Bags packed best bib and tucker at the ready, an a couple of bob in your pocket and we were off. Not before me Dad managed to slip me a few quid, I explained "thanks, but I don’t need it, I’m sorted". He just said "take it, you might need it for food or taxi’s whatever" I laughed, shook my head and said "whatever", "Oh there will be plenty of whatever’s that’s for sure " He grinned a knowing smile as I left our house. We arrived at Speke Airport two hours before the scheduled take off time because we anticipated we may have a bit of trouble with our booking, Liverpool airport was a bit like Moldova in those days. As you may expect the reception area at Liverpool didn’t have us down for the flight from Speke, we produced all the names and telephone numbers of the people we had contacted and after half an hour or so our flights were finally confirmed. An hour to kill, what would any 20 year old lad do? Time for a couple of beers in the airport bar - as you do. We soon got talking to a few other reds who were travelling over on the same plane, one of them said "You will love Belfast, its just like Liverpool, only they speak differently than us". I thought, I’d reserve judgement on that one until we are over there. Flying towards Belfast all you could see was green countryside; it looked very tranquil and surreal, not what I had in my minds eye. We landed at Belfast airport, said "ta ra" to the other Liverpool lads and jumped a taxi to our hotel. The taxi driver was superb, he welcomed us to Belfast and said how everyone was excited about Liverpool F C playing over there. Travelling through Belfast was like travelling through Liverpool, the same sort of housing, the same sort of feel about it, this surprised me.
We arrived at our Hotel, and again were made to feel very welcome, we were booked in by a cracking looking lady called Irene, we were asked if we would like an evening meal for free as someone had failed to turn up and it would only go the waste. A quick look around the hotel room, a telephone call to Ian’s uncle and down to feed our faces. The meal was enormous I was seriously concerned that I wouldn’t have enough room for ale later that night. Irene looked stunning, and I know what I fancied for afters! As we sat in the hotel bar Ian’s uncle arrived, strooth! He must have been about 7 foot tall, a quick introduction and a couple more ales soon broke the ice as Alex told us what it was like living over in Belfast. "You’ll love it here, its just like Liverpool" I’d heard that one a few times already. We paid Alex for our accommodation and he paid Ian for his match ticket, Ian kept his ticket for safekeeping. Anyway, if your going to visit another City you won’t find out about it unless you have a mooch about time to sample the delights of some other bars. We left out hotel and jumped in a taxi into the City centre, a pub was spotted and we made our way directly to it. It was noticeable that there was a difference in our clothes style, most of the young lads that we saw were skinheads. This had been a fad in Liverpool in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and obviously was still the "in-thing" in Belfast.
We walked in this pub and the place went quiet as we made our way to the lounge bar, you could the stares burning a hole the back of your head, strangers in a strange pub. The bar-man asked were where we from "Liverpool" we replied, he looked straight at us and said, "anyone from Liverpool, is welcome here". You could feel the atmosphere relax as the people carried on with their conversations, we certainly felt a bit more at ease. The three of us sat down and Alex told us that this was one of the pubs he frequented. He then went on to explain how he had met this girl in Liverpool in the late 60’s, courted her, moved across to Belfast in 1972 and eventually they got married. Alex still had a strong scouse accent, but it was tinged with a hint of the Irish brogue. As the ale flowed we obviously relaxed and so did the locals, soon blokes in their 50’s grabbed us and shook our hands most saying they had visited Liverpool and how much they loved the City and the football clubs. It was funny to look at Alex he was taller than most of the Irish people even though he was sitting down. It surprised me that most of the locals were little people very few of them were over six feet tall.
I found the Belfast accent quite easy to understand at first, but as the night progressed and the pints began to take their toll it became harder and harder for us to understand each other. Tales of Liverpool’s famous past soon filled the air as we all relayed our favourite stories and yarns. Every now and then either singularly or in-groups "Liverpool anthems" would boom around the pub, the strange thing about this was these were all old fellas like yer dad, yet they had so much enthusiasm for us and anything Liverpool. We had noticed that the local young lads, mainly skinhead types, were occupying the bar area playing pool whilst we had a laugh in the lounge area. This skinhead walked to us and said "You from Liverpool", I just thought to myself here we go, its gonna go off here, "yes why? " – "that’s brilliant" came the reply I love Liverpool? We stood having a gab with this bloke as one by one all his mates came across and talked to us. Most of them said they were Liverpool supporters, some Everton supporters, some Spurs and a couple Man United supporters and a Hib’s fan. The Hibernian supporter was superb we got on with him no problem. We told him how we had been to Edinburgh to watch the reds and how well we got on with the Hib’s supporters. We baited the Man U supporters for a while but in the end we stopped, they didn’t have a clue what we were on about. Even though this was a mixture of various supporters we got on great with them and had a good laugh as we tried to play pool. As you do, well I did when I was alive, we noticed the girls sitting together in-groups of three’s or four’s. A quick "hello" tell us about yourselves, what are you doing after here etc. Most of the girls had boyfriends who were playing pool, we had other games on our minds! Despite many valiant efforts, a bit like Rob Jones, all our attempts got us nowhere. The lads sussed out what we were after and joined their girlfriends to save them from our advances – we were gutted. At the end of the night it was like saying goodbye to a member of your family for the very last time, we had made an impression with them as they had with us. We decided to walk some of the way out of town before we attempted to get a taxi, "Liverpool songs" filled the air as we staggered along in drunken oblivion. We jumped a taxi and headed back to our hotel. We left Alex slumped in the back of the taxi he was oblivious to everything we said. Ian scribbled down Alex’s address and passed it to the driver with enough money to cover the fare. After a few attempts we managed to locate the front door lock with the key, funny how something so simple is so hard to do when your cabbaged. Once inside the first thing that hit you was that there was music blaring out from the bar area. We quickly stumbled to the bar to find it occupied by 25-35 people, it was well into the early morning and we hadn’t anticipated this? Irene was they’re serving from behind the bar, we ordered our drinks and stood their both lusting over her. Don’t know if it was because I had my beer goggles on or what, she looked even better than before! Here you are love get yourself a drink, was surprised when she said "yes" and joined us at the bar. She was 100% women very feminine and with gorgeous dark brown eyes, Irene told us she was the co-owner of the hotel her husband was asleep upstairs, more fool him, as we chatted away into the small hours. I awoke feeling like someone had been jumping up and down on my head, unfortunately without Miss, or Mrs, Ireland by my side. A quick shower, shave and shite, into a clean set of clothes and downstairs for a great big greasy fry up, that would sort me out. Sitting reading the daily papers, Ian eventually turned up, looking as rough as fuck, I recommended that he should have a greasy fry up, he declined the suggestion and settled for toast instead. Irene’s husband was serving everyone with breakfast’s, he was one of these "always on the go people" a pleasant person full of the joys of spring, little did he know? Anyway later on, Ian rang for Alex to see if he was coming out for a curer. His missus answered the phone and said "he is in a very bad state and has fallen asleep fully clothed on the stairs, with the dog snuggled next to him." We went for a walk to clear our heads and to find a boozer, the rain was cold and refreshing but drenched our Wrangler’s right through, as we walked on. In those days, there was nothing so fashionable as marching sown a main road in a town full of anoraks wit a big W on yer axse.
We found a pub and after a couple of jars we were as right as rain, the locals knew we were "out of towners." Of course we were, we were Wranglered up to death, but to be honest, at that time we just ignored them as they tried their best to wind us up. These were different people than the night before, very aggressive and in your face. We replenished our beer supplies and sat down not far from them, as with the night before these people were only small, both of us being well over 6 foot in height was maybe intimidating to them. The baiting continued with comments about Liverpool and us in general. "Crusaders will destroy Liverpool today", "don’t know why you boy’s have come over here your going out today" "yeah right" I said "the best team in England getting knocked out by a bunch of part-timers, no chance" as they started to get my back up a bit. "Liverpool aren’t even going to show up, they know they are already fxxxxxg beaten" one of the wags said [Because of the situation in Belfast, Liverpool had been granted special dispensation from UEFA to fly into Belfast on the day of the match rather than staying overnight]. "Its because they don’t want to meet people like you" said Ian. This broke the ice - a stunned silence occupied the bar as we sat at the ready for any verbal or physical retort. "They’re all bone idle lazy fuckin thieves over in Liverpool" came across "what are you lot doing boozing on a Wednesday dinnertime then" I said. Ian stood up and walked past them as he made this way to the bogs, the tension was very evident as he returned sometime later. The "banter" continued backwards and forwards no holes barred no quarter asked and none given, the mood got blacker and blacker. The barman had been taking this all in and walked up with two pints and said "here you go boy’s drink these then I’m gonna have to ask you to leave" "Why" we both shouted, "if you don’t it might get out of hand, " he said. We finished our ale an I went to the bog, when I got back Ian was standing by the door glaring at them, "come on lets get out of this fxxxxxg dump" I said, as we walked out slowly waiting for any sort of response – nothing happened. We got back to our hotel after another quick shxt, shower and change of some clothes, we headed downstairs to phone Alex too see if he was ready for the match. Alex’s missus answered the phone "he’s gone to bed, he doesn’t feel too well" she said, "Never mind, tell him we rang when he eventually gets out of his pit, the queg" said Ian. We rang for a taxi from the hotel soon we where on our way. As we approached the ground the crowds of people outside got bigger and bigger, we sorted out the taxi and had a walk around the ground to find out which was our end.