Liverpool Change

Liverpool Roy Henderson

My Dad first took me to Anfield in 1984. We played West Ham. We were in the Anny Road end, and when Kenny came over to take a corner, I can remember my Dad taking out his camera, and taking a photo of him, a kind of devotional act. My Dad loved Kenny. My Dad loved Liverpool. Years later, when he passed, we discovered a wooden crate of stuff he'd kept aside for us all - his kids. On the top, a sheet from the paper from the summer of 1978. Facing up, under the lid, a picture of Kenny scoring a goal for Scotland. Further down, a programme from the 1974 FA Cup Final. My Dad loved Kenny. My Dad loved Liverpool.

The years passed. My having arrived unexpectedly in 74, named after a favourite sheepdog (so he claimed - he'd been a shepherd in an earlier life), I grew up near a Dundee United side settting off on a decade-long European dream, and watched, usually from a distance on a Sanyo colour telly, a Liverpool side make its transition from vintage to vintage, dominating European and domestic English football in the process.

We'd go to the game at home, at Tannadice, usually enjoy a win, and he'd drive us back home, where I'd get leave to stay up late and sit on the carpet in front of him watching Sportscene (our version of Match Of The Day) or Sportsnight. Liverpool were, often as not, the team featured in the highlights.

We'd watched the big European moments together. The cup finals. We had a bond, and the common understanding that comes from going through that together, albeit in our case, it was a transmission of bigamous devotion, rather than the monogamous kind most are familiar with.

As I grew a little older, I happily discovered a mate - he lived 3/4 of a mile along the road - who was just as Liverpool daft, and just as Kenny daft, as I was. My mate Grant. My brother. I grew up with 3 elder sisters, and was the youngest of four. But Grant was my brother. And we grew into the Liverpudlian thing together really, through school, and bike rides to each others' houses for the games on the telly (when the games started to appear live on telly). And Grant, like me, grew accustomed to my Dad, sat there in his armchair, rocking back and forward to the edge of his seat, kicking every ball, heading every spotted ball to the back stick. Three bloody bigamists. It was all very odd. And all very routine.

And so we grew and grew, and the fortunes waxed and waned, the loves of our lives falling from previous heady heights to some extent, but still capable of delighting, and all the better when we were in congregation. That's how it works, after all. Football is a kind of communion for us, after all. We were all on the same side. We coexisted in empathetic harmony. A nasty challenge. A dodgy refereeing decision. Unity in our derision, unity in our joy, spoken or unspoken.

In 1997, both of us aged 23, we happened to both be home in January, not far off Granty's birthday. Cups of tea, choccy biccies on a china plate. My Dad in his chair. The fire on. The FA Cup 4th Round. Stamford Bridge, Shed End still under construction. Gullit giving it large as their manager. Liverpool not long since pumping them 5-1 at home. A walk in the park, we suspected. We settled in, the three of us in our usual, familiar spots. The telly now a Sony Trinitron. Retirement you see? You indulge yourself from time to time.

Early on, a sweeping move saw play switch from McAteer on the right, to McManaman, then Bjornebye on the left, and he delivered it low to God, who demonstrated his might, a simple finish into an empty net. The three of us, clapping, smiling. Chatting. And shortly after, Collymore fastened on to a mistake by Eddie Newton, and off he trotted, slotting home beyond the beleaguered Hitchcock. Familiar joy. But then shortly after, Fowler got stuck into Leboeuf, and oddly, my Dad reacted to it. Reacted as if there had been some injustice. And Grant and I, our eyes met over the sofa, and we shrugged, and kept on watching.
Grant and I talked at half time about the verve of the Liverpool side, and how we looked comfortable, and would you like another cuppa Dad? And Dad was for another cuppa. But today he wasn't chatting. And that was odd.

Mark Hughes came on at half time, and not long after, he took down a long ball from Stevie Clarke, and swivelled and rifled it home past David James. And my Dad punched the air, and muttered something under his breath. And I remember turning and looking at Grant, and the two of us were wide eyed, incredulous. Insult somehow seasoning injury. And so it went on. Muttering. Get intae thums. C'mon now Refs! And as the game went on, brows furrowed, and we witnessed this man somehow desert his roots, and seemingly betray his allegiance in front of our very eyes. And Chelsea of course, to compound things, equalised, a moment of what would soon become customary genius from Gianfranco Zola, my Dad seemingly delighted at developments.

By this time, I was spitting pins. "You're just winding us up. What are you playing at?". But he just ignored us, and ramped it up. By the time Chelsea took the lead, Vialli nodding home a Zola free kick, we'd sickened of the whole affair. "He's just trying to wind us up Grant." But he wasn't the type to wind us up. He wasn't the type to wind anyone up, my Dad. He was a kind, devoted man. Devoted to the thing he held dear.

Chelsea went on to win 4-2. An abject capitulation in the 2nd half from a team that maybe, on reflection, was only lacking that bit of backbone. That, had it bolstered with exactly that kind of steel, might have done a thing or two. But the memory of the game, both mine and Grant's, is of our bewilderment at my Dad, and the strangeness of it all. I raged for quite a while. It's a hard thing to let lie, after all.

And then of course, came the 2nd Newcastle 4-3, and normal service was, it seemed, resumed. And the weirdness, the snideness, never again returned, with many a joyful moment shared in the years that led up to his passing. A passing after years suffering at the hand of Alzheimers, and progressive onset Dementia.
Those years led to many a strangely happy, comic moment. My mum would lose my Dad when they were out for a walk, and know to look in the Bakers first. He'd usually be in there on the mooch. And he'd still seranade us with a song in his heart whenever he saw us, no matter how the week before had been for him.
Looking back on it, I believe that Grant and I witnessed the early signs of that deterioration taking place. The consultants said he'd suffered many small myocardial infarctions over the years before his diagnosis, slowly creating little holes in his brain, impairing his normal function, slowly changing him into the man he'd become. Still a lovely, lovely man, but a man who was suffering nevertheless.

Odd to think back to a day when, at the time, both Grant and I found ourselves raging at him. Age and perspective lends a little colour to these things from time to time. I think back to it now and it makes me smile, because it seemed to be born of devilment. I like to think he was 'at it' that way. And the times that came after bore that out. Normal service was resumed.
Dementia is the oddest of ailments, in that it can make you unrecognisable, even to yourself. You have to look for the joy in it, and the comedy, however black. That, and good old fashioned love and support, are what gets you through it as a family.

Roy Henderson

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5 Comments (Add your voice)

I remember that day like yesterday mate! I'd like to think he was ' at it' too :)

– Grant, December 10 2013 at 21:31

Great read Roy.

– Mick, December 11 2013 at 03:12

Great read Roy.

– Mick, December 11 2013 at 03:13

This is beautiful writing, Roy, as ever. Loved it, mate.

– Trev, December 16 2013 at 16:45

Great read, great people, great team & great memories

– John, December 16 2013 at 18:12

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