By Michael Niday
There is a unique calm that can only be found in the early hours of the morning. The ambitious among us can be found setting up shops for the day or jogging in the morning cool. Rarely am I among them, though I’ve come to appreciate the morning atmosphere as I’ve gotten older. On this particular Sunday in April, my alarm clock goes off at 8:00 AM, and I realize that I won’t be afforded the slow pace. I’m in need of a cup of coffee due to a late Saturday night. More pressing, however, is to get in front of a TV before the match starts. My mind thoroughly fogged, I quickly dress to rush home from my girlfriend’s house before kickoff. Win this game, take full points from the remaining matches, and the best that City can hope for is second place. Wish I could see what they are doing for the Hillsborough tribute this morning…better wait until half time to grab that coffee.
Nine months out of the year, this is a weekly routine. We rise early to watch our team play from the couch or roam DC’s streets in search of bars that will open their doors early. A few weeks ago, we took a vacation to London with a short trip to Liverpool so we could tour Anfield. Unfortunately, we thought, tickets for the match against Spurs that weekend would likely be too expensive and too difficult to come by. However, when sitting in a pub in Chelsea on the Friday evening before the match we received an email offering two tickets, we seized upon the opportunity to wring one more experience out of an already unforgettable week.
We rented a house form a girl on a quiet street not far from Lark Lane in Liverpool. By fortunate happenstance, her boyfriend – a 20-year season ticket holder who first shared a pair of seats with his father, and now with his brother – wasn’t going to be attending this match. His absence was to be our gain as we would have the opportunity to experience a Liverpool match from the heart of the Kop.
The atmosphere around Anfield that day was really only understandable to those who have witnessed it. It’s one thing to rise and fall with the team from across the Atlantic, but it’s presumably another thing entirely to be a local supporter who remembers viscerally the best and worst of times of the past few decades. For this very reason, I can never help but feel slightly artificial as a Liverpool supporter. My urge to cry out about a ‘brilliant run of play’ or how I’m ‘made up’ over a victory will always sound forced in my American accent. And I feared that that accent, along with the overall nascence of my passion for the game, would instantly mark me as an outsider. But it didn’t matter. Although our coming to Liverpool was noted as a peculiarity to some, we were met with warmth by every person we encountered: A bartender studying philosophy at the local university. A group of friends out at a pub for the evening. A teacher who proudly spoke of Jon Flanagan as an alumnus of his school. A waitress interested in Washington, DC. A man willing to drive a couple of strangers across town so they didn’t get lost on the way to the stadium. Many of them wondered why we had come to Liverpool, and some of them accepted the draw of going to the game as a reasonable enough response. Although, admittedly, I’m not sure I would accept traveling abroad to see the Washington Nationals as a good reason to visit DC. It seems that, in all of this, what I’ve learned most of all is that our passions are deeply individual and personal, and it doesn’t have to make sense that I pore over the Internet to follow Liverpool blogs, or wake up early to watch matches, or travel across an ocean to see the team play. I realized that my love of the game should not be graded against that of a born-and-raised Red. They are different but collectively lend themselves to the sum of what the club and sport are across the world.
Not far from the Kop at the Sandon, you could feel the collective sense of expectation heading into the day. We had a pint and chatted with a few Irish guys who seemed thrilled for us to be attending out first match. They urged us to get to our seats early so we could take in all of the sights and sounds before kickoff. At our seats, we met a Norwegian man who had traveled to see yet another in a countless tally of Liverpool matches. As You’ll Never Walk Alone boomed around the grounds, my girlfriend timidly raised her scarf only to have her arms thrust higher still by our new Norwegian friend. The small gesture made me feel welcome. It didn’t matter where I was from, how long I’d followed the club, or what my reasons were for being there. I also took solace in the realization that there was nothing unique about my weekend routine. Men, women, and children around the world share the ritual – many more devoutly than I.
Back on the Sunday in April, I find myself walking to get that cup of coffee at half time. Liverpool are up 2-0 and just played a spectacular first half of football against Manchester City. I think of how the field looked from the Kop. I remember the people I met and wonder where they are watching this match – some friends in Ireland, a man on his couch in Norway, or a couple in a pub on Lark Lane. I remember the tunnel that the players walk through and the sight of the field when I first saw it on our tour. I get chills when I think of the tens of thousands of Liverpool supporters singing You’ll Never Walk Alone.
What I learned through this trip and this season is that Liverpool really is among the biggest of clubs. The success that they have had over this season so far is great for the city of Liverpool, but it stretches far beyond those borders. A trip that began as a pursuit to watch a sport turned into a deeply cultural and personal experience that not only justifies, but truly explains this sort of fandom that is shared by so many. Sports are about the community, but they are for each and every individual.
When I reflect on the year – whatever the ultimate outcome – I’ll remember how I felt being in first place on Christmas. I’ll remember what I saw when we went top of the table again in mid-March. And I’ll remember the nerves, excitement, and raw emotion expressed by all as Liverpool fought and clawed to a 3-2 victory over Manchester City. With four games to go, MY club is on top of the table and control their own destiny.
They say a week is a long time in football, but for a football fan it’s even longer.
As we’re not at training every day to witness who’s on form or who’s in the treatment room we need to hold on to scraps of information fed to us by the media. When match day comes around the waiting gets unleashed by a sense of passion and desire that, possibly ashamed to admit, doesn’t exist in any other aspect of your life.
At the moment the seven days in between Liverpool games are becoming unbearable.
In September/October you could fill the week up by re-watching the highlights, watching the pundits discuss matters, listening to the sports shows on the radio and before you know it it’s Friday and you’re getting your lucky boxers out of the wash ready for the game. Well, maybe that last bit is just me.
Now, however, the week is filled with constant theories of how the forthcoming game will pan out, mentally picturing the possible line up as well as going through every tried and trusted good luck charm in the book. I’ve lost track of the number of times I ‘touch wood’ in a day (that’s what she said).
Adding in listening to the brilliant The Anfield Wrap podcast for my pre and post-match analysis and my routine is set. Now all I need to do is calmly watch the Tricky Reds and I can repeat the set for the next game.
That’s easier said than done when you know how much is at stake and how little time is left for others to overhaul you.
The fact that others can overhaul you is still a worry but also a motivational factor, something that Steven Gerrard was keen to instantly point out.
Watching Gerrard make sure his colleagues stay focused was inspirational, reassuring and also emotional. This is a man who desperately wants to see his team win the ultimate prize, a supporter able to make a difference and a footballer who knows, given the right levels of professionalism, that the full collection may just be complete.
Gerrard, much like Jon Flanagan, fits perfectly into the role of both a player and a supporter. Both know all too well of the wait for a league title and it must be on their minds as much as it is the fan in the stands, making their professionalism in the last few weeks truly remarkable.
The post-match interview with Geoff Shreeves was amazingly reassuring to any Kopite watching.
Given the emotion and the vast importance of the result against Man City, it could’ve been all too easy for Gerrard to get carried away and pronounce some comment smacking of over exuberance. His ‘one game at a time’ attitude may not have been what Shreeves was after but, in terms of this title race, it’s exactly what was needed. I’ve never heard the word ‘Norwich’ mentioned in a post-match interview so much when the Canaries haven’t featured.
So, as we all know, there’s four cup finals left and though the wait in between them might be frustrating it’ll be a small price to pay if it’s to be rewarded in May.
We go again.
By Michael Williams – @mikewilliams_05
Recorded at The Sandon Pub outside Anfield, Liverpool fans drink sing, dance and cheer their way through the reds massive 3-2 win over Manchester City. The Full whistle was chaos!
No, there isn’t a ‘not’ missing from that title. For the past few weeks, I’ve been telling myself all the same things that the manager and players of LFC have been saying: let’s just focus on ourselves, take things one game at a time, and keep our feet on the ground. All highly reasonable statements at a time that we are challenging for our first league title in 24 years.
But maybe that kind of rational thinking can just be reserved for the players and staff at Liverpool. Following our win over Manchester City, we have probably made ourselves the favourites to finish as champions. But recent history dictates that we have to be extremely cautious in admitting this ourselves because, as a side without league success in so long, if we proclaim ourselves as favourites but then fail to win it, we will be labelled as the side that got overconfident and our arrogance lost us the title.
So as Steven Gerrard emphasised that next week’s trip to Norwich is just as important as yesterday’s game, and that he’ll let all the pundits do the talking as to who will finish where, I found myself nodding along in agreement with the captain. But all the while I was thinking that, as a fan, why shouldn’t I get carried away?
The atmosphere at Anfield against Man City was electric. As it was against Sunderland and Tottenham before that. But would we have seen such immense backing from the crowd if we were just scrapping it out in mid-table, as we were this time last year? Doubtful, but that isn’t a criticism, just evidence that the supporters know exactly what situation we are in, and that we are absolutely loving it.
How often in recent years have we been cheering on our team while they are leading the race in the title challenge? The fact that we were massive underdogs and simply aiming for a top four finish just makes it even sweeter. But while the players need to keep their composure and professionalism, we fans have every right to feed off the excitement that our title dreams provide.
We shouldn’t feel guilty for doing so either. If anything, the players are seeing how much this means to us, and will become even more eager to provide us with the reality. Not to say they don’t want it just as much as we do, if not more, but if their efforts on the pitch aren’t quite doing it, our desperation to see them succeed could just add that one or two percent needed to pull through.
I’ll take my hat off to any Liverpool supporter who has heard that inspirational Champions League anthem over the last couple of weeks and not dared to dream of next season, when it looks like we will once again be featuring amongst Europe’s elite. Even though we are yet to mathematically secure our spot, or may drop to a fourth place finish which would see us having to navigate a qualifying round.
It’s not about expectations, only about enjoyment. The disappointment if we don’t win the league will be there, but it will be minimal, as no matter what happens now we have had a season to be proud of. So let the players do their talking on the pitch, let the coaches ensure everyone is properly prepared, and let the manager make sure everyone keeps calm. But as a fan, I’m letting myself get carried away and I’m dreaming of what this Liverpool team can achieve. And I’m loving every minute of it.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)
Delighted Red Chris sings the praises of Amazing sensational Raheem Sterling after his pivotal role in Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Man City.
Brilliant work from the Liverpool fans in the Sandon pub for this great rendition of you’ll Never Walk Alone during Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Man City. Goosebumps.
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