There are many geographical locations in the world that are respected, venerated, and glorified. These places may earn their legend through religious worship, inspiring speeches, acts of war, or other events that shaped the world we live in today. They carve their places in history by connecting people and inspiring them to visit for the sheer experience of it all.
Anfield – the home of the Mighty Redmen of Liverpool FC – is one such place. According to www.stadiumguide.com, “Anfield was built in 1884, but got initially rented by Everton FC. The first game at the ground, on the September 28, 1884, saw Everton beat Earlstown 5-0. In 1891, Everton moved out of Anfield after a dispute over the rent, and one year later newly founded Liverpool moved in.” It would be fair to include this stadium in the same conversation as London’s Lords cricket ground, Green Bay’s Lambeau field, Boston’s Fenway Park, and Dunedin’s Carisbrook as the most storied sports venues on the planet.
As an 8-year-old boy, I knew that the Reds played at Anfield. But truth be told, I only fully appreciated the power of Anfield and of the fans in the Kop much later. For a long time, I did not really pay attention to where the game was being played because Liverpool were equally good playing away or at home. No matter where the game was, the pitch was the same (unless it was Crystal Palace’s AstroTurf), and the Reds were majestic. Sure enough, the 90s happened and so did the marketing narratives that came with it. Through the prism of sports documentaries and game commentaries, the glorification of teams, their histories, and the stadia they played in, translated to hungry audiences worldwide. As a result, I too started believing in the magic of Anfield and its status as an impregnable fortress.
I made my first visit to the city of Liverpool and Anfield stadium in April of 2019. I snagged a ticket to the 1st leg of our Champions League quarterfinal against FC Porto, that became available at the very last minute. From just going about my daily routine at work, my day rapidly changed to making plans to travel to England after a quick exchange of text messages and a conversation with my wife to get her blessing.
A month later, I was in Liverpool enjoying a sunny day and a walk at the City Center the eve before the game. I have traveled a fair bit in my life, and I can confidently state that Liverpool is the friendliest city I have ever been to in the western world. The people are genuinely welcoming, honest, and courteous. I was touched by their genuine kindness through acts as small as asking for directions and as big as a cab driver walking behind me to return my cellphone that I had forgotten in his back seat. It is a truly diverse city of simple and decent people who welcome everyone. And, between the Beatles nostalgia and the club football action, they play host to a lot of visitors from around the globe. I lost count of the many fellow supporters I ran into — from places as far apart as Norway, South Africa and Australia — in the pubs, the city center and the various tours.
Anfield and the area surrounding it are all about Liverpool FC. The courtyard of Hotel Tia is party central on Match day, and we got to witness firsthand the sight of supporters raising their blood alcohol levels before kickoff. In England, everyone gets their drinking in early as alcohol is not permitted at the seats or sold within the grounds before, during or after the games. The endless songs and chants, the flares of red smoke, and us cheering on the team bus as it made its way along Anfield Road will be memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. No other way to describe it except that the air was filled with history, anticipation, and passion for the game. It was also the friendliest and most engaging sports crowd I have ever been a part of.
The pre-game drinks at the famous ARKLES pub before the game was an experience. The travelling Porto FC fans were friendly and mingled well, and the camaraderie with Liverpool supporters from all parts of the globe and England were unlike anything I have experienced with the other sports teams that I follow. I was even good-naturedly needled by a British fan who noticed my Houston Texans hat and brandished his own New England Patriots hat. It confirmed to me that being a supporter of Liverpool FC truly means that you are a part of a one-of-its-kind fraternity. It really told me all I really needed to know about the people and the fan base when an announcement rang out at the Arkles, asking if anyone had a spare ticket to the game, and the whole pub went quiet while the person spoke. Apparently, a fan travelled all the way from Australia and had discovered that the game ticket he had bought was a fake. Nobody laughed at the error, nobody reveled in his plight and nobody was indifferent to it. The good news was that someone came through and offered the fan a ticket, and the community had taken care of one of its own. It was kindness and mindfulness in its purest form.
The game itself was the most organic sporting experience I had ever experience. As a frequent attendee of sporting events like baseball and basketball games in the States, I am used to listening to the crowd being prompted to cheer or engage in routines initiated by the PA announcer or that technological monster called the Jumbotron. Phrases like “EVERYBODY CLAP YOUR HANDS” or calls for the Mexican Wave come to mind. No such hi-jinks at a soccer match in Europe. I sat in the Anfield Road stand, next to the Away fans section, and the crowd just instinctively knew when to sing, what to sing and when to remain quiet, with the PA announcer only coming to action reminding everyone that unruly behavior would not be tolerated, and to not litter the stadium. The crowd broke out all the hits that night, from “the fields of Anfield Road” to “Si Senor” in honor of Bobby Firmino. And I had goosebumps whilst joining the crowd to “Stand Up for the 96” and the inevitable and glorious singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. The icing on the cake was the group of fans from Thailand sitting in front asking me to be a part of their group selfie at half time.
The game unfolding on the pitch was an amazing experience. As brilliant as Kloppo’s Liverpool is to watch on TV, it does not do justice to the spectacle they are in person. Watching Salah, Naby Keita and Firmino bounding forward in attack is truly breathtaking in the flesh. It was like watching a cluster bomb that starts as a missile in a straight line, and then spreads to explode in various directions. It was organized chaos at its finest and the Reds just came at the Porto defense from every possible direction simultaneously. One must see them play live to appreciate the sheer magic of Mohammed Salah and Virgil Van Dijk. Mo Salah sprinting towards goal along the wing felt like watching a hockey player glide on the ice. It really felt like he was hurtling forward above the ground rather than on it. Van Dijk in defense, was a physical specimen. His imposing stature and leaping ability were like watching the football equivalent of Lebron James. There are times when you see an athlete in a team sport seem bigger, stronger, and faster than the rest of the elite players on the field. In that regard I place Van Dijk in the same category of Lebron James and the NFL’s JJ Watt as the players I have seen in person who just take your breath away and stand head and shoulders above the rest. They looked like men among boys.
My visit to Anfield was a culmination of me working towards my goals and being inspired to work towards realizing a life experience that I ranked as a top item on my bucket list. It remains one of the reasons I worked so hard towards an American passport. I worked hard to earn the right to travel and see places freely, I worked hard to be able to afford seeing my favorite football club in action, and I worked hard to meet and make friends from other parts of the world that I shared a common bond with. I worked hard to join my fellow Reds in Never Walking Alone. The hard work was the reason a boy who supported Liverpool since the age of 8, finally got to see Liverpool play the best football on the planet at the age of 43.
Post Note: Special thanks to my good friend Mr. Ken Solomon for making this trip a reality for me and for showing me around the beautiful city of Liverpool.