“It’s forever. It’s not just about a football club, it’s about family, how you live.” – Xabi Alonso
This may be the perfect statement for everyone on describing the club we adore so much, but it means everything to me. I was born in Chicago to a typical Southside Catholic mother and a Liverpudlian father. The latter of which meant I’d been chasing the need to prove my adoration to the club tenfold every season since I was old enough to know what football was. This sentiment was dispelled harder than I care to admit after a recent trip to Anfield.
My father was born in Liverpool 8 in 1958, a suburb, if you will, called Toxteth, much like Mt. Greenwood, Bridgeport, and River North are to Chicago. Though the posh people, as my dad would say, “Those who didn’t have to go outside to use the bathroom”, called it Dingle. The likes of Ian Callaghan, Howard Gayle, Gerry Marsden, and Robbie Fowler called this neighborhood home as well. They grew up in the Shadow of Anfield and although his Scottish father instilled a love for Celtic in my father, he shared his love for LFC with the others. He lived within the area until 1987 when he went on holiday to the states, which turned out to be 31 years long and counting.
I came into the world in the fall of 1991 and the moment I was able to comprehend the meaning of the word football, I was immersed into the LFC religion by my old man. It began slowly with him excitedly filling me in on the early morning games when I would groggily wake up closer to noon on the weekends. He was obsessed with this wonder kid named Gerrard and would regularly greet me in the mornings with phrases like, “Gerrard 3 – Everton 0” (We all remember THAT Merseyside hat-trick in 2012). During these early years we would travel back home to visit family every other year, and when we did, I’d stock up on posters, newspaper clippings, and any other memorabilia I could get my hands on to fill up my bedroom walls on our return. I was infatuated.
Despite visiting so frequently, we never managed to see a game at Anfield. In the years before reliable and easy internet, getting a hold of tickets was almost impossible for a travelling supporter with two young kids. We had two attempts, one thwarted by a Europa League reschedule, one by opening day ticket allocation mix-up, both hastily replaced with a much easier ticket my father. In 2001 Our Liverpool vs West Ham ticket (2-1 good guys) was replaced with Preston North End vs Walsall (1-1) at Preston. A young David Moyes was at the helm during this time, and his performances would earn him a job across Stanley Park the following season, particularly his October win against Man City (who would go on to earn promotion into the Prem this season). The second attempt was a League Game against Middlesborough in the 2006/07 season which was moved to the Monday, this was replaced by a thrilling matchup of Wigan vs Bolton (1-3) at the JJB Stadium in 2007. A line-up boasting the likes of Emile Heskey, Antonio Valencia, and Leighton Baines on one end and Nicholas Anekla, El Hadji Douif, and Jussi Jääskeläinen on the other. Bolton was managed by Big Sam Allardyce at the time but his reign would only last three more matches and he would be replaced by Little Sammy Lee, a Liverpool legend, for the remainder of the season.
My love for the sport and this team was never diminished though, and as the years went on my dedication to religiously waking up early to watch the games with my old man grew exponentially. Undoubtedly, I share the same turning point in my dedication to LFC as many of you reading this and I’m sure you will not be surprised to hear that May 25th 2005 was the pinnacle of my fandom. I was 14 and we were in Liverpool at a pub watching the game as a family. Witnessing my heroes come back from behind against a juggernaut team and sharing the intense rollercoaster ride of the 120 mins plus penalties with diehard Liverpudlians, hooked my like the strongest of drugs. Watching grown men cry in joy and embrace one another made a magical night seem like living inside of the most inspirational sports movie of all time and I wanted that feeling to last forever. Being so young though I couldn’t help feeling that I was still an outsider, a bystander, watching these men deliriously celebrate THEIR boys from the sidelines.
I would spent the next 13 years trying to prove to my dad, my social circle, and myself that I was just as worthy to feel, nay, own those emotions watching the Reds lift silverware. Every opportunity I got I went to see them, I travelled all over the states during preseason tours in the US, witnessed them play in Canada, and even in Germany at the famous Allianz Arena. I became a card holding member, and even got subscriptions to LFCTV. Don’t get me wrong, I felt like this was my club, but I was chasing the stereotype of being an American outsider who didn’t really “get” the prem. Unfortunately, I missed the plot entirely and my self-consciousness was harshly exposed when I was on hand to witness Bobby Firmino’s late winner on a Tuesday night Champions League matchup against PSG earlier this season.
Quenching my thirst at the pub below my hotel I was the main attraction, a Tuesday night in Liverpool and here was this kid who’d taken off work just to see a game and head home the following day. A bus ride to the docks shortly after and I was holding court regarding how on earth someone from Chicago chose to support a football team in Liverpool. Walking from the city centre to the grounds before kick-off with the hordes of supporters and Parisian chants echoing near the bus and train terminals are their fans amassed, I felt the pulse of the city. I was wished well by the locals who were coming home from work as if I would personally give the message to Jurgen and the lads. I felt like a messenger of the people. Before I even touched the hallowed grounds I was buzzing, I subconsciously felt like I was a small piece in a very large movement, but a vital piece nonetheless. The buzz turned into a rambunctious reverberation as the main stand came into view from Anfield Rd. I visited the Hillborough Memorial, the club store, and took the photos with Shanks, and both gates before making my way into the Boot Room Café for my pre-match meal.
I was seated at a table with a young local couple, a Canadian guy around my age, and an older gentleman from China. All of us clad in red, all of us with scarves around our necks, and all of us die hard Liverpool fans. The veil on my misconception was beginning to lift during the 40 minutes or so we ate, drank, and shared stories of how we ended up here together. As we went around the table and soaked up the alcohol and the stories we became friends, we had nothing in common other than the fact we all shared a love for the team, and I considered all of these characters to be true fans. As game time approached we raced down to the tunnels to welcome the coaches carrying our team, there wasn’t a non-local section where we had to stand if we were not Liverpudlian, we just melded into the crowd and sang songs together, songs we knew, songs that were reserved for true fans regardless of their backgrounds. The songs connected us, it was like a symbolic weaving of a tapestry, each of us were threads, and the songs took those threads and made us one, one voice, one movement, one collective force egging our team forward to victory.
It was at this point that I felt that I was, in fact, a integral part of all this and as I walked to my seat for the game and the first sights of the pitch and the Kop across the way washed over me like a baptismal inauguration, I felt I belonged here just as anyone born inside the city limits belonged here. I found my seat, squeezed between am elderly German couple and a man from outside of Beijing, we exchanged pleasantries but it was clear within a few seconds that there was no common language between us. Again, all of us clad in red, scarves proudly hung around our necks, we were Liverpool fans, that was our language. When the famous hymn, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” began the four of us stood, lifted our scarves and belted the lyrics out proudly as if we desired the likes of Mo Salah himself to be able to pick out our individual voices. My feeling of belonging were intensified as the game went on, we lived with every stroke of the ball finding a red foot, died with every interception, and applauded every run, tackle, and shot with the ferocity of a wave pushing the ball forward. The moment that officially stamped out any doubt of my belonging was in the 87th minute when Bobby’s shot went in to take the game to 3-2 good guys. The place erupted, the German man beside me and myself, tears in our eyes, embraced without hesitation like two family members. I’d found it again, that feeling I had in the pub 13 years earlier only miles away from where I was seated now, except now I truly felt part of it. It wasn’t a cup final, but it felt like one, and I was no longer an outsider, I was part of the story, just as deserving of the emotions I was feeling as the Canadian, the German, the Chinese, and the Liverpudlians. This was my team, this was their team, this was OUR team.
It’s hard not to get the feeling sometimes as an American that we are outsiders to the Premier League, but I will tell you that it is not a feeling shared inside the city limits of Liverpool. They don’t care where you come from, as long as you are as passionate as they are about the Reds. They don’t care about your age as long as you have knowledge of what happened at Hillsborough and Heysel. They don’t care what era you began supporting as long as you know who Shankly is. The club is more important than anything, it’s religion, it’s love, it’s life. In the words of Shanks himself, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it’s much more serious than that.” Nowhere on earth will you find this statement is truer than on the streets and pubs in the vicinity of Anfield. Love this club and it will make you family, so next time you’re out at a pub sitting near another group of supporters, pull the tables together, buy a round and let the tradition continue. We all belong, we ARE Liverpool FC.