After Wednesday’s first leg, as the adrenalin receded, I had a chance to calmly appreciate the night’s events. The residual glow from a performance of such quality coupled with the margin of victory seemed to allow a small emotional space in which to step back and re-evaluate the city whose pride and joy we had just put to the sword (well half of it anyway, or is that a third because of Tranmere?).
So I found myself musing on how to establish a connection, something palpable, which would rise above the rather tiresome and tiring trading of insults that marks the annual joust between ourselves and the “Scouse” nation.
Previous games had not allowed this luxury: too fraught, too painful, too much explosive relief. This strange moment in time, feeling flushed with victory yet strangely unsettled, made me want to find something in or from that city, which I could embrace. A chance to put aside visceral enmities, to jump, as it were, from the trenches on Christmas morning to sing Silent Night and have a kick-about before the ritual slaughter starts all over again.
I have spent very little time in Liverpool and have only the haziest grasp of its geography, which is a bit rich considering the sort of invective I can throw its way at the drop of a hat.
Unfortunately, time and tide meant that I couldn’t hop on a train and walk the streets, searching out the landmarks, soaking up the culture that rises like a summer mist from the slabs of the city pavements. A chance to look in on the front windows of those small dark terraces, where thousands of dedicated fans spend the long, sunlit, summer evenings knitting their hand-spun woollen scarves ready for the next season’s evocative renditions of the nation’s favourite football anthems.
Bathed as I have been for 40 years in the tepid waters of fickle fandom, of soft “cockney” swagger: supporting a soulless husk devoid of football myth and memory, now besotted with plastic flags and foreign money, that for me would indeed be an education. What a chance to connect with all that is true and heartfelt in English football. Another time perhaps.
So it was that from the darker reaches of my past, a sudden realisation dawned. Some years back I had indeed forged a very solid bond with the city. In my callow youth, before my musical spirit finally settled in the Mississippi Delta, from where it rarely ventures much these days, I was a big, big fan of what I consider to be the greatest band to ever come out of Liverpool. No not the Beatles, who I’ve never cared for (like it would bother them). I speak, of course, of the legend that is Echo and the Bunnymen.
There, I had it. Some feverish digging around in old tapes and vinyl on the Thursday night saw me re-immersing myself in tunes I hadn’t listened to for a long, long time. As with all music, the sounds are bound up with myriad memories and emotions and yet as I lay back listening, those recollections kept colliding with the more immediate images and sensations of the night before.
Single words and phrases from numerous lyrics seemed to refer directly back to the action, to events, to emotions from the game, blocking out the older associations, the real links back to my youth.
Not that you’d care if they leave you unmoved, but for me, the tunes have stood the test of time. All through the weekend as the portents darkened and the sense of dread rose, they were there, both soothing and agitating my troubled spirit.
They seemed instantly familiar, songs I hadn’t heard for nearly 10 years, maybe. I turned them over in my mind, fondly recollecting, as though riffling through a box of old, faded family photographs.
Why had I been away so long? I don’t know.
Sometimes we’re like one of those Liverpudlian scarf knitters. We absent-mindedly work in a new ball of rich, soft wool while another, already used, lays half unravelled. Many rows of stitching later we happen upon the loose end, wonder why we’ve overlooked it and with a shake of the head, rework it back into the ever-lengthening scarf of our innermost life.
At other times we’re like fans of clubs whose success is perhaps more recent, adrift without history and memory, happy to wave our plastic flag before thoughtlessly casting it aside, assuming there’ll be a new one on our seat next time we come along (cough).
Just before leaving work to head to the Bridge on Tuesday night I watched YouTube. The Bunnymen live in 2001 at home, performing amongst their own in the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (no, no let’s not go there with the “Stevie G in the penalty box” gags). It was “Ocean Rain”, a very slow melodic tune. Swelling to a crescendo, it seemed to capture the sense of impending doom and dread that was infecting my very core.
“All hands on deck at dawn
Sailing to sadder shores
Your port in my heavy storms
Harbours the blackest thoughts”*
*(Ocean Rain – Will Sergeant/Ian McCulloch/Les Pattinson/Pete de Freitas – 1984)
Oh get a grip man!
We were 3-1 up from the first leg for Gawd’s sake. I should have been skipping out the door and regaling my fellow travellers with lusty choruses of “Celery” while chucking lumps of the eponymous vegetable all over the carriage. Yet there I was moping like some love-lorn teenager.
That’s what years of following Chelsea and watching the best defence in the league leak three in eight minutes against Bolton does for you.
Ian McCulloch, frontman for the band, and myself have two things in common. We were born in the same year and share the same middle name. There are two things I’m also sure we don’t share. One of those is musical talent and the other is a love for Liverpool FC.
Now, Ian and me will have taken a very different view of the week’s events. While I can wear the cloak of easy magnanimity, I don’t think he will be feeling too well disposed towards me and my soft, southern, bastard kind. Mind you I’m not likely to find out as we’ve never met and that’s unlikely to change.
Had it all gone arse-ways for us on Tuesday night, I’m not sure how well disposed I would have felt towards any Liverpool fan, Ian included. Oh yes I do, I would have been seriously lacking in the disposed department. But then I’m sure he wouldn’t have given a diddly shit about me in the hour of such an unlikely victory.
Whatever the result, though, I would always have his band’s exceptional music, a timeless and worthwhile contribution to the human experience.
He, on the other hand, has no handle with which to grasp onto my innocuous and perhaps pointless existence. I can offer him nothing worthwhile to assuage the pain of Tuesday night’s defeat.
I must live with that knowledge, with my inadequacy, my inability to reciprocate. This is the black hole at the centre of the lonely hidden life of we who choose the badly tarmac’d, potholed road of fandom.
Still, when events yet to unfold add to, or diminish, the memory of a fantastic two-legged tie, I can always look back on it all as the time that gave me back my Bunnymen.
Still fabulous, I have to say.