I should already have an extensive tomb on procrastination available for all to see and thus be warned of crippling indecision.
I’m currently writing a book. I’m always writing a book.
To illustrate such self-imposed writing limbo, I’m actually writing two books. But, which comes first of the two works in progress?
At the heart of my vacillation, as ever with me, are dreams and romance. So, closest to my heart is an under-developed and far-fetched attempt at an LFC novel, based on the personal experience of a Kopite of 40 years standing. A concept that’s set in Budapest, Liverpool, Oslo, Rome and Qatar – a story that’s a rollercoaster ride to trump any twister at Blackpool Fair.
We will see. I think it’ll work eventually, under a heading that might just be “Under the Cosh”. Fact is stranger than fiction and always tells the most riveting tale. I’m open to the highest bidder, or should I say the most sympathetic ear when it begins to take shape on a page.
The other idea is more developed in terms of concept and words on a page. It even has a definite title but is another project as yet without a backer. Take that as an outward plea, all you fine publishing houses out there.
For clarity, it’s called “Heaven Up Here” – The Story of Liverpool FC’s 1981-82 League and League Cup double season.
It is something of a follow-up, or more accurately, a prequel to my first book, “On the March with Kenny’s Army – The Story of Liverpool FC’s 1985-86 Double season, published nearly a decade ago in 2011.
So, ten years of authoring procrastination, just to be precise; the bane of my new profession.
Heaven Up Here is the title of an Echo and The Bunnymen released in May 1981, the same month Liverpool won a third European Cup on a sultry Parisien night. I was in “Gay Paree” (sic) that evening, just thirteen years old and one of the ticketless Scouse thousands watching in a bar on a black and white TV set hoisted on a Wall of Fame. I still see that wall; a fascia decorated with ancient images of Tour de France greats and dashing 1970s French Rugby Unionists.
In front of that wall, I watched my beloved Liverpool beat Real Madrid. I watched a colourless Phil Thompson snatch “Old Big Ears” from the grubby mitts of UEFA’s Dr. Artemio Franchi. I smiled an innocent, yet borderline smug teenage grin as Tommo nearly shook the massive cup’s shapely handles off.
All was right in the world, but not quite.
Liverpool had finished 5th in Division One outside the top two for the first time in my living memory. Limbs of living legends were aching, sinews tightening and minds tiring. We had been warned but as fans hadn’t taken heed.
Maybe we were more concerned at our surroundings, but inside Anfield Bob Paisley sensed the game was up. Only at Liverpool could you be crowned Champions of Europe and have the boss inwardly pondering this…………rip it up; start again.
Those surroundings? Our surroundings?
In the City, two miles from Anfield, the Liver Buildings were black, doused not just by years of industrial smog but by bilious smoke wafted down from Upper Parliament Street, seat of the “Toxteth Riots” that same summer.
Racial tensions, inflamed by the police “stop and search” policy symptomatic of Thatcher’s oppression of Liverpool and the working class per se, saw it “kick off” night after night, live on the BBC Nine O’Clock News.
Liverpool was a TV programme for what felt like all summer.
Copycat riots in Brixton and Moss Side ensued. It wasn’t just us. People were sad, poor and angry and THEY, THEM LOT didn’t care, not much changes in life. Only the good give a toss about others over self-interest.
The country was at odds and not just with itself. “We” would soon be at war with another country and some of us were already in conflict with a government hell bent on tearing crumbling Liverpool – a once-grand City of Empire – further asunder. In London, while Charles and his young bride got married, at home we burned down the Rialto.
While Diana was fiddled, Liverpool burned.
The summer of 1981 was mad.
The Royal Wedding, though sickeningly grandiose amid our poverty, was one thing that actually lifted spirits; street parties, like cup final homecomings, were an excuse to get bladdered on warm ale and cheap wine in paper cups. And only Tories don’t love an al fresco corned beef butty singed with raw onion and brown sauce.
Ian Botham transcended Cricket to win an Ashes series that ranks with any boys’ own story, though an increasingly vile press saw the gentleman’s game and the triumph over Australia’s “convicts” as an opportunity to whip up the prevailing wind. Jingo. Jingo.
Within 9 months it was Argentina on the arse-end of such neo-fascism, only with bullets and torpedoes replacing hard red leather balls.
An ongoing struggle continued with Irish republicans. In Liverpool, a place blessed with Emerald hearts, loyalties were split between the injustice of land theft and the terror of terrorism.
Bobby Sands went on hunger strike for the cause and effectively said another war fought by “Great” Britain would end in revenge expressed “in the laughter of our children”. It never did but peace eventually prevailed and those children are now safe and mostly living in a more beautiful Belfast or in Liverpool as students in our City.
The recent academic student invasion rivals that of the famine, only this time with no starvation. That was left to Sands off his own back, and his comrades in terror who – it is alleged – also horse-knapped and killed the great thoroughbred, Shergar.
Back to Anfield, the Paris parade done and dusted.
Ray Clemence had gone. Left us for Spurs amid rumour and counter rumour.
On my return from Paris my mum and dad kept Ray’s leaving of Liverpool from me, like they did the death of my Uncle Jack who took me to non-league football. His departure I learnt overhearing men bemoaning his passing over the wait for the Football Echo one Saturday night. I was 13 for fucks sake, not four, but Clem was not only the goalie and my favourite player so I kind of understood my parents’ protection.
I vowed to be honest with my kids – too honest in retrospect – but there’s no flies on me and with that I’m comfortable. I wear a heart on the sleeve these youngsters now burn on a tattoo. Sound, we’ll never be the same but we should all learn from our mistakes, even ones that can’t be inked out.
With Clem gone, the upstart – later The Clown – Bruce Grobbelaar was in goal.
I fell in love with this renegade. With Clem a safe, steady, loving marriage; with this Rhodesian soldier a tempestuous affair that lasted the best part of a decade and a half and ended in mooted betrayal. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Grob was an acrobat and a thriller but his moonwalks and handstands had the Main Stand having seizures. Paisley stuck by the lad and the rest is history.
Before Paris, we’d seen fledgling promise and coltish rawness from Ian Rush and Ronnie Whelan respectively. You know the rest. The great, great Ray Kennedy of the left was soon forgotten and eased out, while the lad from Flint replaced nothing but Dalglish’s aching Achilles. Dalglish was reborn, like a young grandparent on the arrival of his first male charge.
Craig Johnston brought mad hair and Keegan comparisons; half the brain, half the player, same size heart. And more girls.
Mark Lawrenson came in and ended up the finest centre-half I’ve ever seen but not yet. Left back and centre mid for Lawro at first, because Tommo of Kirkby owned the middle of the penalty box and the sacred armband.
It was revolution versus Liverpool’s quiet conservatism; a surgeon’s wild blade over a doctor’s note for some antibiotics and the scars bled like fuck. Liverpool were 12th at Christmas. Adrift.
Granada TV, the local North West channel based in Manchester salivated over the prospect of United escaping their cloak of mediocrity to assume our mantle.
Naaaahhh lad, as our youngsters say now, even to their dads.
Paisley made the incision that was really necessary, non-surgical but a cut that split Phil Thompson’s heart in two. The pride of The Falcon pub, where the European Cup sat on the bar in May filled with babies and brown mix, was stripped of a captaincy that meant the world to him. His failing form was resultant of carrying too heavy a local burden and covering for the errant Grobbelaar.
Phil’s head was mashed and in no fit state to lead a young Liverpool team into battle. Paisley’s axe fell.
Galling Tommo further was Paisley’s choice of Graeme Souness in his stead; not exactly his nemesis but neither a close mate. Souness, the urbane Scot with a puffed-out chest was the perfect choice to energise a bleeding Thompson in “proving Paisley wrong”. Souey was also the perfect choice for the first of three consecutive league titles before he swanned off, graceful as ever to cash-rich Seie A and Sampdoria of Genoa.
Tommo’s form came back overnight; a weight off his scrawny shoulders. At high-flying Swansea in the FA Cup, Phil ran out last in line, a face like thunder brimful of spite while Souness swaggered out at the head of the Red queue. Liverpool won 4-0.
They never looked back.
At Wembley in the League Cup Final, Spurs and Clemence were vanquished by the youthful verve of Whelan and Rush. At Anfield on the last day of the home season, Spurs and Clemence were vanquished by Lawrenson, Dalglish and Whelan and title number 13 was in the bag by a quarter to five.
Paisley saluted it as the finest achievement of his managerial career, up against some pretty stiff competition. Rome could do one, Wembley could go hang, Paris was just for larks. The bread and butter had been served up and it tasted great in front of an impoverished but exultant Kop, in those days a labour social club drunk on success.
Away from football, soon Belfast would celebrate Alex Higgins become world snooker champ in the nation’s new sporting obsession. It was an escape for people from “The Troubles”; never more of an understated moniker to describe decades of ti-for-tat terror.
Soon Britain and Thatcher was at war with Argentina over The Malvinas and there more fires and this time, death on a grand scale. Jingo. Jingo. “Gotcha” wrote The S*n when “we” sank The Belgrano. It won her an election and a mandate to strip us up in Liverpool as bare as a brass monkey.
“Gotcha” was small fry. Worse was to come from that rag – to our everlasting pain.
By the summer of 1982, still there were no jobs and the “drift to the South” continued as Liverpool began to resemble The Special’s “Ghost Town” and people left mums and dads and girlfriends looking for work. Some never came back, littering London and Bournemouth with scouse blood and a mentality that infiltrates a far foreign land to this day.
But, for all our woes, Liverpool were Champions and those of us who watched and followed them everywhere dressed and fed and traveled like Kings.
The Best of Times, the Worst of Times. A Tale of One City.
1981/82 – The full story will be in the book. It wasn’t “HEAVEN UP HERE” in Liverpool. But it felt like it sometimes.
About the Author
Mike Nevin is the Director of Lobscouse Media and freelance writer for Anfield Index Pro, The Cricketer, and ATX Reds Press. He is also a contributor at The Liverpool Connection Podcast, based out of Austin, Texas.