For those of us not fortunate enough to have a weekly match-going experience during the season, visits to Anfield are special and invariably involve visiting a few well-loved sites around the old ground. My own rituals involve a moment spent at the Hillsborough Memorial, a second or two of quiet contemplation staring at the statue of Bill Shankly and a pre-match pint and a few songs in The Albert or The Park.
Afterwards, sometimes even the following day, I'll go in for a chat and make a purchase or two in the HJC shop as a show of support. My newest habit, just before entering the ground, is that if it's cold, I'll buy a beanie hat. Liverpudlian climate being what it is, I have a lot of Liverpool beanie hats!
Recent developments would seem to mean that, aside from my Imelda Marcos-like stockpiling of LFC-themed hats, most of the aforementioned rituals are about to change, at least superficially. Amongst many character flaws, your humble scrivener is mistrustful of change, and the plans announced recently are likely to mean a raft of alterations to the geography of the area around the stadium.
One of the more interesting facets of the plans is the proposed new walkway which would cut through Stanley Park and lead straight up to the ground, bordering the Main Stand. This pedestrian friendly route has been nominally called '96th Avenue' in tribute to the victims of Hillsborough and it is envisioned that the current memorial would be repositioned in order to be part of the avenue.
The response from the Hillsborough Family Support Group has been tentatively positive, with chairperson, Margaret Aspinall "pleased" the families will be consulted and cautiously welcoming the concept.
"We're waiting to see where it will be and how it will be positioned in relation to the new route," said Aspinall. "I think the 96th Avenue idea is a lovely gesture and that the families will be pleased. It has quite an American ring to it which connects it to the owners of the club and I think that's very fitting. It might be nice if people could walk down the avenue and to have the memorial right at the end in a prominent position."
A positive resolution seems likely in the case of the memorial but far more concerning is the fate of the HQ of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign on the Walton Breck Road. It is a focal point for so many visitors wishing to convey their support and its proximity to the ground has been an essential part of that. However, under the new plans for gentrification of an admittedly dilapidated area, the row containing the HJC shop is to be demolished.
Sheila Coleman, of the HJC, said that the group had been informed of the plans only last week and expressed justifiable alarm at the notion of the demolition.
"The location of the shop as a campaign headquarters is crucial," insisted Coleman. "We request a full dialogue with Liverpool council in respect of our future in Anfield."
A spokesperson for Liverpool council moved to make conciliatory noises but his efforts at ameliorating the situation sounded suspiciously like the kind of well-meaning but vague future-prediction Ian Ayre has honed to a fine craft.
"Our priority," said the spokesperson, "will be to ensure that a satisfactory solution is found for all parties -- be that through wholesale renovation of the existing block or its demolition and replacement with a new and modern building -- and to also ensure that any proposed solution is deliverable and fits with the wider plan."
Another local landmark under threat is The Albert pub, a pre-match gathering point for so many fans and the place I first clearly heard the songs I would go on to sing on the Kop. The famous pub is also located at the end of the proposed '96th Avenue' on the Walton Breck Road, beneath the Kop and has been immortalised in some terrace anthems over the years. It may seem like a trivial concern to some but for many the place is inextricably linked with their match-going experience.
It would seem, then, that for all the apparent benefits that will come with the proposed regeneration of the Anfield region, there will also be an erosion of much of what has been interwoven into the fabric of match-day for many of us. Warily, I place my trust in those driving these changes to come up with solutions that respect the traditions and culture of those who they purport to be serving.