Football: The departing of Liverpool's red sea: Jon Culley sees an emotional Anfield pay its last respects to the Kop

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE supporters of Liverpool, who have shed many tears in the name of football by their association with the tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough, welled up with emotion once again yesterday at a farewell party that lasted long after the end of a 1-0 defeat by Norwich City which seemed of little consequence.

A full house of 44,389 came to pay their last respects to a section of Anfield terracing that began life in 1906 as the Oakfield Road Embankment, was renamed the Spion Kop to honour the dead of a Boer War battle and grew to make its reputation as the most famous and proud of all the 'ends' which committed fans mark out as their own.

Architecturally, the Kop is an unremarkable structure; its concrete steps are set in a gentle incline, rising much less sharply than is the modern fashion. Its occupants have never, in truth, had much of a view, particularly from the back with the pitch more than one hundred ranks below. No matter. Beneath its red pillars, those of a romantic inclination say, resides the soul of the club.

Tomorrow, the demolition crews move in to clear the way for the all-seater stand that the recommendations framed after Hillsborough insist must replace it. The concrete and corrugated iron will be pulled down, the bank of cinders on which it is built bulldozed. Ashes to ashes.

But yesterday, pleasingly, was marked with celebration rather than a requiem, a commemoration of great names and great days during Liverpool's three decades of unparalleled success. In the preliminaries, a succession of players of Liverpool legend were beckoned on to the field, from Albert Stubbins and Billy Liddell through Ian Callaghan and Tommy Smith to Kenny Dalglish, to whom yesterday's Kop dedicated the most thunderous welcome.

Then they sang out the name of Shankly, in whose era their own legend was truly born, when Internazionale of Milan, fearfully intimidated by the seething, surging mass of humanity that confronted them, fell an early goal behind in a European tie in 1965, and Shanks declared that the Kop 'had sucked the ball into the net for us'. Without the need for formal prompting, the rest of Anfield fell silent as the Kop honoured his memory.

And next, Gerry Marsden, microphone in hand, strode towards them to lead the last impassioned rendition of the Rogers and Hammerstein song they made their anthem. The Kop do not croon, of course, and Marsden obligingly upped his tempo to match theirs as they belted out the words of 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

It was as well the Kop had its heroic past to chant about as the present generation scurried about their disjointed business. Norwich, winners only once in 18 previous starts, led after 35 minutes when Jeremy Goss, at least providing the Kop end with a spectacular goal, volleyed into the top right-hand corner, and his team defended thereafter with much more determination than Liverpool ever looked likely to overcome.