My Liverpool Story: Vijay Rajaji
Soccer. Football. Soccer? I don’t know. As an American, loving soccer has always been an awkward relationship. Here in the US, as I grew up in the 80s, soccer was just for kids. A great way to build some athleticism while you were in elementary school so that you could play “a real sport” in middle and high school. So thus starts my complicated Liverpool story.
I have always loved soccer. I lived in Buffalo for a few years and went to a ton of Buffalo Stallions (of the Major Indoor Soccer League) games as a kid. I loved it so much! Then, after moving to Dallas, I went to a ton of Sidekicks games, also indoor soccer. The Sidekicks had several great players and won a ton of games under the guidance of Gordon Jago – a former Charlton Athletic player who went on to manage Milwall and QPR before coming to the US. He was an awesome salesman for the game, and I was hooked completely.
But watching soccer in America was a real challenge if you didn’t have one of those massive full-backyard size satellite dishes – which we did not! So I would watch what I could… but games were very limited.
Then came 1994. I was just finishing my freshman year of college and when the World Cup came to our fair shores, I got to attend a game. I went and saw a 3-0 Nigeria win over Bulgaria. And that was the moment where soccer took off in my mind. It was the most fun sporting event I had ever been to, and it made me love the sport even more. So I continued watching every single World Cup game, and was heartbroken when Roberto Baggio missed his penalty at the end of the final (I loved his name and all the Italian names haha).
In the coming years, the only televised soccer I could really get came as World Cups. So I watch the 1998 World Cup, I watch the 2002 World Cup (including waking up at all hours of the night to watch) and the 2006 World Cup. But this is where things change.
As a kid, I had always been really interested in England. I love the nation, the history, the accent, all of it. So I started rooting for the Three Lions in the 2006 tournament. I rode the entire roller coaster – I watched all of their games, and was crushed when they lost to Portugal on penalties. Here’s where serendipity hits: I had three players that I absolutely fell in love with on that team. A hard charging defender named Jamie Carragher, a stud midfielder named Steven Gerrard. And a forward who was the funkiest-looking but coolest guy – Peter “the robot” Crouch.
When I looked them up, I was really surprised to see all three of them played for Liverpool. I knew nothing about the club, their history- I mean nothing. But I was excited that my new three “favorite” players all played for the same club. So I chose Liverpool. It was that simple. I don’t have any natural connections to the city, to the club, nothing other than Crouchy, Carra and Stevie G were awesome and played here.
Since then, my first few years were slow – getting LFC games in the US was still challenging. Unfortunately for me, the first season that I was able to regularly watch 25-30 games a year came during the 2010-2011 season. Remember Roy Hodgson? I remember that summer learning what the transfer window was in more detail and how it worked. I was told to be very excited about the signings of Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen! Although the year got better when LFC canned Hodgson and brought back the legend King Kenny Dalglish, those were some dark times. They were at the end of the Hicks/Gillett era and that was so painful. (As a side note, I am a hockey fan and my team, the Dallas Stars, had already been driven into bankruptcy by Tom Hicks. So my hatred of Hicks had come with me when I came fully on board.)
Despite the dark days, one of the best things I’ve gotten to be a part of was witnessing the title run in 2013-2014. The 5-1 match against Arsenal still ranks as one of my favorite football games of all time.
Since I became fully invested in 2010, I have been all in. Liverpool is a club I will support til the day I die. I’ve taught my 10-year-old son, and now he watches with me. He even came with me to the watch party in Houston for the UCL Final against Madrid. While that game didn’t go well, he was with hundreds of fellow supporters packed into a very small place, and was even gifted a scarf from Anfield by a fellow LFC fan. Together, we watched Liverpool win the UCL final last year. He will even walk around the house occasionally singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
I love this club. I love this team. I love these players. But without question, I love the Liverpool FC fans. We are a group of people just different from the rest. Once I started to really get into the club, I realized, I really had found my home, not just with the club but with my fans!
And as I tell my son regularly – You’ll Never Walk Alone!