Friday, December 31, 2004

The Battle of Spion Kop and Scouser kopites

A bit of persistence has uncovered the source of the word kopite. It comes from the name of a terrace, that is, a set of stands at the end of a football (i.e. soccer) field. Interestingly, they really were "stands" in that there were no seats at all, everyone stood the whole time. The stadium was home to the Liverpool Football Club.

Here's a short description in a British guide to football pitches:
The Kop Grand Stand

The Spion Kop ... is the grand daddy of all football stands. The terrace was nicknamed "Spion" by a local journalist who likened the banking to a hill in South Africa where many local soldiers had lost their lives during the Boer War at the start of the 20th Century. Originally built in 1906, the first Spion Kop's terraces held 30,000 rabid Kopites, and was the largest terrace ever to be built at an English ground. The Kop's members sang and cheered for their saints like no other team's supporters, making Anfield world famous with their enthusiasm, and creating a match day atmosphere that couldn't be matched at any other stadium. Kopites were known for their sportsmanship and love of the game, unlike the hooligans who plagued other terraces in the 70's and 80's. The Kop itself was a truly gargantuan structure, gloomy and fearsome to opposing players, because its immense roof covered all the spectators in its shadow, far more brooding than the other great end terraces of this era at Molineux and Villa Park. The Kop was a symbol of Liverpool and even English football itself, and no stand has ever been so loved or so well known as Anfield's Spion Kop. Indeed, on the day before its demolition, over 10,000 people gathered to bid the Kop farewell. It seems ironic that the 96 people who perished at Hillsborough in 1989 were all Liverpool supporters, and it was their deaths that eventually caused the demise of their beloved Kop. Its replacement, called the Kop Grandstand, was completed in 1995, seats 12,000 and is the largest single tier end stand in football today. At 76 rows deep and sporting a low roof, the new Kop is definitely reminiscent of the old one, but any Kopite will tell you, a seated Spion Kop is just not a Spion Kop.

GENERAL VIEW OF THE BATTLE OF SPION KOP, From: H. W. Wilson, With the Flag to Pretoria, 1902. Here are two sources of information about the battle: the entry i Wikipedia and in Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911. See also: Internet Football Ground Guide - The Kop, Anfield, Liverpool

The Kop in the 1950s
Not only were Kopites the noisiest supporters but they were also the best dressed. Men in collar and tie were a common sight on the Kop long before jeans and replica shirts became the fashion. In this image from the 1950s you can even see tram drivers and conductors who have turned up in their uniforms. Image copyright of Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. Source: Museum of Liverpool Life

Here are Wikipedia links to entries on the Liverpool Football Club and the Hillsborough Disaster, mentioned above.

The word "Scouser" in my subject line is a synonym for Liverpudlian. From the Wikipedia entry for Liverpool: "Inhabitants of Liverpool are officially known as "Liverpudlians", but more commonly known as "Scousers". They are noted for their distinctive accent, called Scouse. In London and elsewhere Liverpudlians are sometimes known as "Mickey Mousers" (from Cockney rhyming slang Scouse - Mickey Mouse)."

All these interesting facts don't really help explain why a Liverpool FC fan would call Susan Sontag a "kopite." It seems meant as an affectionate note of empathy, as in "we're all in this together" or something like that.


Here's a link to a review of a book by one of the hooligans of the 70's and 80's referred to above: The true confessions of a football fanatic. The mention of "Year Zero of 2008" and the city's cultural image are references to Liverpool's status as a European Capital of Culture in that year. Some excerpts from the review:

Illegal Travel, Theft, Sneaking Into Matches Without Paying And Fighting - Mike Chapple Reports On The Everyday Life Of One Of The Annie Road End Crew

WITH Liverpool refining its cultural image in time for its Year Zero of 2008, in some city social circles Nicky Allt and his debut book would be as welcome as a sulphur bomb explosion at a perfume party launch.

The Boys From The Mersey is an unashamed account of one Liverpool fan's rampage through Britain and especially Europe in the club's golden age of the late 70s and early 80s.

With him were the rest of the Annie Road End Crew, whose reputation for traversing the continent with no cash or passports while simultaneously "bunking into" grounds for nothing, occasionally fighting and robbing our European cousins of their finest designer gear knew no bounds.

And Allt - former unemployed Kirkby scally, qualified fitter, landscape gardener and now full-time writer - is not here to apologise.

"I was gonna follow Liverpool and nobody was gonna stop me," says Nicky, 42, a former pupil at St Kevin's boys school, now a father-of-two. "I never had no money and there would be times when I'd go abroad to follow the Reds with no passport.

"I remember one time I went away with two two pence pieces in my pocket and I came back with the same two coins but in the meantime but I'd been at a hotel for two nights, been the game, had me food and got back. I did everything. "

"When I tell the younger lads now they don't believe you with all the drugs and immigration checks and what have you. I went on that Billy Butler show the other day and he said you've made all that up haven't you."...

"All my dad's generation bunked in," he says over a pint at his local in Aughton, proud of the city's cultural aspirations but determined not to pull the punches.

"With the Capital of Culture and the city going forward and everything, which is brilliant to see, people don't want to hark back to the those days, while I thought it was better to document it.

"People are gonna say 'oh the stereotypical image' but there are scallies in this city and that is as much a part of our culture as anything else. I think we should be full-on open about it and just laugh about it."

Even those whose sensibilities may not be able to stomach as what they see as another hooligan's diary may be interested to hear that in the flesh, Nicky is polite and affable, passionate about his roots, and whose determination to get his voice heard should be an inspiration to all first time writers....

He adds: "Me missus, Sue, was brilliant. I used to give her all this grief about how I hated what I was doing. And she just said go out and do it and get off my case!"

* THE Boys From The Mersey is published by Milos and available now.


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