have never been one for obsessing about what view I have of a match. Just being able to see the pitch is enough. If I cared deeply enough I would not have chosen to have a season ticket miles from the action at the back of the Kop but for me atmosphere and who I want to be with has always been more important than the vantage point.
So perhaps it’s strange that I should choose this game as my favourite as I was not on the Kop next to my dad or with any other official Liverpool fans when it kicked off. On 28 December 1998 I was six months from finally being offered a Liverpool season ticket, so how and where I watched games depended on whether I got lucky at the ticket office or by picking up a spare outside the ground.
I was 19 and playing for Liverpool’s stewards football team on Sundays. I was not quite a full-on ringer as I would steward one game a season so I qualified for the annual tournament when we were given a choice of the first-team’s old boots to play in (I bagged Steven Gerrard’s in the summer of 99 so you can see the appeal of the gig).
At 2.30pm I hadn’t had a sniff of a ticket so I made my way over to the players’ entrance where some of the stewards often picked up spares from club staff. In two of the previous three seasons Liverpool had beaten Newcastle 4-3 in thrillers so demand was high. On top of that it was Christmas so, here too, I drew a blank.
I was just about to trudge off when I got a tap on the shoulder by a steward I knew who instructed me to follow him into Anfield. “We’ll pretend you’re a TV technician. Just put your glasses on, they’ll make you look the part,” he said. I was wearing a Henri Lloyd jacket and Reebok Classic trainers. Glasses were never going to be enough.
We walked into the old main stand and up a series of staircases until we arrived inside the roof. To my left there was John Motson, sheepskin coat and all. At the time I was delivering crisps to pubs so being whisked off the streets and up into the company of well-known media professionals was not something I was used to. Feeling discombobulated, I was ushered along to the right of the TV gantry and into a little box with a window where there was a kettle and a packet of biscuits. “You can watch the match here,” I was told.
Patrik Berger of Liverpool shoots as Newcastle’s Gary Speed watches on. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
I can safely say that in all my time watching football I have never had a better view. Or facilities. Don’t get me wrong I had imposter syndrome throughout the game but as it happened the only work I did was to make half-time teas that were passed along the gantry.
Martin Tyler, commentating a few metres down from me, has called the old TV gantry the “best in the world … with the fans below, the feeling of involvement was total.” I got a taste of this as Liverpool roared back from 2-0 down to seal a 4-2 win with four goals in 17 minutes.
There were two goals apiece from Michael Owen and Karl-Heinz Riedle, calamitous defending from Phil Babb and Jamie Carragher, a mop-topped 18-year-old Gerrard being introduced as a first-half substitute only to be ruthlessly withdrawn by Gérard Houllier at half-time.
After Riedle scored the fourth my steward friend and I were talking animatedly about the chances of the fixture ending 4-3 again. As I looked to my left I noticed Motty glaring at us. Had we been talking too loud?
As I watched Match of the Day that evening I was stunned when that conversation could be heard clearly on the highlights. I even found it on YouTube recently. It’s the only hard evidence I have of a live match experience that still feels like a dream to this day and I’ll always be grateful to the steward who smuggled me in.