A Manchester United Fans' Grudging Admiration For Liverpool and The Kop

The Kop v Stretford End. Lacoste v Fred Perry. Scouser v Woolyback. The Liverpool/Manchester United rivalry is an intense tribal clash of mentality and culture. Yet there can also be some respect there too. Grudgingly.
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The Kop v Stretford End. Lacoste v Fred Perry. Scouser v Woolyback. The Liverpool/Manchester United rivalry is an intense tribal clash of mentality and culture. Yet there can also be some respect there too. Grudgingly.

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DISCLAIMER: I’m a Manchester United supporter, so this tale accrediting LFC will definitely get me branded “Scouse Loving Judas C***”. There are social barriers – indeed tribal taboos – involved here but f*** it, let’s smash ‘em down. It’s never been OK to praise Liverpool where I come from, but deep down there is a grudging respect. Liverpool (whether we like it or not) is the only other club in Britain who can touch us for history and honours. When the Stretford End resonated to a thunderous “You’ll Never Walk Alone” every week in the 70s, with the packed-in buoyancy of Reds in full voice with scarves raised, it was common to subconsciously compare that grand sight to another place; a dirty great big thing down the road called The Kop. In the dark days of terracing and crush barriers, the Kop was monstrous. The Stretford End by comparison was, well, small. The Kop held 26,000. The Stretford held 13,000. Two into one will go and it’s not an improper fraction.

Don’t get me wrong; taking a random 50% sample of the Kop on a good day and comparing it to the whole Stretford End on the same would without doubt see the Stretford win in the mindless violence department. But The Kop was an in-yer-face example of how there was a lot more to being an “End” than kicking s*** out of people. The difference between standing on the Kop or the Stretford was the same difference as Jonah and the Whale and George and the Dragon. One engulfed but excreted you unscathed at the end, the other dared you to come inside and was very f****** dodgy. Anyone who regularly saw Match of the Day in the 70s and early 80s would watch for those mental avalanches that happened whenever Liverpool scored, or almost scored. The Kop was truly alive with footballing passion, and even on telly you could feel it. The same thing happened around OT, too, but not on quite the same scale; our terracing just didn’t have the mountainous momentum required to generate the same degree of flow, plus the crush barriers were arranged in long lines, making it almost impossible for people to fall through the gaps, as it were.

The Kop was a mountain while the Stretford was a neurotic focus for a neurotic city

I thought Old Trafford was the sleekest, coolest death-bowl on earth, I really did. I used to have weird, futuristic dreams about the place as a kid. But still Anfield loomed large in my mind. The Kop was a mountain while the Stretford was a neurotic focus for a neurotic city; hard to judge, size-wise. Was the Paddock included in that 12k? Did away fans see it as being average, above-average, or, god forbid, below average in size? These were important questions, at least to me they were. I’d been raised on the mythos of the Stretford End and its various organs. The Front Bit was the equivalent of the Scoreboard End filled by away fans, rare back then. Flanking the Tunnel section were the Left Side and the Right Side, each of which held thousands of chanting dervishes. There was also the Uncovered section, where the kids’turnstile was. But anyone familiar with the Stretford End knew a dark little secret; it had f****** seats at the back!

Jesus, I’m wandering, and I need to calm down. I’d best get to the football at some point. Hero-worship towards United players was never a huge part of my life beyond the age of about 14. For me it’s always been about football grounds and the deluded civilians of other urban centres; the atmosphere and those who occupy the various sections, across the land. Each stadium and sub-terrace had ecosystems and questions; how does their beer smell, the spearmint chewing gum in the air, the aroma of nearby factories? The accents of the people, the way they walk and dress? The colour of the team’s kit, and by extension the crush barriers, all contributed to the overall swell in the heart of the beholder. I loved the fact Old Trafford had a reputation as a dangerous place to visit. Even if I was just a little scrote in monkey boots and snide Birmingham bags, I knew the drill, knew the slang, and had the accent...it was easy to find fault with any other English city, with one almost-exception.

Liverpool wore a much simpler all red strip, one that didn’t even have collars. In addition to this modesty, they won all their games.

There are some misguided Mickeys who insist that Manchester accents sound like the bleatings of hybrid sheep-men. As a teenager I wasn’t aware of this. My virgin confrontation with a mob of scouse proto-casuals saw them taunting us with “Eeh bahhh gum!” I was confused; I didn’t speak anything like that, nor did anyone I knew. I thought they’d mistook us for Leeds, but conceded they were serious when they said they wanted to stab us “woolybacks”. By extension it meant that those 26,000 bouncing ghouls on the Kop might hold that same opinion. It was a strange feeling, being regarded in the same way Manchester regards Blackburn. It was unjust, but geography and elocution overruled my naïve resistance. These vicious mockers were crammed on the edge of England. We were situated smack in the middle of Eeh Bahhh Gumville. But we din’t speak like that. Honest. No, really, we didn’t.

As a kid I worshipped Jim Holton and Stuart Pearson. I loved the sight of Lou Macari in his Admiral kit, or Stevie Coppell zigzagging down the right wing. There was something about the red shirt-white shorts-black socks combo that bespoke superiority (and no, I wasn’t about to launch into Ian Dury’s “Sweet Gene Vincent just then). Liverpool wore a much simpler all red strip, one that didn’t even have collars. In addition to this modesty, they won all their games. Apart from when they played United. Our players were each as distinctive looking as the kit, but Liverpool players all seemed to have perms and tashes, especially the scouse ones. Unfortunately (for us) they were all s***-hot and hammered their victims up and down England. When Kevin Keegan shocked the world by leaving Liverpool for Hamburg in 1977, I relished the thought that they’d never replace him. The bastards only went and bettered him by bringing Kenneth Dogleash to Anfield, thereby continuing the rout of Europe.

Yes, it was Liverpool, not United, who brought us a televised taste of Europe back in the 70s and early 80s (Notts Forest and Villa were flashes in the pan, let’s face it). How brilliant did it feel to see that special Euro ball – the one with the black panels – being buffed about some distant German pitch surrounded by a red running track? The commentary was often as gravelly as the track, the “moon landing” quality of the audio serving to remind us that Liverpool were boldly going where United had once boldly gone before, but had somehow slipped below the threshold required to be one of the continent’s contenders.

This final twist, the Euro travel, remains the biggest bone of contention between the two cities. They discovered Lacoste while we discovered Fred Perry. They discovered Adidas Năstase while we discovered Jogger. But we didn’t speak like that. Honest. Don’t listen to the lying c****.

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