The superfan and 'lucky steward' with his own Anfield banner
Mark Sweatman and Alan Edwards

FeatureThe superfan and 'lucky steward' with his own Anfield banner

Mark Sweatman and Alan Edwards
Published 22nd December 2021
By Scott Fleming

Season 2021-22 has, for most Anfield regulars, been all about rediscovering the buzz and din of a full stadium and re-forging friendships with the people they spend matchdays with.

But for many of those who ride the escalators all the way up to the top of the Main Stand, things have not been quite the same as they were before COVID-19. Why? The long-postponed decision by the man known to some as simply ‘the lucky steward’ to hang up his oversized, orange hi-vis coat.

Some readers will already be familiar with the story of Alan Edwards – octogenarian and Liverpool superfan – and his antics on a famous night back in May 2019 are a big part of the reason why.

A rudimentary understanding of a steward’s duties suggests they spend a lot of their time looking away from what’s happening on the pitch, right? “No chance!” laughs Alan’s son, Keith. Not when you’ve been following the Reds home and away since the 1950s and ‘what’s happening on the pitch’ is a 4-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals, certainly.

That night, Alan was filmed gleefully celebrating and embracing his fellow fans. The clip went viral, and for a short while afterwards he lived the life of an internet celebrity, featuring in another video as part of the club’s ‘This Means More’ campaign and in online articles telling the quirky tale of how he fell into the job (initially as a turnstile operative) back in the ’90s and stayed in it long after hitting state pension age.

The irony of Alan’s popularity and longevity in the role is that it was never a calling for him; cult-hero status couldn’t have been further from his thoughts. Faced with a problem – losing his season ticket due to financial issues and learning there was an eight-year waiting list for a new one – he simply went out and found a solution: become a steward.

Sadly, the effects of inactivity during lockdown and the Parkinson’s disease he was diagnosed with eight years ago forced Alan, now 83, to retire a few months ago, meaning that for the first time in approximately 25 seasons Anfield is bereft of his cheerful presence on matchdays.

Well, not quite.

You can still find him just behind the wheelchair gantry in section U5, not far away from his old stomping ground at the top of the Main Stand, his scarf and broad grin intricately laid out in red, white and gold felt on a bedsheet that’s around twice the height of the real Alan. This version might not be as quick with the jokes and score predictions as the real one, but it certainly captures his essence.

The banner was created by Mark Sweatman, a season ticket holder and languages teacher from Birkenhead who became good friends with Alan after being relocated to the Main Stand in 2016. Mark has been a prolific producer of LFC-themed banners via his website handmadebanners.co.uk ever since having to give up his initial passion – distance running – due to a back injury, and recently released a book titled A Labour of Love: The Craftsman of the Kop about his experiences.

“It was quite funny seeing such a familiar face unfolding on my living room floor,” he tells Liverpoolfc.com. “Ever since the Main Stand opened we’ve had our tickets up there at the top, and every time we’ve gone to the game we’ve been looking forward to seeing Alan at the top of the escalator, because he’s such a nice fella, he’d always stop and have a little chat, give you his prediction for the game and all that. We always think of him as bringing us luck, because during the years while we’ve been getting to know him, the team’s had a lot of success.

“Then after we came back this season he wasn’t there, and obviously with COVID and him being an older fella, we were a little worried about what might have happened. I spoke to another steward and asked what had happened to Alan, and she said he was OK but his health had deteriorated a little during the last year or two, meaning he couldn’t do the job anymore. Immediately at that point I thought, ‘I want to do something for him’, because he’s been such a big part of our matchday experience.

“I thought it was just a nice idea to give one of those ‘little people’, if you like – I mean, he is physically little! – one of those unsung heroes the same kind of accolades and prominence the players and manager get. I did a little crowd-funding thing for the banner and we raised about £550. It cost £150, so we gave around £400 to Alan as a retirement gift, which he then decided to give to the Liverpool branch of Parkinson’s UK, which is nice.”

Inspired by the design of Barack Obama’s iconic ‘Hope’ posters from the 2008 US presidential election, the banner was first unveiled near the beginning of the season, but it was on the day of the 4-0 win over Arsenal last month that Alan, his wife, children and grandchildren came to see it for the first time, the extent of Alan’s popularity at Anfield leaving certain family members speechless.

The Edwards family with Alan's banner
The Edwards family with Alan's banner

“My dad was overwhelmed, it was a really proud moment, but the biggest thing was my mum being there,” explains son Keith. “We worked out that my dad has been to about 2,500 games, and he’s been married to my mum 57 years, and she had never, ever been to a game. That was her very first one, and she absolutely loved the game.

“But the main thing was, my dad stood at the top of the escalator where he used to stand, and my mum was in tears just at the amount of people coming in and hugging him, greeting him like a long-lost friend: ‘My God, I thought we’d lost you through COVID’ and all of that. We’d seen it a bit over the years, but it was a bit of an eye-opener for the grandkids. They all call him ‘Poppa’ and they were dead proud just standing there watching him.”

Mark adds: “He’s so modest, he was kind of lost for words, but he just kept shaking my hand and saying, ‘I can’t thank you enough.’ The family have been lovely as well, they are delighted with it.”

It would be unfair on the hundreds of other matchday stewards to suggest Alan was the only one with a smile and a joke up his sleeve, so what exactly was it that made him such a particular hit with the fans?

“He just embraced it, it was like he wasn’t a steward, more of a meet and greet person,” says Keith. “When they came up those stairs he would say hello to everyone without fail, and if it was a little kid he’d say, ‘Hi, mate, is this your first game, what’d you think?’ Unless there was huge crowds coming in, he’d speak to everyone. Because of his age, he’s shrunk, he’s about 5ft2 now! And standing there in his big steward’s coat, there’s just something about him that people always latched on to.”

Although Alan’s quarter-century working at Anfield coincided with seven different managerial reigns, two European Cups and one stadium expansion, it represents just a small part of his total lifetime as a Liverpool fan.

He hitchhiked to Second Division games in the ’50s, was part of the standing Kop in the ’60s, used his builder’s van to ferry Keith and a load of his mates to countless Wembley finals in the ’70s and ’80s, and even became renowned at one point for turning up to big games in novelty costumes – rocking up to the 1978 League Cup final and the 1981 European Cup final dressed as Mickey Mouse and D’Artagnan respectively.

The recognition Alan has received since his retirement – such as the letter sent to him by Jürgen Klopp and the players, or the surprise presentation made by John Aldridge that reduced him to tears in one of the stadium lounges before the FC Porto game in November – therefore feels like a thank-you not just for his stewarding efforts but for 70 years of loyal support. And it’s an obsession that shows no sign of fading.

“I see him a couple of times a week and we’ll speak on the phone a few times, and it’s all football,” says Keith. “With his Parkinson’s he’s probably not missing it [being at Anfield] as much as he would have. I went to the Southampton game and he said, ‘Today is the first day I’ve thought: I don’t want to go the game’ because it was freezing that day. But most days he thinks, ‘I wish I was going.’ I’ve got him tickets for the Leicester game in the League Cup, and if ever any of my mates that sit nearby aren’t going he comes with me.”

The felt Alan created by Mark will remain on that gantry at Anfield for the rest of the season, before being gifted to the Edwards family. But it’s nice to know that the real one won’t be a stranger either.

Published 22nd December 2021