By Caspian Gregonen
After we return from yet another international break, we sadly will not be returning to Melwood. The door has been shut on another chapter of Liverpool history, and as sad it is we have lots to look forward to in the future. This piece instead looks back, as Melwood deserves to hold a place in the hearts of all Liverpool fans around the world. Melwood epitomises what it means to be involved with the Reds. Family, hard word, community and coming together. Throughout our 70 years at Melwood, we have seen many phases of this great club. Going all the way back to when Bill Shankly arrived in 1959, Melwood was were the “Liverpool Way” was first actualized.
When Shanks first visited Melwood, it is safe to say he was less than impressed. The facilities were run down and not much had been altered since the club acquired it from St. Francis Xavier School. This was soon to change as Shankly implemented the likes of the famed “sweatboxes” (sometimes called “shooting boxes”) and shooting boards. He also ordered for the cricket pitch to be changed into five-a-side pitches, which became his pride and joy. The large 11-a-side pitches were re-turfed so that they might be of the same quality of that of the pitches found at Wembley. As Shanks himself said, Liverpool’s success was “no accident” and “the training of Liverpool players is down to all the details.” The work done by Shanks, his famed boot room, and the players at Melwood would lay the foundations for greatness which followed Liverpool for three decades.
The implementation of the sweatboxes and the shooting boards, which by today’s standards would appear very basic, was somewhat revolutionary at the time. In addition to his belief in “pass and move, keep it simple” football, Shanks was also very concerned about ensuring his team was the fittest on the pitch: ‘Not only can we out-football you, we can also outrun you.’ So many parallels can be drawn between Shankly and Klopp, this being just one of them. Klopp’s understanding of our history has been so important, and I am sure he is well aware of the history of Melwood. The set up of the sweatboxes was incredibly simple and has become a huge part of Liverpool folklore. Shankly described the sweat box as “using boards like the walls of a house with players playing the ball off one wall and on to the next; the ball was played against the boards, you controlled it, turned around and took it again.” Shooting boards were essentially wooden fences with numbered boxes painted 1-6, in which players would spend hours shooting at the boxes called out by coaches.
Very little changed at Melwood until 2001, when a new Pavilion was built to replace the old one. It had served us well up until then. As we all know, we had to wait 30 years to see a another title after 1989/90 – perhaps that we were still at our old training faculties was part of the part of what held the club back? After so many missed title chances, is is a fitting time to move on after last year’s triumph. Personally, I am grateful that Melwood got to see that title after all those years. Melwood is synonymous with Liverpool and our golden years. It saw a period of 19 seasons from the early 1970s until the late 1980s/early 1990s when Liverpool finished outside of the top two only once (though in that one year, 1980-81, Liverpool won both the European Cup and the League Cup). Melwood has seen numerous titles in the League, all our European Cups, FA Cups, UEFA Cups and even a Club World Cup.
In many ways, Melwood is the epicenter of all of this. Even so, Jurgen Klopp probably understands best why the move to Kirkby will work, and why the club will not lose this spirit. One of the first things he did when he become manager was to properly introduce the players to all the staff who look after them at Melwood. He made it clear that those are the people who support the team in their successes. Indeed, the staff are the reason for those successes. Liverpool are taking these people to Kirkby. Melwood has always been about the people. It has been about the likes of Stevie and Trent watching over the fences and dreaming of endless possibilities. It has been about all the great players, coaches, managers, and people who have come through the doors. This will not be lost as we move to new pastures.
It is a bittersweet moment. As I said above, this move is perhaps long overdue. However, I am so glad that Melwood has been part of the club’s legacy, especially in these last two seasons of success. It is a fitting end to a magical place. To me, this is what it is all about. Liverpool to me is magic – and Melwood is a central part of that fantastical world. The stories of the training done there captured my imagination as much as the stories of our great European exploits. Liverpool embodies the myths, the legend and the spirit of these stories. Supporters and players alike have lived off that for a long time – at times to the mockery of some – yet now we are living in a magic era again. As LFC move to Kirkby, they do so at a moment when we are watching the next chapter in the story be written. Klopp is the perfect man for this moment. From day one he has worked to understand the club and its soul. He understands the importance of Melwood, but more importantly, like Shanks before him, he knows our success is not “a myth.” Rather, it is about the details and the Liverpool Way. At Kirkby, the plans are once again being laid down for greatness.