The term ‘Kop’ derives from a Boer War battle and was the colloquial term for single tier terraces at football stadiums until their abolishment in the mid ‘90s. Perhaps the most famous ‘kop’ was at Anfield, where 28,000 of Liverpool’s most ardent fans regularly stood, cheered and sang for their home team. Its story is told by three talented young women from Brunswick Secondary College, Melbourne, in the latest play from award-winning playwright Neil Cole, Songs from the Kop. Despite not being an explicit Liverpool supporter, he has managed to capture the essence of the Liverpool fans.
The initial explanation for the Australian link is somewhat tenuous, and does beg the question whether the play would have been even more powerful had it been performed by Liverpudlians. Nevertheless, the three young actresses – Josie Coyle, Ella Byrne and Eilen Beaton Ortega – are all fine singers and their renditions of team songs such as Tommy Scouser and When the Reds Go Marching In are performed with passion and gusto. They approach their storytelling in an equally spirited manner, although at times their diction is somewhat rushed and garbled. Matt Hood provides appropriate accompaniment on an electric guitar and with some harmonic singing.
We learn of Liverpool’s glory days under the direction of Bill Shankly and successive league and FA cup wins. As the timeline approaches the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, the play takes on a more political and serious tone. Not only did 96 people perish on that fateful day, but the ineptitude of the police to control the crowds was brushed under the carpet. The fans were made scapegoats, and it took nearly 30 years and a public enquiry to rectify this miscarriage of justice. The actors manage to convey a good sense of the pathos regarding the situation with a moving performance of Abide with Me – the resulting empty chairs and draped scarves symbolising the lost fans. That said, the narrative could have made more of the actual tragedy, for the details are somewhat skipped over. Shankly famous quote suggesting that football is much more than a life and death matter takes on dramatic irony here, as this play is about much more than football, highlighting great community spirit in the face of adversity.
A final chorus of You’ll Never Walk Alone (Cole’s favourite song) concludes the story, even reducing one audience member to tears. This is a gutsy performance, and full marks go to these young women for coming so far to perform an inspirational piece of theatre.