Ground No. 35 (return visit)
Visited - Saturday 26th December 2009
Result - Liverpool 2-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Competition - Barclays Premier League
Attendance - 41,956

Trivia question… Which ground has hosted League Football for the longest time, and as a bonus point, how does the answer tie in with what is derided as an aspect of modern football?

The answer (as you may have guessed on a review of Liverpool!) is of course Anfield, and when Wolves’ Boxing Day game there was put back to an early evening kick-off thanks to Sky, then it attracted all the usual calls bemoaning the demise of the traditional 3 o’clock start, yet if you were to go back to the date of Saturday 8th September 1888 then you might be in for a surprise! Probably unfamiliar to most, the date in question was the first ever day of League football, and whilst the fledgling competition was getting underway, the standardised kick-off was still a long time coming. Of the 12 founding members, Burnley and Preston are the only two to play at their original grounds, and along with a number of others, both Deepdale and Turf Moor were used long before Anfield was, so with Burnley away at Preston, then a lot would assume that Deepdale might be the obvious answer, but the game at Preston (perhaps due to live cinematographic coverage!) didn’t kick off until 3:50pm, meaning Anfield takes the crown on a technicality, thanks to Everton kicking off 50 minutes earlier against Accrington! 

That of course would be Everton for those who missed it, because the ground was famously opened in the days when the Toffeemen reigned supreme on Merseyside. Founded in 1878, the blues initially played in Stanley Park, before making Anfield their home in 1884. All was going well, with the ground steadily built up, hosting an England international in 1889 and two years later welcoming the first of many league titles to be won there, until in 1892, landlord John Houlding who had seen this success wanted to cash in, upping rent from £100 to an inflation busting £250 per annum. Pittance today of course, but enough back then to force Everton out into a ground of their own, but Houlding, reportedly incensed at having been offered a ‘mere’ £180 from his tenants, was determined to hit back, and so formed his own club, originally wanting to retain the Everton name, before being forced to change it to Liverpool AFC by the FA. The rest as they say is history.

The move for Everton proved a successful one, developing Goodison into the best ground in the country at the time, and it took the newly formed Liverpool club some time to catch up, but in 1906, grounds architect Archibald Leitch was invited to draw up plans, which saw the stadium reopened late that year against Stoke, having been transformed from the days when Everton called it home. The original Main Stand was moved to the Kemlyn Road side, and a new stand built in its place, complete with a trademark gable, notable for its half timbered fa├žade and ornate ironwork finish that would be sadly lost when the stand was rebuilt. In addition the Anfield Road End was re-terraced, with the existing cover kept, but the centrepiece of the ground was at the one end where 132 steps of terracing were laid down to create what would become the famous Spion Kop. Holding 28,000 at its peak, it was never the biggest end in football, but the roof installed in 1928 helped to hold in the atmosphere that would become synonymous with the Anfield crowd following a 1964 Panorama documentary that surmised with “the crowds gay ferocity is stunning” (sorry! – ed.). A legend was born, and even after being rebuilt in 1994, the Kop’s reputation still stood, yet despite being the largest single tiered end in the country, its time is limited, with the club having drawn up plans to move just over the road to Stanley Park. Again, ironically, to a site where Everton once called home.

It was partly due to this impending move that Anfield was one of the grounds I was determined to get back to, so despite the late kick-off, the match was circled as one to go to. Being Boxing Day there were no trains either there, or back, so along with a few friends, we decided to make a night of it, and drove up early, booking into a hotel and spending some time in the centre of town before heading up to the ground, stopping off first in the Flat Iron to hook up with a few friends of one of our group and have a few pints before kick-off.

Situated in the middle of a residential area, with tightly packed terraced streets, then the ground does have a surprising air of openness around it when you arrive, and from the Flat Iron the first end you come to is the Kop. Named after a battle during the Boer War (somehow you can’t see the Afghan End or Iraq Bank ever being adopted!), then this is without doubt the home end of the ground, with the Bob Paisley gates forming the entrance to where the Bill Shankly Statue stands beyond, arms outstretched welcoming fans in. The other three sides are more bland, with little signage or colour, the only other main points of note being the Hillsborough memorial gates on Anfield Road, and the mast of the SS Great Eastern, which has stood on the corner of the Kop and Kemlyn Road since Leitch first arrived in 1906.

Inside, the ground is a lot more compact, despite none of the corners being filled in. We were in the Anfield Road End, a stand notorious for its upper tier extension which had the slight design fault that it cuts off half of the view from the rear of the lower tier because it was built too low above the existing seats! Thankfully we were a bit lower down to avoid this being a problem, but to our left was the Centenary Stand, another single tier stand that has had an upper tier added. Originally built in 1964, it was previously known as the Kemlyn Road Stand until the extension was added in 1990. The Kop is opposite, and seems to go back forever, whilst its two sides both extend well beyond the width of the pitch, with fans overlooking the two side stands. Finally, is the Main Stand, which gives rise to another trivia question… Which is the oldest stand left in the Premier League? Again, the answer is on a technicality.

Opened by Leitch in 1906, it was the first stand in the country to be built from concrete, but in the 1970’s the roof was removed, with the paddock re-profiled and an upper section added to the rear to create one large single tiered stand. It’s not obvious to spot, but the central 18 rows above the pillars, are actually the upper tier of the original stand, so once again it’s another claim to fame for the famous old ground.
It was the visit of Wolves in 1952 which set the grounds record attendance (61,905), although unlike most grounds, the capacity these days hasn’t been drastically reduced since the Taylor Report, standing at just over 45,000 compared to 46,000 in 1989. It’s still too small of course, and it looks like the record set for Wolves will always remain, with the plans to abandon Anfield still very much in the mindset, despite some recent setbacks.

It was these problems off the pitch that had seemed to manifest them on it as well, with the mood around the ground prior to this game not being the most jovial, the club going through their worst season in a while, whilst the American owners continued to attract criticism, so it was in this atmosphere that we went with hopes slightly raised of possibly getting something. Of course though, it was wishful thinking, and despite a goalless first half, the gulf in class was evident, Fernando Torres in particular looking like he could score at any moment. It wasn’t a complete walkover though, and the visitors certainly made themselves known, with enough chances to keep the mood at half-time cautiously optimistic, but after the break, controversy ensued when Stephen Ward was sent-off in the 53rd minute for a second yellow after Lucas had made the most of a nothing challenge on the edge of the box. It wasn’t the sending off itself that was particularly the talking point, more the actions of the home players who were so vociferous in the protestations to get Ward sent-off, Pepe Reina in particular who found it necessary to run the full length of the pitch to remonstrate with the referee when far worse challenges, including a two footed lunge from Lucas on Ward in the first half had gone unpunished, but decision made and down to 10 men it was always going to be damage limitation. Gerrard and Benayoun added the goals to make it a routine 2-0 victory, before the referee finally blew his whistle to leave a bitter taste in the mouth for the visiting supporters.

After leaving, we headed back to the Flat Iron for a quick pint and a moan, and then on to town to spend the night berating Spaniards, before heading back the next day, the nature of the defeat still rankling.

Overall, it had been good to get back to the ground, plus a city I always like going to, but the nature of the sending off still leaves a bitter taste even now several weeks after. Gone are the days when players would rely on their ability to beat teams, the modern day message of course being to cheat your way to victory and take whatever advantage you can. It reminds me of a game at Boundary Park some years ago when Steve Bull got sent-off for a challenge on an Oldham defender. It was a dubious red card to say the least, and with the game delicately poised at 2-1 then it could have been just the break the home side needed, yet despite this, their players were the ones arguing not to send him off after the red had been shown! They went on to win the game 3-2, and if you ever need a case in point, then some victors you just tend to respect more. Not that that will give the overpaid prima donnas of the modern game a restless night I’m sure. Still, to end on a positive (and I’m not referring that they’ll soon get their houses broken into!), the ground is very much a classic, traditional venue, so hopefully it won’t be the last time I’ll get the chance to visit before the club moves out.

Rear of the Kop

The Bob Paisley Gates

The Bill Shankly Statue

Rear of the Main Stand

The Hillsborough Memorial Gates

Rear of the Anfield Road Stand

Rear of the Centenary Stand

Welcome to Anfield!

The Centenary Stand

The Kop

The Main Stand

The Main Stand

The Kop

The Centenary Stand

Anfield Panoramic 1

Anfield Panoramic 2


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