The Kop is the The Kop. 113 years old now and what many view as football’s most famous stand still feels as warmly regarded as ever.
A little over a quarter of a century ago though — as it edged towards its 88th birthday — a fond farewell was bid to its terraced incarnation, prior to undergoing what represents its most notable evolution to date.
A flag-bearing, song-singing, mood-making mass, at its best. It can feel like a source of identity (this website’s name being one exhibit, of course), of joy, and sometimes of hope.
It is one that, undeniably, changed after that balmy Spring afternoon in the mid-1990s. The crowded, potentially chaotic, joy that came with being literally lifted off your feet by the thousands around you is inevitably going to be contrasted — at least to some extent — by a seated stand.
There was, of course, a very good reason behind this substantial alteration to such an iconic piece of footballing culture. Safety.
Lord Justice Taylor’s report, fully published in January 1990 in response to the Hillsborough Disaster the previous year, recommended the conversion of major stadiums into an all-seater model. The Football League, in turn, required all clubs in the top-two divisions of English football to oblige by August 1994.
Tributes — in numerous forms — filling The Kop terrace in the days after the disaster would come to represent one of the most touching, hard-hitting images of its aftermath.
Speaking to Sky Sports in the days before the visit of the Canaries, Liverpool supporter Rogan Taylor highlighted how the stand’s journey could be seen as a somewhat cyclical one: “Most people know the Spion Kop was named after a battle in the Boer War in 1900 but what I think few people recognise is, the three Lancashire Regiments who were fighting there, many local Liverpudlians died.
“So there is a sense in which The Kop was named as a tribute to unnecessarily dead local people as it turned out because the battle itself was a military cock-up. So there is a sense in which The Kop started as a shrine and it ended as one, or at least it came very close to its end. Because, in the popular mind, it symbolises Hillsborough — The Kop bedecked with scarves and flowers.
“So it’s a journey from shrine to shrine in a sense and, in between, it became the most famous strip of terracing in the world.”
It’s a sobering thought, but it feels like a sadly accurate perspective. One that perhaps helps encapsulate the emotional attachment many feel with that particular part of Anfield.
Indeed, familiar names emerged one after another to bid it farewell before kick-off against Norwich.
Albert Stubbins, Billy Liddell, Ian Callaghan, Tommy Smith, Steve Heighway, David Johnson, David Fairclough, Craig Johnston and Phil Thompson and Kenny Dalglish — the latter of whom received a spine-tingling roar of a welcome — all strode out from that familiar tunnel and into the centre-circle.
Then came another former manager, Joe Fagan. He was flanked by Agnes Shankly, widow of Bill, and Jessie Paisley, Bob’s wife.
One heart-warning moment was followed by another, as Gerry Marsden took to the field to perform You’ll Never Walk Alone, with he and the crowd reaching their crescendo with him inside The Kop End penalty area.
The game that followed — ending in a 1-0 defeat at the hands of John Deehan’s side — may not have been the result the Reds hoped to end an era on, but the last goal in-front of the stand in question was of pretty fitting quality.
Sportingly, Norwich had agreed to allow Liverpool to attack The Kop in the second-half, as is generally preferred by the Merseysiders, whichever way the toss went. The men in yellow would strike the match’s decisive blow while they themselves went that way in the opening 45, though.
Steve Nicol almost notched an unwanted last effort at that end when he nodded Efan Ekoku’s cross against the underside of the bar but not quite over the line.
Jeremy Goss would find the net for the visitors soon after, though, in far more desirable fashion. The Welsh international controlled a clearance 25-yards out in the 35th minute and preceded to hammer the bouncing ball into the top-right corner with a thumping right-footed shot that David James could only stand and watch.
The hosts wouldn’t be able to find a way back in order to give The Kop the desired in-match send-off, but it was still quite the day and quite the sight.
The seated Kop, while not the same in many ways, has still retained a unique character, vibe and weight of feeling in the years since. It has had some barnstorming moments too, quite likely at least partially as a result of those very traits.
Whether it will see another evolution in years to come is a question that will likely recur. Just this week, it was announced that Manchester United had been granted permission to trial safe-standing at Old Trafford, in the form 1,500 barrier seats. It is a possibility — both there and elsewhere.
Yet it is, of course, also a delicate issue that appears to be being — and should continue to be — treated carefully and sensibly. Largely for the very safety-based reason that seats now inhabit former terraces like the Spion Kop.
Also on this day:
Saturday April 30, 2005: Liverpool 1-1 Middlesbrough (Premiership, Anfield)
Liverpool’s Champions League qualification hopes took a blow as they dropped points against Steve McClaren’s outfit, though events in Istanbul would go on to make up for the fifth-placed league finish.
Szilárd Németh burst through to give the Teessiders a fourth minute lead but the game is generally best remembered for how the scores were levelled.
On 51 minutes, Steven Gerrard was found in an inside right-position by John Arne Riise and, after controlling, he rifled a stunning 35-yard volley into the top-left corner to make it 1-1.
Wednesday April 30, 2008: Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool (AET) (Aggregate: Chelsea 4-3 Liverpool) (Champions League Semi-final: Second-leg, Stamford Bridge)
The Reds exited Europe’s premier club competition at the last-four stage after a thrilling contest with Avram Grant’s men went the distance in West London.
Fernando Torres cancelled out Didier Drogba’s first-half strike midway through the second-period to make it 2-2 on aggregate and force extra-time but Frank Lampard’s penalty and Drogba’s second of the night in quick succession in the first-period of the additional 30 proved decisive.
Ryan Babel’s 35-yard howitzer would give Rafael Benítez’s side late hope but the Blues would see the tie out to reach the Moscow final.