Few other names in football evoke as much passion as Liverpool, a vibrant, idiosyncratic port city with a legendary status in the game. Flagship, namesake club Liverpool FC were England’s most dominant until Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United overtook them in the early 1990s.
A simply unique fan loyalty, grounded in the great Shankly/Beatles era of the 1960s, when The Kop was the definitive home end, has hardly wavered. As the touchstone sign in the players’ tunnel says, ‘This Is Anfield’.
And, as the song, adapted here before being adopted at almost every football ground in the world, says: ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. A two-decade long campaign was waged over the treatment of fans by the authorities at and after the 1989 Hillsborough disaster that caused 96 deaths. Now that at least parts of the truth have been scandalously revealed, another Liverpool touchstone rubric springs to mind: ‘All Together Now’.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Stanley Park, there have been major changes at city rivals Everton, with a new major shareholder in British-Iranian businessman Farhad Moshiri and a new manager in Ronald Koeman. After a decade of David Moyes, the astute manager who conjured miracles from limited purse strings, and fleeting promise under Roberto Martínez, big-money signings are in the air and even a new stadium has been mooted. Venerable Goodison Park, a World Cup 1966 venue that staged Brazil’s memorable group matches against Hungary and Portugal, and Portugal’s 5-3 win over North Korea, has long been the subject of debate.
The redevelopment and expansion Anfield began in the summer of 2015, with an expanded main stand due to be ready for 2016-17. This has scotched previous talk of a potential groundshare between the two city rivals. Everton, meanwhile, have seen plans for a new stadium at King’s Dock and Kirkby Park come to nothing. Another site at Walton Hall Park is under serious consideration.
Neither club has laid hands on a league crown for more than two decades – although Liverpool can claim better, a Champions League won in quite improbable circumstances in 2005. The Europa League final of 2016 had a less happy outcome for the Reds.
Yet, like Manchester and Old Trafford, Liverpool attracts thousands of football tourists from around the globe, drawn as much by the legend of Anfield as by the Cavern Club and Penny Lane.
Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport is 12km (7.5 miles) south-east of town, connected to the central bus hub of Liverpool ONE (30-35min journey time) via Liverpool South Parkway train station (10min journey time) by Airlink bus No.500 (every 30mins until 6.30pm, £2.20).
A taxi should cost around £20 and take 20mins. Going from town to the airport, a decent cabbie will offer to drop you near the terminal building – thus avoiding the £2 barrier charge to go right up to the door.
Bus Nos.80/80A and 86/86A also serve Liverpool South Parkway and Liverpool ONE, stopping at more places and taking longer – but running later. Liverpool South is handy for train links to Liverpool Central and Lime Street, plus Birmingham New Street and major cities in the north. Lime Street is the main rail terminus for hourly direct trains from London Euston (2hr 15min, £22 online). You can also change at Crewe.
Public transport consists of buses, local rail and the Mersey ferry. A Merseytravel Saveaway day pass (after 9.30am Mon-Fri, all day Sat, Sun) covering all forms starts at £3.90, available from the two main offices of Liverpool ONE and Queen Square. A pre-paid Walrus smartcard has also been introduced, similar to London’s Oyster.
For a taxi, Mersey Cabs (0151 298 2222) are as good as any.
Convenient for Anfield a few hundred yards away are the Hotel Anfield, Epstein Guest House, The Anfield B&B and Soccer Suite, offering varying degrees of comfort, convenience and affiliation to football and/or the Fab Four. While the six-room Soccer Suite now has a smart, post-match bar with a wide-screen TV, the Hotel Anfield has boutique touches in its eight rooms, all with flat-screen TVs, plus there’s tasteful football iconography in the dining room.
In town, the Shankly Hotel carries its legendary theme in its Bastion Bar & Restaurant, decorated with rare memorabilia relating to the great man. Similarly upscale, expansive rooms and studios appeal to the discerning, moneyed visitor, while the hotel can link up with Shankly-themed tours of the city.
If you’re going to open a Beatles hotel, you may as well do it round the corner from the Cavern Club. The Hard Days Night Hotel comprises 110 guestrooms in a classic Victorian building and offers packages of weekend stays for two and passes to various Beatles attractions around town. You’ll also find McCartney’s Bar at the more affordable Hanover Hotel, with 26 guestrooms.
Within the iconic Royal Liver Insurance Building itself, Aloft Liverpool offers great views from many of its 116 rooms. Close to Lime Street station, the funky Printworks Hotel consists of 33 contemporary rooms of varying configurations, all with power showers and flat-screen TVs. It has separate apartments, too.
For a real luxury apart-hotel stay, the Richmond goes that extra yard to keep high-spending guests happy – its R Bar & Brasserie is a top dining destination in its own right. The four-star boutique Hotel Indigo contains the Restaurant Liverpool, overseen by Michelin-starred chef Marco Pierre White.
Sadly the famous Adelphi, a fin-de-siècle beauty near Lime Street station, has seen better days – but it’s worth a look in. Online rates are a steal, if contemporary comforts aren’t a priority. If you’re just after a simple room with few frills and enjoy a decent breakfast, then the centrally located Aachen is ideal.
Chains abound, of course. Close to each other by the waterfront, with memorable views of the Mersey, the Crowne Plaza has a spa and brasserie while the sumptuous Malmaison is the first purpose-built example of this sought-after nationwide chain. Close to Albert Dock, the Hilton Liverpool City Centre is suitably business-like, as is the Marriott, closer to Lime Street. The DoubleTree By Hilton has arguably the best spa in town, all set in an elegant 19th-century building.
Few cities contain as many football-focused pubs, bars and nightspots as Liverpool.
A good place to start would be the Bierkeller, a three-bar complex at the Liverpool ONE retail and leisure complex, more promising inside than out, with three games shown on huge screens in the Bierkeller itself. Opened in June 2016, Tom Hall’s Tavern on The Strand is an attractive mix of traditional and contemporary, a sports bar with a strong live-music agenda. Also relatively new, on bar-lined Concert Square McCooley’s is a lively choice for sports action, original cocktails and decent Irish pub grub. Of the many chains there, Walkabout has the biggest screen.
For mass match gawping, there’s always The Abbey (not to be confused with the pub opposite Goodison), a busy late-opening spot.
To watch the game in a little more comfort, Lanigans is a relatively recent addition to the city’s busy Irish pub scene, with an LCD video wall of match action, live music and late-spinning DJs. O’Briens has been showing sport and shifting pints for decades – term-time it attracts student custom with drinks deals. Three-floor, football-friendly Flanagan’s Apple is another age-old Irish favourite while you should stake your place early at cosy Shenanigans before any big match – with live music worth staying around for at weekends.
Tucked away, with a great little beer garden, the Lady Of Mann well deserves its loyal clientele – and it’s another cosy spot to see the game. Other traditional match-watching options include The Railway on Tithebarn Street, The Flute (with late weekend opening) on Hardman Street and venerable Ye Hole In Ye Wall in Hackins Hay, just off Dale Street. The Roscoe Arms off Renshaw Street is worth investigating while the Crown Hotel on Lime Street has long been providing sport action in an honest pub atmosphere.
The Excelsior combines American craft beers with big-screen broadcasts while the Vernon Arms is an excellent choice for match watching, live music and real ales. The William Gladstone by the Cavern Club packs for big games, as does Thomas Rigby’s, known for its huge range of cask ales and global brews.
In a more modern vein, Woodys is a pre-club stomper, with live sport too, while contemporary Vincent is all cocktails, sushi and smart-casual dress – if that’s for you, it all also contains a 50-inch plasma screen for sport coverage. The Slaters Bar is the domain of squiffy students, with TV football too.
Finally, if you’re just after a well kept pint in relaxing surroundings, the Ship & Mitre, looking spruce from a tasteful facelift in the summer of 2016, offers scores of hand-pulled ales with an adjoining outlet to take a bottle or two home. A bowl of scouse or a hand-made burger may complement your choice of brew.
By the docks, the Museum of Liverpool hosts a significant and recommended football exhibit – Kicking & Screaming – presenting a colourful take on the city’s affinity with the beautiful game. There’s also a Beatles Show and other tourist attractions. It’s also free, and open daily 10am-5pm.