Andy Knott can vouch for the work that goes into Anfield’s crowd mosaics.
A Liverpool supporter since the mid-1970s and season ticket holder since the mid-1980s, he has also organised the mosaics since one was first held aloft in L4 in 1996 – ahead of a game against Manchester United.
They are a familiar sight – on The Kop and beyond – by now. But they get no less impressive. Perhaps especially now, when crowds seem a distant memory.
It can appear a seamless process. Thousands of fans create a single, sizeable message by simultaneously holding their own piece of card aloft.
Over the last quarter of a century, they have consistently paid tribute to the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster, expressed gratitude to players and managers, past and present, recognised some of the club’s biggest achievements, and more.
Behind that, of course, is a lot of planning, a lot of work, and a lot of walking up and down stadium steps.
“We had a meeting with Rick Parry, Cathy Long from The Football Supporters’ Association, a few of the supporters’ clubs that travel abroad, just to see how we could get the atmosphere back into a seated ground,” Andy said, as he remembered the day the idea first arose.
“Somebody said ‘what about doing a mosaic?’ beause they’d seen it at the away game in Europe. And I just said: ‘Well I can sort that, no problem.’”
Liverpool’s match at Genoa in the 1991/92 UEFA Cup was the source of the suggestion and Andy’s printing business, which printed fanzine Red All Over The Land, put him in an ideal position to bring the plan to life.
“It started there really, against Man United using little A4 sheets of card with stickers, which literally fell off by the time you got to the end of the row,” he continued.
Such logistical challenges were always going to be part of the process, and the solution was thicker card.
As Andy explained: “You just literally slide them in the frame of the seat, twist it and it stays there, even if it’s windy. And the benefit of that – when you step back, you can actually see how it’s going to look before it’s held up.
“Because we’ve done so many over the years, I know how many seats wide the blocks are, how many rows they go back, where the exits go in and cut seats out, so I set a grid of however high the number is by 20 feet wide and, if I work within that, it will work across The Kop,” Andy said.
“So, we get the colours worked out – whether it’s a number of letters, shape, a figure – and I plot it on the grid.
“Turn up at the ground with the printed sheets, get volunteers off the [club] website. So, the website always asks for volunteers. We email the club, get it all through security.”
When matchday arrives, Andy – who sits in The Kop – is usually one of those holding up a card, which can mean he doesn’t get a full view until later.
“I’ll never see it then until I get home, watch it on Match of the Day or somebody sends me a picture of it.”
As Andy explained: “The most touching ones are the ones that are relevant.
“The Stevie G one, the Carragher one – their last game. ‘Sami’ one at Sami Hyypia’s last game.”
Ones that have received affection in recent months are those that supported the late Gerard Houllier while the then manager recovered from heart surgery in 2001/02.
“When Gerard died [in December 2020], the BBC asked me if I would do a piece on it – just because it was iconic of his time when he was at the club,” Andy said.
“It’s our way of showing our appreciation, or our memories, or our thanks to whoever. Whether it be a player, an event or a manager.”
They have a genuine impact, too. As Andy remembered: “For me, some of the best ones we’ve done have been the Hillsborough ones. We did one against Sheffield Wednesday. When would that have been? Years ago. Probably one of the third or fourth ones we did. That prompted their chairman at the time to look at getting the memorial at Hillsborough.
“I know people who, every April 15, drive over to Sheffield, lay flowers at the memorial and then come back to the memorial at Anfield or elsewhere, or just have their own thoughts down at the ground. So that was an important one.”
Andy’s long-term involvement with Red All Over The Land has also given him a unique insight into the increasing challenges that such publications – and another relatively niche area of fan culture – face.
“When I had my printing business, I was doing The Liverpool Way, I was doing Red All Over The Land, I was doing The Zulu at Birmingham, Speak from the Harbour – the Everton one – and, as far as I know, Red All Over The Land’s the only one that’s still going,” he said.
“The advantage of a fanzine is it’s an independent publication, so they can be a little bit controversial or they can use humour a lot more.”
It won’t, hopefully, be too long until he is able to sell them outside a mosaic-lifting Anfield once again.