London (AFP) – “Voice of Anfield” George Sephton has had to adjust to vast swathes of empty seats as his beloved Liverpool ended their three-decade wait to be crowned English champions.
Not many football fans would associate the name of Sephton with those of Kenny Dalglish and Jurgen Klopp but the 74-year-old bridges the gap between their title-winning teams.
As the stadium announcer at Anfield, Sephton has been a mainstay through the highs of 12 league titles and six European Cups. But he has also experienced the tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough.
Sephton landed the position after boldly writing to then club secretary Peter Robinson saying he could do a better job than the incumbent.
He made his debut the same day Kevin Keegan did, on August 14, 1971.
On only a handful of occasions has he missed out on announcing the teams, promoting Liverpool bands in the build-up to matches and introducing Liverpool’s anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
Sephton is so much part of the fabric of the club that Dalglish paid him the ultimate compliment.
“George is part of the history and tradition of this club and it would be more relevant if he left than if I left,” said the Scotsman, who managed Liverpool to the title in 1990.
“I was out having dinner (his 65th birthday) with my wife, daughter and son-in-law and received these texts saying what a lovely thing Dalglish just said,” Sephton told AFP by phone.
“It was one of those take me out and shoot me moments.”
Sephton’s daughter went to school with Dalglish’s daughter, Kelly, and the former manager has written the foreword for Sephton’s book due out next year.
Rock musician Elvis Costello has written words for the back cover.
“There is no need for me to write anything in between,” jokes Sephton, who knew some of the stars of Dalglish’s great side but says he is less familiar to the current crop.
Klopp also occupies a special place in Sephton’s heart.
When the announcer introduced himself to the charismatic German, who joined the club in 2015, Klopp immediately recognised him.
“He (Klopp) did not even do a double take,” recalled Sephton. “He said ‘you are the voice of Anfield’.
“That was another take me out and shoot me moment when he recognised me. It doesn’t get better than that.”
– ‘Are you crackers?’ –
Hillsborough resonates with Sephton as one of his sons, the then 15-year-old Rob, was there that day, with many of the 96 fans who lost their lives as a result of the crush standing around him.
“Rob was there (FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest) with a mate and his father,” he said. “His mate and him were up at the front leaning against the fence and were fortunate to get out through a gate.
“Over the years I have done what I could for Hillsborough families.
“They say ‘you are so good to do this’. I look at them and reply ‘there but for the grace of God — you could be talking to me as a parent of a victim’.”
Sephton was witness to the Heysel tragedy before kick-off at the 1985 European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus which left 39 football fans, mostly Italians, dead, and more than 600 injured.
The announcer, whose father Ted had a trial as a player with Liverpool, was there in an official capacity and had a row with a UEFA delegate.
The official told him after it was decided the game would go ahead that he should announce to the crowd that if anyone encroached onto the pitch the match would be abandoned.
“I said to him ‘are you crackers? If you do that, as soon as somebody scores they will be on the pitch and there will be a bloodbath. I am not prepared to be party to that’.
“The Liverpool captain Phil Neal came in and he laid into the UEFA guy.
“That little plan was abandoned. It was the only time in my career I was pleased to see Liverpool lose.”
Liverpool may at last be Premier League champions for the first time since 1990, despite a nervous wait for football to return after the coronavirus shutdown, but Sephton could be about to lose his own crown.
He will lose his mantle as the top division’s longest-serving announcer if London-based club Brentford and their announcer Peter Gilham are promoted from the Championship
But Sephton is unconcerned.
“Peter Gilham is a lovely man,” he said. “We can celebrate our 100 years of service together.”