My 42-year old Liverpool Story
By Sola Aiyepeku
The 1977 FA Cup Final was played on 21 May, 1977 at Wembley Stadium between Manchester United and Liverpool. United won the game 2–1. Nobody knows how Cupid directs his bow when he pulls it but on that day, in that hour, his arrow struck me firmly in the heart for Liverpool, the losing team, starting a love affair that has gone on for 42 years.
Little did I know until years later that I had been delivered from being smitten by devils instead, thank goodness! Four days later, Liverpool won our first European Cup (now the Champions League) by defeating Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-1 in Rome. The first under Bob Paisley as we commenced a period of European domination that has made us England’s top Champions League winning club chasing down our sixth title in 9 finals.
I grew up in Ibadan and in the 1970s, we were privileged to enjoy English League and live FA Cup broadcasts on NTA Ibadan. Remember Ibadan launched the very first TV station in black Africa in 1959. For emphasis, Western Nigeria Television also known as WNTV was the first television service station launched in Nigeria and Africa. That’s a topic for discussion on another day.
Back to my Liverpool life. My late dad was a Liverpool fan and ardent lover of sports. I grew up watching him ardently listen to BBC Radio and I followed suit by listening with him.
Today’s fans are privileged. We grew up watching Liverpool play on BBC Radio’s Saturday Sports show covering the League plus second half radio broadcasts of selected midweek European Cup matches until satellite TV arrived in the 1990s.
We rarely got to watch live league matches but as I grew older, I had friends living in the UK who regularly recorded matches for me on VHS tapes to enable me enjoy delayed live games on video. I then watched the matches over and over again, discussing with other childhood fans like Sola Egunjobi as if they were live. Then we went out to practice or simulate what we’d watched repeatedly.
“Today’s fans are privileged. We grew up watching Liverpool play on BBC Radio’s Saturday Sports show covering the League plus second half radio broadcasts of selected midweek European Cup matches until satellite TV arrived in the 90s”
Liverpool were dominant in my childhood as we won virtually everything in sight and made the league our own. Liverpool’s quick passing brand of football was breath-taking and the number 7 jersey became sacred through Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish. That era coincided with Mathematical Segun Odegbami becoming a household name also wearing the number 7 jersey, so automatically all my white T-shirts had no. 7 marked on them representing Liverpool’s no 7s and ‘Mathematical’ inscribed on them. During my childhood, few people knew Liverpool FC in Nigeria but everybody knew the scintillating Mathematical Segun Odegbami.
By the time I got into secondary school, everybody who knew me knew I was a Liverpool fan and have been till this day. All through childhood until I finished university (UNILAG), Liverpool dominated English football and Europe until our last league title in 1990 when the plague began.
“During my childhood, few people knew Liverpool FC in Nigeria but everybody knew the scintillating Mathematical Segun Odegbami”
We kept believing each year we didn’t regain ‘our’ title only meant we would do it again the following season … until reality set in. A reality that has now lasted 30 very long years. I certainly never would have expected it to last as long it has. Sadly, most of that period, especially from Graeme Souness’ take over until Rafa Benitez gave us hope in 2008/09 … before his famous Fergie rant, Liverpool didn’t build teams that were strong enough to challenge for the title and I suffered alongside other fans.
You can imagine the bitter fan banter, oppression by Man U fans when the tide turned and nigh-impossible task of defending the indefensible as we faltered in the League with smattering success in domestic cups. After years of domination we became the nearly men who fell short when it mattered the most. Most painfully, Man U gradually took over English domination and Fergie’s words eventually came to pass; I still cannot bring myself to write those words even now.
Our salve came in 2005 when Rafa won us our fifth European Cup or Champions League title. The manner in which we finally defeated AC Milan healed lot of open wounds and kept us ahead of every other English club’s European achievements. However, we were unable to repeat that form in the league until 2008/09 when we came up short.
I remember the first time I ever watched Liverpool live at an away match to Fulham at Craven Cottage. Though we lost 2-1, I really didn’t care much because of the excitement of watching us for the first time. I also remember my first ever visit to Anfield on tour … it was almost as if I’d been to an earthly version of heaven and envy fans with the privilege of watching matches there week in week out.
“I also remember my first ever visit to Anfield on tour … it was almost as if I’d visited a version of heaven on earth and envy fans with the privilege of watching matches there week in week out”
My first live Premier League match at Anfield was Jamie Carragher’s last match for us, which I attended with Mumini Alao. Even though it was an anti-climax of sorts because it was also the final match of the season, I cheered so loudly and savoured the experience including the famous hot incredible half-time pies! I need to attend one of our magical European Cup nights, which would be a much better form of heaven on earth.
I first started trying to become an officially recognised Liverpool fan since about 2006 or 2007 but I remember when the club eventually got my filled application and sent my membership package by post, I never had them delivered. Money lost. No membership. That went on for a few more years until I finally became an official member and set about getting Nigeria recognised officially a couple of years after. Official recognition finally came in 2018 after relentless chasing for over 10 years, the cooperation and support of a vibrant Liverpool fan-base in Nigeria and Standard Chartered Bank.
I am privileged and proud to be the first and current Chairman of the Official Liverpool Supporters Club (OLSC) Nigeria; ready to continue supporting Liverpool FC on the cusp of commencing another trophy-winning era starting with our sixth Champions League title in Madrid on June 1st.
Come on ye Reds! Allez Allez Allez!!!
We Will Never Walk Alone!