INTERVIEW: Andrew Knott on creating Anfield mosaics, supporting Liverpool since the ‘70s and his role in a Hillsborough memorial

JAMES NOBLE speaks to Andrew Knott — the man behind the striking mosaics held aloft on the Kop and beyond over the last 24 years — about how they are organised, his experiences supporting the Reds since the mid-1970s and Jürgen Klopp’s class of 2020.

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Some of the most memorable Anfield images of recent times have come courtesy of the work of Andrew Knott. Passion and printing have been the key.

The first of the now familiar mosaics — which he designs and coordinates the printing of — appeared on the Kop ahead of a 1996 clash with rivals Manchester United.

His passion for the club he had already followed for 20 years, the resources to hand thanks to running his own printing business and his involvement with fanzine Red All Over The Land meant he was well-placed to implement the artistic idea — one which was suggested at an Anfield gathering on how the now all-seater atmosphere could be further boosted.

“When we were going through the transition from standing to seating,” Andrew recalls. “There was myself, John Mackin, through the fanzine, Cathy Long, who was from the FSA [Football Supporters’ Association] at the time, a couple of the supporters’ clubs and we all had a meeting with Rick Parry at Anfield one evening.

“We all sat down in a room and we said ‘right, what do we think is a good idea,’ and there were all different ideas, like the big banners, and then obviously Frank [Graceffa] took that over, he sort of made that one his job. But somebody said: ‘Oh, that mosaic at Genoa [who Liverpool had played in the 1991/92 UEFA Cup] looked great,’ and I just said ‘I can do that. It’s only plotting and printing the stuff out’. So we all sat round thinking what we could do.

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“In the end, the first one was against Man United in 1996. It was bizarre because when we did it we had a meeting with Jed Poynton, he said you can’t just use paper because it’s a fire hazard, so I was looking at all these different products and there was a product called astralux which was a glossy board so when you tried to light it, it was taking like 20-30 seconds just to light if you had a lighter. I said: ‘Well there you go, that works,’ but because it was so thick you couldn’t fold it so we had to just use A4 sheets and we were sticking them on with stickers. You’d get to the end of the aisle and they’d start falling off because the seats were dirty, the stickers weren’t going to stick.

“So, after that, I’m thinking: ‘How can we do it? How can we do it?’ Then, I came up with the idea of doing it on a thicker board than paper — A3 — that could be folded and then obviously worked on how do you get them onto the seat not using stickers — it takes too long. Obviously the natural shape of the seats is like a square shape metal frame so I started by looping them over. I just put one in once and it got stuck in between and basically just worked out that if you just slide it in the gaps, twist it, it naturally stuck, so it made it a lot quicker. Obviously the coverage is better because it’s an A3 sheet.”

With the logistics largely tackled, the projects steadily began to become a more familiar — and impactful — sight.

“I think the first couple after the Man United one, we did a couple for the Hillsborough disaster. When we did one we were playing Sheffield Wednesday and their chairman had seen it and went up to Rick Parry after the end — because it was a bit of an appeal for a memorial at Hillsborough, because there wasn’t one at the time — and he said because of the way it was done, the tastefulness of it, that’s when he then started the idea of getting a memorial at Hillsborough ground. So, that helped.

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“From that, there was me, John Pearman [of Red All Over The Land], Cathy Lloyd, from the FSA, and Rick Parry met up with him at Hillsborough. So we went over and it was really bizarre because it was about the time when they were boycotting Hillsborough because there was no memorial and what have you. And we went over and we had a meal and he took us out to the ground, which freaked me out a bit because I was at the game and had my own experiences with that but thankfully, in the end, they got the memorial.

“Then, following that, we did a couple but the main one that kicked-off the interest in the effectiveness of them was the [Gérard] Houllier one, when Houllier had the heart attack. I never thought I’d be putting blue sheets on the Kop but as the French flag it worked and it got a lot of coverage obviously because at the time he was away in France and thankfully, through doing things like this, we had one printed and put in a frame, so a few of us went down to Melwood, met him and presented him with the photograph of it.

“So, from the effectiveness of that, and the way that we did it and the liaison that we had with the club, because anybody will tell you, working with Jed Poynton — I know Jed really well now and I know how he works — at the end of the day, he’s doing his job for the safety of us and that’s most important. We had loads of liaison with Jed and it got to the stage where I’d just turn up, take the sheets in, we’d do them, walk out.

“Obviously, the way things have happened now, it’s not like that now, it’s so strict. But it got to the stage where we could just turn up and go and do it and come back out — there was nothing said. That was only just because of the relationship we’d built up with the club. Bryce Morrison, who was the secretary at the time, Rick Parry, even Ian Cotton in the press office. We had a good relationship with them all, so it made it a lot easier.

“From that, people would just say: ‘Oh, it’s the anniversary of this, or it’s the anniversary of Paisley, or it’s the anniversary that Shankly joined’, so then we started to get themes. And, other than the Hillsborough one which happens every year, it may have been when Sami Hyypiä left, when Stevie left, when Jamie left. It was certain anniversaries or we did like the Michael Shields one, the Juventus ‘Amicizia’ one. They all had a relevant theme and there was a request to do it that way.”

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Indeed, the depth of purpose and feeling behind the designs tends to be a key component.

“Anything where there’s an emotive reason, like the Michael Shields one [August 2005 and December 2008], the Hillsborough ones. The one that sticks in the mind is probably the one we did against Arsenal in the FA Cup [January 2007] — ‘The Truth’ one. Basically, the plan was that it had to go down at kick-off time, but there was no way it was going down at kick-off time, because it was going down after six minutes of the game being played. You could tell the TV cameras didn’t want to show it but they couldn’t help it and when you see the photographs after from the Anfield Road End and you’ve got the players playing in front of it, you think ‘yeah, it’s had an effect’.

“As I say, anything where there’s emotion involved in it, it helps. But even probably more effective was the ‘Allez Allez’ one we did against Roma [March 2002] when he [Houllier] made his return. We heard a rumour that he wanted to be at the game and they were doing a mosaic just in case he turned up but obviously, at that time, ‘Allez Allez’ was our big thing because of the French manager and what have you. So, we just said ‘Allez Allez’ and then obviously when he came out that probably helped everything as well.

“It’s good to do them for a reason, rather than just doing pretty patterns, you want to do something. So pretty much whatever I can do, I’ll do a flame, there’s a flame going on it, even if it’s not Hillsborough. If I can put a flame on it, I’ll put a flame on it.

“What I’ve tried to do over the last few years is get a bit more creative. Like the ‘JC’ one, you can just about make it out in the photographs, there’s like two of his face at the side. The Shankly one where it was just like the silhouette of him holding his hands out at St. George’s Hall and then the Paisley one where he was holding the trophy. If we can do that, then it gives it a bit more effect and it’s not just a pattern and letters. When we did the Sami Hyypiä one, it was the Finland flag and the name ‘Sami’.

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“So it’s better for me if I can get a bit more creative and make them different. We’ve done that many for Hillsborough now, I’m thinking: ‘Oh what can I do this year? What can I do this year? What can I do this year?’ But, with Hillsborough, it doesn’t matter what it looks like, it’s the message it gives out and they’ll just continue now forever, I think.”

Once the thousands of cards required are printed, the crux of the preparation inevitably comes in the form of putting them out. For that, Andrew and the club will usually put a call out for volunteers on the club website. The swiftest turnaround from idea to implementation came as recently as the Merseyside derby in December 2019, following the Hillsborough trial verdict, thanks to the proactivity of the club and the sheer number of those willing to help.

“The quickest we’ve done it was five days. Last year, once the Hillsborough court case had been held and I think that was the Thursday or the Friday and we were playing midweek, so as soon as I got the call [from LFC] on the Friday morning, spoke to the printer — because I sold my business so I use another printer now — I spoke to him ‘can you do it Monday?’ ‘Yep, we’ll do it and we’ll have them down’. But, as soon as I asked for volunteers through the website — and, what you find is, because of Hillsborough, because of the emotions, you do get a lot of people who wouldn’t normally come and help, will come and help.

“Even people who stopped going the game because of Hillsborough. I’ve had people say ‘I’ve not been to the game since Hillsborough, I feel it’s time I get back. If I can come and help, it might be a way of helping’. So we’ve done things like that, got people like that down. I was working in a school for a bit and we did a day trip for the school and the kids came and helped lay them out. But, you do find with Hillsborough, you get a better response because of the emotion and everything behind it.”

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It’s testament to the level of Andrew’s work at Anfield that he has also had numerous requests to design and organise mosaics elsewhere.

“Did quite a few for the Kick it Out campaign. Reading, Man City, Chelsea. Did one at Newcastle but it blew away because the seats are weird and you had to put them on with elastic bands and it still didn’t hold them tight. Leinster Rugby, when they finished playing at Lansdowne Road before they knocked it down.

“Did the Millennium Stadium for the 2001 cup final against Arsenal. That was a big one. That was 26,000 seats. There were about 12 of us doing it so that was interesting, but it worked. Arsenal turned up and they had about 50 volunteers, we had about 12. But then I found out that their volunteers were getting tickets for helping.

Enquiries have gone beyond football and rugby, too.

“Other than that, I got approached to do one for Usain Bolt in Switzerland. It didn’t happen, I don’t know why it never happened but I got approached.”

Andrew’s primary focus is ahead, though. Even in the midst of the inevitable challenges and emotional strain that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic, Liverpool’s on-pitch future continues to look a bright — and groundbreaking — one, with six more points required to seal that first Premier League title. It’s something that he is hoping he’ll be able to mark in the familiarly collective way that mosaics allow, once full stadiums are again permitted.

“The dream would be to do the one this season that I’ve got in my head, round all the ground. That is going to be the dream, I think, from that. Once I’ve done this season’s — when it ends, when we can all get back into the ground to do a mosaic — I think that’ll be my piece de resistance, as they say.”

Having followed the club for around 45 years, Andrew will likely appreciate the significance of any such achievement as much as anyone.

“Well, my family — my dad, my mum, my two older brothers — were all Liverpool fans. Bizarrely enough, my mum and dad used to live about 200 yards from Goodison in Tetlow Street, just down the road from the abbey. But we always went the other side of the park for our football and my dad used to go when he was younger but then he got in to refereeing so I started then going with my mum, my brother and my other brother.

“So, when we first started, my mum would take us in the Annie Road North, as it was in them days, it was a bit less rambunctious than the Kop and you weren’t going to get hit by anything in the Annie Road South. Yeah, so started going with my mum. Bizarrely, when Notts Forest beat us in ‘78 in the European Cup, my mum stopped going. The only games she’s been to since then have been a couple of friendlies. She just packed in, she couldn’t handle the fact that they’d beaten us.

“So then I started going with my brothers. I think my first game was the ‘77 season. I’d have been eight. I remember going, sitting around the barrier with my brother and he was trying to hold everybody off. But yeah, it was interesting times and fortunately to be seeing some of the best football played by any British team.”

He became a season ticket holder in the mid-‘80s, something triggered by very nearly missing out on a ticket for the 1984 League Cup Final against Everton at Wembley.

“‘84 it was and the reason was, obviously we’d played Everton in the all Merseyside cup final, the first ever one, and I didn’t have a ticket because I didn’t have a season ticket so because I was the only one in our family born in St. Helens — everyone else was from Liverpool — I got told ‘Oh you can’t come, you’re a woolly back, you’re not from Liverpool, you can’t come to the all Liverpool final’.

“I got wound up and wound up by my brothers for about three weeks before. Night before the game, we’re all sat having our tea, they both stand up and sing ‘We’re going to Wembley, we’re going to Wembley, you’re not’. So, that was it, threw the tantrum, tea went up, stormed off upstairs, effing and jeffing under my breath and, next thing I know, there was a bit of rustling at my door. My mum says ‘Oh come on, come out, come out,’ and there was a ticket that had been stuck under the door so, after that, I thought right that’s it, I’m getting a season ticket because I’m not risking that happening again.

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“But then, bizarrely enough, over the years, with the old serial number ending ‘01, ‘02, ‘03 you weren’t guaranteed a ticket anyway. Especially until the club reviewed it and then it started going towards loyalty rather than a serial number. But yeah, after that experience, there was no way I wasn’t having a season ticket and at least being in with a chance of getting one.”

Another joy of coordinating the mosaics in more recent years has, indeed, been the chance they’ve given Andrew to pay tribute to some of the stars of his earlier days supporting the Reds.

“Kenny’s obviously everybody’s hero because of what he achieved and the way he did it but, at the time, Ray Kennedy was my favourite player because, at the end of the day, if you’ve been and won the double at Arsenal playing up front and then going to Liverpool, switch position and then going and winning what he did and the way he did it. To me, at that time, Ray Kennedy was, for me, my favourite player. He wasn’t my hero, because Kenny was my hero. But I’ve always been like that — Carragher was my favourite player. Very very rarely is a striker my favourite player.

“We actually did a mosaic for Ray Kennedy as well, the Parkinson’s Disease one when we played Arsenal [in April 2009]. Arsenal held up the No.10, we did the No.5. So that, for me, was a bit of an honour. And then obviously doing the Kenny one when they opened the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand, they’re the things, for me, that make it worthwhile.”

Watching the side over the years — and through eras defined by differing levels of success and numerous personalities — also means Andrew has found himself able to draw both parallels and distinctions between those gracing the Anfield turf.

“I never thought I’d see another player like Suárez at the club. Just naturally, instinctively, a winner — and to his downfall. I remember one game in that season, Sturridge went through and he didn’t square it to Suárez and Suárez sort of slipped as he tried to stop and he was literally punching the ground as if you say ‘why didn’t you give it to me?’ And you think ‘you’re a madman’.

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“We’ve sort of got that in the team now. Andy Robbo, you know he can lose it at any time. Or he’s likely to. Like when he was rubbing Messi’s head and the tackle in the final, when he smashed them. But you need those people, you need winners. It’s like when people go on about the relationship between Salah and Mané and Firmino, and they don’t pass to each other. It’s because they’re winners and they don’t want to score. More often than not, they do pass. I think it’s a bit of a myth but, I think it’s when somebody misses a goal and the other one’s clear. But they’re winners, they want to score, they want to score at every opportunity.

“Probably, out of the three, Bobby’s the most unselfish with the way he plays. But I think you need them players. I mean, we them with Sounness, Tommy Smith, Jimmy Case, Steve McMahon. You need players who are going to instil that and I think the one person who does it in our team but it hasn’t really been noticed until season before last and last season — Henderson.”

Andrew is one of many highly impressed by the approach and culture of the current crop.

“Even though the ‘70s and the ‘80s, we were dominant. Best team in Europe over that period by a mile, we were never as fluent and as attractive to watch as we’ve been this season. Because I remember, in the old days when we were winning everything: ‘Oh, it’s boring Liverpool. They go away and they win 1-0. They’re boring. It’s boring that they’re winning it’. This time round, they’re winning every week but people are saying: ‘Do you know what? They’re a team, them. They can’t half play. I love watching them?’ You’ve got people like Keane and Gary Neville saying that you can’t help but say this team is amazing to watch.

“When you compare us to City last season and this season. To me, the difference is, I don’t know, not so much bullying teams but they were grafting to it. We’re winning games not at ease, but it’s as if we know we’re not going to lose. The amount of times this season where we’ve been a goal behind or a couple of goals behind and we’ve won games. Wolves, West Ham — we were getting beat at home, and we won. Even when we go behind you feel like the team are going to win.

“Even though it was like that in the old days, the game was different, you could close a game down a lot easier in the old days, the game was different, you could close the game down a lot easier in the old days. You had your 4-4-2, so you could close it down. Whereas nowadays, particularly the way we play, the way City play and even the way Sheffield United play, there’s no fear. So you can’t say: ‘We’re going to mark them and we’ll be alright,’ because of the way we were saying before about players moving position and switching and crossing over. It’s more fluid, so there’s a good chance that you’re going to get the result.”

The exposure to this success that a number of the younger players are enjoying — as well as the continuity between the academy sides and the first-team — is also something that he feels will prove beneficial to the club in the long-term.

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“One thing, from the outside, that I’ve noticed is that the kids that he thinks are right are training with the first-team a lot quicker. I think, in the past, probably even up to Rodgers, we had some young kids who didn’t really get a chance and they fell by the wayside at Liverpool.

“Conor Coady’s a prime example. I’m guessing, if Conor Coady would have been at Liverpool under Klopp it would have been different because he would have been training with the first-team earlier. Harvey Elliott now, Curtis Jones, Neco Williams. You see when they play in the cup games, they don’t look that fazed, but they look as if they could play there every week or they have played there every week. So I think it’s a good thing from him that he seems to get them over quicker, training with the first-team so they know.

“The best analogy I can give for that is Saints Rugby. I know a few lads who’ve coached kids who’ve gone onto Saints. But the way the academy, the youth team and the first-team all train, it’s exactly the same. So they know, when they step up, they’re stepping up the right way. And I’m pretty sure, from what I know, it’s not always been like that. I think they’ve coached them on a progression. Whereas I think now they’re getting coached so that if they need to, they can come into the first-team and it’s as if they’ve played there before.”

More immediately, of course, the focus of the first-team is on adapting to the ‘new normal’ of behind-closed-doors matches in order to return to the field safely — and successfully — and secure that 19th league title that has been so sought after for 30 years.

James Noble interviews Andy Knott.

“As far as playing games behind closed doors at Anfield, as we mentioned before, Klopp knows how important we are to him as they are to us. And I think if you asked any [opposition] player, would you rather play at Anfield empty or full? They know they’ve got more chance of winning if it’s empty. They might say: ‘Oh, I want to play at Anfield because of the atmosphere,’ but if you take the fans away, they take that as an advantage, definitely.

“But I think, with the mindset of the team, the togetherness, I don’t think that’ll make too much of a difference as far as the team plays, but it’s certainly going to be weird. I mean I first started going watching the reserves when I first stared. So you’re talking ‘74, ‘75. Joey Jones, around about that era and when you can hear the manager shouting it is going to feel like a bit of a Non-League game.

“What the way round that is, whether it’s playing the music through, putting cardboard cut outs. I’d rather lose the cardboard cutouts and put that money towards signing a player. A thousand cardboard cutouts wouldn’t be cheap. Certainly, as far as playing crowd noise, if you took a recording of the Chelsea semi-final in 2005 or the Barcelona game last season then I think that would probably help a little bit because they’re the kind of atmospheres you want to be playing in. I think some kind of crowd noise would make it a bit better. I watched one of the Dortmund games the other day and it was surreal.

“There must be some way they can do it to create that. It’s going to be a bit odd but I don’t care, as long as we get back, get those two wins. I don’t care whether it’s behind closed doors, in somebody’s back garden, I don’t care. As long as they win it.”

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