Liverpool the League Champions, European Champions, FA Cup Winners, League Cup Winners and numerous other bloody Cup Winners was the first name out of the bag VERSUS Brentford. Wow! The best possible draw except maybe a home tie against West Ham who were having a bad time in the League and a chance for us to get through to the Semi-Finals. The Scousers were the best team in the country and the Bees were hopefully going to leave their West London mark at Anfield.
A week before the big game players were hoping to be in the squad and to steer clear of injury. You half know the team in your head but with football anything is possible. Fortunately I was in the starting eleven so I could relax and prepare for the game in a couple of days.
Friday we had a light training session consisting of a few ball skills and some sprints, then on the team coach for the long haul up to Liverpool. Footballers travelling a long way on a coach develop their own cliques and you automatically sit in the same seat. At Brentford up the back of the coach sat the porn gang with their dirty mags and sex driven innuendos. In the middle I sat with the card and games school which didn’t involve money but if you lost forfeits ranged from making the whole coach tea or coffee to running up and down the aisle with your trousers down while everyone gave you a slap. I was the score keeper and for some reason hardly ever lost unlike Richard Cadette who seemed to have his trousers down more often than a men’s changing room.
Up the front sat the young lads and players who preferred to have some ‘Meryl Streep’(sleep). We all had different ways of passing the time and on long trips this was a great relief to the boredom. In this male dominated environment its amazing how close you all become because we all share high and low emotions together and when you come out of football you miss the day to day ‘crack’ and laughter that happens inside a club. You become so mentally sharp to enter into the social banter and to be able to defend yourself from all the piss-taking that goes on.
We stayed in Aintree just outside Liverpool and prepared for the match as normal. In the morning we had a light breakfast and then went for a stroll at the racecourse. By late morning nerves were building up but the lads were in a light hearted mood which eased the tension. At around mid-day we had a meeting where Steve and his assistant Phil Holder went over the team, set pieces and an overall game plan. We left the hotel all dressed in suit and ties at 1 o’clock for the short trip to Anfield and plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere. Nearing the great stadium supporters from both sides were cramming the cobbled pavements and once Brentford supporters caught sight of the team coach they started singing and chanting ‘We are super Bees I said we are Super Bees!’
‘YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE’ were the words on the giant iron gates that opened slowly and welcomed us to this famous football club that is steeped in history and tradition. Liverpool F.C. a club known worldwide was opening its jaws and beckoning in the bait of Brentford. We excited the coach, squeezed through security and straight into the dressing room. Now you realised this was ‘Billy Big Time’ and a sudden silence captured everyone as players gathered their own thoughts and controlled their fluttering stomachs. Each of us accosted a match day programme and was then asked to leave the room while the kit was being laid out. Most of us decided to sample the greenery and headed for the tunnel where we were greeted with a giant Liverpool emblem with the words ‘THIS IS ANFIELD’ boldly printed around its badge. All over the place you are met with signs and sayings as if to let you know, make you think and never forget that you are entering a gladiatorial arena where the most prestigious footballing prizes have been won and paraded. In other words it was a way of making you soil your ‘Calvins’.
Going through the tunnel, which was just over the width of a swimming lane, suddenly opened out to reveal the beautiful bowling-green playing surface surrounded by coliseum-style stands and terracing. It was a quarter to two and the stadium was only about three quarters full and yet the reception we received from the Bees fans to the left was mental. They chanted each and every player’s name and I can still recollect that goose-bump feeling today.
Back in the changing room we had plenty of time to prepare for kickoff. The Management were reiterating their thoughts and geeing us up. All I wanted to do was get on the pitch and soak up the atmosphere. I was at the age where I made a conscious effort to take everything in like a water-starved sponge and not let the moment wash over me. The buzzer went on five to three and as if a conductor waved his baton, the whole room shouted ‘Come on boys!’. We made our way out in to the corridor where we met the striking blood-red shirts of the opposition and lined up together in front of the Match of the Day cameras. These were greats with names like Beardo, Barnsey, Macca, Aldo and Grobbers standing alongside the even greater Cockers, Jonesy, Bliss, Sinners and Parksy. So if you are ever in need of a nickname just add an ‘S’... ‘A’... ‘Y’... or ‘O’ and see which one ‘suits you sir!’.
Both teams strutted along the tunnel and on reaching the arena split like a parting of the waves to their respected ends. Liverpool were sucked towards the famous chanting Kop-end and us to the fanatical away-end where our inflatable bee-waving supporters had been partying for a couple of hours. The noise was even louder than before and the 40,000 crowd were sardined together making an atmosphere to really get high on. I managed to spot my mates who had travelled up in a battered van with plenty of lager on board; I shook their hands before running off to prepare for the start. It was our kick-off and we were attacking The Kop. In the first half, we really played well and could have easily scored a couple but ended up 1-0 down at the interval. The 2nd half was less fruitful and Liverpool seemed to step up a gear scoring 3 more times and walking in to the Semi-finals with a 4-0 win. We had played our part in a truly memorable encounter and the result flattered them slightly. They scored a couple in the final ten minutes when I think the whole occasion had taken its toll on our players and we looked very tired. The final whistle went, Liverpool shook our hands and walked off while we stayed on the pitch and received great accolades from all supporters including the great Kop who obviously appreciated our efforts. We finally made our way down to the Brentford end to thank our fans, while they didn’t stop singing and clapping us until we had left the park and entered the changing room.
These are the golden moments that leave tattoos on your mind forever and are worth all the grief in between. The lads all had a beer with the Liverpool players in the lounge afterwards and they told us that Kenny Dalglish was furious with them at half time and told them to buck their ideas up or hefty fines would be dished out. Liverpool players left the lounge to prepare for another League game in front of another 40,000 capacity while we grabbed a few crates for the long return journey to West London and a home game versus Bury. The dream was over but the indelible memories will last forever.