A Vital Guide To....Anfield
Having already written a Bluffer`s Guide to entry for the Britannia Stadium back in April, this marks a reintroduction of a series reviewing the away grounds that Arsenal will be visiting over 2012-13. The three promoted sides from the Championship; Reading, Southampton and West Ham United, have all been visited on multiple occasions so this should be a pretty uninterrupted run.
Next up is Liverpool`s famous Anfield ground. A stadium steeped in history and tradition, probably the closest ally to the old Highbury that still exists in the top flight. Of course, we also stuck our flag in the ground there once in 1989……
Where next? Anfield, Liverpool/
Where Are We Seated? The Anfield Road End, lower tier. We`re usually allocated just over 3,000 tickets in the Southeast corner of the ground. We will ordinarily get a half of the lower tier, with Liverpool fans away to your left in the lower tier, to your right in the adjacent Main Stand and directly above you in the upper tier. You`re pretty much surrounded!
What`s It Like? Obviously ageing in the same way Highbury clearly was, but maintains its charm as one of English football`s historic venues. Surrounded by terraced housing with Stanley Park enveloping it, it has a retro feel to it by today`s standards as you approach. You can see the Shankly gates just past the turnstiles in the Anfield Road End and instantly recognise them as iconographic memoirs of English football.
If you take the trouble to walk down the Anfield Road End, around 30-40 yards from the away turnstiles, you also see the touching Hillsborough memorial, containing a flame that is never doused with the names of the 96 deceased surrounding it. Once inside, views are generally quite rubbish unless you 're fortunate enough to be placed centrally behind the goal in the Anfield Road End. If you`re near the back, the overlapping roof of the upper tier will make viewing the game akin to peering at it through a letterbox.
Even if you`re placed near the front, it`s more likely than not you will be placed so far into the corner of the ground that neck cramps will haunt you for hours after the match. Practise your 'peering` for a few days in advance to get those neck muscles in top shape. Just don`t use the girl next door`s bathroom window as your training ground. It`s not a valid excuse. Trust me, I`ve tried it.
That said, the close vicinity of Liverpool fans each side and above you does usually make for a good atmosphere. Oh and if the sun happens to be out, the bastard shines right into the Anfield Road End, so either bring a cap, a pair of shades or practise your squinting. Again, not on your next door neighbour`s bathroom window. She installed those venetian blinds for a reason. You filthy pup.
What are the facilities like? Ageing in truth. The away concourse is, again much like Highbury was, somewhat cramped. Due to a long affiliation the only beer you`ll get in the Anfield Road End is Carlsberg. We all know Carlsberg is basically fizzy yellow piss. The toilets do give off the aroma of having been urinated in for the 128 years that Anfield has been open. The actual Anfield Road is a row of boarded up houses with Anfield sitting quite anachronistically in the middle. But all in all, from the outside, it does generally give off an awe inspiring "lots of history has happened here" kind of vibe. The Shankly Gates and the presence of the Liverbird on the sides of the stadium sees to that. Just as Highbury began to, it veers closely between "classic" and just plain old "retro."
What are the home fans like? Due to the presence of the Scouse mafia in the media, Anfield has a reputation for being one of the Premier League`s most boisterous grounds. Like much that has ever been good about Liverpool, that was probably true in the 70s and 80s but isn`t now. In terms of atmosphere, it`s pretty much the same as everywhere else. Like Arsenal, Liverpool do expect to win most of their home games so they only really raise the ante for close rivals. Oh and I`ve been at Anfield on a European night. Don`t buy into the oft promulgated myth that it somehow turns into a wondrous cauldron on a European night, it doesn`t.
Liverpool and Arsenal tend to foster good relations. Wearing an Arsenal shirt in the vicinity is perfectly fine. Mostly they keep themselves to themselves before games. Afterwards it`s generally the same. I had one experience after we turned them over 6-3 in the Carling Cup and two separate Liverpool fans came up and shook me by the hand and congratulated us on the win. It`s true that in their online presence, Liverpool can have a cultish and extremely paranoid presence. But it rarely translates into the fans that attend games.
How to get there? Generally the train is the best idea. Trains run very regularly between London Euston and Liverpool Lime Street. If your budget is restricted and you don`t fancy splashing out on the fatser Virgin trains, book with London Midland`s Supersaver return and go via Northampton. It takes longer but it`s a lot cheaper. Also be aware that Liverpool Lime Street is a good few miles away from the ground. There is a shuttle bus service that runs from the station to the ground, but they get incredibly crowded close to kick off.
The journey takes around 15 minutes but waiting times for the shuttle buses can be extended, so leave yourself plenty of time. They`re not free either, so be sure to have some shrapnel from the penny jar handy. Otherwise, the supporters` club coaches park right next to Stanley Park about 2 minutes from the away turnstile and next to the Arkles pub if you want to travel with the club.
Any historical landmarks? Many are minded to go up for a weekend as nightlife in Liverpool tends to be quite good, with many bars staying open well into the early hours in Concert Square. Liverpool made its name as a trading city with good port access, so the Albert Docks are a big tourist attraction. The Magical Mystery Tour is also very popular, taking in the key sites colonised by Beatlemania in the 1960s, such as Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and the Cavern Club.
Where to drink? Most people will congregate in the Arkles pub on Anfield Road because it is away friendly and is right on the doorstep of the stadium. However, it gets very, very busy. Closer to kickoff it`s difficult to get in and even if you do, queues at the bar can be extensive. The Flat Iron is about 5 minutes away and welcomes away fans, but I`ve never been there myself. For away matches at Anfield, I tend to walk across Stanley Park to Goodison for a good boozer and vice versa when I go to Goodison. Most pubs either side of Stanley Park identify themselves as either Everton or Liverpool pubs and therefore, whenever Liverpool play, the Everton pubs tend to be deserted.