Liverpool v. Burnley

Natasha Chahal

Through childhood and adolescence, the autumn brings the excitement and apprehension of the new school year: new uniform, new lace ups, the promise of a future, uncertain though it may be. When I finished university, I remember a distinct feeling of disappointment as the autumn approached. What now? Will every month be the same as the last? At least there was still the beginning of the new football season: new uniform (club shirt), new signings and the hope of what lies ahead for the team.

The Premier League season began this year with most of the top clubs doing what they were expected to do. In the opening week Arsenal were the only exception, beaten 2-0 by the newly promoted Brentford. During the second week Liverpool were playing Burnley at home and I had a ticket to Anfield. I didn’t grow up in Liverpool but it’s become a home of sorts, the place I’d go to bunk off from university – and, later, escape from London – when things were too stressful or monotonous.

Saturday’s match opened with a minute’s silence for the 97th victim of the Hillsborough disaster, Andrew Devine. Ninety-four people were crushed to death on 15 April 1989 because of the gross negligence of South Yorkshire Police. Hundreds were injured, and two more later died in hospital. The coroner found that Devine’s death in July this year was a result of the life-changing injuries he sustained at Hillsborough, returning a verdict of unlawful killing. In a bid to absolve themselves the police had tried to blame the fans, feeding the media fabricated stories of hooliganism and drunkenness. As in any community that has experienced police ineptitude first hand, the distrust remains. Nowhere in the city will sell the Sun because of its part in peddling the falsehoods.

The Liverpool and Burnley players all took the knee before the game. Last season, ahead of a match against Manchester City, some Burnley fans organised a plane to fly above the Etihad Stadium with a banner which read: ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’. At their first game this season, at home against Brighton and Hove Albion, some fans booed the players when they took the knee. Burnley’s manager, Sean Dyche, wouldn’t criticise them. ‘You can’t control people’s lives,’ he said.

During this weekend’s fixture at Anfield, Dyche fielded a team numbered 1 to 11, something the Premier League hasn’t seen for 23 years. The gesture had fans of ‘tradition’ salivating, but reminded me of the UKIP election manifesto that promised to turn London Underground’s Circle Line back into a circle. Tradition for tradition’s sake. Perhaps Alastair Campbell, a Burnley supporter, could offer his expertise on spin and PR.

The Liverpool fans in the Kop held up coloured pieces of card to make a giant number ‘97’, gold on a red background, in tribute to Andrew Devine. The captain, Jordan Henderson, laid flowers behind the goal. It’s been 520 days since the stadium was last at full capacity. The crowd sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (‘At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark’). We beat Burnley 2-0, with goals from Diogo Jota and Sadio Mané. ‘Hope is itself a species of happiness,’ Samuel Johnson wrote, ‘and, perhaps, the chief happiness, which this world affords.’ Three mini pies and two glasses later, I was hopeful for the season ahead, the unknown and life with fewer restrictions.


  • 24 August 2021 at 9:12pm
    ledmatt says:
    Not being much of a football follower I wasn't aware that the traditional numbering hadn't been used in recent decades. Why did they drop such a sensible way of doing things?

    • 26 August 2021 at 11:35am
      Richard Byakika says: @ ledmatt
      It's largely to do with teams having much bigger squads than they did in the past and therefore more players with different shirt numbers. Also, players now have more choice in the numbers that they wear and some prefer numbers other than 1-11. For example, David Beckham opted for number 23 when he moved to Real Madrid due to his admiration for Michael Jordan.

    • 30 August 2021 at 4:14am
      smithjohn says: @ ledmatt
      when i played as a kid we only had 11 shirts and so when it came time for a substitution the player coming off would take off his shirt and pass to the sub. you'd settle in to their sweat.

  • 24 August 2021 at 10:20pm
    David Kynaston says:
    David Kynaston:
    An enjoyably atmospheric piece, but a shame no mention of the grotesque gulf in financial resources between clubs like Liverpool and clubs like Burnley. It's not really sport any more.

    • 4 September 2021 at 3:20pm
      ianbrowne says: @ David Kynaston
      Interestingly last season both Burnley and Liverpool were without their big money signings. Virgil van Dijk, £75 million, was injured. But luckily thier goalkeeper Alisson, £66.8 million, was available. Burnley's big money signing for that season was Dale Stephens, £1 million, was unavailable.

  • 25 August 2021 at 4:41pm
    William Heath says:
    Some Burnley fans organised a plane, but most didn't and wouldn't. It's not obvious what the Burnley team numbers have to do with UKIP.

  • 27 August 2021 at 7:26am
    Nicholas Carter says:
    “During this weekend’s fixture at Anfield, Dyche fielded a team numbered 1 to 11, something the Premier League hasn’t seen for 23 years. The gesture had fans of ‘tradition’ salivating, but reminded me of the UKIP election manifesto that promised to turn London Underground’s Circle Line back into a circle. Tradition for tradition’s sake.”

    Gosh, a new front in the KulturKamp: shirt numbers. I hold no brief for Burnley, and hope that the team I support, Leeds United stuff them on Sunday, but taking a preference for old style shirt numbers as a signifier of being a racist strikes me as a rather silly stretch.

  • 28 August 2021 at 3:18pm
    Colin Duffy says:
    In reference to the piece written above and David Kynaston’s comment. Hope is the greatest of virtues. In a place where hope is extinguished on an hourly basis, it is with pride that Liverpool as a city and a football club choose hope not money, not capitalism nor the short termism of financial capital. They take what they are and make others envious.

    • 28 August 2021 at 7:34pm
      Hugh Mcaloon says: @ Colin Duffy
      I really believe that about the fans and the city but harder to agree when it comes to the club's hierarchy after the European Super League debacle. Lovely article - late summer and early autumn trulu are all about hope and anticipation for the season ahead.

Read more