Thanks to guest poster Kennie Pritchard at @thetravellingreds for this piece!
‘Hat scarf or a badge’ yells one man to anybody in earshot. ‘Get your match day programme, three pounds’ shouts another. The sound of the turnstile clicks as you enter. These are the usual familiar sounds on a weekly trip up Walton Breck road. Steak pie and a Bovril inside the concourse, that’s my order before a night game at Anfield in the middle of winter.
Familiar settings, but this time of year extra layers are needed, everyone’s either wearing red, or a dark winters coat. It’s just about freezing here and all conversations around are accompanied by clouds of steam as warm breath meet the biting Merseyside air.
There isn’t any complaints mind, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The cold doesn’t discourage anyone else either. My dad always said he loved midweek games because it gives you something to look forward to in work. He’s not wrong either, works all right when you know you’re going to the match afterwards, whatever the temperature.
But this year, I’m in unfamiliar surroundings. An Australian friend has got me a ticket to a game. It’s Friday night and there’s no coats here. Sydney FC versus Melbourne City is the standout fixture in A-league football this weekend. Sydney, top of the pile and looking strong contenders for this season, against a Melbourne side sitting second, boasting former Blue Nose and Australian soccer’s golden boy, Tim Cahill.
The ANZ stadium is tonight’s venue. Their usual home, the Allianz stadium has been taken over by Coldplay. This, I sense, is going to be an altogether different experience to that of a chilly night in Liverpool. Shorts, T-shirts and Flipflops.
As we get nearer we are offered sky blue Santa hats, the home colours of Sydney FC, which nobody turns down. We enter the stadium and are given folded plastic ‘GOAL’ cards, which most people turned down, thankfully. We get our beers and head up to the stand. Yes! I can drink my beer at my seat! Still my favourite thing about watching football here.
What Australian football lacks in quality, its supporters make up for with passion and a genuine atmosphere. Sydney’s Kop, if you like, is called ‘The Cove’. They wave flags and sing all game like something you would see in Eastern Europe. They bounce and sway to familiar melodies that you hear back home.
Just under 15,000 inside an 83,500 seater stadium shows that A-league football has a long way to go to win the hearts of the public. A 1-1 draw and a red card make for a watchable game between the top two in the league. It’s dark but it’s still warm as we head back to the train station. This is no normal December match for me.
It’s not Anfield, but it was never going to compare to it, not in my eyes at least. I can’t help making comparisons of every stadium I go to with Anfield. Let’s be honest though, those of us lucky enough to go, know there is no place like it. Good effort though Sydney; the fans have a real love and commitment for the sport. My next visit to Anfield will be via a TV screen at 3:30am. It will have to do for now…