My Day at the Match, All the Way From South Africa – Arsenal (H), Aug.24th 2019

My Day at the Match, All the Way From South Africa – Arsenal (H), Aug.24th 2019
August 27, 2019 Chris Rowland
In Free, My Day at the Match

 

By Grant Thiselton (TTT subscriber Notles).

My day at the match started in August of 1971 while watching a newsreel of the 1971 FA Cup final, as a seven year old in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was devastated when Charlie George scored the winner for Arsenal right near the end of extra time. It was then that I knew that Liverpool would always be “my team”.

43 years later I decided it was time to make my pilgrimage. For the next four years my wife and I saved every spare cent we could so we would be able to get tickets to watch a match at Anfield. At the end of 2017 I organised my visa. At the beginning of the 2018/19 season, in the middle of the season and on a number of other occasions during the season I desperately tried to get tickets with absolutely no success. I even contacted LFC Hospitality to beg for any home ticket, but nothing was available. They suggested that I try when fixtures for the next season are announced.

So, on June 13th, I logged on and was able to book a hospitality pack for the home game against Arsenal for my wife and me. Air tickets were booked, Airbnb accommodation was arranged and a rental car was organised. I also booked a stadium tour for 3:30pm on Friday 23rd.

We flew into Gatwick, London on Friday morning, walked across to the car rental to pick up the car so we could spend the next four to five hours driving to Liverpool. What I didn’t check, and what no one told me and what the GPS couldn’t tell me, was that it was a Bank holiday weekend. After an 8 hour and 45 minute journey we arrived at our accommodation on Rockfield Road shortly before 5:30pm. We had missed the tour, the store had closed, and for all we knew, every sightseeing attraction in the city was also closed. Exhausted from the drive and the disappointment at missing out on what we’d planned for the day, we collapsed into bed hoping a new day would right all the wrongs from today.

On Saturday morning at about 8am, we walked the 600 yards to the stadium to see what we could do. We met Jim, one of the stewards, outside the tour office hoping to use our tour booking for one of the morning tours. He gave us a brief explanation of how these things worked leaving us to wander around the stadium until 9am when both the tour office and the store opened. At about 8:50am he came and found us near the Shankly gates to let us know that the tour office lady was there and that he had explained our situation so we could join the tour starting at 9:45am.

That was the first of many occasions that day when we felt that we mattered because we were part of the family of the greatest football club in the world. We had time to browse the store and get to the tour on time. We both experienced chills after walking past the Wall of Champions, below the “This is Anfield” sign out to the technical area into an empty stadium. We could only imagine what it must be like for the players to do the same but for them into a cauldron of noise.

After Friday, I had no intention of going anywhere in the car, even though there is so much we could have done after the tour and before the match. We chose to walk down to a supermarket not far from Goodison to get stuff for the food bank because we felt that’s what family does.

Because we had a hospitality pack we went back to the stadium at 2:30pm to go into the dining room for lunch before the match. Before we went in, we chatted to a lady doing supporter assistance. She took time and trouble to make sure we knew exactly what to do and to expect. We chatted about our coming from South Africa just for the match. Her engaging, friendly approach to strangers from a far off land again made us feel like family.

During lunch we had the privilege of meeting Ian Callaghan. He listened to our story, not once appearing to be in a hurry to move on to the next table. He shared his experience of the 1977 European Cup with anecdotes about some of the other players and the opposition. Once more, we were made to feel like family.

After lunch we found our seats and watched as the stands gradually and then rapidly filled. We watched the players during their warm up routines and generally soaked up the atmosphere of the build up to the match. I’ve watched pretty much every televised home game for the past twenty or so years and the build up is mostly talking heads offering opinions that add no benefit and in hindsight actually distract from the atmosphere.

I was almost on the edge of my seat anticipating the players walking out to begin the game. The wall of sound starting in the Kop, roaring around the stands as the players emerged left me stunned for a moment before I joined in. The noise, the sheer exuberance of the crowd, the joy of just being there lifted us beyond what we could have hoped.

We didn’t just listen to nor even try to sing along with “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. It exploded out of the stands with such passion and such longing that it almost had me in tears. I was actually here, soaking up what I had only dreamed of a few months ago. The match itself started off in a blur. Television cannot adequately capture the speed, the vision nor the precision of passing and running I was seeing.

I cheered along with every successful pass, every tackle, every interception. I couldn’t help focus on Fabinho. He was immense. His positioning, his closing, his passing, all were superb. I know that it’s not possible to see it unless you’re in the stands. Every player is an essential cog in a finely tuned machine doing exactly what was needed when it was needed. Then Joel scored. I get excited when we score while watching the match on television, but it is nothing compared to experiencing it live. The noise, the beautiful explosion of unrestrained joy swept me along like never before.

It was even better when Mo scored the penalty, and the pass to setup the third, the clinical composure and lethal finish had me completely hoarse with aching hands and ringing in my ears. I couldn’t have asked for anything better for my pilgrimage.

What I experienced was a rich tapestry of colour, fluid motion, sublime skills and intense drama driven by an immense wall of noise. For the first time I saw the whole tapestry. Excellent positioning, intelligent running, immense defending, sublime passing with the occasional mistake which, when all viewed  together, produced a breath-taking masterpiece woven by the master weaver, a certain Mr Klopp.

I don’t care if I never experience another day like this one, I will always be able to say, “I was there”. It’s Liverpool, it means more. So much more.

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