STORY

Billy Riley's naked body shivered and glistened with the droplets of the spray which still clung to him, running in rivulets from his soaked head onto his scrawny nine year old back and legs, and onto the ground. He was spluttering and shouting to me. "Come on," he yelled, "It's really fun. My granddad lets me do this all the time." Watching this excited activity from the cinder track bounded by the low concrete wall, and still dressed in summer shirt and shorts, I was dubious. Granted, the only person around was Billy's grandfather, who was engaged with his tractor mower cutting the hallowed turf neatly and regularly with parallel lateral excursions across the large field, creating a neat pattern as he did so. And I had been with Billy when he had asked his grandfather if we could stay on the ground with him and play on the field. But I was shy and unsure as to whether this was the proper thing to do. The powerful spray of water had already turned the grass to a dark shade of green, and it was lush and firm as I had never seen it during the winter months when it was the site of such regular frenetic activity and became chewed up with the gouging of a thousand studs. It was tempting on this warm summer afternoon.


We had started off playing in our street, kicking a ball around, just the two of us. It was the start of the summer holiday, and the sun was warm on our backs, warming us as we exerted ourselves, trapping and passing the small ball to one another, and occasionally attempting to slip the ball through each other's legs, to retrieve behind our opponent's back, with hoots of laughter and groans of frustration. We did not see a great deal of each other, except during summer holidays, for we went to different schools, he to Anfield Road, past Arkles Lane from the great football ground, and myself to Granton Road Primary School, in a totally different direction. Three short years farther on, we were to attend Liverpool Collegiate together. Although we shared a number of common interests, we were friends without being particularly close or sharing intimate thoughts or ideas, but we still enjoyed the mutual participation of sports and the pitting of our nascent skills against one another. Billy's grandmother had beckoned him and he quickly drew close, putting something in his pocket as he turned away toward me. "I have to give a note to my Grandad," he called out. "Come with me and we will be able to play inside." Billy was a third generation of living Riley males. His father was assistant to his grandfather, in a succession of Rileys that spanned several decades as head groundsman in this landmark stadium of Anfield, Liverpool, known throughout the soccer-loving world from Brazil to Capetown to Reykyavik.


We had entered the silent stadium through the players's entrance, where the guard had waved us through, having recognised Billy, as Billy waved the note to his grandfather by way of explanation. We passed the manager's office and the home and visiting teams change rooms, and we stepped up to the raised pitch, bathed in sunshine, where Billy dutifully delivered the note to his grandfather as arranged. "Can we play under the sprinkler?" Billy had asked, and his grandfather nodded in affirmation. Billy had quickly stepped out of his shirt, his vest, and his shorts before kicking off his shoes and running into the falling droplets.


With more of a sense of intimidation rather than excitement, I turned toward the empty terrace which housed around 12,000 rabid supporters in winter, screaming their support for their beloved team, to that point six times English League champions, the last being in 1946, the first year of competitive activity after Word War Two,. This uncompromising terrace, without easy exit to washrooms, and accessible only from three of its four sides, carried the name of "Spion Kop", as I well knew, and I was in awe of the view of this terrace from this vantage point. I came to know years later that the name was given as a memorial to the deceased of the Merseyside infantry regiment who had sacrificed their lives with distinction in 1900 in the Boer War battle in South Africa of the same name. If this were a match day, I knew that I would be deafened by the noise of voices at fever pitch, accompanied by rattles and whistles, competing with the Sousa marches on the loudspeaker system. The single steel roof covered the whole terrace, and overhung the edge of the pitch, protecting all from the rain and occasional snow, and amplifying the roar of the crowd to fearful proportions to those unaccustomed to it. In this ghostly atmosphere on the empty steps of the terrace I could see the row upon row of steel crush barriers, which occasionally twisted out of shape, or became uprooted from the pressure of the milling crowds.


I quickly pulled off my light summer clothes and my running shoes and ran through the shower of falling droplets, gasping with the cold, and shivering as I reached the other side. "That was great!" I declared. I turned and once more took in this unusual view to my eyes, from the playing surface rather than of it. I wondered if I would one day emulate my Saturday heroes and look at this view again as a hero myself, to some other small boy like me. t



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By Tintagel Tintagel


This story was added on 6th April 2011

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