My Liverpool Story by Rich Kramer
I promised Timucin many months ago I would do this but the universe works in mysterious ways and, by some strange confluence of my busy schedule and my laziness I have only just gotten around to it. I’m certain that you’ll find it was hardly worth the wait. I regret that do not have some really interesting or deep connection through my family history or a random meeting with a Liverpool legend on a hike to Machu Picchu. What I do have is my own passion, developed over the past 25 years of learning what it means to be a supporter of this great club.
I am originally from, and still live in the Greater New Orleans area. It’s not exactly a hotbed of soccer although it might just qualify as a hot bed. In truth, it’s not even that big of a sports town at all. We are rabid about our Saints here but the Pelicans are still something of a smaller attraction and we don’t have any of the other big five leagues represented. I would say that New Orleans resembles Liverpool in many ways though. We are a port city heavily influenced by the culture of early immigrants, we are known for our impact on the music scene far beyond our own borders, we are a generally fun-loving and kind people that know how to enjoy ourselves and passionately root for our home town team, and we have our own funny way of talking. I will have to say that as much as I enjoyed having scouse and a lobster chippy on my recent visits, we are worlds apart when it comes to cuisine.
Growing up in the south we only played baseball and football as kids. I didn’t become a soccer fan until my junior year in high school when I was convinced by some friends to join our high school team and agreed to do so because the normal soccer coach, who I didn’t get along with, had taken a year’s sabbatical. I joined the team and became addicted to the game. I practiced night and day and watched and read whatever I could find about soccer, which wasn’t much in 1989 in New Orleans. As a footnote to my high school soccer career, that coach that I didn’t get along with returned for my senior year and we are still friends to this day.
The first soccer I was able to watch a lot of was Italia 90. It was on American cable tv, I believe for the first time, and was interrupted every ten minutes or so with a 2 minute commercial break. I recorded every match on VHS and probably watched many of those games thousands of times until I finally lost my videotape collection in Hurricane Katrina. It was my first real exposure to how the game was supposed to look, minus the pass back rule that was changed after it marred that World Cup. It was still pretty rare to get a match on tv here at that time and the internet wasn’t really a thing yet so my soccer news came from a weekly subscription to Soccer America. I’d read about the different leagues and their players and very rarely get a chance to see a match. The first team I gravitated towards because of their status at the time was AC Milan. As a natural defender myself, I couldn’t help but love watching the likes of Baresi and Maldini, at opposite ends of their careers, gracefully stifle the opposition while the three dutchmen punished the opposition’s defenders’ mistakes with relentless precision. At some point, I started following the results of specific teams in each of the big leagues and Liverpool seemed like a good fit for me. I had read about Hillsborough, which had only happened shortly before my fledgling love of the game, and saw how it moved the whole community. I saw how this wasn’t just a soccer team that people casually supported, it was something that their supporters belonged to with each other and with all of those that came before them. Liverpool seemed like a city and a club that I could relate to and I thought I should make them my team in the English league.
With all the hype of USA 94 bringing a little bit of overdue attention to the game stateside, there were starting to be more and more opportunities to see games and follow teams. I would go to the newsstand and buy Shoot and Goal magazines and read up on the hot new players and I remember driving to my cable provider’s office to get a special box to watch the pay per view of the European Cup final where AC Milan bested Barcelona 4-0. ESPN started showing an English league match every Monday night and so the English league became the league I was able to follow and learn most about. Although it had been a few years since their last title, that team I had picked out from Merseyside was still one of the biggest in the world so they featured regularly.
One of those matches I was able to watch over the following years was one where Liverpool were hosting Kevin Keegan’s entertaining Newcastle side who were chasing a first top flight title since 1927. They would ultimately end up finishing just short of the title and it was partly due to the impact of this amazing match. Two goals from Fowler and one from Collymore cancelled out goals for the visitors by Ferdinand, Ginola, and Asprilla as the end of regulation came and went. Into injury time and looking for all the world as though the Magpies would be headed back to St. James’ Park with a point, some back and forth between Rush and Barnes ended up in their getting in each other’s way as the chance seemed wasted. Barnes gathered the ball and played in Collymore who was breaking into the area down the left channel to finish in front of The Kop and take all three points.
This was the day that Liverpool stole my heart. The passion of the players and supporters, the style of play, the history of the city and it’s team felt right to me. I now had a team I identified with and had the opportunity to follow occasionally through the odd televised match. Around this same time period is when I began learning how useful this thing called the internet was going to be in my quest to follow everything Liverpool.
Even as a college student I didn’t have much more use for a computer at the time than pecking away at the keyboard and adjusting the font sizes to ensure that my school assignments filled up the right number of pages. In the evenings my girlfriend and I would play games like Myst and Riven on her dad’s computer before I ever got my own. As I began to learn how to access things on the internet it’s not true that I spent all of my time waiting for adult pictures to download on my dial up modem, I also dove into bulletin boards and found lots of general soccer related sites where I would spend hours going down the rabbit holes that Netscape Navigator would lead me to. I signed up for mailing lists to get Liverpool news sent to me at my very own email account every day. I went from reading month old scores and even older news stories in magazines from the newsstand to having all the information I could ever want at blazing speeds of up to 28.8 kbps as long as no one needed to use the phone. Over these next few years I started to track all of the stats and details of all of the team’s players and even followed the tabloid news about the spice boys and all of their various antics off the pitch.
As my local cable tv provider offered more channels that showed soccer games, and eventually a season subscription to Premier League games, I was able to watch more and more of my now exclusive team. I watched as a young Michael Owen burst onto the scene, as we brought in the likes of Sami Hyppia, Patrick Berger, and Gary McAllister always thinking we were just that one key signing away from getting back on our perch. I watched Gerard Houllier lead the team to cup treble in 2001 finishing with what was probably the most exciting UEFA cup final in history and then nearly succumbing to a heart condition during a match against Leeds United the following season.
Some time around the spring of 2004 we learned that Liverpool would be travelling to the United States for some exhibition games. My wife, being much cleverer than I, saw an opportunity to get her aerophobic husband on a plane so she could take a trip to New York. Despite my fear of flying it didn’t take a whole lot of convincing that it was worth it to go see Liverpool play in person so I got to see the boys in red live and in the flesh for the first time while she got a vacation to the city that never sleeps. It was the beginning of the Liverpool reign of Rafael Beneitez and Owen’s 85th minute winner against Roma that day would be his last ever goal for the club. Little did any of us know at the time that this season culminate with the greatest Champions League final there has ever been as Old Big Ears was lifted for the fifth time by a captain of the Mighty Reds.
The tenure of Benitez came and went with the Gerrard FA Cup Final and a second Champions League Final against AC Milan in three years, though this one didn’t quite go our way. Ownership changes and ultimately unsuccessful managerial appointments resulted in some dark times to be a fan of Liverpool FC but with a club like this you never saw the support wane even in the darkest of days. There was always that hope our great club would be back where we once stood even though we were somehow further away from it than we ever had been during my lifetime.
In 2013, having started the season deprived of our most prolific attacking player due to his second such clearly accidental incident of trying to remove an opponent’s upper appendages with his prodigious incisors, Liverpool looked poised to realistically challenge for the title for the first time in years. I could hardly contain my excitement after watching Phillipe Coutinho net the winner against our competition for the title, Manchester City, while celebrating an early Easter visit with the in-laws in the middle of nowhere Merryville Louisiana. I was chuffed for the whole the five-hour drive home back to civilization that day. I thought, like many others, that this was the final hurdle. This was our year. There was no way we would let this slip.
I think we all know how that ended up. It was one of the lowest days I’ve ever experienced as a Liverpool supporter. I had brought along some friends from work who weren’t really soccer fans at all but were interested in experiencing what all the fuss was about after all of my carrying on. We went to New Orleans’ premier Irish pub, Finn McCools’, along with probably one hundred or more Liverpool fans and about a quarter as many in blue to watch Liverpool take on Chelsea in a match that would effectively win or lose the league for us. Steven Gerrard, as legendary a player as any club could ever claim and a local lad captaining the side he had carried on his back for the better part of the last decade, had been in inspired form dictating play in a more withdrawn role than he had occupied throughout most of his career again took center stage. In first-half injury time he miscontrolled a ball and then slipped as he tried to recover it allowing Chelsea’s Demba Ba to score past a stranded Simon Mignolet. We huffed and puffed for the rest of the match until Willian added a second in the waning moments basically ending any hope of a title unless Manchester City slipped up in the final weeks. Manchester City did not, in fact, slip up but I left the pub that day as committed to my club as ever even though this was going to be another year of unfulfilled hopes and dreams and went straight down to a tattoo shop on Magazine Street to get my first Liverpool ink, a liverbird on my left arm, with the intention of adding to it over time to create a half sleeve of LFC related images. I have since added the eternal flame, YNWA on my first trip to Liverpool last year, and six stars after our triumph in Madrid.
After a lackluster start in 2015 Brendan Rodgers, whose ego-driven decision to not play for a draw against Chelsea I fault more than Gerrard’s slip for the loss in 2014, is replaced by Jurgen Klopp. If there was ever a man who was made for Liverpool football club it was probably Bill Shankly, but if there were two men then the second must surely be Jurgen Klopp. Klopp is the embodiment of what Liverpool is as a city and as a club. The squad he has assembled has absolutely been built of some of the most talented players in the world but the true strength of this team is that, to a man, they are all humble and decent human beings who work for the interests of each other, the club, and it’s supporters. Under Klopp’s management so far we’ve been to a league cup final, three European finals including a sixth Champions League triumph in 2019, won the UEFA Super Cup, and the Club World Cup. They had one of the best seasons in the history of English soccer losing only one game all season but still coming up just short, once again to Manchester City, and taking an unprecedented 25 point lead into March before a coronavirus interrupted season was able to conclude. With an expected conclusion of the season coming next month it is surely not long before Jordan Henderson is lifting number nineteen in a strangely empty stadium as he pulls us all back up onto our rightful place on that perch. There hasn’t been a better time to be Liverpool fan for as long as I’ve been one and I don’t see any signs of it abating anytime soon. It’s no less than any of the supporters of the great club deserve.
Who’s your all-time favorite player, and why?
Up until last about two years ago my answer would have been, unequivocally, Xabi Alonso. The way he controlled the game and played with such class was a joy to watch. He never seemed flustered or rushed. He wasn’t the greatest athlete on the pitch but he had the brain for it. If I could have played like any player in the world I’d have chosen to be able to spray those long diagonal passes around the pitch dictating play just like he did.
Two years ago, however, a force of nature named Virgil van Dijk followed a long line of transfers to Liverpool from Southampton and has easily become my new all-time favorite already. I’ve usually been a central defender myself and I’ve never seen a player who has every single facet of the perfect center back like he does. Some are good on the ball but not great as at defending, some are great in the air but
not great organizers but Virgil van Dijk has it all in his locker. If you were building a character on FIFA and had a cheat code that allowed you to maximize every characteristic you couldn’t build a player better than him. When my daughter convinced me to buy another dog last summer I said it would only happen on one condition, that I get to name it. There’s not a lot of things that could make me happier than seeing my baby girl smile so we now have a white boxer named Virgil van Dog.
Where do you watch Liverpool games?
When I can get away from the house I watch games at Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in New Orleans. It is a great local pub and although it is shared by several teams’ supporters’ clubs as a home pub it’s always a good time with friendly banter and rivalries. Some of us regulars applied to have our own New Orleans Official Liverpool Supporters Club and were awarded that recognition by LFC just before the start of this season. It looked for a long time like this would be a perfect season to have our first ever annual OLSC party to celebrate the title but we’ll see how 2020’s new social distancing guidelines affect that and may have to settle for something a little more modest this time around.
What was your most memorable Liverpool game and why?
It is hard to choose between the win against Newcastle which really solidified my fandom and the 4-0 win over Barcelona last year in the Champions League semi at Anfield. The Newcastle match has more meaning to me personally but it really wasn’t relevant beyond the specific occasion for us, it was much more meaningful to Newcastle and Manchester United at the time. The Barcelona game was something else. On Monday evening I was pretty low after Kompany scored that ridiculous goal to beat Leicester which made it pretty unlikely we would end the third-best ever season in premier league history with the title and then when we kicked off at Anfield that Wednesday anyone could be forgiven for thinking that this was the end of our season. Sure, we could probably win the match but winning the tie against Messi and this squad was a pretty tall order. Somehow, though, you could feel it right from the start that it was going to happen. Every bit of it was beautiful and without it we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to win number six.
There’s also Istanbul but, to be honest, I didn’t enjoy that game at all. The first half depressed me because it looked like we were just going to be run over and once we were back in it I was too anxious to enjoy it properly until it was over.
Have you ever traveled to Liverpool?
After many years of being a fan that started when I was a poor college student and lasted through the years where I had young children and all their associated costs and demands, I have finally reached the point in my life where I have the opportunity to do some things on my bucket list. I attended my first match at Anfield against Crystal Palace in the 4-3 win last season, a fitting scoreline based on the match that started my love affair. While celebrating in the local pubs after the match several of the locals, their vision affected by several hours of drinking beer, mistook me for the recently fired Huddersfield manager and Klopp best man David Wagner. This made for an entertaining evening that included a few selfies with me and an old fellow who had clearly been overserved getting in my face and shouting “You just got sacked by Huddersfield!”. I was also in attendance for this season’s 2-1 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion. Coincidentally, we’ve won both matches and had players sent off in each. My plan is to make it to one match per season as long as I can afford to assume that there will one day be supporters in the stands again.
Have you seen Liverpool play in the States?
Of course, there was that first trip in 2004 against Roma in New York. I also saw them in Baltimore against Spurs in the oppressive heat that made for a dull affair in 2012 and against Manchester City at Yankee Stadium in 2014.
How did you find out about American Scouser?
Through LFC America and Timucin Uras.
How are you holding up during Covid 19?
I work in healthcare so I’ve been pretty busy but doing well. Trying like everyone else to do the right things to keep me and others safe as we navigate our way back to something resembling a normal life. The absence of Liverpool, and sports in general, has been a big hole for me as it is my release from real-life stress. June 17th cannot get here fast enough
What do you do when not cheering on the Reds?
Mostly anything soccer related. I’m getting a bit old for it now but still play in four or five adult leagues and do the occasional coaching or refereeing as well. Outside of soccer I enjoy going to the gym, trying to stay fit, and travelling to national parks with the family.