6 Dec 2012

The Day I Faced Hostility And Hatred At Anfield

The date was the 18th of February 2006, it was a Saturday, we were playing Liverpool in the the 5th round of the FA Cup at Anfield, this was to be my first experience of a game that is filled with rivalry, passion and hatred, both on and off the field.

The rivalry between the cities stretches back to industrial times when they were both competing for supremacy of the north-west.

The clubs are the two most successful teams in England, they are two of the best supported clubs in world football, they have also suffered tragedy's that unfortunately and distastefully a minority of both sets of supporters like to remind the other about and mock.

Add all this together and the Manchester v Mersyside fixture makes an explosive spectacle both on the field and on the terraces, its a fixture that has a history of trouble and violence, again, both on and off the field.

I was offered a ticket by a friend and obviously could not turn down the opportunity to attend such a high profile match, the ticket allocation Manchester United received would ensure that this would be an explosive atmosphere.

I remember leaving the house in the morning and my dad telling me "watch yourself and take care", sound advice from a man who followed United home and away in 70s and 80s and knew what the Anfield experience was like.

Me and three mates travelled by car that morning, it was about a 30 minute drive. We parked down a side street a few minutes walk from Stanley Park, and proceeded to make out way down the streets keeping ourselves to ourselves, speaking openly between us would have been a big give away to any Liverpool supporters looking to cause trouble as the three of us had Mancunian accents! I suppose we were just trying to be a bit streetwise.

Anyone who has passed through Stanley Park will know that it is a moody place, as we made our way through we spotted gangs of lads on mobile phones obviously trying to find the enemy, they were like birds of prey looking for their morning breakfast as they stood on walls to gain a height advantage watching us like hawks.

As we approached the ground we spotted the away end and made our way swiftly over, supporters of both clubs were trying to pick each other out, its a task made very difficult by some supporters choice of clothing, lots of supporters choose to dress in plain clothes and shy away from wearing club colours to go undetected, it can save you a lot of bother!

As we passed through the segregation it was time to turn and join in singing with the thousands of United supporters who had already got through the mass police presence, its at this moment the adrenalin starts pumping, the excitement kicks in, you cant wait to get into the stadium, you cant wait for the referee to blow his whistle to signal the start of the game.

The rivalry, bitterness and hostility between both sets of supporters is unlike anything else I have ever witnessed or experienced as a Manchester United supporter, the stadium was a cauldron of noise as both sets of supporters reminded each other of past Glory's. No Manchester derby has ever even come close to being compared to the hatred I witnessed during that 90 minutes of football, it was definitely an eye opener!

United supporters were taunting the Liverpool supporters about Michael Shields, the Liverpool supporter who was jailed in Istanbul after the clubs Champions League win, Shields always protested his innocence in the murder enquiry, but United supporters seen it as an opportunity to get under their rivals skin.

I remember looking into the main stand and some Liverpool supporters were not interested about what was happening on the pitch, they were making aeroplane gestures in reference to the Munich air disaster, you could cut the tension with a knife.

The only two thing I remember about the match itself, was that Liverpool won it 1-0 following a Peter Crouch goal scored at our end, and the horrific injury that Alan Smith suffered. It was reported after the match that the ambulance transporting Smith was held up by Liverpool supporters who were outside the ground, they apparently rocked the ambulance and tried to open the doors. This just goes to show the pure hatred between the two sets of supporters.

It was the sound of the referees whistle to indicate that the match had ended and what went on next that I will never forget. As the whistle sounded the stadium erupted as if the trophy had been won that day, but we unaware that Liverpool supporters were in the tier above us until a coin pinged off the concrete floor in front of me, next was a shower of beer, it was time to put my hood to good use! As we looked up the Liverpool supporters had the stewards pinned back and were able to lean over the tier showering us with all kinds of objects which was later reported as urine and feces. Chants of "Munich" were also aimed at us from all directions.

As the stewards and police established control of the situation, a sense of order was restored. Next was the incident that sparked a backlash from the United supporters. The stadium was nearly empty with us still kept in for safety reasons, but somehow a Liverpool supporter managed to make his way back in and run the whole length of the stand making an aeroplane gesture, what followed was a reaction.

A small minority of supporters proceeded to start stamping on the Anfield seats trying to snap them off to use them as objects to throw, the outrage in the crowd was clearly evident as the stewards and police quickly lost control of a situation that had just hit boiling point, emotions were ready to spill.

One United supporter managed to break his seat off next to me and ran at the man who was making the gesture, there was a steward telling the Liverpool supporter to make his way out of the stadium, the United supporter launched the seat like a frisbee, but instead of hitting its intended target it hit the steward knocking him clean out.

A small minority of United supporters then let themselves and our club down by chanting Hilsborough songs at the Liverpool supporter, who police had managed to get a grip of before ejecting him out of the stadium. United supporters were now livid, being kept behind was making a section of supporters more aggressive as they wanted to get out as quickly as possible and confront the home supporters, I was preparing myself for a riot outside, how would we be able to avoid it?

The police tactics worked that day, keeping the United supporters in after the match enabled them to clear all the surroundings of Anfield before letting us out of the stadium. When they finally let us out a group of supporters ran out into the streets fully pumped up full of anger, but the streets were deserted like a ghost town, there was a heavy police presence, but no Liverpool supporters to clash with.

Its unbelievable when I think about the hostility and abuse that was aimed at us that day in 2006 at the final whistle inside Anfield, this was a match that Liverpool had won, judging by their reaction you could have sworn that they had just lost! 

We made our way back to the car undetected and without any bother and were quickly on the M62 heading back towards Manchester. It was a disappointing result, but an experience I will never forget, the rivalry between the clubs is incredible, it will always be one of the biggest football spectacles in world football because of that reason.

Its still the game that Manchester United supporters look most forward too when the fixtures are announced at the start of each Premier League campaign.