The coronation that never was: DOMINIC KING visits the eerily quiet streets around locked-down Anfield on the day that Liverpool could have been clinching their first Premier League title
- Saturday could’ve been the day Liverpool claimed maiden Premier League title
- The Reds have been denied their Premier League coronation by coronavirus
- Liverpool must wait to see if the season is cancelled or resumes in the summer
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
This is it, the new 3pm on Saturday: the time you have traditionally associated with noise and excitement, with dreams and expectation, is now a time for silence and uncertainty.
We are standing on the corner of Skerries Road, adjacent to the towering presence of Anfield. The stillness all around us will be the same outside football stadiums, however big or small, up and down the country. There is something unnatural about this scene, not to mention unnerving.
Wonderful chaos should have been eddying around these streets. March 21 had been circled in the calendar for Liverpool supporters as the date, potentially, for their coronation as the country’s finest team and the visit of Crystal Palace had conjured glorious possibilities.
Liverpool could’ve lifted Premier League title this weekend – instead Anfield was deserted
Shops around Anfield were shut after the government ordered a lockdown on public spaces
Celebration parties had been organised, instead there was an eerie silence around Anfield
The scene which confronts Sportsmail, then, is jarring. Look left, down Belmont Road; all you can see are rolled down shutters. To the right, there is not a car or bus in view and the silence is only punctuated by the unexpected chimes of an ice cream van.
In front of us, there is a beacon. Homebaked, a community-owned bakery, has a window open and is serving frozen loaves and pies. This shop is crucial to this community. Its food has won awards, its inclusive approach to those struggling within society has won legions of admirers.
‘Covid-19 is the last thing the city needs when it has been so heavily impacted by austerity,’ says Paul Amann, who has turned up to buy some of the renowned ‘Shankly’ pies.
Anfield’s Homebaked bakery remains open but has missed on a potentially lucrative weekend
Communities in Liverpool have been hit by the closure of local shops and job losses
Amann is the founder of Kop Outs! the LGBT fan group. The date and the circumstances are not lost him when he says: ‘It is immensely sad. It is hitting communities and the impact of no match day is huge. ‘Just imagine what it would be like out here now if this was a normal day?’
A normal day would have meant Homebaked selling as many as 700 pies. They have a strong relationship with Liverpool and provide 700 mini pies for the boardroom and lounges when the team are at home. The impact of no football is huge.
‘We open every day and are a presence on a road that has faced struggles,’ says Sally-Anne Watkiss, Homebaked’s treasurer. ‘It’s been a scary couple of weeks. The Crystal Palace game was potentially going to be the biggest we had ever had. We’d hoped to throw a party for our members.’
Circumstances mean there is no appetite to party. Away we walk from Homebaked, past the back of the Kop. The iconic gates are padlocked, the huge superstore that would now be doing a roaring trade resembles a ghost ship.
Inside the stadium, a team of six security guards are on duty. The players remain at home, following their individual training programmes, wondering when they will reconvene.
Some fans had bought tickets and flights but visited anyway after failing to get hotel refunds
Anne and Lynne Fenton drove up from Staffordshire and said the silence was therapeutic
There are, however, fans milling around outside the stadium. Parmilla Ghanasekaran, a Malaysian national who lives in New York, and her boyfriend Arjun Patel, from St Albans, are dressed as they would be if the game was about to kick off.
They are a long way from home but don’t want to be anywhere else. ‘My dad passed away in January and we had planned to come to the Crystal Palace game in memory of him,’ Parmilla says.
‘We had been lucky enough to buy tickets. When the game was called off, we were fortunate to get a refund on the seats, but we couldn’t get a refund on the hotel.
‘So what can you do? We drove up on Friday night and stayed over. We are diehard Liverpool fans and wanted to support the city in any way that we could. It’s strange being here now. You realise, in these moments, what sport does to unite people and families. It brings us all together, that common understanding.
Liverpool fans must now wait and see if and when they’ll see their team lift the title
‘I don’t know when I will be able to get back to New York. I don’t know when we will ever get the chance to come to another game here. But I’m glad we have come now.’ They have been drawn by the power of the stadium. It would have been the same in Manchester or London, people wanting to go to a venue that has history and happiness associated with it in these uncertain times.
Before we leave, another couple arrive. Sean and Lynne Fenton have driven from Staffordshire to visit family but, en route, they wanted to make an important stop. We talk to them by the statute commemorating Bob Paisley, which has only recently been unveiled.
This particular corner of Anfield teems on matchday, with food stalls and a stage for local bands to play. Now there is nothing, except the intermittent peals of the persistent ice cream van. This is how the immediate future is going to be.
‘We had talked about today and it was always the hope that this was going to be the moment we became champions,’ Sean says. ‘We have family in the city and just decided to drive over. There is something about Anfield that draws you to it.
‘It is so quiet, so peaceful. You could imagine what it would be like in normal circumstances, with the music and the noise, but there is something therapeutic about the silence.
‘Who knows when it will start again? They’ve made us wait for the title — we can wait a bit longer. I am sure about that.’
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