I woke up at five in the morning to watch the draw. My hands were shaking as I navigated shoddy internet streams as the 2009 Champions League knock out phase draw was being held a half a world away. In my room it was 5am. My mother was awake, getting ready for her job at the local hospital. I will never forget her face as she watched me bite off my fingernails in front of a tiny computer screen. I watched the draw from the start, knowing that Liverpool FC could be drawn at any time to a number of great opponents. My eyes were wide as the tiny lottery ball was cracked open and the piece of paper was unveiled to the world.
There was an eruption. An eternal burst of positive energy and great joy that possessed my body at that moment in time. I jumped out of my chair, sprinted down the hall into my mother’s room and jumped on her bed. I ran back and forth, gave her a hug and danced in a jubilant celebration that could only be brought on by football. My mother was oblivious. She knew it meant a lot to me, but not why it meant a lot at 5am. I was in tears, but the best kind of tears are always tears of joy. I was going to watch my beloved Liverpool FC in Madrid.
I had decided months before I was going to take a six week trip to Europe. In fact, I had put off college and been saving all year to go to what I thought would be Italy, an essential travel destination for an American abroad. But as I saved, and the money in my account slowly started to balloon something miraculous happened that no young fan of Liverpool will ever forget.
It was the 2008-2009 season and Liverpool FC were flying. We were bossing the league, fantastic in the Champions League. The only blip along the way had been the Carling Cup & FA Cup. We were the Spanish reds, four players in our starting line up had come home European Champions, Steven Gerrard was in his prime. Fernando Torres had finished the last year with over 30 goals, and this season he looked as though he would get 30 more. Xabi Alonso and Stevie G were enjoying neat combination play and brilliant passing in midfield. Alvaro Arbeloa was refreshing as a left back striding forward to spring the attack, but also crucially aware of his place in defense. Javier Mascherano stunted every attack from his role in defensive midfield. Carragher was putting in countless outstanding performances, and Pepe Reina was inspirational stopping almost everything in front of him including more than a few penalties that year. I enjoyed my time falling hard for Liverpool, a club I had already accepted into my heart and acknowledged being madly in love with.
I would wake up early weekend morning and drive to Anna Liffey’s in my local city of New Haven to find Gary behind the bar in a red kit, Pat the owner sneaking in with a cup of coffee, an eager look in his eye awaiting kick off behind his casual demeanor. There was John, Matt, and the other regulars including myself in the kopite corner as it was in those days. Despite being a lady, I was probably the loudest of the bunch. We joined other Liverpool fans, and fans of other clubs as well as the season panned out. It was during these mornings between Guinness, Irish breakfasts and new friends that I knew that Liverpool was something I could never forget. Not even for an instant. Not in the off season. Not while other more popular sports were being played. College football took a back seat. Baseball was no longer a priority. UCONN was second rate, blasphemy when you’re someone from my state. I was all red. My curiosity about a sport I didn’t know had blossomed into the passion and the fervor felt all around the world for big matches, and I didn’t miss a beat in Connecticut.
When Liverpool drew Real Madrid in the knock out phases of the Champions League, I knew I was going to Spain. We were Liverpool, but also the Spanish reds. Rafa Benitez was our manager. Some of our best players were from sunny Spain. Our new Anfield hero Fernando Torres was our leading scorer and had the catchiest song to ever waft across a football pitch. It was Torres homecoming. A rematch of the 1981 European Cup final. It all fit.
So I went by myself. A girl alone to a European football match. No one else could think of a reason to go in February. I spent my life savings to go, and enjoy my many weeks in Spain. The moment I knew I was going was that first instant when UEFA revealed the two teams that would feature in the match. It was fate, and I’ve always known in my heart that fate is something you never mess with.
The anticipation of history was what got me out of bed to watch every Liverpool game I could that year. The anticipation of brilliant goals, broken records, great performances, inspiring character on the pitch and in the terraces is what kept me coming back for more. When I paid three times the price for a Champions League ticket online on some shoddy website, I knew that HD television would never be enough for me again.
I had to wait the best part of two months to go to sunny spain. Which was still sunny, even though it was cold in February. I didn’t care. It was still paradise compared to the New England winters. The anticipation of the match, seeing my boys for the first time in person put a lasting smile on my face the entire time I was in Madrid. I frequented the official Liverpool supporters club in Madrid in the build up to the game. I even won trivia! Not bad for some american girl from the states. I will never forget the looks on the faces of those men gathered in the pub that day. The only other girls were bartenders and girlfriends, but great conversation was made anyway. Many people packed in to watch the Tuesday night’s games before Wednesday’s Liverpool fixture. Due to a family friend, I was able to stay at a hotel close to the Bernabeu and was able to see the stadium each day as I made my way to the metro station in the morning to explore Madrid. I couldn’t sleep before match day. I needed to pack because I would be leaving for Barcelona the next day, but how could I think about that? How could I think about anything but Liverpool?
I will never forget the sound of Fields of Anfield road wafting over cobblestone streets in Sol. I will never forget the Plaza Mayor littered with Carlsberg, footballs, scouse accents and people of all ages. I’ll never forget those I talked to, and the stories they shared. I’ll never forget holding the Rafa Benitez banner. That iconic image I saw flying over the Kop every week on tv, and now I was holding it in my hands in Madrid. I’ll never forget the kindness and welcoming spirit of the Liverpool supporters who always welcome those who respect the club as one of their own. Knowing my football was enough for them, and being respectful to the history and legacy of Liverpool Football Club.
The 90 minutes that night was the longest of my life. I had traveled all that way. Spent all that I’d saved. Placed all my hopes and prayed that Liverpool would win in Madrid that day. I’ll never forget the lights, and the way they flashed around the Santiago Bernabeu. Nervousness was perhaps the only reason I didn’t cry when I heard the Champions League anthem, or maybe it was because I was surrounded by guys.
It was 0-0 into the 82nd minute, and then the little Israeli Yossi Benayoun brought a fit of pure exuberance to 6,000 joyous scousers to the highest point of the of that stadium. For 90 minutes we had out sang the Madrid faithful from our point tucked high away in the nose bleed section of the stadium. We sung all through the first half, and louder in the second, before nervousness began to take over. When Yossi scored, relief washed over us and the songs began again. I’ll never forget the way kopites sing. In that moment, when the goal went in that most of us couldn’t see, I was jumped on by a bunch of guys with the same expression in their eyes as me, and I knew that for the rest of my life I was LFC. I would never walk alone.
If there were any doubts, any logical circumstance that would let LFC ever dissipate from its proper place in my life, then that moment in Madrid erased it. I’d never wanted something more in my whole life, and at that moment neither had anyone else. I had waited for months, suffered a terrible exchange rate from that stupid recession, and braved Spain as a girl alone… but it was all worth it to see Torres get a win back home, to see Xabi Alonso almost score from half way, to see a quality performance from Stevie & co away in one of the hardest football grounds to ever play.
The anticipation was worth it for that day. That night. When kopites shook Madrid subways, and sung louder than anyone could ever sing about Spanish players come home to play in front of friends and family, and a country they had made celebrate.
I feel that way about Boston next week. I know it wont quite be the same, but the best part of LFC is the camaraderie. I can’t wait to meet reds from all over the world and the USA and talk about the Liverpool way. I can’t wait to laugh and joke about LFC, and not have to explain national teams don’t play in the Premier League. I’m anticipating a moment that will be all about LFC, an indulgence in culture that will always be apart of me.
I can’t wait for Liverpool vs AS Roma at Fenway next week and meeting all the traveling reds from all over the country and the world. It should be a great time at the Phoenix Landing and the after party, and it wouldn’t be Liverpool if we weren’t singing songs in the streets. Looking forward to meeting you all, You’ll Never Walk Alone.