It will be of some surprise to those around the footballing world to realise that, given its long association with Liverpool Football Club, Anfield could be home to bitter rivals Everton, were it not for a disagreement over rent. The stadium has gone on to play home to the Reds for over a century with plenty of memorable moments, not least the halcyon days of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, who have gates at the ground named after them.
Anfield itself was purpose-built for Everton, who needed an enclosed area to play after attracting growing crowds at the nearby Stanley Park. The Toffees’ President John Houlding negotiated an agreement with a local brewer to rent the ground, which opened in 1884. Everton beat Earlstown 5-0 in their first match there. Houlding went on to buy the ground outright and, with Everton winning a championship in 1891 and renovations taking place to fit more paying fans into the ground, he demanded higher rent. Everton members grew tired of his demands and bought land, which was to become Goodison Park, and departed Anfield.
Houlding was then left with a stadium, but no football team. Liverpool Football Club was thus founded in 1892 (after the FA rejecting their request to be called Everton Athletic), winning their first league game at the stadium against Lincoln City 4-0 a year later. After cruising to a Second Division championship in their first season, the Reds won their maiden First Division title in the 1900/01 season, followed by their second in 1906. Further renovations had taken place up to that point and it was in 1906 that the world famous Spion Kop, known affectionately as ‘The Kop’, was built.
Two more league titles followed before the Kop was redesigned to hold 30,000 spectators in 1928. These ongoing revamps meant that Anfield was capable of holding huge crowds, and 61,905 packed in to see the Reds play Wolves in 1952, the stadium’s record attendance.
The Shankly era begins
A golden era at the club was beckoning, as Shankly took charge of the club in 1959. He converted a small room near the Anfield changing rooms into an informal meeting room for the coaches. The legendary ‘Boot Room’ was born. Embodying more than four walls, it became a hotbed of tactical innovation, a pool of scouting knowledge, and a place to groom future Liverpool managers. Shankly, Paisley, Joe Fagan, Reuben Bennett and Tom Saunders are widely regarded as the founding members of the Boot Room, and the former three won a staggering ten First Division championships and four European Cups between them.
As well as converting the Boot Room, Shankly was the driving force behind a makeover of Anfield, angered by the condition of the stadium he had inherited. A new stand was built on Kemlyn Road in 1963, after the team had gained promotion back to the First Division. After one of Anfield’s most memorable games saw goals from Ian St John, Alf Arroswmith, Roger Hunt and a Peter Thompson brace secure a 5-0 win over Arsenal, and a first top flight championship for almost two decades, the Anfield Road stand was constructed.
The Anfield atmosphere has become part of footballing folklore, and no other occasion embodies this spectacle than the great European fixtures involving Liverpool. The club made their first steps into continental competition under Shankly following that First Division win, and the club’s burgeoning love affair with the European Cup was epitomised by their memorable 3-1 semi-final first leg win against eventual winners Inter Milan. Hunt, St John and Ian Callaghan were the goalscorers in front of a bumper crowd of 54,000.
The Kop would have to wait until Shankly’s successor Paisley took charge for the days of European domination. After victory in the UEFA Cup in Shankly’s final season and again in 1976 under Paisley, the Anfield faithful were crying out for another shot at the ‘cup with the big ears’. The quarter-final second leg match against Saint-Etienne will stay long in the memory of those at Anfield that night. The previous year’s runners up went into the game leading 1-0 after the first leg. Kevin Keegan opened the scoring in the first two minutes, but the visitors equalised to make it 2-1 on aggregate. Ray Kennedy grabbed a second for Liverpool but they were heading out on away goals until David Fairclough replaced John Toshack with time running out. Fairclough scored in front of a fervent Kop to ensure a 3-2 aggregate win for the home side. Liverpool went on to claim their first European Cup, defeating Borussia Monchengladbach in Rome.
Many more memorable European nights followed at Anfield, and have continued in recent times. The 2001 UEFA Cup semi-final second leg 1-0 win against a much fancied Barcelona came courtesy of a Gary McAllister penalty and saw the side reach a first European final in 16 years. Steven Gerrard’s incredible 86th-minute thunderbolt in front of the Kop against Olympiacos to see his side progress from the UEFA Champions League group stages in the 2004/05 season was a pivotal moment in that European campaign. The Reds went on to defy the odds against AC Milan in the final, with Gerrard on target again.
Anfield has seen its share of drama on the domestic front too, with the famous Michael Thomas strike deciding the 1988/89 First Division title with the last kick of the season in front of a despairing Anfield Road end. One of the most remarkable games in English Premier League history took place at Anfield in 1996. The hosts emerged 4-3 winners over Newcastle United in a topsy-turvy clash that saw the potential outcome of the match change with every goal. Stan Collymore grabbed the dramatic winner in the second minute of stoppage time.
Later that year, Anfield hosted games at UEFA EURO 1996, with Goodison Park preferred three decades earlier for the 1966 FIFA World Cup™. Three group games were played, involving Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic, before a goalless quarter-final between France and the Netherlands was decided 5-4 on penalties in favour of Les Bleus.
The blue half of Merseyside have united in recent times with the Reds in moving tributes to the 96 victims of the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy, with an emotional 2013 service at Anfield attended by senior members of both clubs. Rumours of a planned ground share between the two sides were dismissed and Liverpool have announced their intention to further redevelop their current home, rather than move to a proposed site at Stanley Park. With the capacity set to be increased to around 60,000, it appears that Liverpool’s lengthy and somewhat spiritual association with their current home is destined to stretch further into the next century.