Getting a drink and something to eat at Anfield has changed massively over the years. In my time it has gone from: tea and Bovril from an urn that had been heating a corner of the Kop all season, beer in squashy plastic cups that spilt more than they refreshed and pies so hot they could be used to strip paint. One of the greater oddities was the youths, who used to go around the edge of the pitch with those trays the usherettes have in the cinema during intermission, only full of sweets and chocolate bars. They were odd because the transaction was carried out by throwing and involved a great deal of trust not just between the vendor and the customer, but also the rest of the fans.
The transaction would begin with somebody shouting from the crowd. One of the lads would instantly pick him out of the sea of faces, amazingly. The recipient would shout what they were after and the seller would shout the cost. Money would then be thrown at the pitch in the general direction of the 'shop' and, with tray still attached, would be picked up by the lad who didn't spill a thing. Next, the item purchased (usually a Mars bar) would be thrown back in the general direction of the customer. I say general direction because it was often caught by someone nearby and passed through the crowd to the purchaser, every time. A miracle of communication, co-operation and trust occuring at the heart of the Kop. But it didn't stop there! What about the change? Incredibly, the change would be thrown back into the crowd. Imagine today's 'Health and Safety' mandarins blowing a fuse now over that!
Believe me, nothing sobers you up like the prospect of receiving a two-bob bit right between the eyes! Everyone knew to pay attention when someone was buying something. Those lads used to have a hell of a throw as well, reaching almost to the back of the Kop with decreasing accuracy. Again, every coin made its way to the customer. I won't lie, I often bought a Mars bar that way for the sheer drama of it. So what has me being nostalgic about the passing of such an incredibly risky and unfeasable shopping experience?
Yesterday, at the Bolton game, I made the necessary venture to the kiosk at Anfield for a pie and a drink. I got there and couldn't believe my luck. Two queues either side were full, but the one in the middle only had two men side by side. Which one would you go for? Well, if you said the middle one you made the same mistake as me! Two tall Irishmen* (with an accent from the south of that island I couldn't quite place) seemed to have already had a few, had just ordered two bottles of Magners and handed over the cash. On receiving his change Irishman #1 took both bottles and Irishman #2 then ordered two bottles of Carlsberg. Again counter staff ring up the order, retrieve the bottles from the fridge, collect the cash give change and bottles.
It was at this point that Irishman #3 entered the picture to say " Carroll's on the Bench". Cue Irishman#1 saying "Ah there's Mick! Shall we get him a couple?". After a little debate two more Magners were ordered for 'Mick', rung up, retrieved, paid for and delivered. By this time I was in the shoppers dilemma. The queues either side had moved so much more quickly that had I joined them I'd have been served by now. Should I now change? No, of course not, they would surely be finished now. Except, of course, they weren't.
Now, remembering another member of the party they had arrived at Anfield with, they then proceeded to order 'two more Magners'. The procedure this time extended by the fact that they only had 'Pear Magners' left and included a debate as to whether this would be acceptable to their newly rediscovered friend. By now several people who had arrived later into the other queues had been served and departed with their food and drink.Mustering 'not a little' sarcasm to cover my rising exasperation I put my head to one side and rested it on my hand, closed my eyes and said loudly "Wake me up when its my turn to get served will you?"
Without a trace of irony Irishman #1 waves a fist full of Magners in the general direction of the stony faced counter-staffee and said "I know, he's terrible slow isn't he?"
The formerly stony-faced server's, open-mouthed incredulity and wide eyed stare was mirrored by my own. Finally though, both men lurched off. Stony faces were retrieved from the floor and my order was taken, rung up, retrieved, paid for and delivered.
I enjoy eating at Anfield even though it has all the feel (and cost) of a motorway services, minus the noisy fruit machines and plus a few more TV's these days. But I still occaisionally yearn for a slightly dented and warm Mars Bar.
* I thought about not mentioning the origins of the two men at the bar, but then I remembered how many Irish people enjoy a good laugh at the behaviour of their fellow countrymen.