Easter Sunday, upstairs in Cashman’s Bar, Academy Street, Cork. Liverpool are one up against Cardiff and on their way back to the top of the Premier League. The members of the Liverpool FC Supporters Club, Cork city branch seem certain that Manchester United will do them a favour on Wednesday and take a point off City in the derby. This would put Liverpool’s fate in their own hands, opening the door to their first league title in 29 years.
And still, committee member John Swaine turns to me and says, “A fella could make a fortune selling Prozac in here.” All the emotions were there before Wijnaldum slotted Liverpool’s opener after 57 minutes.
Breezy confidence in the first 15 minutes, it’s only Cardiff, this should be no problem, Salah only needs one chance. This was followed by doubt and dread when Firmino skyed a one-on-one over the bar.
Then came nervous anger, directed at some of their best performers — Salah is flaky and needs to get his head up, Jordan Henderson is no Luka Modric, Liverpool needs to spend big over the summer, Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax would be good for a start. The only exception is Sadio Mané — they love him to bits and not just because there’s something immensely satisfying about shouting “Maaa-né boy” in a Cork accent.
No score at half-time, but there’s no panicked cries for substitutions just yet.
A lot of these guys (it’s all guys today) have been here before. Paul saw his first game in Anfield 50 years ago, Leicester in the FA Cup. “We got beat one-nil, Andy Lochhead got the goal.”
Leslie’s Anfield debut was in March 1977, against Ipswich.
“We won 3-1 that day.” This was before Ryanair could get you over from Cork to Liverpool in 50 minutes. Leslie told me about ‘doing the boat’ to see the Reds, back in the day.
“You’d get the 4 o’clock train from Cork to Dublin on Friday afternoon, have a few pints there, taxi down to the North Wall for the 10 o’clock sailing, arrive at 6 on Saturday morning , the bus would take us up to Liverpool city centre, a few pints, then up to the ground.
After the game, you’d get the 7pm bus at Lime Street Station, that would bring you for the 10 o’clock sailing to Dublin, arrive in Dublin seven on Sunday morning, bus to O’Connell street at 11 o’clock for the train back down to Cork.
Another member gave the short version of what it meant for a Cork supporter to see the Reds back then: “Three days without sleep.”
This breathless title race with Man City is dishing out sleepless nights for a different reason. Despite the anxious hush around the bar at half-time, committee member John Swaine, (who’d been doing a top job of looking after me all afternoon), still seemed breezy and philosophical about his Liverpool love affair. And then I asked how he’d feel if City pipped them to the post.
“I’d be devastated,” he said, in a grave voice suggesting we should focus on something else.
This group has shared some pain and glory. The Cork branch of the supporters club was officially recognised by Liverpool FC back in 1982. (They originally met in Brannigans until that closed, when they moved to Cashman’s). The supporters club isn’t just guys drinking pints and watching matches, with the odd trip to Anfield. The rules around their affiliation to the football club runs to 11 pages — it feels like they are more tightly managed than the FAI.
The club has 68 members, with an influx of younger guys since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp. There is even a young fella sitting up at bar with his Dad — Steven Gerrard Duncan — who is travelling to Liverpool the following morning having won a coaching day with Phil Thompson and Steve McMahon.
They strike me as football people. A gang who flew over a day early for the Liverpool-Spurs match recently, took a train down to Tranmere on the Saturday to catch their game against Carlisle. (“It was either that or the pub,” according to one of them.) And now these football people are closing in on the holy grail. (Everyone I asked would take the Premier League over a Champions League).
There is a gasp at one-nil, when Cardiff miss a sitter from four yards in one of their rare second-half visits into the Liverpool box. But a Milner penalty nine minutes from time has them back in dreamland. I ask another committee member, Paul, if he’ll watch the Manchester derby on Wednesday.
He says he usually avoids United matches, because every time he tunes in, they manage to win. This time, he’s going to make an exception.
Liverpool Supporters Club, Cork City Branch, is open to new members, adult and junior, at the start of every season. The club is entitled to tickets for six matches per season, and these tickets are distributed evenly among the membership. They meet upstairs in Cashman’s Bar on Academy Street, with the first meeting usually in June. Contact details for all supporters clubs are at https://www.liverpoolfc.com/fans/official-lfc-supporters- clubs/contact-form/