THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIER

There was a sense of surrealism about two young Englishmen deep in reflection on a mountain top in a remote area of South Africa.

One was a fourth generation Lancashire Fusilier.  The other was the captain of both the Liverpool and England football team.

It was the first of June 2010 and the nineteenth football World Cup would kick off in a matter of a few days but this forboding place was a million miles away from football and from the city of Liverpool from where these two men hailed.

The irony is that this indulgence had everything to do with football because if it was not for football, what happened here less than a hundred years ago would have been long forgotten beyond the annals of history.

Richard’s great grandfather was a survivor of that shambles of a military onslaught which occurred over two dramatic days of 23rd and 24th January 1900 on this very mountain the Dutch had called Spy Hill.

In truth, they are not at the summit of the 1040 foot high mountain but on a plateau below it, covered with rocky terrain and with very little place to take cover if they had come under attack from the three surrounding peaks by the Boer militants.

The two men can only imagine what happened here.

Winston Churchill, later to become a great British politician but at the time relatively unknown, was there that day as a reporter and not as a soldier.

Muhatma Gandhi, an Indian who would later become the first leader of the Indian nation,  was there too to partake in ambulance services for the injured.

Richard’s great grandfather, reported his story to the then editor of the Liverpool Echo, Ernest Edwards.

Spion Kop was about to take on a whole new meaning.

The growing popularity of football in the first decade of the twentieth century led to two stadiums being built in the city of Liverpool only separated by the serenity of Stanley Park.

Anfield, the home of Liverpool football club, would have its Spion Kop to remember those of their own who came home and those of course who did not from a battle on a hill in a  faraway land.

When Winston Churchill, now British Home Secretary, came to Liverpool in the summer of 1911 to address striking dock workers, his reference to the masses gathered on the Spion Kop struck a cord.

Richard is twenty eight now and has already seen conflict in Afghanistan and  Iraq.   The duty of club and country has called both men in different ways.

The concept of the Fusiliers as an infantry has long since gone and the headquarters of the Lancashire Fusiliers, although still based in the Lancastrian town of Bury, has since 1968 been amalgamated with other regiments.

Once a Lancashire Fusilier, always a Lancashire Fusilier.

Four generations of a brave young man named Richard who fought a battle for his country and never swayed on his loyalty to Liverpool FC.

This Richard will not be swayed.

In a few weeks, a fifth generation Richard is due to be born but Richard is apprehensive if he wants him to follow in the steps of his forefathers.

To follow the red of Liverpool FC and cheer the team on from the Spion Kop is not in question.

The only blott on the landscape for this young man is that he cannot persuade his beautiful wife to change her loyalties from Evertonian blue.

In this city, loyalty matters but it does not divide.

There has been many a day when Richard has stood on the terraces of the Spion Kop (but now all seater) and cheered the Reds to glorious victory.

He was there in Istanbul in May 2005 for that greatest of all Champions League Finals against AC Milan when Steven Gerrard was cemented as one of his all time heroes.

For Steven, Richard is symbolic of heroism too but both men would be too modest to ever openly admit such appreciation of the other.

Richard’s great grandfather saw combat a second time a few years later in the French trenches of the Somme during the first world war.

His grandfather fought in the second world war in Burma and his own Father is a Falklands veteran.

If ever the expression ‘there by the grace of God go I’ carries meaning, then it does so to the four generations of this family who fought in conflict for a cause and survived.

The two men decide on a retreat down the mountain side as the mist rolls in.

Once descended, they use the makeshaift pontoon bridge to cross the Tugawela river.

It is now a twelve mile drive as the cock flies to the town of Ladysmith.

They catch a last glimpse over their shoulders of the Spion Kop.

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