Monday, 29 March 2010

From Cheltenham Woes to the Anfield Legends Lounge

I never went to the Cheltenham Festival this year but I did 'enjoy' a bet or two and opened new accounts to benefit from the freebies on offer. I had just about run out of accounts to open when I remembered that Liverpool FCs 'partner' bookmaker was 188bet. I proceeded to open an account only to find that they didn't offer bets on horseracing! Unperturbed I placed a bet on Aston Villa and lost the lot! If I start backing Spurs and Man City I can guarantee us 4th place – I have no luck see…  Or do I? Part of the deal in opening the 188bet account was a chance of winning LFC tickets, something I had totally forgotten about until a phone call on Thursday morning made my day.

“You know the competition you entered on 188bet?” the caller said; “Erm, yes” I lied. “Well you have won tickets for Sundays Liverpool match.” “Bloody Hell!” I exclaimed just before the train entered the tunnels at Lime Street and we got cut off!!

Frantically, when daylight reappeared I rang the number back. It was confirmed, me and four friends would be going to the Sunderland match, with full hospitality courtesy of 188bet.
I started going to watch Liverpool in around 1965 when my Dad would walk me and my brother to the ground from ‘Noggsie’ and take us into the ‘Anny Road’ end for free at ‘3/4 time’. This meant that we’d see the last 15 minutes of games and watch legends like Roger Hunt, Ron Yeats and Tommy Smith doing their stuff. My first full match in the boys pen was on the 12 April 1968 and we lost 2 – 1 against Sheffield United, Sir Roger Hunt hitting the net for the Reds. Many happy years stood on the Kop followed until, fed up with games being switched to Monday nights for TV, and being skint, I foolishly didn’t renew my season ticket. I now go to games when I am able to get hold of tickets for me and my LFC mad daughter Sofie.
So not knowing exactly what to expect we set off.

First stop the Hillsborough Justice Centre to pick up some Spirit of Shankly leaflets to hand out in the ground followed swiftly by a couple of pints in The King Harry.
Me, Sofie and Mal then went to meet our host from 188bet, Kevan a Geordie Newcastle fan who would get on well with my son in law Mal (who is of similar ilk!), my brother Garry and pal Mick.

A slight hiccup before entering The Legends Lounge – we hadn’t been informed of the dress code no jeans etc but I guess staring at my Shanks tee shirt, the biggest legend of them all, they saw sense and let us in.

Champagne, wine and canapés preceded a tour of the stadium and museum – the first time Geordie Mal had seen a trophy never mind a museum full – and then back to the Legends Lounge to meet Tommy Smith and tuck in to the beautiful food & more wine:
Hoi Sin & Teriyaki flavoured duck, soup, roast meats, Salmon and treacle tart, Lemon Crème Fraiche and crystallised lemon peel. And very nice too!

I put on more bets (oh dear!), bought Sofie a Torres dress, I’m not sure he’d suit it, and then it was time for the game. Our seats were in the Main Stand, level with the Anfield Road end 18 yard box, and 3 minutes in our latest legend struck. After a brilliant run from the left wing Fernando Torres scored with a fantastic curling a shot into the top corner. The game flowed, it was like watching a Liverpool team from a different season and when a nice strike from Glen Johnson hit the net the game was all but over.

At half-time we fought our way back to the Legends Lounge to top up on wine and confidently hand in our table quiz before we were back out for the second half.
More of the same from the Reds as Steve ‘beach ball head’ Bruce's tactics were no answer to Liverpool’s fluid passing game. When Torres made it 3 – 0 we waited for more but it wasn’t to be. A great performance by the lads to make our brilliant day even better.

After the game we saluted the SOS protest on the Kop and went back to the Legends Lounge for more wine, oh and I had a coffee! Tommy Smith kindly signed a picture and Brian Hall the programme – both will be going to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign to hopefully raise some money for them.

Drinking our wine we were given the answers and a quiz sheet to mark – I spotted we had got 2 wrong straight away, we had got 4 of the 5 overseas players to have scored 20 Premier League goals and wrongly guessed that the former Liverpool goalkeeper awarded the PFA Merit award was Ray Clemence when in fact it was Steve Ogrizovic.

But as Tommy Smith asked did anyone have 16 correct? No response, then 15 correct? No response I knew it was ours! Jubilant celebrations followed – and more wine!
Oh yes, and the prize – it was another bottle of wine each signed by the Legend that is Tommy Smith – The Anfield Iron!!

Leaving my beloved cathedral it was back to the King Harry a few more ciders before the budget price hike and a taxi home. I won’t go into the taxi crashing incident outside the Supporters Club – that can be done another day.

So my Cheltenham Festival woes became, for me, the stuff of legends and a day of my dreams! Oh yes and my bets for the day: Liverpool 3 - 1, 4 - 1 and 5 -2! One day, one day...

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