Liverpool Legends in SA, land of the original Kop

It is rather fitting that this weekend’s charity match between the legends of Liverpool and Kaizer Chiefs will be played in KwaZulu-Natal, just 250km from Spioenkop (literally, “spy hill”), after which the famous terrace in Anfield is named.

Opposition players and fans talk about “the Kop” at the stadium as the most intimidating stand of the ground, where Liverpool supporters create such a noise that they are referred to as the 12th player. But the name of the terrace has its roots in KwaZulu-Natal at a place where more than 300 soldiers lost their lives.

The Battle of Spioenkop, fought between 23 and 24 January 1900, was one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Anglo-Boer War. Although the Boers were outnumbered by 12 000 soldiers, they were positioned high enough to bombard the British from above. The British lost 243 men, which resulted in their defeat.

According to Sue Gijzen, a former committee member of the South African Liverpool FC Supporters Club, a large number of the Lancashire Regiment fell, many of whom came from Liverpool.

The Kop at Anfield got its name in 1906 when Ernest Edwards, the sports editor for the Liverpool Echo, named the terrace after the battle. Gijzen said the terrace was given the name because the “steepness of the spectator stands resembled the hills of Spioenkop”.

In 1904, another journalist had noted that “the silhouette of fans standing on the steep banks looked like the soldiers on top of the hill at Spioenkop”. It was 22 years later that the stand officially took on the name.

Ties between the hill and the football club are still kept alive by the South African Liverpool FC Supporters Club, who gather at Spioenkop on 15 April every year to commemorate the 96 fans who had lost their lives at the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. “South African supporters needed a place to go to also remember the 96. The obvious choice was, of course, Spioenkop,” said Gijzen.

Unlike the bloody battle that took place more than 100 years ago, Saturday’s affair at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban should be friendlier. The Liverpool Legends, which includes Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and John Barnes, will be facing Kaizer Chiefs’ very own greats that has Lucas Radebe, Neil Tovey, Doctor Khumalo and John “Shoes” Mosoeu in its line-up. Proceeds from the match will be donated to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

Speaking at the Liverpool Legends signing at the Radisson Gautrain on Monday, Chris Midgley, the chair of the South African Liverpool FC Supporters Club Gauteng Branch, said funds collected by his club would go to Claire House Children’s Hospice in the Merseyside city, a charity of which former defender, Jan Molby, is patron.

Donations will also be made to the football club’s development and players’ funds. “We knew they were coming to South Africa so we contacted them. We were so keen to get involved.”

It is not the first time the supporters club has been charitable. Earlier this year, donated R11 500 to a rhino poaching fund that Bruce Grobelaar, a former Liverpool goalkeeper, supports. It also allocates money to Liverpool’s football development programme at the end of every English league season.

“I do not mind coming out to meet the fans. They are fantastic.” – Steve MacManaman, Liverpool Legend

With the Hillsborough disaster at the centre of Saturday’s game, it is no surprise that the players would be at the Radisson Gautrain, signing football jerseys for South African fans, just a few hours after arriving from England. It is a small sacrifice for supporters who have stuck by the club through such disasters.

Steve McManaman is one of those players who believes the supporters are Liverpool’s lifeblood. “I do not mind coming out to meet the fans. They are fantastic.” Although he visited South Africa during the 2010 World Cup, this will be his first time playing in the country.

The last time Liverpool played Kaizer Chiefs in the United Bank Challenge in 1994, McManaman was left out of the squad because of an injury. “I never expected to play in South Africa but you do not often get an opportunity to play here so I had to take it.”

Now working as a football pundit for BT Sports in the UK, McManaman is delighted to take the time out for a friendly game with his former colleagues. “We do not see each other a lot and when we can meet each other it turns out to be great, especially since we can raise money for charity.”

– This article first appeared in Brand South Africa’s ‘Blogging the Nation’ on 14 November, 2013.

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