Liverpool is in New York City, in preparation for its sold-out game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday against Premier League rival Manchester City.
My son and I attended the Liverpool practice yesterday in Princeton. It was a quietly whispered open practice with just a few hundred fans there, and the team including Brendan Rodgers, made sure that everyone got their autographs or a word or two. It was a special afternoon to witness. People were literally weeping when Steven Gerrard autographed their shirt or posed with them for a photo. It was a different atmosphere than what my son experienced with any of the other Premier League teams that he has seen play here in New York. While we are Red Bulls fans as a legacy of being New Yorkers, he is a Liverpool fan — not just of the kindness and attention that the team showed to the fans on a whole, but to him personally.
The practice itself was delayed when the flight that the team was on arrived late, but the mild afternoon was made even brighter for the fans on the metal bleachers that enclosed three sides of the practice pitch. And the promise of seeing the team so close made the wait seem easier. They were on their way, and the security guards radios kept everyone apprised of their progress. A cheer erupted from the far end of the stands from the fans who could see the team walking up the hill toward them, and spread from there as coach and players walked on to the pitch and then jogged the perimeter. Unbelief was the key emotion, excited children turning to their parents and saying “I can’t believe that they are right here in front of us.” Friends, too, were turning to one another saying, “I can’t believe I am here seeing this.”
With the Premier League turning its attention on the United States with such focus last season, it was hard for new fans to decide who to support at first. Funny maps were drawn of the five boroughs of New York giving fans a clue for which team fit where they live. Old family connections were dusted off and teams were adopted through the thinnest of ties. The favorites, the known and internationally branded teams, grew new fans. My son and I took a trip through Pennsylvania and were amazed by the numbers of Manchester United hats and shirts we saw.
I sat on the side of Liverpool, the history and politics fitting me well, and my son sat with me as we watched the games. But he is not one for televised games. He needs the real thing, to see with his own eyes rather what the lens of a camera shows him, and his devotion never grew beyond being able to say when asked who his favorite Premier League team was. “Liverpool.” He had found an affinity for Huddersfield Town that still surprises me, wearing his Terriers hat and shirt around the house after being gifted them for Christmas, but as for games that we could easily watch, there was just that loose connection for Liverpool that was as much about me as about them.
What yesterday did was to make him a fan in a way that is deeply personal, and creating a bond that will be lifelong in its hold. On Wednesday night, Liverpool face Manchester City at Yankee Stadium. He unfortunately won’t be there with me. The demands of covering the game, the logistical impossibilities, and numerous other factors will put me there and keep him home. But he is alright with that, as alright as a boy who wants to do everything and be everywhere can be. He has their autographs there in a notebook, their smiles and kind words in his mind, and the team in his heart. He will never walk alone.