Wout Weghorst’s decision to touch the famous ‘This Is Anfield’ sign ahead of Manchester United’s 7-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool on Sunday sparked intense controversy and led to the Dutchman issuing a statement on social media explaining his actions.
Was it disrespectful to United? Is anger justified? Why is the mark so important?
the athlete He explains why Weghorst caused such a storm…
What is the significance of the ‘This Is Anfield’ tag?
Bill Shankly, who was Liverpool manager from 1959 to 1974, wanted the mark to do two things: to inspire his players but also to intimidate opponents. “They are there to remind our players who they are playing for and who they are playing against,” he said.
For many years afterwards, the banner would often be touched by Liverpool players as they made their way onto the pitch. This history wasn’t always obvious to players when they first joined – it was Luis Suarez’s father-in-law who told him of the sign’s “mythical” importance when he asked to have his picture taken under it.
Touching the banner while out was a longstanding tradition at Anfield right up until the early days of Jurgen Klopp’s tenure.
After an epic 4-3 victory over his former club Borussia Dortmund during his first season in charge, Klopp said: “Before the game when we came down the stairs my friends in Dortmund asked me: ‘Do they all touch the mark? I said no. I don’t know exactly how it works but I think you need to win something before. I haven’t asked yet, but it’s a sign of respect that you don’t. It’s very big. Maybe one day these guys will be allowed to do that and feel better and stronger and they can use this feelings.”
Klopp’s players had to wait another three years for them to touch the mark, as Jorginho Wijnaldum later revealed.
Wijnaldum tweeted after Liverpool’s first home game since winning the 2019 Champions League Final.
Besides United’s Wighorst, Liverpool players Virgil van Dijk, Harvey Elliott and Trent Alexander-Arnold all touched the banner before walking out at Anfield on Sunday. So did Cody Gakbo, despite the fact that he only joined in January.
Do opponent players touch the mark?
Despite Shankly’s desire for this sign to intimidate opponents, it is not uncommon for visiting players to touch it to celebrate playing at one of the most famous stadiums in world football.
Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright revealed last year that he would be happy to touch the cue when he visited Anfield as a player. “Of course (I touched it) but I didn’t touch it when I was out with the guys,” he said during an appearance as an analyst on ITV Sport.
“When I came out to warm up and look around, I touched it because it’s iconic. It’s incredible. I had to touch it.”
Unsurprisingly, fellow pundit and former United captain Roy Keane had a different opinion. When asked if he touched the banner, Kane said: “No, of course not. No point. It’s okay, it’s an imitation of the (Liverpool) players but not the opposition players. I’m not sure why you touched it, Ray. It’s silly, it’s childish.” .
Wright argued that he simply wanted to pay tribute to Liverpool’s history as a club, and said: “I love everything that comes with Liverpool. I’ve loved the fact that you can touch it. It’s not childish, it’s an incredible thing to be able to do. I’m one of the people who touch that. There A lot of fans who haven’t touched that.”
Some of the visiting players at Anfield don’t feel they have to touch the mark even if they are Liverpool fans. Former Southampton goalkeeper Paul Jones supported Liverpool as a boy but didn’t hit the mark until a short spell at Anfield as an emergency back-up goalkeeper in 2004.
He said in 2012: “I never touched the ‘This Is Anfield’ sign when I was an opposition player. I think this tradition should be limited to Liverpool players, to touch it and know that I touched it as a player. Liverpool meant everything.”
Another Liverpool fan, Robbie Slater, was blamed by his friend John Barnes for touching the banner on the day Slater and his Blackburn Rovers teammates won the Premier League title at Anfield in 1995.
“You can’t do that, you opponent,” Barnes said, Slater revealed to Fox Sports. “I told him: I’m a Liverpool fan, I have every right to touch it. It means something to me, too.”
A lot of the players Liverpool faced during that era were touching it according to Don Hutchison, who came to Weghorst’s defence.
“I’ve seen a lot of things here saying Weghorst should be terminated and sacked for touching the Anfield sign,” Hutchison wrote on Twitter. “Dear, millions of players have touched it away from home out of respect (I did it myself…not while playing for Everton), it’s no big deal.” The mark’s history and significance has spread outside English football as well.
Carlo Ancelotti proudly posted a picture of himself and a banner across social media when visiting as Real Madrid coach in 2014. Meanwhile, former Atalanta midfielder Josip Ilicic got a tattoo of himself touching it.
And whether you think Weghorst should have touched the mark or not, he at least showed more respect for it than Dries Mertens, who didn’t see the cause of all the fuss on the 2010 visit as a Utrecht player.
“My strongest memory is that they had a banner that said ‘This Is Anfield’ and everyone was talking about it,” Mertens said in 2018.
“I walked through the tunnel and asked, ‘Where’s the thing?'” They said you missed it and I didn’t notice it. So in the second half I look at this little thing and ask, ‘Is this so special?’
Then there’s Vinnie Jones, who in a possibly apocryphal story from his Wimbledon “Crazy Gang” days, is said to have walked up to the supposed intimidation sign and scribbled a sarcastic word: “disturbed”.
Does Wighurst have a history with Liverpool?
Chances of Weghorst doing the same were always slim, even as he spoke glowingly of being given the chance to play for a club of United’s stature since completing his surprise loan move from Burnley.
“When you’re walking around (Carrington) and in the gym, you see the big Man United crest above you, I can try to look tough and cool but no, that’s something special and I’m really proud. I’m going to do my best for this club.
However, the Netherlands international has made no attempt to hide his admiration for Liverpool in the past, even revealing that he hopes to play for them one day shortly after joining Wolfsburg in 2018, according to De Telegraaf. “If you continue to train with full commitment, I believe this opportunity will come.”
Weghorst later said that he always found Liverpool a “very special” club. “I still get goosebumps from ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’,” He said in 2020. “There are also other great English clubs, and I’ve always loved Milan because a lot of Dutch people have played there.
“I’m ambitious and I want to go further. Maybe someday you’ll play at another club, whether in Germany or in England? But it’s still far away at the moment. I feel good and I’m trying to achieve as much as possible here.”
(Top photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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