The Match That Meant Most To Me – No.10

The Match That Meant Most To Me – No.10
June 17, 2020 El Indio

 

By TTT Subscriber El Indio.

If you are not an atheist, and identify yourself with a religion, you’ll have had the thought of visiting any of one of the holy sites. Sometimes we are part of the family group, and we may have visited many holy sites without our knowledge.

In the past few years I’ve visited a few across my country, and across the globe (the Sistine Chapel is a work of art, and an outcome of dedication, and super-human vision. Likewise I’ve always revered the beauty of Sultan Ahmet Mosque in İstanbul despite having never visited the city once.)

But here’s the thing while I believe we are powered somehow by beings more powerful, and intelligent than us, I give in to the scientific fact that we are a lucky off-shoot of evolution on an oblate ellipsoid planet, which is like one of trillions out there in millions of collections of stars centered around supermassive black holes, whose sole purpose is to suck in everything irrespective of their atomic form (or non-form).

While thinking all of this, I realise ‘Oh boy! I’ve at least got a football club to support’, and I leave the thought of science of universe to well renowned scientists (my brain can take only some level of enormity into thought process 🙂 ).

So for me visiting Anfield feels very much like a pilgrimage to a holy site. As a kid it has always held the status of a mythical place where teams crumble when they enter the pitch, and the players in red becoming giants while cultivating the footballing ability of every amazing athlete to score goals in the opposition box.

The stadium lights, the sun rays glistening over the spires of the intimidating stands, and the walk towards the stadium.

It is without doubt that the visit to Liverpool to watch Wolverhampton Wanderers take on the ‘Mighty Reds’ has been the match that has meant most to me. (Of course matches in İstanbul, Madrid will top the list but just being there in person for the first time elevates the whole experience)

Liverpool 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0, 29th December 2019

Almost a decade ago on the very same day, I remember being shell shocked when the same opponent scored, and won the match 1-0 at Anfield. There was such unity of disapproval directed against Roy Hodgson, I thought he would resign the following day. He didn’t, and while I’m not sure the ‘Dalglish’ chants were chanted at that match, Dalglish did become the boss just before the away trip to Old Trafford.

I woke up that morning (29th December 2019 🙂 ) to this fact, and it just turned my stomach upside down. As I made my way to Euston from Canary Wharf, the anxiety started growing. Even the early morning stop at Tesco didn’t ease my nerves as I kept worrying how the media, and home support, would react to a home defeat by the same opponent. 17 wins, and a draw. 52 from 54 available points. But this Wolves team had just beaten City. I had watched it unfold on the television even though I was conversing with my friend’s family. If it was a bogey team for City, it could very well be for us. Would I bring bad luck with my presence? Having spent hundreds of euros, and pounds, to get here, and another round of spending of hundreds of pounds to make this journey, will it end up with the club being ridiculed?

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My girlfriend vetoed her travel after seeing the spends for the round trip to Liverpool, and decided to stay back in London, planning to explore the city with my friend’s family. She desperately wanted to see Mo Salah and big Virg, but the cost involved didn’t make financial sense to her. I still remember her saying that she will return to the UK with me to watch Liverpool again (something I promised her when things are back normal the other day).

London that morning looked particularly foggy and gloomy. A weather feeling that I love the most (the sort of weather that captures my imagination, courtesy of description from the Hounds of Baskervilles except there’s no gigantic hound chasing you in a misty moor landscape!), and enjoyed venturing about. I arrived at Euston so early that I boarded the early 8am Virgin train to Liverpool Lime Street.

Google telling me what I did on that day! (sneaky!)

To say that the train had a few Liverpool supporters would be an understatement. The existence of the train seemed like its job was to ferry Liverpool supporters to Liverpool. This also included the bloke across my seat who slept for the entirety of the journey only to be woken up by his friend, who then discussed Liverpool’s fortunes at length, and even used the dreaded M word (= Momentum 🙂 ).

What eased my anxiety about the result that evening was the conversation by a gentleman just across my row talking about İstanbul. It lifted my spirits. Surely Wolves weren’t in the class of AC Milan, and surely this team had already conjured a mini-İstanbul at Anfield against FC Barcelona. So they could surely do it again, couldn’t they?

The person, who may have been from Turkey, talking about İstanbul with another fellow Liverpool supporter

The journey was seamless, and the train even completed its journey ahead of time. So instead of arriving at 1pm for the 4:30pm kick off, I was at Lime Street by 11am. I had more than four hours to do something. Maybe a visit to Albert docks? Or the Philharmonic Dining place?

Liverpool that morning

But as I headed out of the station to the glorious morning sun I realised maybe if I walked to the stadium from there it would be quite something (something I’m proud to say I’ve achieved in every city I’ve visited)

A quick visit to Sainsbury across the station to stock up with bakery items (I love the smell of freshly baked croissants, and bagels), and water to make the journey happen, I also realised that I may have to speed up the walking bit to get some rest, and not tire out by kick-off.

As I completed a few hundred meters I was encouraged to see the sign board proclaiming that Anfield was a just under three miles away.

Signs for people like me who make strange decisions on a cold but sunny day in peak winter!

However after having walked another few hundred meters I decided to call it quits with the phone GPS giving inaccurate directions, urgency to head to the nearest washroom, and not yet settled down at the place where I was supposed to bunk in for the night.

So a quick Uber trip to the place which was described as very close to the stadium but zeroing on the place took a while as I thought the place had shut down. It also gave me a glimpse of the stadium. And boy oh boy, it just blew me away.

The first view of the stadium

After a couple of minutes I was messaged by my contact from Stubhub to collect tickets, and so the nervousness came flooding back. I hoped the ticket wasn’t a fake but I also had contact number of Stubhub representative, and my money would possibly get refunded. However the crushing feeling of having completed the journey and not being able to see the Reds because some idiot was trying to fleece you with a fake was just plain awful. This was also the first time I was buying a football ticket outside of the usual website mechanism. But getting a Liverpool home game ticket during the holiday season is like scaling Mt. Everest (Okay, maybe the 30th highest peak which according to Wiki is Dhaulagiri II in Nepal) considering the Reds were breaking all sorts of records, and were the team to watch.

Luckily enough the ticket looked legit as I got hold of it at the pub bar for ticket collection, and I tasted beer (a brand I cannot remember as I was distracted by the telly) to celebrate the mini-achievement.

Mr. Lawrenson for the day!

What also lifted up my mood was that I was to be seated at the upper most area of the Main Stand according to the stadium map. At this point I didn’t even care if the actual price of the ticket was £9. A few more minutes, and I decided to head out of The King Harry pub to drop my stuff back at my B&B place. On the way back I noticed a merchant selling pretty good merchandise. He seemed quite friendly (if you are selling you’ve to be a welcoming salesman. And I liked it), and I ended up buying a scarf, and an ‘Allez Allez’ beanie for my girlfriend.

Six times scarf with the ‘Allez Allez’ beanie

As I made my way out, it was still three more hours to kick off, and I decided to settle down at a pub to settle my nerves. Luckily on the way I spotted an old fashioned bricked church building with a pub boarding over it. A few blokes with beer were standing outside as well. Quite odd for the church to be selling alcohol isn’t it? But then if Jesus turned water into wine, well a beer just has lesser alcohol to water volume ratio.

I still remember pushing open the door and getting the warm rush of air with a wisp of the smell of fried sausages, and lo and behold it was actually a pub!

Just towards the entrance to the main hall a lady was selling so many good items I ended up having everything apart from fish and chips.

Delicious stuff!

After a few rounds of Coors (plus some other beer brands I hadn’t heard of), and watching Rangers beat Celtic with Gerrard screaming at the camera, I decided to venture out and check if the atmosphere had changed one bit.

And I was just taken aback at how quickly things had changed.

(Please select 720p from the settings icon below the status bar, and next to YouTube logo to view the video in higher resolution)

A lot of supporters had started coming in from all directions, the police had blocked the area ahead of the entrance leading from Oakfield Road towards the Main stand. And there were a lot many places now open which seemed a bit quiet an hour back (including someone selling hot dogs as Klopp dogs with a cut-out of beaming Kloppo holding a scarf. The creativity is just worth the visit!)

Everything was coming alive for kick-off, and it felt awesome. Along the way there was a bloke who was singing the VVD song, and it had a nice ring to it.

The iconic stadium with a golden sky

After looking at the crowd around the stadium queuing up to get in, I decided to get in even though kick-off was 75 minutes away.

What can I say, the moment I scanned my ticket against the barcode scanner, and as the turnstile turned to let me in, I just felt relieved to have made this far. And the journey from the ground floor to the top of the main stand is just another experience.

(Please select 720p from the settings icon below the status bar, and next to YouTube logo to view the video in higher resolution)

The way we organised the place is outright great. Let me tell you it is way better than Wanda Metropolitano, Camp Nou or even Signal Iduna Park. I have had bad experiences at sub par stadiums but to see the Liverpool stadium outstripping others is just mind-blowing. This is the experience you pay for, and you should get. Even our washrooms are world class! And they are plenty! I have had to queue sometimes for longer duration to just get a drink or take a visit to the washroom.

My seating seemed to be a bit hindered but it gave me the whole pitch view, and this is my seating preference for any stadium I visit. I was taking all the experience in, and soon the teams came out for the warm up. I also helped another supporter with his picture, who seemed quite disappointed with my photography skills, and ended up taking the seat next to me! My front row also had an Asian family with a really young kid who seemed as excited as me, although visibly more expressive, for what seemed like his first visit to the stadium. Next to me I had two young Japanese boys who kept asking me politely about the Wolves players.

View from my seating area!

The warm up was followed by the team announcement, and the massive banners went across the Kop, and Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand.

(Please select 720p from the settings icon below the status bar, and next to YouTube logo to view the video in higher resolution)

There was a massive cheer for Mo Salah as the line up was announced. And a few minutes later the teams kick-off to a very loud roar around the stadium.

(Please select 720p from the settings icon below the status bar, and next to YouTube logo to view the video in higher resolution)

And we know how the match unfolded with VAR being correct for our goal, and harsh on ruling out their goal.

For our goal Henderson had to walk to the referee, who had forgotten the rules, to check VAR. It happened in front us, and we knew it was a legit goal despite the referee ruling out for handball.

As Wolves scored the goal, I headed to the washroom as it was almost half time more in urgency after a heavy drinking afternoon rather than disappointment.

And it was in the washroom we learnt with the sudden roar from the supporters that VAR had ruled their goal offside by a toe. As I queued for beer, this was a hot topic with people around me. However we ended up agreeing we would score two or three goals more if required to seal the match.

But credit to Wolves who came out flying second half, especially Adama Traoré (who reminds me of an Olympic heavyweight lifting athlete in the 200 kg category!).

Some gent, a few rows down, started getting really vocal with calls of ‘Do your job!’, ‘Play simple football’, and a couple of f-word laced expletives whenever things didn’t go our way. After a period in time I just wanted to get up and shout back at him, but realised he was heading for the exit which left me quite dumbfounded even though it was just past the 85th minute mark.

Henderson was visibly getting agitated with mistakes, and he led the charge of holding the defence line. It just struck me everyone really pulled their socks up, and there is no letting up with him around. Even Virgil seemed to have an off day with one particular mistake of his leading to shot on target.

But this Wolves team was facing a different beast altogether. We weren’t crumbling like City any time soon. We just dug in, and maintained a compact shape to keep them at bay. At one point I remember one of the Wolves player was agitated by taking too much time to attack the Liverpool flank.

The final whistle bought a sigh of relief, and scenes of Jordan Henderson screaming as team mates huddled to celebrate victory!

18 wins! This seemed like a spectacular achievement. Screw the ill-gotten wealth of Chelsea, City. We had just powered our way to 18 wins they couldn’t manage earlier. This was an unprecedented start to any league campaign in English football, and I had just witnessed one part of it inside the holy place.

A few more minutes inside the stadium to soak in the view, and I headed out to decide what to do next as it was just 7pm. The Ubers were turning out to be very limited, and expensive, so I ended up exploring the official store which had such a long queue that I thought I would end up getting in the next day. A souvenir for a friend, and I headed out to Oakfield Road to catch early dinner. Luckily the owner of the B&B owned the takeaway restaurant as well! So a quick takeaway, and a few cans of beer from a nearby supermarket, which was being serviced by an Indian family, I settled down at my B&B place to while away the evening/night.

I booked my early next morning train for 6am so that I would be able to spend another day in London with everyone. The return journey was quite seamless, and without any concern but the Tube was quite full as I realised that I had turned up towards the end of peak work travel.

It will be quite some time for all of us to experience this sort of normal. But whenever it is back, I’ll be raring to go again!

Bonus footage: Journey from London to Liverpool! 

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