Manchester United 1 Liverpool 2, March 18 1990
I thought I’d given all this up. The season ticket’s gone, given to someone else who presumably cares more than I do. Saturday afternoons are increasingly spent in Liverpool or - gasp - Manchester city centre, talking about records I’ve heard, raves that are happening or whether it’s acceptable to wear flares and flowery tops with Kickers. My view: it is. Everyone else: it isn’t.
I’ve started buying The Face magazine and thinking about what it’d be like to live in London and go to all these clubs I’ve been reading about. And there’s this band, The Stone Roses, who, along with 808 State and A Guy Called Gerald are leaving less space in my heart for football. At the end of 1989, I go to Manchester and buy Fools Gold by The Stone Roses, Hallelujah by the Happy Mondays and Young MC’s uptempo hip-house record Know How. I finish the day with a beer in Dry 201, Factory Records’ cool bar opposite Madchester’s version of Harrod’s, Affleck’s Palace. I am seriously thinking about buying a hooded top with the yin-yang symbol on it.
So why am I here on a cloudy Sunday in March 1990, waiting with my mates to get the train to Manchester for an occasion that epitomises the tribal, fuck-everyone else footy fan lifestyle I thought I’d left behind after Hillsborough? Why am I excited? Why can’t I stop thinking about the Mancunians I’ll be facing by the fence, ready to abuse or even get a dig in at if I can? People who I may well have danced with at the Hacienda or the brilliant Monday night house raves at Palm Court in Southport. Why? For the same reason I want The Farm to be better than the Roses or
The train pulls into Oxford Road. We get off, hundreds of us, waiting for the local rattler to Old Trafford. On enemy territory now, we’re aware that it could kick off at any time. I’m a shitbag by nature, but the power of the mob is strong and I’m aching for some gang of one-eyed inbreds from Wythenshawe or Davyhulme to try their luck with this pumped-up Scouse mob. The train pulls in, it’s full of Mancs. One looks at me. “Scouse bastard,” he says, no doubt made up to be released from his 18-hour shift in the local cotton mill. “That’s right, knobhead.” Get me, I’m dead hard.
Off the platform, a denim-shirted Liverpudlian wave washes through the barriers, past the GMP, past all their fans, locals and day-trippers alike. “Olé, olé, olé!” we sing, “we are the champs!”. Ticket checked, we’re in and funnelled to a section by their supporters. The abuse is immediate. Some feller, no doubt a pillar of the Lowry-painting community he lives in, waves - that’s right, waves - his walking stick at me. “Scouse bastard!” he screeches. Jesus, some people are so touchy.
There’s an hour of this, and let’s be realistic here, it’s so supremely enjoyable I don’t really want the game to start. This is my third visit here and I’ve never seen us win. But, win we do with two goals from John Barnes, which sends our 12,000-strong enclave of Scouse nationalism into wild, mocking raptures. “We’re gonna win the league!” we sing, and we’re right, we are. Again. The Mancs are furious, now more with their useless Scottish manager than with us. “Fergie out!” they shout. “Fergie in!” we reply.
The game ends, and the fun begins once more. We’re let out late, but at either side of the police cordon there are pockets of United, looking like they want a go, but knowing truthfully, with our numbers, that they don’t. At times like this, it’s the away mob that holds all the cards. A serious-looking crew by Lou Macari’s chippy makes a sortie, but Liverpool are ready. “Fucking come on!” says one fella, leading a mini mob over to them, but the GMP step in and the moment passes.
The train takes us back to Oxford Road. Hundreds of us get off, jubilant at the result, but more pointedly, at ourselves, at our very Scouseness. This is local pride concentrated through the filter of football, alcohol and adrenaline. It is addictive. An announcement comes over the Tannoy: “Will supporters please note that the next train to Liverpool leaves from Victoria station.” With that, we’re off, down the stairs, onto Deansgate and a stroll across the city centre, a victorious invading army, untouchable, triumphant. For this half-hour window in time, Manchester belongs to us. We take it with both hands.
This article first appeared in the pages of Well Red, the essential Liverpool magazine