Visiting the Cathedral of Anfi...

Sport

Visiting the Cathedral of Anfield

TodayFM
TodayFM

7:42 PM - 25 Oct 2017



Having produced a Premier League radio programme for over a decade, I know Liverpool are the biggest supported club in Ireland. Bigger than Manchester United. Bigger than Celtic. Bigger than Shamrock Rovers. The only entity that is greater is the Republic of Ireland football team.

I know this in my bones. Now while we may lament at times that Liverpool can sell out a meaningless friendly against Athletic Bilbao at the Aviva Stadium in the summer while the domestic game battles for its fair share, I don't have a problem with it.

I am a fanatical Tottenham Hotspur fan, but I grew up worshipping Ronnie Whelan, John Aldridge and Ray Houghton as stars for the national team, the Boys in Green. That they played a key role for the league champions of England at the time was relevant. What would we give for that now?

We cannot ignore that the Premier League is a global competition, arguably the best in the world in terms of how competitive it is. Liverpool is a stone's throw from Dublin, and the character of both communities in my mind is similar - idiosyncratic, warm, funny. I couldn't get over the down to earth and welcoming spirit of the people when I covered The Open at Birkdale in July. Everton may traditionally be the 'Irish club' or the 'Catholic club' of Merseyside, but Liverpool is where the love resides in many an Irish heart.

I am always surprised and touched when I visit the local cemetery in Dublin to pay my respects to my Dad and my best friend how many tributes there are on headstones to the love the deceased had for football. The association between the dearly departed and football clubs stands out, with Liverpool and 'You'll Never Walk Alone' part of the fabric of someone's being in how they are remembered on deeply sacred pieces of granite. 

If football, and by extension sport, in life and death is a religion, we must visit the cathedrals of sport on our tour of this spinning orb.  So Liverpool fans, and neutral sports obsessives, a visit to Anfield is definitely worth your while. I recently took in the Manchester United game with a friend of mine, a Liverpool fan who was paying his first visit to the club he has followed for over three decades. A special day for him. 

I cannot wait for White Hart Lane to reopen, but I have tried to sate my curiosity with visits to other stadiums to inhale my surroundings and hopefully watch a great game. I have been to Old Trafford and for me, the atmosphere is reminiscent of the moon. The noise just doesn't reverberate. The Emirates Stadium is too polished. I love the Bernabeu, but Stamford Bridge leaves me cold. I do like St James' Park. Anfield just has it. Upon arrival into a large housing state that looks like a fake set of the Liverpudlian TV series 'Bread', one can feel a reverence in the air, a sense of history. There is the Bob Paisley statue outside the Kop. The Shankly gates near the Anfield Road end, where our seats were located, behind the goal.

There is something almost socialist about the togetherness of Anfield, the closeness of the locals to the heroes, 'King Kenny' and 'Stevie G'. You just cannot imitate the identity and uniqueness of this hallowed ground, at its crescendo in the rendering of 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. The Kop, right in front of us, was this mosaic of pride, red and white. The flags were waves on a sea. It was an experience that gave me a shiver. The noise travels like electricity throughout the build up and during the game. Having studied how bad the cards were for the people of Liverpool under the Thatcher government in the 1980's, I tried to imagine what it was like to take refuge in The Kop in the days of 'Boys from the Blackstuff' the TV series which exposed how a community's dignity was stripped by uncaring policies and rife unemployment. Football must have given the locals great hope as the club won 4 European Cups between 1977 and 1984. Jurgen Klopp is a long way off that type of glory, but the occasion on every visit to a club like Liverpool is a class apart, whatever the score. 

So what did my friend and I take away from it? Fantastic stadium. Intrinsically connected supporters. The towering new main stand is impressive. Philippe Coutinho is an incredible footballer, a bag of tricks. Mo Salah has great close control. One realises how strong the players are physically within a footballers' frame. The kits they wear are immaculate. The first touches are at a very high level. Pure precision at pace. The pitch is a magic carpet. You just think of the word 'global' when attending a game of this magnitude just across the water from Ireland.

Manchester United came with a defensive game plan. The visitors are large in stature. When one goes to a game, one can feel they are watching a completely different episode to those looking at a TV. All I heard upon my return was; "It was crap, it was rubbish. Poor game." I disagree. I don't remember many mistakes. United played defensive chess and Liverpool couldn't put them in checkmate. Thus, 0-0. 

The city of Liverpool is revitalised, musical and great fun. Do yourself a favour, check it out and make a trip to Anfield.   



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