Liverpool v. Burnley
Through childhood and adolescence, the autumn brings the excitement and apprehension of the new school year: new uniform, new lace ups, the promise of a future, uncertain though it may be. When I finished university, I remember a distinct feeling of disappointment as the autumn approached. What now? Will every month be the same as the last? At least there was still the beginning of the new football season: new uniform (club shirt), new signings and the hope of what lies ahead for the team.
The Premier League season began this year with most of the top clubs doing what they were expected to do. In the opening week Arsenal were the only exception, beaten 2-0 by the newly promoted Brentford. During the second week Liverpool were playing Burnley at home and I had a ticket to Anfield. I didn’t grow up in Liverpool but it’s become a home of sorts, the place I’d go to bunk off from university – and, later, escape from London – when things were too stressful or monotonous.
Saturday’s match opened with a minute’s silence for the 97th victim of the Hillsborough disaster, Andrew Devine. Ninety-four people were crushed to death on 15 April 1989 because of the gross negligence of South Yorkshire Police. Hundreds were injured, and two more later died in hospital. The coroner found that Devine’s death in July this year was a result of the life-changing injuries he sustained at Hillsborough, returning a verdict of unlawful killing. In a bid to absolve themselves the police had tried to blame the fans, feeding the media fabricated stories of hooliganism and drunkenness. As in any community that has experienced police ineptitude first hand, the distrust remains. Nowhere in the city will sell the Sun because of its part in peddling the falsehoods.
The Liverpool and Burnley players all took the knee before the game. Last season, ahead of a match against Manchester City, some Burnley fans organised a plane to fly above the Etihad Stadium with a banner which read: ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’. At their first game this season, at home against Brighton and Hove Albion, some fans booed the players when they took the knee. Burnley’s manager, Sean Dyche, wouldn’t criticise them. ‘You can’t control people’s lives,’ he said.
During this weekend’s fixture at Anfield, Dyche fielded a team numbered 1 to 11, something the Premier League hasn’t seen for 23 years. The gesture had fans of ‘tradition’ salivating, but reminded me of the UKIP election manifesto that promised to turn London Underground’s Circle Line back into a circle. Tradition for tradition’s sake. Perhaps Alastair Campbell, a Burnley supporter, could offer his expertise on spin and PR.
The Liverpool fans in the Kop held up coloured pieces of card to make a giant number ‘97’, gold on a red background, in tribute to Andrew Devine. The captain, Jordan Henderson, laid flowers behind the goal. It’s been 520 days since the stadium was last at full capacity. The crowd sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (‘At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark’). We beat Burnley 2-0, with goals from Diogo Jota and Sadio Mané. ‘Hope is itself a species of happiness,’ Samuel Johnson wrote, ‘and, perhaps, the chief happiness, which this world affords.’ Three mini pies and two glasses later, I was hopeful for the season ahead, the unknown and life with fewer restrictions.