Welcome back to our literary tour through the pages on my novels and, in case you didn’t realise straight away, we’re back in Liverpool, so we must be dropping in on the characters of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Look up, the words are written above these wrought-iron gates, right by where we’re standing!
These are the famous Shankly gates, erected in tribute to Bill Shankly, the manager who brought huge success to the team in the early 1970s. It was during his reign that the club adopted its famous anthem, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Hearing the fans sing the song at the start of a match or after a hard-earned victory, sends a shiver down the spine. It is that feeling of togetherness and belonging which really what inspired the title of my novel, as my ‘players’ stand together and support each other throughout the narrative. In fact, the book isn’t about football or Liverpool FC at all – just a few passing references and one character’s obsession.
Bill Shankly is famous for the quote: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.” So it is for some in the city but not all, especially Gina, although Gary, her boyfriend is the die-hard football fan.. Here’s his view of the ‘beautiful game’.
Gina rolled her eyes at Gary. Well, what exotic location are we going to tonight?”
“Go for a couple of pints, chippy and back in time for ‘Match of the Day. My ideal night!” Gary turned to Tony Wong. “Here, Tone, have one of your crackers.” Gary proffered the bowl to its owner.
Tony Wong giggled and took the bowl. “Two left, which will you take, Miss Gina?” he said, holding the bowl out to her.
“Mmm, which one predicts I’m going to do something other than watch football on the telly tonight?” She pointed to each of the cookies in turn. “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.” She picked out one of the cookies and chewed it open. “‘Your passions sweep you away!’ I think that should’ve been Lu’s.”
“Hey, I’m passionate about footy – you should be too.” Gary broke into song: “We’re on the way to Wembley, on the way to Wembley…”
Liverpool – South Africa Connection
Back in 2005, we were entertaining a little group of teachers from South Africa who were on an exchange visit to my husband’s school. As part of their visit we took an organised tour around the LFC ground. Our guide was explaining the importance of the Kop, the stand behind one of the goals occupied by the ‘Kopites’ – the home team supporters. At the time, I didn’t know what the Kop was named for. However, one of our party did. Carmen held up her hand and pre-empted him. You can’t keep a good teacher down!
Spion Kop (Spioenkop) literally means ‘Spy hill’. During the Second Anglo-Boer War, the town of Ladysmith, which was being held by the British, had been besieged by the Boers for a couple of months. The Spioenkop, which was occupied by the Boers, offered a view from the summit for hundreds of miles all around, so the British considered it important to attack and hold it. The British prevailed in the end, but they had lost 340 soldiers before they ended the four month long siege. The new Anfield stand, opened in 1906, was named the Kop as a tribute to the many local men who died during that battle.
It was that exchange visit and the friends that we made, that sowed the seeds that would lead to us moving to South Africa 5 years later.
The Other Team in Town
Before we get swept away by an outpouring of love for Liverpool FC, I must mention the other local soccer team, Everton Football Club, whose ground is only a mile away from where we’re standing. It’s another fine football club, with a long history which goes back even further than LFC’s. Obviously, there is strong rivalry between the two clubs, although it is genial for the most part. In the interests of balance I did introduce a Everton-supporting character: Bob’s Nan. It’s pretty clear where her loyalties lie, even if we never actually meet her.
It’s in the scene below that we first meet her little monkey, Fingers.
Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone
Gary and his mate, Bob, had evidently come into the sitting room as the sound of the pre-match build-up on the TV started blaring out from the other side of her door. Liverpool were playing away to some team or other deemed by the boys to be too far away to attend midweek. It was a regular ritual: Bob would always come round when Liverpool were playing away because followers of Liverpool FC weren’t tolerated at his Nan’s where he lived, his Nan being an ardent armchair Everton fan. On these occasions Lucy and Gina would usually go to the local wine bar or spend the evening downstairs with Cynthia. Tonight they were planning a quiet drink at the nearby Alicia Hotel as Cynthia was out with Connor at some ‘poetry slam’, whatever that was.
She heard the door to the flat open. Even above the sound of the TV Lucy couldn’t mistake the characteristic squeal of the hinges.
“All right, Gina!” Lucy heard Bob’s voice, loud and cheery as ever.
“G, luv!” (Gary) “We got any more crisps?”
There was a pause. Lucy visualised Gina’s expression.
“Fingers ate them.” (Gary again).
Just then Lucy heard something crash to the floor
“What the..?” Gina’s voice rose an octave.
Lucy opened her bedroom door to see Bob plucking a small monkey dressed in a grubby red waistcoat from the coffee table. The large metal bowl which they habitually used for snacks was upturned on the floor in front of the TV surrounded by a halo of crisp fragments.
The creature in Bob’s arms struggled and shrieked in alarm. “Shush lad, easy now.” He turned to Gina, “you’re scaring him.” He stroked the monkey’s head, who’d calmed down considerably in the safety of Bob’s grasp.
“Meet Fingers, girls!” Bob looked from Gina to Lucy and back to Gina. “Sorry about that. Bad manners. Gets excited over food, like.”
“You have a monkey?” Asked Gina, eyebrows raised.
“He’s me Nan’s. She found him down Paddy’s market. She was off to the bingo, like. Couldn’t take him, cos he’s been banned.”
“I wonder why,” said Gina, picking up the bowl.
“It’s a long story, like.” Bob looked down at Fingers and chuckled.
Lucy leant over the back of the couch and stretched a hand out towards the monkey. “Oh, but he’s sweet.”
“Sort of.” Bob grinned at her.
Fingers wriggled a paw from beneath Bob’s grasp and reached towards Lucy’s outstretched hand. He gently grasped her finger in his little paw, looking up at her while chattering softly.
“Looks like you’ve made a friend.” Bob winked at Lucy.
“Can I hold him?” Lucy stretched over to take Fingers from him.
“Okay, but be careful. He bites.”
“I’m sure he won’t bite me.” She took Fingers who snuggled in her arms, his delicate little paws playing with her long hair.
“Why’s he called Fingers?” Gina asked.
“Me Nan named him. I wanted to call him Robin.”
Suddenly Fingers wriggled out of Lucy’s arms, dropped onto the couch and started rummaging between the cushions, chattering away to himself. He had almost disappeared when he popped back out again. With a loud whoop he skittered under the coffee table and disappeared behind the TV. Bob frowned. Moving surprisingly quickly for his sizeable build, he rushed to the TV. Pulling it aside on its casters he grabbed Fingers by the waistcoat and hauled him out. Wrapped around his neck was Lucy’s necklace.
“Because he’s a robbin’ bastard!”
Image credits: playupliverpool.com, lfhistory.net, Mike Pennington