People always tell you that the best things happen when you step out of your comfort zone. I used to think it was just one of those things that people said. Now, I know it’s true. The best things in life really do happen when you step out.
When I was given the assignment of covering the Liverpool versus Borussia Dortmund match in the International Champions Cup as a member of the press, I was hesitant. I doubted myself, my ability to hone my reporting skills and my confidence. Then it occurred to me the worst thing I could do was to pass up on the opportunity just because I was scared because it would take me so far out of my comfort zone. Driving from Raleigh to Charlotte, the day prior to the game, I was a nervous wreck. It was media day, the day where both Jurgen Klopp and Lucien Favre did their pre-game press conferences and we got to attend both Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund’s open training session. It proved, like usual, that it was just me overthinking things and being nervous.
After the press conference, we watched the open training sessions for both teams. It was the perfect opportunity to start networking. I conversed with the hosts and creators of subscription-based LFC podcast, The Anfield Wrap. They invited me to their live recording that night. As a Manchester United supporter, the idea of spending a night behind “enemy lines” wasn’t a pleasant one, but then it struck me. What an experience it would be, and how nice was it for them to invite me and put me on their guest list. So, I went and it was another strong decision. The atmosphere at Flight Beer Garden was electric. The fans were ecstatic to be there. And the chants just kept coming in full voice any time a player’s name was mentioned. The chants kept getting louder and louder each time.
The podcast itself was fantastic. They have so much knowledge not just about their club but their opposition in every country. Their humor made it even better. If there’s one thing I’ve missed about English soccer, it’s the jokes and the banter between fans. Add that to all the scouse and northern English accents I heard throughout the day, I felt like I was back home in England.
I interacted with a couple of people at the event. Two of whom happened to be brothers. One flew all the way from Seattle to watch the game and the other from Connecticut. They don’t get to see each other too often but their favorite team (Liverpool) were playing and they used it as a chance to see each other for the first time in a few years. That’s what I love about soccer. It brings not just the unlikeliest of people together but longtime friends and family too. It gives them a purpose. They all love the same team and just want to share that passion with likeminded people.
It’s safe to say it was an outstanding night and an experience that will stay with me forever.
Arriving on game day, I’ve never felt an atmosphere in the U.S. quite like it. Many fans were already waiting with an air of excitement and anticipation. They were about to see their team play, not on the TV but right in front of them. That doesn’t come around a lot for many who live in America.
Walking in to the press box the fun yet professional buzz surrounding media day had virtually disappeared, that feeling had shifted to one of professionalism, there was plenty of networking going on but we were all here to work and work is what we were going to do.
The thing that disappointed me the most about being in the press box. Although it was nicely air conditioned on a 90-degree day, there was the slight disconnect between us media and the fans. The huge panes of glass, whilst helpful for the broadcast journalists by drowning some of the noise out, meant that I couldn’t feel the atmosphere as much as I were out there among them. Having said that though, you didn’t even have to look up to see that as more and more fans had piled in, the excitement was in the air, the kind of excitement you’d get from a child going to their first game. You couldn’t help but feel joyful.
When the players came out for warm-ups, the roar was phenomenal. When they came out for kickoff, you could have been at the World Cup final, it was so invigorating. Anyone who says that pre-season games don’t mean anything has never been to a pre-season game, especially not in America. Many of the fans have waited their whole lives just to see some of Europe’s best teams and their beloved club play live, to experience what so many European children do from a young age.
Sat behind the goal that Liverpool defended in the first half, there were so many Liverpool fans it was like The Kop away from The Kop. Just prior to kick-off “You’ll Never Walk Alone” played around the stadium and they sang their hearts out. You could hear nothing else — just the sound of the anthem and the sight of red scarves swaying in the air.
Shortly after the full-time whistle had blown, we were back in the press conference room for the post-game interviews. There was a relaxed feeling now that the game was over. The managers had done their work for this fixture, and it was just straightforward question and answers. Getting to know the managers thoughts is always intriguing. You always learn something about them and their mentality along the way.
Just before it was time to leave, I got to encounter the Mix Zone, which is where the media stand on one side of the barrier and the players walk down the other side. And if you want to stop them to interview them, you try to catch their attention to usher them over. I didn’t see any of the Liverpool players but I got to see a lot of them Borussia Dortmund players including German greats like Mario Götze and Marco Reus, as well as up and coming players such as Christian Pulisic and Sergio Gómez.
When I graduated from college, I could only dream about moving to America and pursuing my dreams. And now it’s happened. This whole weekend has been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and it would never have occurred had I not decided to step out of my comfort zone and just go all in.