In January 1900 one of the most fatal battles of the 2nd Boer War took place near Ladysmith, South Africa.
The Boer Wars were fought between the British Empire and two Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. The conflict was brought about over disagreements in the British Empire’s influence in South Africa.
On that fateful day in January, the British were caught on a hill called Spion Kop. Here, the British suffered 243 fatalities, with over 1,200 who were either badly injured or taken prisoner.
Future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, was in attendance: “Corpses lay here and there,” he said. “Many of the wounds were of a horrible nature. The splinters and the fragments of the shells had torn and mutilated them.”
Of the men who had perished, were injured, or taken as prisoners-of-war; many had hailed from Lancashire or Liverpool.
Two years later and Britain was victorious in the war, but the memory of those soldiers lost on Spion Kop remained firmly in the memory of Ernest Edwards.
Edwards, who was the Sports editor of the ‘Liverpool Echo’ at the time, noted the similarity between the Spion Kop hill and the new open-air terrace at Anfield in 1906. The steep nature of the terrace closely resembled the equally steep nature of Spion Kop.
“This huge wall of earth has been termed ‘Spion Kop’, and no doubt this apt name will always be used in future referring to this spot.”
This came true in 1928, when Liverpool officially consummated the name ‘The Kop’, following the construction of a roof for the famous stand.
The ‘Kop’ is not a term that is only associated with Liverpool Football club, however. Another early reference to the similarities between Spion Kop and football terraces was recorded in 1904, at Woolwich Arsenal’s Manor Ground.
A local newsman compared the silhouette of fans standing on the newly raised bank of earth to the soldiers standing upon the steep hill at Spion Kop.
Even today, other clubs have a ‘Kop’ and in particular, a ‘Spion Kop’.
Liverpool’s, of course, is the most famous example, but a ‘Spion Kop’ also exists at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium, Notts County’s Meadow Lane, Barnsley’s Oakwell, Birmingham’s St. Andrew’s, and Northampton Town’s County Ground.
Perhaps, Liverpool’s ‘Kop’ is so well-known due to the roar that is heard blaring from the terraces whenever Liverpool are playing at Anfield.
Following Liverpool’s miraculous 4-0 win over Barcelona which put hem through to the Champions League final in April this year, pundits had their say on the power of ‘The Kop’ at Anfield.
“This is the most heated stadium in Europe”, said Arsene Wenger. “It is the only place you don’t want to go.”
Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho said, “Anfield is one of the places to make the impossible possible.”
Part of that famous Anfield atmosphere is the songs belted out by the Liverpool faithful. One such song, ‘Poor Scouser Tommy’ makes a reference to the Boer War. The chant centres around a young Scouser, sent off to fight in a war. He is shot down, but before he passes he utters, ”Oh I am a Liverpudlian” with his last breath.
“As he lay on the battlefield dying, dying, dying. These were the last words he said…. Ohhhhh…. I am a Liverpudlian, I come from the Spion Kop, I like to sing, I like to shout, I go there quite a lot…”
Clearly, there is still a strong connection between the men lost on the battlefield at Spion Kop and those who fill out the Anfield ‘Kop’ every fortnight today.
Not only do the links between the ‘Kop’ at Anfield and the ‘Spion Kop’ of yesteryear have links to the steep hill-like terraces at the stadium, though. Now there is also a resemblance between the fight and the sacrifice displayed by those soldiers at Spion Kop to the fight and sacrifices made by both the ‘Kop’ end with their never-ending singing, or the Liverpool players whose play has now become synonymous with ferocious pressing.
The legend remains firmly intact, and those lost from Merseyside at Spion Kop will surely be looking down and smiling on Anfield, knowing that the ‘Kop’ has played its part by singing the team on to some famous victories. The men at Spion Kop are still playing a part at Anfield, over a hundred years on.