Reconnaissance mission completed we spotted a pub it was absolutely chocka block full of Liverpool supporters, surely they could make room for two of their own, driven on by thirst we eventually made it to the bar and got served. We stood at ease and enjoyed our bevies when we noticed something very odd a lot of the Liverpool supporters were Irish? Neither of us had expected this? We knew Liverpool had a huge following over in Ireland but some reason never expected this sort of turn out. As you do, we started talking to the Irish reds around us they were superb they knew everything about Liverpool FC. Some of the Irish accents were different some easier to understand than others, it became apparent that these people had travelled the length and breath of Ireland to support their team. One lad in particular was going around asking everyone for any spares? Ian duly boxed him off with Alex’s ticket, his face lit up like Blackpool lights, Christmas had come early for him? One of the Irish lads commented that Liverpool FC had been delayed owing to fog conditions at Belfast airport and that they had only just arrived at the ground. We decided to make our way into the ground, outside there where lines of police and stewards intent on checking everyone to make sure they a valid match ticket. Whilst in the queue we noticed a number of Irish supporters being turned away, we then found out that a very large number of forged tickets had been printed and distributed around Ireland.
After a bit of a wait we eventually to gain entry to the ground, we quickly headed to the toilets to relieve ourselves of some of the alcohol consumed earlier. The toilets were very sparse to say the least the urine ebbed and flowed like a small lake, you had to tip toe to try and make sure it didn’t flow over your trainees. It was all right for these in their plazzy shoes, but for a fashion conscious Scouser, a p**s stain was like a dagger through the heart. Our section was full of Scouse reds, whilst the remainder of our end was full of Irish Liverpudlians. This was the first time we had experienced such huge numbers of locals supporting Liverpool.
Billy Johnson (Crusaders' Manager) had declared that the second leg would see a completely different style of play from his Crusaders, they were going to attack. He urged his supporters to make as much noise as possible and for his players to intimidate the Liverpool players in every way on the pitch. As both teams walked onto the pitch the noise was awesome for the 10,000 capacity crowd. The commentator read out the individual names of the Crusaders team, each name was greeted with a crescendo of noise, this was impressive? What happened next was unbelievable, as the commentator read out our player’s names the noise was twice as loud again! The Liverpool team, squad, management etc received a tumultuous welcome from the partisan crowd. As the teams choose which ends to defend we boomed out our anthem "You’ll Never Walk Alone" the whole crowd was up for this as Liverpool scarves appeared in every section of the ground. Crusaders' supporters also joined in, it looked and sounded superb. Liverpool quickly settled down and adopted the tried and tested tactic of quietening the home crowd then gradually imposing themselves on the game. Crusaders certainly where not intimidated by Liverpool as wave after wave of Crusaders attacks bore down on the Liverpool goal, Billy Johnson had certainly prepared his boys as he said he would. Twice within the first twenty minutes or so Crusaders hit Liverpool’s woodwork, the home crowd was ecstatic roaring their team on and on. If they scored early on it would indeed be a different game than the first leg. Fortunately Liverpool eventually regained their composure and in a rare attack Kevin Keegan gave the tricky reds the lead after 30 minutes with a stunning left foot volley which flew into the Irish net. The Liverpool crowd went ballistic as we celebrated this very important goal, we bounced up and down as Crusaders' supporters incredibly applauded Kevin Keegan’s goal, surely that would deflate the confidence out of Crusaders?
The Liverpool goal did just that, it lifted our boys and despite tremendous encouragement from the home fans the Crusaders team grew increasingly demoralised. Crusaders where now on the back foot as Liverpool turned up the pressure and retained possession of the ball almost at will. Red tide after red tide swept towards Crusaders' goal, as their defence and goalkeeper somehow managed to keep the reds down to a respectable one-nil score line at halftime. The teams lined up after the break with Liverpool soon retaining the impetus, after a while it was clear to see that Liverpool’s superior fitness and tactful awareness was no match for Crusaders. Crusaders managed to keep Liverpool at bay until around the 80 minutes mark, when Davey Johnson pounced on a rare mistake by the Crusaders' goalie following a thunderbolt of a shot from Steve Heighway. As before we went ape, that was game over, they had no chance of making a comeback, a few scuffles broke out in the crowd nothing-serious just handbags at eight paces. Defeat was a bitter taste for some. Goals from Terry Mac and another beauty from Steve Heighway made it four nil, each goal being celebrated with much vigour from both sets of fans. Davie Johnson finished the scoring just before the end of the game with a simple tap in. The ref blew the final whistle “YES” we had got through! The Liverpool team were joined on the pitch by the rest of the Liverpool squad and the backroom staff, and an impromptu walkaround the pitch took place as the Liverpool supporters and Crusaders' supporters joined forces to acknowledge a superb performance from the reds. Walking out the ground hunger pains gripped and tormented my empty stomach, it was teatime and we were starving. Unfortunately these would not be the only pains we would experience that night. Walking along with the early evening crowd content at yet another fine display by the reds, we were oblivious to the attack that took place – everything just went black? I can remember waking up and for a split second wondered who were all these people looking at me? "Take it easy" "Are you OK" yeah I was OK, but how was Ian? I shot up and Ian was sitting on someone’s front wall, his face was covered in blood, he looked dazed and confused, he gave the thumbs up sign as the local people cleaned him up with tissues. I wasn’t bothered about myself Ian was all-right that was all that mattered. "Here you go Son, clean yourself up with this" as someone passed me some tissues to clean myself up. As we retained our senses, someone told us five blokes had jumped us from behind. My right shoulder was killing me, but I said nothing as we thanked the people for helping us out and walked on. As the reality of the attack slowly manifested itself I can remember feeling more and more angry in fact I was absolutely fuming. God forbid anyone who tried to wind me up or have a go that night, walking along I was ready to smack anyone, all’s I wanted was someone to say something, anything. We decided it was time for drink and to try and calm down a bit, a pub was spotted and a pint quickly ordered and consumed. We went to the bogs to wash up and see what the damage was? A couple of bumps and bruises, a few loose teeth, and a very bloody nose. I took my t-shirt off to take a look at my shoulder, it was really aching, and I spun it around like a Mike Channon goal celebration something "clicked into place" the pain shot across my shoulder then slowly eased. Some bloke walked into the bogs he didn’t say anything, he just looked on as we continued to sort ourselves out. We walked out and ordered another pint, everyone seemed to be looking at us, and I was still waiting for someone to say something, anything! This bloke further up the bar must have sussed what had gone on, he walked up and apologised for what had happened, we thanked him for his concern and told him we were alright I wasn’t, I was still seething. Ian spotted food at the end of the bar, music is supposed to calm the savage beast - in this case two meat pies certainly did the trick.
As time passed by the effects of many seven year-old Irish malt whisky chasers began to kick in, we sat down amongst the locals and began to weave stories about following Liverpool FC home and away they lapped it up. Some bloke walked into the bar selling cockles, whelks and other assorted seafood, "Here ya are lad, give us a few packets of them cockles" for some strange reason he passed over about 10 packets. The evening progressed as evenings do and as the landlord was trying to empty the pub we ordered a taxi to take us back to the hotel. "Here boy’s" he shouted as we made ready our departure, he walked over and handed us a bottle of whisky each. "Take this away with you as a gesture of goodwill you have seen a little bit of the ugly side of Belfast, and we want you to know there is a good side too." To be honest we were amazed, we told him not to worry, there is good and bad in any town or city and that sometimes things like this happen. We shook hands and Ian gave him his little LFC pin badge, the bloke had a big cheesy grin on his face as he put the badge on his shirt and we got in the cab to the hotel. Straight up to the bedroom to check that me mug was all right, a quick wash and downstairs to see out the remainder of the evening/ early morning. It was a ugly time to be a Liverpudlian, Irene’s husband was manning the bar. We decided it would be a good idea to open our bottles of whisky, as there was only a few people in the bar we offered everyone a tot and some cockles. This concoction went down a real threat, one by one the cockles slid down yer throat followed by another shot of whisky, the taste of vinegar, sand and whisky is not one you forget overnight! Anyway, we managed to pull ourselves away from the bar at some ridiculous time early that morning and crashed out on our beds, empty whisky bottles an all. We were awoken by the sound of Irene thumping on the door, “come on boy’s the last breakfasts are being served now, its ten O’clock! Get yourselves downstairs if you want some food” we stumbled downstairs body and mind aching from the previous days activities. Very slowly we regained the ability to recognise shapes; colours and fortunately the facility to hear coherently did follow later on. Conversation was at a premium as we grunted, groaned and pointed at what we wanted to eat. As ever, the greasy fry up worked a threat, back upstairs to have a shower and sort your head out. I don’t know what happened next but I woke up sprawled across the bed fully clothed with one trainee on and one off. Ian was also asleep on his bed with a mountain of spew next to him on the floor. I opened the window to be hit by a rush of fresh air Ian woke up looking like death on two legs I laughed as he legged it into the bathroom to call God on the great white telephone. We managed to tidy the mess up the best we could and threw it out the window the bright sunlight hurt your eyes as we tried our best to aim it at anyone walking past. "Here’s a present from Liverpool shouted Ian" as another cascade was thrown at some poor unsuspecting passer by. We fell about in fits of laughter tears ran down our faces, ribs hurt everything hurt. It was sick, but it was funny. After another shower we managed to amble downstairs for many cups of coffee and the daily papers. Yesterday indeed seemed a long time ago? A taxi was booked well in advance as we climbed the stairs for the last time, bodies and minds still not fully cohesive we packed our stuff away the best we could. A futile attempt was made to pull a small carpet from underneath a bed to try and hide the effects of Ian’s digestive juices on the main carpet.
We paid our room money to Irene’s husband and he shook our hands and welcomed us back anytime, we very quickly departed the hotel and where glad to get away before they saw the kip of the room. The taxi driver asked "Had we enjoyed Belfast" "Yeah superb mate" came the reply "Its just like home in Liverpool" The flight home and the taxi home was a total blur as the effects of Irish hospitality ran its full course. I got dropped off at ours, Ian was still a bit queasy so I put a couple of bob in Ian’s top pocket for his taxi fare to take him home. I stood outside our house gave him the thumbs up and watched as it slowly sped away into the dark of the night. I laughed to myself a feeling of goodness descended upon me. I had managed to slip a few cockles into Ian’s top pocket and wondered what his reaction would be like when he pulled out his money for the taxi.
Copyright - Robbie Ashcroft