Monday 28 January 2008

Liverpool 5 Havant & Waterlooville 2

FA Cup 4th Round
Anfield, Liverpool
att. 42,566

Only 41, 989 more than our last home league game then.

About an hour and a half before kick-off, whilst in the Flat Iron pub a short walk down from the Anfield Road away end, one of my regular associates, Chris, suggested that he didn’t feel any different than prior to any normal big-day-out away game; before an Eastbourne; a Lewes; a Bath City or such. In the pub, with chums, looking forward to the game – always fantastic. After all, you’ve never lost at this point of any Saturday. I felt the same, the difference being that I don’t usually spend nine whole days before going to, I dunno, Sutton, feeling at once anxious, giddy and consumed by belly fizz.

This is not to say that we did not appreciate the enormity of the occasion, but we’re tossing out these BIGGEST! GAME! EVER!’s like mints at a Halitosis Anonymous blue-cheese and cigars away-day at the minute; we barely get a chance to allow one to sink in, before another comes along. Just a week and a half to enjoy beating, quite comfortably I might add, the side currently romping away at the top of League One? It’s not bloody good enough I tells ya! Who might I complain to?

The walk from the Flat Iron made all the difference. Suddenly I’m happening upon people I haven’t seen in over a decade, since my college days; upon a friend who lives in Blackpool, here with his sister and fiancé who have come up from Havant for the day. Joke as we regulars might about daytrippers and Johnny-Come-Latelys, but when it comes down to it, I am delighted to see so many people excited about, and indeed present at, a Havant & Waterlooville game.

A great many will not have been to a game before, and of those, a fair majority will probably never do so again, but it certainly can’t hurt to have 6,000 people taking an interest. Up until a month ago, people asking who I supported would usually follow my answer with an incredulous exclamation. Usually ‘Who?’ sometimes ‘where?’, and once or twice ‘Why?’ Of course, given our double-teamed moniker, the clever-clever retort would be ‘Which?’ However, l reckon I’ll be waiting a long time on that one, or indeed to hear again any of the others as unless I talk to someone that’s been living beneath a rock that’s underneath a big sheet of thick tarpaulin, below an ever bigger rock, I reckon they’ll have a fair idea. “Ah yes, the famous Havant ‘Looville – you were going to Wem-ber-lee, is that right?”. Yes. Yes it is.

Once inside the ground, and we had exchanged hellos, through wide eyes and toddler-at-Christmas smiles, with those that had made their way up on the long convoy of coaches, it was time to ascend the steps and breathe in the ground for the first time. Needless to say, I had to slap the overhang on the way through, no ‘This Is Anfield’ sign up there admittedly, but it had to be done. It’s a rite of passage that only really works at this ground, it’s not like I’ve made the effort to, I don’t know, sprinkle holy water on the terraces at Merthyr Tydfil, or lick a turnstile at Hayes.

Once inside, it hits you like a cloud of glitter settling over a mountain top. This is indeed Anfield, one of the most iconic football grounds in the world, and my team’s playing in it. Supporters of Premier League teams might snort, but we ply our trade five Liverpudlian relegations below all this caper and we will play here once and once only. I think it’s fair to say we’ve used up our FA Cup vouchers this season, the now barren ration book meaning that, next year, we can look forward only to losing to Slade Green in the pissing rain.

So, trust me, we’ve made the most of this. I’ve bought so much news print in the last month or so that if you pulped it, you could make a papier mâché cathedral at a scale of 1:1. Every day there’s been something new somewhere. It’s not only been our moment in the sun, it’s been our moment in the Guardian, the News of the World and the Times as well. We also made the cover of the Daily Sport. A long think-piece entitled something like ‘Stunna says if Havant win, she’ll get in the team bath with ‘em’. Whether this, or The Sun’s ‘H&W keeper to get Mercedes if he keeps a clean sheet’ effort, was the greater incentive, we will never know. Cos we lost.

Or did we? I’ve seen the H&’Dub concede five goals on one or two occasions before, but never spent the next day jumping around the living room shaking my fists and whooping at the fresh memory of it. Mind you, we’ve never played a starting XI packed solid with international star names. You have to doff your titfer to Rafa (even if Liverpool fans are starting to turn, or at least if the taxi drivers we exit-polled are anything to go by), he said he wouldn’t take us lightly, and didn’t, fielding the likes of Crouch, Mascherano, Riise, Hyypia, Finnan, Benayoun and Pennant from the get-go.

With our famous fellas on the field, it was only a matter of time before we put their team full of bin men to the sword. Or something. Actually, before the game, all the talk was of ‘how many Liverpool goals would it take to ruin our day’, conversations mostly started by me I might add. Humiliation was a bigger possibility than ever. I feared it at York, Notts County and Swansea, hoping that we might get away with a light 3-1 defeat and a good day out, but never to the point of dreading double figures. I mentioned before that I’ve approached each game with a mild pessimism, but never before with the kind of blind panic that requires two sharp slaps to the chops and an iron bucket put over my head.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that we were without both regular fullbacks through suspension, Brett Poate for his two-footed tackle at Swansea and Justin Gregory for accumulated bookings. We had, during the course of the previous week, brought our away game at Thurrock forward by six days so that Justin’s one match ban could be cleared and he would be able to play at Anfield. However, as we widely publicised this rule-bending strategy, the FA enforced the Anfield ban. Thus Justin briefly became a cause célèbre, fans across Britain protesting the decision, and even Alan ‘We am the Daily Mail’ Brazil on Talk Sport allowing his festering head to go so scarlet with indignation, it was causing cars to screech to a halt five streets away.

As it was, any attempts to overturn the decision became immaterial by the fact that Thurrock’s floodlights went out 24 minutes in. This was a great shame in itself as we were putting in the best away league performance for some time, and leading 1-0. So, we were without two regular defenders, still-keen-to-leave-for-Eastleigh Tom Jordan forced to start, and Phil ‘PolyPhiller’ Warner shunted to left-back after playing on the right and in the centre in previous games, not to mention having only started about five games all season. Just the kind of stability you need when faced with Liverpool’s reasonably well-oiled attacking machine. They did put eight past Besiktas after all.

As such, it genuinely was a shock when big Richie Pacquette headed us into an 8th minute lead. Not really in the guide book this, so we were rolling about everywhere in trying to deal with it. In the Sky Soccer Saturday studio (see above), Matthew Le Tissier almost fell out of his seat, partly through delighted disbelief and partly in trying to poke Phil Thompson in the ribs, while several texts came almost at once, forcing my phone into an elongated buzz and all beginning with minor variations on a ‘FUCKING HELL!!!!’ theme.

After, 6,000 grazed chins were slotted back into place, the singing ante was upped. By placing most of the regulars together, we had hoped to be able to impart our lyrical wisdom to the new fans, but 200 regular singers trying to marshal 5,800 proved to be quite trying, and using the folk word-of-mouth tradition was never going to work in trying to teach the lyrics to ‘Under the Moon of Love’. Next time, we’ll produce a folio on finest calfskin parchment. Still, “we are the Hawks” kept it nice and simple, while some people were keen to play the irony card with a gigantic collective-raised-eyebrow “Who are ya?”

For virtually twenty minutes we held that lead, with the now injury-free Neil Sharp and Tom Jordan just fantastic. Indeed, despite all the bad blood that has flowed between the club and Tom, I will now find it hard to hold too much of a grudge against him when he, almost certainly, completes his protracted move. Without injuries and suspensions, he'd have been sat in the stand for nigh on three months now, but having to help out, he has been utterly professional and putting in the sort of performances you might expect from someone who’s after a new contract with his current club, not someone else’s.

It took a wonderful curled finish into the top corner from Leiva Lucas to sort Liverpool out, a shot that would have beaten any keeper. However this restoration of order only held for four minutes as we went back up the field, possibly breaking British law in taking the lead. Again. Just to remind you. Liverpool. Anfield. H&W 2-1 to the good. Huh huh [clears throat] YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH! If there had been room, adrenaline would have easily enabled me to loop my cumbersome frame into a Lua-Lua series of somersaults.

Alfie Potter had raced into the penalty area and placed a cute side-foot in the direction of the far corner, but debut-making defensive klutz Martin Skrtel’s out-stretched leg caused the ball to beat keeper Charles Itandje on his near-side. Some are giving the goals as a Skrtel OG, but we’ll have none of it, it was going in either way. It would be just reward for Li’l Alf, who looked very much at home on this big stage. Peterborough United will be loving the fact their player has been getting loan experience like this. They think he’ll go far, and so do we. In fact, when in the future he breaks into their first team, I imagine I’ll make the effort to go and see him, as he’s been just wonderful for us. He may be young, and look even younger, but he’s a sensible kid who has mucked in, and not played it like he’s above our level of football. I’d adopt him if the forthcoming restraining order wouldn’t prohibit it.

It took us a while to realise what had happened, as both of our goals occurred at the other end of the field. Disappointing for us, but I’m sure both Richard and Alfie were able to cope. If you’re going to score in front of a stand your own fans aren’t in, the Kop does make a pretty fair consolation.

We’d have loved to go into the interval with a lead, but sadly Yossi Benayoun wasn’t reading the Mills and Boon and came up with another great finish, calmly watching Scriv’s movement, before hitting the ball with the outside of his boot into the corner of the net. Indeed, it seemed Liverpool could only get through our rear-guard with amazing strikes, Benayoun scoring another on 56 minutes off the underside of the crossbar on the turn, before completing his hat-trick three minutes later.

4-2, two quick goals, and if the floodgates were going to open over dropping heads, it would be now, but we stilled believed. “We’re gonna win 5-4” was our chant. Clearly fearing this, Rafa, increasingly cricket-ball cheeked and chewing his bottom lip like it was a corn cob, sent on three substitutes one-by-one: Dirk Kuyt, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard. Yeah, whatever, we’ve got Charlie Oatway coming on. “Charlie Oatway, Sexy Football”, possibly hooked up to a PCP drip, replacing Shaun Wilkinson.

In fact, it was at the times of our three substitutions that I was at my most emotional I think. Holding up scarves and keeping down our noise while the Kop sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before the start was something, but when PolyPhiller went off injured on 40 minutes (replaced by Tony Taggart), Big Rich on 57 (Jamie Slabber), and then Wilko on 74, and the ENTIRE ground stood as one to applaud them off, well, it was like being all of their kindly old Nans at once.

A Peter Crouch tap in finished it, a goal that was three feet offside if you are including his legs, about an inch if not. Five goals even without reply would not have been an embarrassment, yet our goals weren’t a reply, we were sending out the invitations to a white-knuckle ride and daring Liverpool to RSVP. Had Neil Sharp kept his shot-down to make it 2-0 in the first half, or his header not been pawed away in the second, then who knows how much longer that ride would have gone on for Liverpool. They knew they’d been in a game which they’d not been allowed to boss, and their fans stayed around to stand in ovation as our players completed their full lap of honour.

While some fans do everything to bring disrepute on their club with their dealings with opposition fans, the people of Liverpool (of every footballing hue) have been a credit to their city before, during and after our game. From comments on our message board to effusive wishes of good luck on the Anfield streets to shaken hands in pubs as well as thumbs up and winks from cabbies, we were able to revel in a way I doubt fans of other Premiership clubs would have allowed us to do, without patronising or sneering, of which the Reds did neither.

As you might imagine, we made a night of it, with beers, curries and close-ish harmony singing. We weren’t the only ones keen to serenade though. In the Indian Delight house of Ruby, a well-oiled old chap came in to collect his dinner, and began singing away in the waiting seats. After applauding his efforts, we gave him something back from the far end of the fairly empty restaurant. Showaddywaddy, of course. This brought him to join us for a bit as he started up again, belting out his tune through a face that curved like a rugby ball from his high forehead down to the kind of beard you could wire a piano with.

His singing came in club style-quasi-operatics much like Vic Reeves harmonising with Josef Locke if they happened to wake up on a Sunday morning in the same bin. His favoured tune was ‘Rose Marie’ but so slurred was it, it could equally have been ‘Edelweiss’, ‘Myfanwy’ or even just a theatrical recitation of his takeaway order. Eventually, the staff’s patience wore thin and he was pointed in the direction of his home, or possibly a karaoke bar. A wonderful insight into Liverpool life, I imagine the Capital of Culture judges made their award solely based on him promising to be around.

So, about as classic a Hawk weekend as they get. I think I can now say, without fear of contradiction or getting egg on my face later, that it doesn’t get any better than this. After the game, the sign that had been prepared by Blue Square for the players to hold up read “We’re going to Wembley [then in smaller letters] it’s on our way home." Although it isn’t, of course, not unless they were planning a long detour to north London to drop Rocky Baptiste off at his front door. The SmokeHawk Branch on our way back to London however, did pass the big arch, and together let out a wistful sigh. Maybe one day, in the FA Trophy, but this year’s road is finally over. After being 1-0 down at Bognor in September, we almost made it to February still in the Cup, despite losing a manager and all but one of his staff the day after that eventual Bognor win. The one who stayed loyal has taken us further than we ever let ourselves dare dream. “Shaun Gale, there’s only one Shaun Gale” – now heavily stitched into the tapestry of our club’s history.

To finish this piece, here’s a trivia question for you. What do Wigan Athletic, Porto, Derby County, Toulouse, Besiktas, Birmingham City, Cardiff City, Fulham, Marseille, Luton Town, Bolton Wanderers, Portsmouth, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United all have in common? Answer? All of ‘em have played at Anfield this season and not scored twice. I know a team that did. The “little” team that could. I think, by now, you’ll have heard of them.

Road to Wembley
F: Portsmouth 1 Cardiff City 0 (att. 89,874)
SF: Barnsley 0 Cardiff City 1 (att. 82,752)
QF: Barnsley 1 Chelsea 0 (att. 22,410)
5R: Liverpool 1 Barnsley 2 (att. 42,449)
4R: Liverpool 5 Havant & Waterlooville 2
3Rr: Havant & Waterlooville 4 Swansea City 2 (att. 4,400) [HOBO]
3Rr: Liverpool 5 Luton Town 0 (att. 41,446)
3R: Swansea City 1 Havant & Waterlooville 1 (att. 8,761) [HOBO]
3R: Luton Town 1 Liverpool 1 (att. 10,226)
2R: Notts County 0 Havant & Waterlooville 1 (att. 3,810) [HOBO]
1R: York City 0 Havant & Waterlooville 1 (att. 2,001) [HOBO]
4QR: Havant & Waterlooville 3 Leighton Town 0 (att. 378) [HOBO]
3QR: Havant & Waterlooville 2 Fleet Town 1 (att. 386)
2QR: Bognor Regis Town 1 Havant & Waterlooville 2 (att. 426) [HOBO]

the Hobo off-Road 2007/08
click here for links to all 2007/2008 FA Cup pieces

Previously, on Dub Steps
03aug05: Liverpool 2 FBK Kaunas 0

Liverpool website
Havant & Waterlooville website
Independent report
Guardian report
Observer report
Sunday Times report
Sunday Telegraph report
Mail on Sunday report
Sunday Mirror report
Jamie Collins back-to-work piece in the Guardian
Some People Are On The Pitch preview piece
Twohundredpercent review


LB said...

I was out on Saturday afternoon and turned my phone on at about 3.30pm to see the latest score: "Liverpool 1 Havant and Waterlooville 2."

I told everyone within earshot at that point, including a three year old child.

Absolutely brilliant. I lost count of the amount of times the MOTD commentator used the word "sensational"....

Anonymous said...

I think we can take it you're still just a little bit floating on air about that one Skif? Fair play to you- you can certainly rest assured that the name (or names) of Havant and Waterlooville will live long in the collective memory. The Blyth Spartans of the new millenium, perhaps- and I don't say that lightly... Great to hear this first hand account from a real terrace regular- the image of coming across long lost people from back home on the streets of Liverpool is a poignant one which kind of sums the day up.

Shaun said...

Excellent stuff Skif!
A day when your team made you proud, it will live long in the memory and that's what this football malarky's all about.