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Liverpool History: The Spion Kop

Never Forget Where You’ve Come From

     The Kop is one of the most iconic terraces to watch the beautiful game from.  It has been the backbone of some of the greatest nights Anfield has ever seen, and the birthplace of countless anthems.  The famous stand on Walton Breck Rd has been a Mecca of sorts.  Fans from every corner of the world has traveled to pay their respects.   But when was it built and what changes has the terrace seen over the years.

Rebound for the Ages

     Liverpool responded in typical marauding fashion after their shock relegation in the 1903/04 season. They won the second division without losing a single game at home.  With writers not giving their first division reappearance much hope, the Reds surprised everyone.  They won the league and topped the table by four points capturing their second Division One trophy.  

     The tantalizing play witnessed over two seasons increased the fan draw to Anfield.  Capacity was tested a few times in the 1905/06 season.  Most notable of the capacity busters was the “Good Friday derby” against Everton.  At the time, Anfield capcity was thought to be between 23,000 and 25,000.  That game was said to have corralled 33,000 fans into the doors.  Fans who were locked out resorted to climbing nearby buildings and pillars to glimpse the action on the field. 

Spreading Our Wings  

     The heads of the club knew that Anfield needed to expand before the next season.  In another example of Liverpool’s historical connection with Scots, Glaswegian engineer, Archibald Leitch, was employed to oversee the project. 

     Even though the entire stadium was being upgraded, one feature slowly took center stage.  The terrace behind one of the nets was extended to 132 steps and could take, on its own, 20,000 onlookers. It was a sight to behold and took the imagination of many English writers at the time. This, of course was prior to the all-seater stadiums we know now.  Fans could clamber together on the steps to watch their heroes take on all comers.  The project was unlike anything the country had seen and was soon replicated at many other big clubs at the time. 

The Chosen Name

     Local writers have been given the credit for formally addressing it but the fans immediately took to it.  The new stand was likened to the Spion Kop, a hill in South Africa where many Liverpudlian soldiers lost their lives in a battle during the Second Boer War. 

     On the night of January 23 1900, British soldiers used the cover of fog to sneak up to a strategic hill along the Boer lines. The plan was the first step to take the two peaks.  The increased artillery range would give them complete advantage of the region.

     Taken by surprise, and severely outnumbered the Boer forces retreated down the hill.  Unfortunately, due to the fog the British had only managed the lower plateau of the hill.  With forces alerted below and an artillery unit above them a long and bloody battle ensued. 

     Due to the quick Boer response, the British foxholes had only been dug a mere 16 inches and afforded the troops little cover from the barrage.  After two commanding officers were killed, leadership was transferred to Alexander Thorneycroft, who rallied troop morale.  With the British stubborn resilience and bedded position, Boer forces began to disorganize.  Despite the lack of determination on the opposing side, the Brits also began to loose faith.  The consistent bombing combined with the lack of communication due to Boer snipers, British artillery from the opposite side of the hill were raining shells on their own troops. 

Turning Point

     Some Englishmen took surrender into their own hands but just as Boer forces sent men to collect prisoners, reinforcements arrived and beat them back.  At 5pm the next day, with assistance from the Cameronians (Scottish Rifle Division) the British forces broke the Boer lines.  Both peaks had fallen and a brief Boer retreat began as darkness fell on the Kop.  Unknown to Thorneycroft, due to the visibility, the battle was won.  In an act of desperation to save his troops from dehydration and inevitable artillery slaughter, he ordered a retreat of British forces from the hill.  The Boer army was dumbfounded to find themselves handed possession of the Kop again with zero resistance. 

     The British lost 243 men during the battle with 1,250 wounded or captured, the Boer’s lost 68 men and had 267 casualties.  Fun fact from the battle, Winston Churchill was a courier between the Spion Kop and General Buller’s headquarters during the battle.  He even gave the command for Thorneycroft to re-establish his men on the hill with news of reinforcements and naval guns.  Thorneycroft disobeyed with, “Better six battalions safety down the hill, than a bloody mop up in the morning.”

Reflections

     Bet you never thought you’d get a war lesson from American Scouser, but there you have it.  If you’re ever lucky enough to gaze onto the famous stand from the Anfield Road end, or enter Valhalla by standing on it during a game, just remember its name sake.  Spare a second to remember the men from the Northern English town who gave their lives during the battle, and gave the name to the greatest footballing stand in the world.        

   

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