When the mum of the year awards are handed out, Ruth Baggs must be in with a shot. A season ticket holder at Liverpool for 30 years, the care home manager was watching Sunday’s crunch game not in her regular seat in the Kop, but outside the Park pub opposite, craning her neck to check the score through the window.
She had given her 16-year-old son, Dylan, her ticket, and was left jostling for position with vaping 12-year-olds and a bunch of Egyptian tourists who were beside themselves when Mo Salah scored in the 84th minute. “Dylan is in the middle of his GCSEs and I wanted to give him a treat,” she said. “He’s a mad Liverpool supporter. He was up, showered and dressed at 9am this morning asking when we were going to leave. That never happens.”
But whatever sacrifices you make as a parent, there comes a time when you cannot insulate your offspring from life’s cruelties. So it was that young Dylan was inside Anfield stadium not to watch Liverpool lift the Premier League title but to see them win the match 3-1 and yet miss out by one point, thanks to Manchester City’s dramatic win against Aston Villa.
There was no chance of getting inside the pub. It had been rammed all afternoon. When punters complained from the pavement that they could not see the game, the landlady gave them no sympathy. “How do you think I feel? It’s my fucking pub and I can’t see it either,” she said.
David Walkden had been drinking inside all afternoon, having also given up his season ticket for his son, nine-year-old Will. “I bet you’re thinking: ‘These Scousers are mad, he’s only nine!’” he said. “But the thing about Liverpool is that it’s community. I knew everyone would look after him. He texted me from inside and said: ‘It’s amazing, Dad!’”
When the Guardian found David he was standing forlorn by the statue of Bill Shankly after the full-time whistle with no phone battery, hoping his lad would remember their meeting point. Steve Waugh was also sitting at Shankly’s feet, awaiting his 18-year-old son. A fan for 60 years, he remembered his own father bringing him to games and watching matches from the “boys’ pen”, a small enclosure for children.
On Saturday, father and son will be in Paris to see Liverpool play Real Madrid in Paris in the Champions League final, their final match of a still-remarkable season in which they have already won the Carabao Cup and FA Cup. The tickets were £8,000 for the pair but it would be worth it, insisted Waugh.
Two Danes were watery-eyed nearby. Karl Rasmussen and Jan Warming had come all the way from Jutland. “This is the third time I’ve watched them not quite win the league in the final match of the season,” said Rasmussen, not quite managing to hold back tears.
Like most fans at Anfield, they had accepted that the odds were stacked against Liverpool, with Man City starting the final match of the season one point ahead. “But then you dare to hope and it’s wonderful. Then the hope starts fading away and it’s an awful, empty feeling. Soon we will look forward to the Champions League final. But right now it just hurts,” said Rasmussen.
Others felt that City had effectively bought the title. “I’m absolutely distraught,” said Alexander Pritchard, who had driven up with his girlfriend from Bargoed in the Welsh valleys without tickets: “At the end of the day, we have got to give City credit. But at least we’re not funded by oil. Their victory in the end is the difference between being able to pay £30m and £80m for a player.”
He was also sad because his girlfriend had agreed to pull a sickie on Monday if Liverpool won so that they could party all night. “Now I have to stop drinking and sober up so that I can drive her back in time to work tomorrow,” he said.
Before the final whistle, many at Anfield thought their old hero Steven Gerrard would help Liverpool win the title. He never raised the Premier League trophy as Liverpool captain, but as Aston Villa’s manager had the chance on Sunday to help his old club to victory by beating Manchester City. “If they beat City and we win, we win the league. It’s like poetry, isn’t it?” said civil servant Jack Howarth, when it still looked a likely prospect.
Villa were doing their bit, leading 2-0 until the 76th minute. Then City got their act together and scored three goals in five minutes. They became champions for the fourth time in five seasons and Liverpool’s title dream was over. Until next season.