While Peter Sixsmith was ho-ho-hoing through parts of County Durham, Robert Chapman was stoically on an awayday to Anfield. Here, delayed a little by internet problems, is his report …
My first visit to Anfield was the last day of season 1980/1. A goal from Stan Cummins ensured a 1-0 win which kept us in the First Division. Since then I have seen a number of draws, more defeats, but no such repeat of that first visit.
I have always wondered what all the fuss is about with Liverpool as on my visits, the atmosphere inside Anfield is certainly not unique. I can even say that I have stood on the Kop, when it was standing only and been suitably unimpressed. There again, as our record is pretty poor, I suppose there has been no great need for their fans to get too excited, as the draw will be the worst case scenario. However, I thought we were unlucky last season and was quite optimistic that we were due a result.
Living in Bedfordshire means that travelling up the M6 is an absolute nightmare. Recently I spent 11 hours getting up and back from Lancaster visiting relatives. So, to ensure no mishaps I decided to drive to Crewe and then get the train to Liverpool. My motto of “if I am in the country, then I will be there” means that I see most games as well as eat copious amounts of fish and chips from a variety of eateries. Both Wetherby establishments are good but Crewe is better!
Parking in Gresty Lane, just outside Crewe Alexander, I jumped on the train to Liverpool. The passengers were a mixture of football fans, shoppers and a couple of fancy dress stag parties, limbering up for a weekend of excess. Unfortunately the train came to an unexpected halt at Runcorn. A passenger had fainted and an ambulance had to be called for. Once the ambulance had arrived after 20 minutes the train wouldn’t start again as the brakes had seized up.
I like Liverpool and the city centre has been transformed over the years. As I had set off early I was planning to wander about, have a drink and then walk leisurely to Anfield. However at 1.50pm and still standing on Runcorn Station I was beginning to panic. With no sign of any movement I decided to get a taxi to Anfield.
Fortunately I managed to jump the queue by making the numbers up with a party of Liverpool fans. It turned out that they were all retired railway workers from Crewe, one of who had lived in Spennymoor and had worked at Shildon Wagon Works. I am a keen railway enthusiast we talked about trains, although we did have a brief discussion about Fabio Borini and whether he would feature or not. They thought he would be on his way after Christmas.
I arrived at Anfield to find unexpected changes to the side. However, we made a promising start. Connor Wickham is slowly building a reputation for himself. He is a much stronger player now than last year and I am sure that in a couple of years will be a regular in the England squad. He was outstanding against Chelsea and within the first three minutes he caused Skrtel to make a rash challenge, which if it had been Brown on Lambert would have been a certain penalty. Three minutes in, in front of The Kop, you are wasting your time!
That penalty shout gave encouragement and for long periods we dominated the play. Although Lambert had a chance at the far post, the best chance came to Wes Brown, just before half time as he headed over a Larsson corner. We deserved to go in on top.
So many times over the years we have shown first half promise only to capitulate in the second. However we came out and carried on where we left off. Apart from occasional glimpses from Raheem Sterling they did look like a mid-table side, clearly missing, like us, a real goal threat up front. In an attempt to change things Liverpool brought on Gerrard. He hit a tremendous first pass which I thought might be a sign of things to come.
Fortunately, the introduction of Lee Cattermole added extra steel to the midfield and counteracted any threat from him. I suspect Gus kept Cattermole on the bench to simply cancel out any threat posed by the late introduction of the ex-England captain as it was widely expected that he wasn’t going to start the game. Both Wickham and Gomez both had decent half chances that could have won the game for us and I am sure the team will have been disappointed not to get the three points.
After the match I walked to Lime Street only to find the trains back to Crewe still disrupted. With only one in three trains running I squeezed on and spent the time in conversation with a punter who had just won £2,000 at Aintree Races. He asked me what I spent watching Sunderland. When I told him he said I should change sports as he didn’t have to pay anything to watch his sport as he regularly beats the bookies! Not so sure about that, but he was good company and said that we would comfortably finish mid table.
Finally, back at Crewe I turned left outside the station and headed to Goodwin’s on Nantwich Road for some well-deserved fish and chips. Is there a better one out there? How about a Salut! Sunderland survey on match day food outlets?