts for Liverpool football club could turn up at any time to spot the kid who was playing a blinder and take him on the inevitable path that would lead to scoring the goal that would win the league, in front of the Kop, who would worship you for the rest of your life and chalk you up as a legend.

I’m pretty sure the 13th Bebington, the scouts group in Bromborough, where I grew up got a few members because someone had heard that scouts took kids to Anfield and they became gods, but they also had a football team which played on the Plymyard playing fields and the REAL scouts might be that bloke who always seemed to be standing there watching all the young boys playing football.

Nowadays that Liverpool scout would be carted off and end up on some register or other, but back then everyone knew he was probably sent personally by Bob Paisley to find the new strike partner for Kenny Dalglish, who’d hand over the number seven shirt out of admiration for the amazing talent he would see on that debut game.

Not all of us got to play on Plymyard, but I lived, as it happened, next door to Bromborough Secondary School, and back in the days when the most valuable thing on a school’s premises was the cane, a single pocket calculator and lead on the roof, the gates were left open and both the strips of grass on the front and the playing fields at the back were echoing to the sound of kids all playing at Anfield, and all expecting a scout from Mr Paisley to pluck us from obscurity.

It turns out that the council who closed the school not long after I left are now going to turn my old school into a housing estate, assuming that we the people who’d still care what happens to our old school will not care anymore. They’ll also moan about youths in hoodies hanging around on street corners menacingly reaching into the depths of their pockets and moaning about everybody hating them. I’m afraid we, the old gits, do hate you, but only because you possess the youth we squandered, and to be fair we had it easier because we were allowed to play on school grounds without people assuming we were all thieving scum!

…I digressed a bit didn’t I?

…So how much does it mean to a kid from Merseyside to become a Liverpool player? Well I can only speak for the kids back then, and it meant everything. If you had a team full of scousers playing for Liverpool they’d be paying the club for the privilege and would give every last breath and sinew to win the game. We would give everything and run ourselves into the ground, without knowing defeat until the referee blew that final whistle.

Their strikers would not pass a scouser in defence, who would stick his body on the line to keep the ball from our net. Ask Jamie Carragher, the ball wouldn’t be beyond saving until it was all the way across the line, and having robbed the striker of the ball, our scouser would stroke the ball up to Stevie G to do his magic.

Ok so this is ninety percent emotional and doubtful to say the least on the skill front, but then what would we want more from our players, incredible ability, but lack of application, or someone who spits blood, runs themselves into the ground and gives everything… Er tough one. Ideally we’d have a skilful player who also gives everything, but when push comes to shove and our manager made a bit of a cock up on his virtual football game and the chairman wondered in, picked up the piece of paper with a name circled I think we’d rather have an over enthusiastic clod than some primadonna who thinks they are more important than the team. No brainer really.

Of course to every individual kid playing on waste ground, or in my case on that strip of grass at the front of the old school, on our day we were as good as anyone, even those of us who weren’t…

…I got better and better as time went on. A genuine late developer I developed a knack for judging the stride of an on-coming player and sticking a leg in to nick the ball cleanly. I wasn’t too bad as a shot stopper too, but my best trick was judging a long pass to land perfectly to match the stride of one of my players… but all this came late, and once you have a reputation for being crap, it sticks!

…None of us were good enough, of course, but that just made it even more important to get noticed, or to be part of a game where someone you knew got spotted and called up to do a trial at Liverpool.

You see knowing how much that shirt, that ground, and the team means to someone local you know damn well that they’ll give at least 50% more than a bought in player. Some players quickly cotton on to this and become Gods because they share our passion. A little Scottish kid called Kenny lived and breathed LFC and we loved him for it, so that’s an examples of the outsiders who become part of our family and Kenny Dalglish will be worshipped for the rest of his life and beyond…

Then there are players who SHOULD be gods but don’t quite get it. I give you two contrasting examples, both local lads, both brilliant strikers, both could do no wrong in our eyes when they played for us, but one remains a god… Robbie Fowler, and the other says he feels hurt that the Liverpool fans haven’t taken him to our hearts given what he did for us… Michael Owen.

Robbie had all the enthusiasm of a Yorkshire terrier, speed, and an instinct for goal that made him a legend in his teens, but for three or four seasons he terrified defences and scored goals in matches that have become part of the legendary annals of victories past… Beating Newcastle 4-3 in a season when both teams were in the hunt to break their long years of pain waiting to win the league…

When Robbie left us he remained a red to the core. He gave everything to his new teams, like Manchester City, but everyone knew that his heart was in Liverpool, and even his goal celebrations had reference to Liverpool, holding four fingers up to United fans when, at the time we had won the European title four times and that great night in Istanbul was yet to happen…

In essence Robbie Fowler will be a god to the day he dies, because we all know that the club is everything to him. We know the shirt means more to him than anything, and we know coming short in the league hurt him even more than it hurt the rest of us, because he’d been there AND he’d given everything he had. THAT is what a player thinking of coming to Liverpool needs to understand. Give as much as Robbie and Kenny emotionally and we will forgive almost anything!

Michael Owen’s record for Liverpool in terms of goals and results stands comparison with everything Robbie Fowler achieved. He was arguably the only thing saving us from embarrassment for a couple of seasons, with his goals and Stevie G being the two vital ingredients that kept us in contention. In terms of record Michael Owen will always be right up there as one of the greats, but he never found a home in our hearts in the way Robbie did.

So where did it all go wrong for Michael Owen with some of the fans that has led to him to comment that he is disappointed with the sentiments of some fans toward him… Was it going to Real Madrid? Well no. I for one wouldn’t begrudge him that. He had given us his best years, and if you’re going to leave us at all, go to a big European club.

He then went to Newcastle United, who are perhaps spiritually the closest club in England to Liverpool with the passion of the Geordies matching ours for our club, and Kevin Keegan, another great player who seems to play down his Liverpool past (strangely) went there, so no, if you go to Newcastle in the twilight of your career, kudos and respect to you, Sir.

No, in the very, very twilight of his career he joined the old enemy Manchester United… Now let me upset some of my own fans now. Chanting vitriol over Munich is simply sick! That was a tragedy just as tragic as Haysel and Hillsborough. There are times when rivalry should be put aside and football fans stand side by side, but that aside you do not go to your biggest rivals. Sir Alex understood that when he blocked his players from coming to us.

David Beckham was the perfect United fan, complete with his squeaky cockney accent, and he became a legend by being quite good at crossing the ball and taking free kicks. Jolly good for him! He too left the club he had grown up playing for, who had nurtured him and developed his talent for advertising tattoo parlours and a penchant for giving his children strange names, but when he went to Madrid he made it clear he would always Love Manchester United to the day he died, and could never contemplate playing for another English club… Deluded he might be, but you have to grudgingly admire his loyalty. Yes he went on to play for clubs in several countries, and he is, if I’m honest, a very nice chap, but he lives and breaths for the club he loves, and anything else for him is never quite going to mean the same…

Fast forward to the end of the 2012-13 season when five people who had made a significant contribution to football retired.

Sir Alex Fergie chew chew Ferguson we have to give credit to. If we analyse what he did best at Manchester United he assessed what we had done from Shankly to Paisley and on to Kenny’s double winning side, he mixed the best young players from elsewhere to young talent nurtured from local lads with a passion for the club. He developed a system and a pride, and he gave them an ethic where they never knew defeat. They would intimidate other teams before they even got on the pitch, and he took it a step further with Roy Keene leading his mob to scare the bejeesus out of any match official who dared to make a decision they didn’t like. It may have gone a bit too far. One rule for them, and especially in the case of Cantona, but another for anybody else… But Manchester United today are doing what we used to do. Everybody hated us, but they admired what we did… and much as he hated us, or seemed to, you have to look at his record at Aberdeen and Manchester United and admire what he did… Sorry, but if you’re going to hate me for being open minded you’re no better than Gary Neville.

At the same time old red nose, and Paul Scholes left Manchester United, Jamie Carragher left Liverpool and retired from playing (Like Scholes) for the same club throughout his career. He had cleared the ball from the line to keep us in a European run, had lifted the Champions League cup, UEFA cup FA cup and lived and breathed Liverpool football club. He never gave up until the last whistle, and he never wanted to leave because nothing else could matter more than playing for Liverpool. When Kenny Dalglish was brought back as manager for the second coming Carra went out and bought video tapes of the glory days when King Kenny played for the club to show the young players just how important Kenny Dalglish is. Why it means so much to the fans and club… Why he is a legend. Carra knew this. He understood it. That is what sets him apart from Michael Owen, who declared his retirement as a professional bench warmer at the end of the 2012-13 season, as did David Beckham, but I’ve given him enough space in here, and the point about the tattoo’d one was made.

An interview with Michael Owen about the retirement of Alex Ferguson really hit the nail on the head as to why he didn’t have the same admiration as Jamie Carragher from the Liverpool fans.
“I felt privileged to play for him” at… “the biggest football club in the World” and “the greatest manager there had ever been!”
It might not have been an accurate transcript of his interview, but those phrases in quotation marks were definitely in there, and this was an interview a few weeks after he had done another one and declared himself disappointed that Liverpool fans didn’t appreciate him as much as he felt they should have!

Now I personally like Michael Owen. I think he was a brilliant player, with pace to burn off and scare any defence, but at the same time he didn’t live and breath Liverpool and he went to the one club no true Liverpool man could really contemplate going, and having done that declared Sir Alex the greatest manager of all time, and Manchester United the biggest club in the world! I’m sorry Michael, you may be a thoroughly nice chap, but you just don’t get it if you don’t understand how deeply that cuts some of our most dedicated fans, who as you read this are burning their copies of my book because I had the gaul to say nice things about Becks and Fergie, so if I’m up the proverbial without a means of progress you, my friend have been marked up as an even bigger traitor to the extreme minority, and neither of us will escape unscathed so far as our reputations are concerned. Mine doesn’t matter because I am a nobody and no-one significant will probably ever read this, but you really must know deep down why you hurt some Liverpool fans. Don’t you?

…I digressed again. I have a question for all those bemoaning the lack of local players in the Liverpool squad. Where can our kids play any more? Ball games are banned from all the places we used to put our sweaters down, and even if the kids could go out and play, how can we have let things go so far that the kids would rather play games rather than go out and play football in the terraced streets and side roads like we used to?

…and to the club, if we do our side of the bargain and get our kids out there playing to get noticed, will you get your scouts to get out there and spot the local talent? I KNOW it was never like that, even back in the day, but passion is everything, and if you want to be great again some local passion has to be in there.

To everybody I’ll mention this, as a parting thought about passion to play the game. I have walked on Copacabana beach in Rio De Janeiro, which is not an idle boast, but a prelude to a point, because I wasn’t there as a tourist. I saw rich kids, and poor kids, on Copacabana playing beach volleyball…with their feet! The skills were simply breathtaking. I remembered me and the other kids who thought we were ok back in the day and imagined these guys taking us on at this game, and we’d have been annihilated!

So will some rich bloke buy the school next door to my Dad’s old house and set up the playing fields, running track and football pitches over to a community youth scheme tied up with Liverpool FC and set up similar schemes across Merseyside, it’ll cost a fraction of the wages bill QPR paid payers who didn’t do a shift and got them relegated, but will bring benefits both to community health and our beloved football team in years to come… and while you’re at it, put in a massive sand pit and let’s give our kids a chance to get some of the amazing ball skills I saw both on the beach and in the slums of Rio.  

Please leave comments both positive and negative about these two chapters... I value your feedback...

Please also check out my Amazon Authors page

And if you're stuck what to get him for Fathers Day why not buy this and give him a laugh...
Religious Pursuits
By Neil Winnington
A sleepy Devon Village is turned upside down when an accident leads to the police, paperazzi and even the army descending on the village, and there are people here with secrets they'd rather didn't get out!

Also available in paperback from Amazon.

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