First off, I’ll spare the usual story–let’s just say I fell in love with the game and due to various (seemingly extraneous) reasons, fell even more deeply in love with Liverpool Football Club. And yes, I’m also an American–Texan to be precise. This site (and many others) are full of stories like mine. Americans who, for one reason or another, became passionate fans of teams thousands of miles away. That’s the short version, for now at least.
What has finally distinguished me from this teeming multitude that wear jerseys and get up at ungodly hours to watch the English Premier League on weekends, is that I’ve made the trip to my football holy land–Anfield.
Having recently graduated from college here in Texas, I managed to squeeze out enough from my meager savings in order to meet up with friends and take a 10-day backpacking trip around the United Kingdom. Sure, we visited London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, but one of the main reasons I worked so hard to take this trip–was to visit Liverpool. I’ve been a Beatles fan for as long as I can remember, and have developed my love for the city and its people as I became more and more passionate about LFC.
After seeing my friends off at the Glasgow Airport, I made my way to the bus station to begin the five-hour night bus to Manchester, where I then slept on a bench in the cold, empty bus station while waiting for my next bus. And finally at 6:00 in the morning, hopped on a coach to Liverpool.
It was a bright, sunny day as I made my way around the city, trying to orient myself with all of the buildings and streets among the hustle and bustle. I sat down at a coffee shop to read a book for a bit, before checking into my hotel in the Mount Pleasant area near Liverpool City Centre.
With all my logistics nailed down, I set out into the city: everything they say is true, Liverpool is a very eclectic and interesting place to visit, and once I got my bearings, I really enjoyed many aspects of the place. Exploring the main shopping area (Liverpool ONE), I stumbled on the first part of my pilgrimage–the Liverpool Megastore. I stared agape at the walls and walls of jerseys, happily noticing that jerseys were already printed and hung up with Charlie Adam’s name and number on them–he had only signed a mere two days before. I dug through the racks and shelves of Liverpool official gear, from King Kenny mousepads to a T-shirt collection that chronicled each of the club’s five European Cup victories. For someone that has always had to pay an exorbitant amount to ship Liverpool gear via international mail, this place was a sheer delight. After picking out a few choice items for myself and a few lucky friends, I made my way up the winding streets to drop it all of at the hotel, because I was getting close to an appointment I had made weeks before–a visit to the L4 district.
Finally, a train full of chatty schoolchildren and elderly shoppers making their way to their suburban homes, I stepped off the bus to look directly up at the famous Paisley Gates.
As I stood in a group with other pilgrims and realizing my misfortune at taking the trip alone, I asked (for what would be the first of many times) the fellow next to me to snap a couple photos of me in front of the metal statue of Liverpool’s greatest manager–Bill Shankly. For the uninitiated, the statue just seems like a cliche victory pose–not unlike the famous shot from the movie “Rocky.” But for those of us forever indebted to Shankly and what he did for the club, standing in front of him is like being transported to an earlier time, when he stepped in front of the entire city to proclaim the club’s victory.
I walked around the outside of the great stadium in a bit of a haze, snapped back into reality by the tour guide’s call to join her back at the Shanks statue. From there, we embarked on a journey through the bowels of Anfield. First, the room of Legends glorified the many giants in the club’s history, pictures surrounded the small party room, from early heroes like Albert Stubbins to the god himself, Robbie Fowler. Then it was to the press room, which, before the Premier League era, was the famous (and to some, infamous) Boot Room where the manager and his assistants plotted thousands of victories, from Bill Shankly himself to Kenny Dalglish in his first turn as manager. Almost ironically, this is where King Kenny demands as much respect as he did in the 1980s; journalists pack into the tiny room before and after every match to pepper him and one of the players with countless questions. Hands shaking and heart speeding around in my chest, I slowly sat in the chair with my hands folded and looked up from the exact spot that the King does every week. I imagined being in here as Kenny jokes with journalists as he does, having brought the fun back to Liverpool Football Club in the past few months.
A tour of Anfield, for a rabid fan such as myself, leaves no brick unholy and no wall without some aspect of footballing beauty. As we made our way into the Home Dressing Room, the same one that has been immortalized in photographs of Bill Shankly instructing his team, I was humbled by the simple, spartan qualities of the little white room. The players’ jerseys line the walls, with a treatment table in the middle and a television set high up in a corner. No extravagances here, no room for prima donnas or wannabe rockstars; in this room there is football and only football. After posing in the seats of my favorite players (Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, for the record), I stepped out of the room directly in front of the tunnel that leads to the pitch. I placed my fingers on the famous “THIS IS ANFIELD” sign, feeling the energy and emotion that comes with the touching of that sign by the team before every match. Players from Ian Rush to Fernando Torres to Alan Hansen have touched this sign, and after (of course) posing for a photo, I walked the rest of the tunnel feeling invigorated, ready to take on the world. I’d say that’s about what Shankly wanted when he nailed the sign up there for the very first time.
The final leg of this epic journey of mine could only take place on that hallowed ground, in the middle of one of the most famous pitches in the world. Sitting where managers have sat for years as they bark orders to players, walking along the grass that is home to some of the most exciting matches in history, all hit me like a punch to the chest. The sound around me fell silent, the cloudy sun somehow brightened as I spun in place, taking in each and every angle of Anfield. My eyes finally landed on the Kop, the Spion Kop, probably the most famous set of seats in the world. As we walked towards the Kop, our tour guide reached back into a small electrical box to flip a switch. Suddenly, as I crossed the cement threshold into Kop territory, music burst from the speakers, and it could only be one song: “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” At this point, you probably know what’s coming. A single tear rolled out as I stood in the full glory of Liverpool Football Club. The feeling is still with me, and has surely cemented my place as a Liverpool fan for life.
I may live in America, and that won’t change soon. But part of my heart was left there, in that hallowed ground, beating to the rhythm of only one song, basking in the glory of Liverpool Football Club.