What comes to mind when someone mentions Anfield? For the majority, it’s the sight of 45,000 Liverpool supporters with their scarves aloft, bellowing out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The stadium is a symbolic venue, exclusively associated with one of English football’s most decorated and illustrious sides.
But looking back through the vast annals of football history, the stadium has not been exclusively home to Liverpool Football Club. The England national team have played there on multiple occasions. The most recent England match was played in 2006 when the Three Lions fought Uruguay in a friendly game. Competitive internationals have been also been staged, with David Beckham inspiring the side to victory in a EURO 2002 qualifier against Finland back in 2001 the most modern example.
These occasional visits by the England side are well documented, but aside from Liverpool, there are two club sides that have also used Anfield as their home ground in years passed. And you might be surprised by who.
Initially, it was Everton who were the tenants of the stadium. Following the club’s formation in 1878, Everton – or “St Domingo’s” as they were then known – played their home games at Priory Road. But as their popularity started to swell, the match day crowds became too large for a primarily residential area of Liverpool. The club were pressured into moving and Anfield was ultimately chosen as the most suitable location.
So “St Domingo’s” actually started to play their home games at Anfield four years before Liverpool Football Club even existed. Everton’s first ever league game at Anfield was on 8th September 1888 against Accrington Stanley and it was not until 1892 that the Everton directors saw fit to vacate the stadium. They purchased a new ground – Goodison Park – just half a mile across Stanley Park. Everton have played there ever since.
It was Everton’s move to Goodison Park that subsequently resulted in the birth of “Liverpool FC and Athletic Grounds Ltd.”, as the stadium’s owner John Houlding had an empty ground and no team to play in it.
Liverpool FC have been the obvious beneficiaries and the club has gone on to achieve monumental status within the game, surpassing the previous inhabitants in terms of both domestic and European honors. But Everton fans will be quick to remind their red neighbors that technically “you’re only even here because of us.”
Years on from the days when Everton used to call Anfield home, and long after Liverpool had their name above the front door, another of The Reds bitter rivals utilized Anfield as their home ground.
At the inception of the 1971 league season, a team donning red and white strode out onto the pitch, soaking up the coveted adulation of the famous old ground. Nothing new there, right? Well, quite remarkably, that team was Manchester United.
This curious situation came to be as the Manchester club had been banned from playing their opening two games of the season at Old Trafford. This was following an unsavory incident that saw some of the home supporters chucking knives into the away end.
Having already agreed to play the second of their two home games at Stoke City’s Victoria Park, the Merseyside outfit offered their patch for United’s season opener against Arsenal. Former United manager Frank O’Farrell told The Guardian that Liverpool seemed especially keen to help out their Lancashire rivals:
“I had people really wanting to help and Bill Shankly and Liverpool were really helpful. I’d like to stress that — they said, ‘’We’d like you to play the Arsenal game at Anfield’.”
And so it was. United welcomed Arsenal to Anfield for the first home game of the 1971-72 season in what has become known to many as the ‘forgotten game’. According to match reports the attendance was 27,649, a figure around half of what the usual capacity would be for a Liverpool game in those days. In a BBC feature about the match back in 2011, legendary Liverpool PA announcer Peter Sephton recalled some memories from the day:
“I can still see a half empty ground. It was spooky. I couldn’t swear on the bible but I’m almost certain I didn’t play ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. It was weird because Anfield felt like a neutral ground.”
Despite Liverpool’s intentions to host the game being admirable, as you might expect, the game was marred by violence from both sets of supporters, as traveling United supporters clashed with Liverpool hooligans. The Sportsmail reported that ‘thousands stormed the pitch and ran between the players warming up for the match.’
What was the score? As O’Farrell put it himself: ’We won, of course. George (Best) was playing out of his skin. We were top of the league at Christmas.’ Bobby Charlton and Brian Kidd also found the net for United that day in a 3-1 win.
Whilst many of the younger United supporters might initially deny the very notion that their team once relied on their fiercest rivals for a favor of such magnitude, it is easy to see why this is often refferred to as the “forgotten game”. The third United goalscorer that day, Alan Gowling, had this to say when asked about the game by The Guardian’s Greg Roughly:
“United played a home match at Anfield? Give over! Was I playing?”
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball