Destinations

Forget Lourdes, we’re on a pilgrimage to Liverpool

Tara Harrison

Tara Harrison

“I was told, whatever you do, don’t bother him,” Liverpool local guide Tony says in a Scouser lilt. So what did Tony do? He stared but he said nout. “So he just looked at me and winked.”

There are many pilgrimages to make in Liverpool, whether you’re a football or a music fanatic. In Tony’s case, his hero was the somewhat underrated Beatle George Harrison.

It turns out, however that George was the first Beatle to be a successful solo artist. This is the kind of information you garner when travelling to Liverpool’s main tourist draws, such as The Beatles Story. It even has a booth within the museum dedicated to each singer’s solo career after the boy band heyday, where I discover I am actually a Harrison fan – gladly, given our mutual surname. “Got My Mind Set On You” ends up swimming around your head in this waterside town.

But then again, we stopped in at The Beatles Story museum before the Magical Mystery Tour where the roads and suburbs of Liverpool are accompanied by a soundtrack of Beatles bop. And with a stop at the literal Strawberry Fields, with it’s stone barricade and red gates clouded by fan graffiti, it’s only natural that that little ditty gets stuck in your head as well.

You can’t help but hum and notice that the zeal continues with all the sites you can pay homage at throughout the northern city.

Liverpool football club is  one of the most faithful football teams in the code and has a chequered history of loyalty and achievement. A trip to Anfield is, or should be, on the bucket list of anyone who has an appreciation for soccer. Or not. Those without an ounce of football nous will be swept along with the crowd atmosphere, which is amplified and electric.

From the moment you enter the hallowed grounds, it’s through nine foot red turnstiles that twist and trust me, in a bulky coat it’s a tight squeeze through the gate. Then it’s up several flights of stairs. Alcohol cannot be consumed in the seats, which is a shame, but understandable. It turns out that rugby games permit drinking in seats but the longstanding tradition of the more working class games of football call for a low tolerance of alcohol. So, clients can nab a beer – Carlsberg – before taking their seat.

The seats are red, naturally. Everyone is squeezed in. There’s a capacity of 45,500 which feels small compared to the gigantic stadiums, and it is always at full capacity. Knees behind dig into shoulder blades and movement or a jab in the back is the first sign a goal is on its way.

Anfield will soon see an extension of the stalls so it will fit 54,000, a boon for travellers, as it will open up more one-off seats. “Football is a community sport so we stayed true as opposed to moving the stadium. We’ve stayed in our roots, Anfield,” LFC’S Tom Cassidy says.

There’s no chance you are cheering for anyone other than Liverpool. The chants are hilarious, varying from crude to creative. But mostly crude. This is the spiritual homeland of English football. There are no other premier league teams that come with quite the passionate fandom than Liverpool. Their theme song is Never Walk Alone, for goodness sake. It’s hard to not feel a sense of camaraderie, football fan or not.

There are two teams in Liverpool, Everton and the city’s namesake. You’re one or the other, loyalty and competition is ferocious. But if a client goes to a game they must root for the home side.

Anfield is affectionately known as the kop. There’s a statue out the front dedicated to its most loved captain. Bill Shankly. Here is a coach who took Liverpool from a backwater team in the second division through to the first and won plenty of championships along with it. Liverpool incubated and fostered a champion team through its solidarity and support

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that,” Shankly famously said.

Shankly’s grandson has opened a hotel in his honour, such is his renown as the father of LFC. The restaurant, bar and lounge is covered with Shankly memorabilia but the most striking of the displays are the fan letters, all hand-written, framed on the wall. They speak of grown men’s dismay, and, you guess it, tears when Shankly announced his shock resignation after winning the FA Cup for the team. He did it for family, so it’s fitting that his family and grandson is continuing the tradition of his football glory.

“There is never going to be another character like him in football,” grandson Chris Shankly proudly tells me.

Bill Shankly said he was an honest man in a game that is sometimes short on honesty. Unfortunately football these days is also short on loyalty and allegiance to teams. Liverpool’s long-standing Steven Gerard retired recently but he was much-loved by the football community for his commitment.

That can’t be said for a player in the game I witnessed. One had just defected from Liverpool to Manchester City, for the money, and was squarely booed every time the ball came in his vicinity. No wonder they lost to the home side.

Shankly also unified Liverpool. “I’ve been working honestly for the people of Liverpool to try and give them entertainment,” Shankly said. Much like Lennon introduced a Scouser accent to the world. And, Tony says, made it acceptable to the southerners. Before, the English north-south divide was real and citizens of the northern counties were roundly disparaged.

The locals are born conversationalists, so the accent is pretty easy to get to grips with. Hop into a black cab or ask for directions around town and the locals are uniformly friendly and chatty. A few hard and fast language rules, though. Scousers call women of every age love. It’s endearing, not patronizing. The majority of observations end in ‘that’. “Good job that” is one such example. Descriptions are prefaced with dead. Dead quick, dead slow, dead thick, dead clever.

But my personal favourite? “Ta da now love” has got to take the biscuit. Ta da does not come after abracadabra. It is not the articulation of a spell, although it may as well be for it sure makes you fall in love with the people and passion of this little city that could. No need for words, just look back and give ‘em a wink.

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