A Masshole Goes Among The Thugs
BEFORE I COULD MEET Spirit of Shankly, though, I had an appointment with Stephen Done, the curator of the Liverpool FC museum, who had agreed to give me a tour of the stadium. A tall, sturdy chap, Done had started his career in the world of fine art but joined the team 13 years ago when they advertised the position in the paper.
We met just inside the stadium’s main entrance, and Done explained that Anfield is actually older than the team itself. The stadium was originally built for Everton in 1884 (making it almost 30 years older than Fenway Park), but a management feud in 1892 caused the owner to pack up his team and move it to a different field a mile away. Only then was Liverpool FC born: to fill the empty stadium.
After ducking through a few back hallways, Done led me to the middle of the bleacher section behind the south goal, an area called the Spion Kop. A single sloped tier of 12,000 red seats (Anfield’s total capacity is 45,000), it’s named after a 1900 Boer War battle in South Africa. Strangely, the British got creamed in that one. But the creaming happened on a hill, which apparently reminded folks of the stadium’s steep tier. “It’s rather peculiar,” Done admitted.
Covered by a low ceiling, Anfield’s Kop was designed, essentially, as a noise funnel. “The Kop is absolutely central to the meaning of this club,” Done said. “The truth is, if you’re standing at the back, you probably don’t get a very good view, but you get the sound and noise.” That’s the same reason, really, that people pay good money to sit behind poles at Fenway.
Walking down the Kop’s steps, we passed by a group on a stadium tour. They come from the world over to see Anfield, Done told me. Especially from Norway, it turns out, where Liverpool FC’s historic success has made the team extraordinarily popular. I followed Done down onto the field. It wasn’t a long walk, as there’s almost no space between the stands and the field of play. Fans in Anfield’s front rows could spit their gum out and hit a player. Strolling through a drizzle to midfield, Done pointed out how the team’s cramped player benches are wedged into the front rows of the stands. Forget spitting gum; here an angry fan could, from his seat, slap an underperforming player across the face. “There’s no hiding place, no roof, nothing,” Done said.
The tight quarters made life difficult for Liverpool’s former manager Roy Hodgson, who after a highly unpopular six-month stint had been canned just a few days before my trip. Fans had grown antsy when it seemed like Henry was taking too long to fire him, but any PR problems were quickly smoothed over when Kenny Dalglish, one of the most beloved players and managers in team history, was brought back to replace Hodgson. Done told me that although the revered Dalglish, known as “King Kenny,” would have little to worry about from the crowd, Hodgson “did get some pretty rough stuff, really, which is a shame.” (Actually, it’s fun to imagine Grady Little having to sit right next to fans.)
Photo: When Liverpool plays big matches, the rumbling in Anfield stadium registers on the Richter scale / Chris Brunskill/AMA