Writing comes from inspiration; often (and always best) unplanned.
Saturday morning at Coffee Shop, Dace in Crosby. A Mocha and then a crumpet with bacon, black pudding, and avocado in a Tory sauce. Once it’s gone half twelve, I notice they’re serving booze!
House white si’l vous plait?
Just the one, Mrs. Wembley! How very middle class!
I’m only here to meet my best mate because as my oldest mucker she still lives in this suburban, northern part of the Liverpool City Region, the only area in the country which was locked down by the government into the economic and social straightjacket that is Tier 3 of Covid-19 restrictions. More places near us have followed suit since, as the vicious attack on the north continues apace.
Earlier though, through the driving morning rain, I sense football on College Road, home of Marine AFC. It is round the corner from my old turf; a manor from where I’m now exiled.
Marine are/were my most local team, along with The Reds – and Budapest’s Ferencvaros, just for the sake of distance learning and European mystique.
Marine however are away today, to Chester in the FA Cup, in the last qualifying round before the First-Round proper which brings out the classic numbered, wooden balls in the old velvet bag. Up the Mariners, the old sea dogs who follow them and my Uncle Jack who first took me when I was 4.
For Marine, and all those in today’s 4th qualifying round, which is actually about the seventh cup match for the tiniest of the minnows, TV and wealth opportunity knocks for the first time in 25 years.
Marine have travelled through the Mersey Tunnel and as I write will be scaling Chester’s Roman walls, so, at their Rosset Park ground, it is the tenants who are in action.
AFC Liverpool groundshare with Marine.
AFC were formed in 2008, amid the Liverpudlian turmoil, heartbreak, worry, anger and disgrace that was Tom Hicks and George Gillet.
Their opponents today are Streeton AFC (1905) in the North West Counties League First Division North which is the 10th tier of the English game. No great shakes when you’re used to watching Liverpool win European Cups one minute and lose 7-2 at the Villa, the next.
But, get this?
The fans are in. Live fucking football!
Maximum capacity with the antisocial distancing of 300, AFC Steward, Neil McMillan says to me…. “which is sound because we only ever get 150 anyway”, quipped with a smile behind an Adam Lallanesque headband, which keeps his rain-lashed black mop lifted away from saturated eyes.
I say I’ll be back later. I shelter in Dace eating the posh brekkie.
But, the lure of limbered up limbs clashing and the sound of Copa Mondial boots lashing mitre balls – to my naked ear – is too much to ignore. First some food and meet my mate. She’s late, so I get chatting to two nice AFC men who are as audibly excited about live football as they are about the excellent breakfast fayre on offer.
One is Alan Harrison…..honorary life member and original board member around the time the leveraged US buy-out of LFC was paining Liverpool fans as much as escalating ticket prices. AFC – unlike FC United of Manchester – were never and still are not a protest club.
They were formed to offer skint Reds, fleeced by life and Premier League greed an affordable football option, not mutually exclusive, for those of Red persuasion. They wear all red, come out to YNWA and the songs derive largely from Kop tunes; but sadly, it has never really taken off. It’s a testament to their spirit they exist still in this harsh world. Like all clubs, they offer community, even if alarmingly small.
Alan tells me a lovely story. He’s on the PA at the match today, as per. George Sephton – the very, very famous Voice of Anfield is a friend to Alan and to AFC where he is a regular when professional commitment to dulcet L4 tones allow.
Mr. Harrison (he has the soft but senior air of a mister) is as good as genius George but missed his way. He applied for the same job as Mr. Sephton but, at the age of 19 was just a tad too young. George, a little older for the gig back in the earliest part of the 1970s and still he remains.
Alan reads out the teams, and provides the intros and links, like a musician or top MC. There’s a heavy sense of irony, nay melancholy when Alan addresses a sparse, soaking crowd of around 150 with “Welcome to Merseyside on this beautiful sunny day in this Covid world.”
Al assures the crowd that the safety measure needed are in place and asks fans to respect the rules the allow us to live fucking football. The capacity under new regs here is 300 but on this miserable day the throng numbers barely half that.
Alan is upbeat.
He’s glad to be out, watching football, seeing his mates, and on the mic. In Dace before, while donning his warm coat he says with pride… “I’ve survived cancer recently. I’m still here for a reason and it’s not to be locked up!” Alan admits getting back to football and AFC and their people was what kept him going through his treatment.
Surely, Alan has the right idea.
We’re all a long time dead, and sadly, plenty I know died in their hearts and minds long ago – killed off by the handling and media portrayal of this destructive virus. But not me and me and my old pal, Al, and it’s off to the match we go.
The scene is Lowry-esque, bleak grey skies of Northern England, raindrops battering eardrums as they lash the roof of the Paddy McKeown Stand behind the goal. I’m sat at the back antisocially distanced from Alan who is filling me in all things AFC. I know most of it but there a few gems I’ve missed, which I get later.
In the meantime, the game has kicked off with a long diagonal AFC punt from right to left which asks of the first contested header. There will be a thousand more as the ball balloons through sodden skies all afternoon. AFC Liverpool in Bill Shankly’s all red, Steeton AFC in a Huddersfield industrial all green which contrasts easily with an unspoilt emerald surface.
Alan is two rows back from me mic in hand and his first job after the whistle comes on 7 mins. “First goal for AFC Liverpool, Anthony Lyons”. It could easily be George at Anfield announcing Mo Salah to cheers from the rafters, so soft and resonant are the unmistakably scouse vocal chords.
I learn that the aforementioned Lyons has scored all five of the club’s goals so far this new campaign; 2 in the league opener and 3 in the FA Vase or vice versa. The noise of the rain obscures my hearing and my notes are too sodden for me to care. But it’s definitely all five so far to Anthony of AFC, so hats off to you, young man. He ends up with a treble, which at this rate means he will get four next weekend, which will make 11 for the season by then. Do the Math.
Goals pay the rent but I prefer goalies. In front of us as AFC attack the away end in the first half, Day Potter (David, as per the match programme) is resplendent in luminous yellow; a de facto, albeit slightly fatter, not quite as hirsute and tanned version of Alison Becker, but for the moment with more clean sheets and fans cheering him on. As I’m writing down his name in my notes he defies Steeton with an alert parry and insanely brave finger away from danger, off the spinning top of a loose ball.
Goalkeepers are mad. Different. Like me. My daughter is a keeper of some standing, perversely having graced Goodison for Sefton against Liverpool at the age of 12. The apple never falls far from the tree; nor the ball far from the outstretched, straining palm.
The AFC goalie, David is relatively small. “We won’t be able to see him second half. through that rain, too far away, too small…….”, jokes Alan H, with obvious affection teeming down from him like the ever-worsening rain.
As the conditions worsen, the sliding tackles begin to enter the adult-only territory, rated X but with little malice. It’s just Slippery When Wet, which reminds me of an old album by a cheeky, good-looking Glaswegian pop icon who ended up on the smack (allegedly). It can happen to the best of us.
It’s not just the tackles going astray, it’s the balls as well. Hammered without caress or guile over the numbered fences into Rosset Road, not far from my house. I pray for a lucky bounce that would see a see a sodden leather sphere clatter into my patio doors and wake the residents from their lockdown torpor. People are dying in those houses, and homes everywhere; killed not just by their own tragic fears, anxieties, and insecurities but by the rhetoric of contagion fear that has now gone beyond a joke.
Out in the fresh air, Alan H tells of the stray balls which are collected from the guilty, adhesive gardens and back yards either side of the tight touchlines. “When we started out here, we used to run AFC Bingo when the winning ticket was for the number of the first house the match-ball was leathered into. They never throw it back.”
Shortly before half-time, I realise, I have seen enough.
I’m too cold and too wet to stay.
I have more than enough material to pay tribute to those who have entertained and welcomed me now for over four hours. It was nice to be home for once.
Thanks, Alan Harrison, Thanks Day Potter, Neil McMillan, and all you lads out playing through that bastard rain. Week in. Week out.
Final Score: AFC Liverpool 5 v 1 Steeton AFCAnthony Lyons (7)James McGrane (15)HT: 2-0Anthony Lyons (53)Anthony Lyons (56)Kyle Schorah (69)Luke Baldwin (75)Att: 105
POSTSCRIPT: (BBC Grandstand teleprinter…………..) Chester……………………0…………………Marine AFC…………………………1 (One)
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.