Memory of the Kop

John Barnes

 

There are throngs of people jostling.  As they sway, it is all I can do to sway with them or else they will crush me.  There is no malice and I have no fear, but still I cling fast onto my father.

I am without doubt sporting a replica red shirt and probably a scarf bought outside from a street vendor.  I owned so many of each.  My father places a hand in each armpit and drags me up with so much force, like a sword from stone, and I no longer have to sneak glimpses beyond taller bodies or between legs in stonewashed denim and shell-suit trousers.  He places me atop a hard and cold metal barrier, but I feel no discomfort.  The view afore me is exhilarating, never before have I experienced anything like it.

 

I am part of the Kop, twenty thousand strong.  As they sing, I cannot help but unite with them.  My father has been sure to teach me all the words.  Embarrassed, I attempt to forget he is with me as I break into chorus, “We’re on the march o’ Kenny’s army!”  I notice my father does not sing along, but looks at me with pure satisfaction.  The sound is incredible as if your entire head is filled with liquid noise.  There are screams of support, woops and yells and more than occasionally I hear cursing.  Swear words used for the very reason they exist.

 

The massive green expanse in front of me, almost yellow under the brilliance of the floodlights, is smooth like the baize of a billiard table.  It is the perfect surface for football, and I then realise what the grounds men I have heard of actually do.  I can smell urine, and turn to see a man angling his manhood into a rolled up match day programme, and I do not find this odd or distasteful, the Kop has its own rules.  Police officers walk about the edge of the playing surface, with their hands behind their backs at the base of their spine, as if handcuffed.  As they pass by some obscenity is hollered out that escapes me but forces a laugh from the assemblage of men and boys about me.  My father, laughing, does not put his hands to my ears or ask me not to repeat it.  This is the Kop, and what goes on here stays here.

 

Father removes our programme from his belt where it was rolled up and I expect him to unzip his fly, but instead he puts his arm around me, and points to the pitch.  We watch the men in red enter the arena, and he reads names from the programmes reverse, checking with me its accuracy.  “Grobbelaar, Ablett, Burrows Gillespie, Hysen, Nicol, Molby, Houghton, Barnes, Beardsley, and Aldridge.”  Glen Hysen is the first player that I recognise because of his shock of grey hair, then Bruce Grobbelaar in green before my hero John Barnes, the only black player in the team.  In the car we would go on to begin the ritual of ticking off the players the programme predicted correctly, altering those it did not.

My father had parked outside of Goodison Park and he had paid a boy a pound to watch it.  We had then walked with thousands of others through the streets of Anfield for this moment.  As the players of each side took their positions, Liverpool facing away from us, towards the Anfield Road, “We must have won the toss” my father reliably informs me, the referee blows his whistle sharply and crowd roars and surges forward.  Despite my precarious position atop the barrier I feel safe.  Even at half time when the crowd swallows my father whole, only to return with Bovril and pies, those around me are a comfort; I eavesdrop on their conversations about how we are performing.  I do not recall the date, the opponent, the result or the journey home.  I just knew I had to go back.

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