There are few football experiences capable of stirring the emotions more than listening to ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ being sung by Anfield’s Kop.
Sunday evening at approximately 19:13 GMT provided one of those lump-in-the-throat moments.
This wasn’t the first match in England to welcome fans back to stadiums. It was only number 27 on a list that – pilots excepted – began at Carlisle United on Wednesday.
But as the first bars of the Gerry and the Pacemakers hit that is forever entwined with Liverpool Football Club were heard over the public address system, it felt symbolic.
Two-hundred-and-seventy-one days since it was last sung in this stadium, at a Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid at the start of the pandemic, 2,000 Liverpool fans belted it out with gusto before the match with Wolves.
“I had goosebumps,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp after the 4-0 victory.
“I had no idea what to expect from the warm-up or when they started ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Having all that without a football match would have been great. After 10 months it was very emotional.”
There were 50,000 more people here on that night on March 11, when Atletico knocked Klopp’s team out of Europe, but it didn’t feel like there was such a difference in sheer numbers.
Those lucky enough to get a ticket for the visit of Wolves in a ballot that was inevitably massively oversubscribed made as much noise as they could, their arms raised holding aloft those familiar red and white scarves as they sang.
“I wanted to cry with joy when I found out I had been successful,” said Amanda, a key worker from Liverpool who got to the ground early and waited patiently for her slot to enter.
“It felt like the first match I have ever been to.”
She was not alone. A few fans I spoke to beforehand said the same thing.
Klopp, who has an intimate relationship with Liverpool supporters and went to them after the final whistle to do his customary fist pumps of celebration following the win, agreed.
“I get it, 100%,” he said.
‘We feared it might be void’
Such a lot has happened in the period between fans being inside Anfield. Liverpool ended their 30-year wait for the title for a start.
“That was so hard,” said Amanda. “I had a seat in the second row in the Kop for what would have been the last game. It was horrible. We thought the season might be voided so we accepted not being there, but it was hard.”
Klopp has promised a bus parade “when the time is right”. In the meantime, little things are reminding fans of Liverpool’s epic 2019-20 season as well as hinting that more ‘normal’ times are returning.
At a beer kiosk in the Main Stand, which was closed even though a small percentage of the fans with tickets were sat in that section, a drawing that shows off Liverpool’s 44 major trophies has evidently been updated since June.
It now has the old Football League Championship trophy next to the Premier League equivalent, with the number 19 under them both.
As the teams prepared to come out of the tunnel ‘Bring on the champions’ was sung. That new refrain – able to now be sung by Liverpool fans for the first time in three decades – mixed with familiar chants of ‘Liverpool, Liverpool’ and ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’ as the game settled in to an equally familiar pattern.
Mo Salah scoring the opening goal also surely felt to all present like it was a case of business returning to usual and so was the sound of Wolves skipper Conor Coady – despite being a former Liverpool player and with a strong accent to boot – being on the receiving end of some vitriol for a ‘dive’ that earned a penalty that was eventually overturned.
I would have watched Everton tonight…..actually, maybe Tranmere
Providing no injuries come to light in the post-match debrief, Klopp labelled it “a perfect night”. It was easy to understand why he felt that.
Georginio Wijnaldum’s fine strike made it 2-0, a header by Joel Matip added a third and Nelson Semedo’s own goal emphatically took care of a Wolves side badly missing Raul Jimenez.
Jordan Henderson, the man who has lifted the Champions League and Premier League in the past two seasons, was able to acknowledge the appreciation of fans when he was substituted nine minutes from the end of Liverpool’s biggest win over Wolves since 1968.
Stadium announcer George Sephton – who has seen and heard it all at Anfield down the decades – said at half time “I have never heard as much row from 2,000 people in my life, well done” and at full-time signed off with “keep safe – we will see you back here very soon”.
“Hopefully we can build on this,” said Klopp. “It’s like the people who invented the vaccine. It is not ready for everyone yet but it is something to look forward to.”
Amid the elation about being back at Anfield, there was also some reflection.
All those I spoke to were here that night against Atletico. They all mentioned conversations that took place before the game with friends or colleagues who wondered if being there was wise.
“I had a pint with a few lads beforehand,” said John Edge, another local fan. “It didn’t cross my mind at the time but in hindsight, it was crazy to let so many people come over from Madrid when it was at its peak over there.”
Graham Stewart concurred: “I was with four Liverpool fans who came from Spain. It didn’t feel right in any sense.”
Stewart was in Finland for Liverpool’s return to European competition in 1991 after their six-year ban.
“That was a weird experience,” he said. “It felt a bit like tonight, a landmark game for Liverpool.”
Those lucky to be here won’t be back for a bit. Even though the ballot was only opened to fans living in the Liverpool region, there are a few lots of 2,000 to get through before anyone will get a second chance.
But after six months without football, that didn’t really matter. Anything would have been acceptable on Sunday night. Almost anything.
“I would have watched Everton tonight,” said Amanda, before a quick rethink. “Well, maybe Tranmere.”