In recent weeks I have written about trips to The Hive, Vicarage Road, Griffin Park and Allianz Park to write about experiences that are foreign to me as an American living in England. All of these experiences were extremely memorable and unique and created memories that I will keep with me for a long time. My final soccer experience of the year was something I have started to become very familiar with over the course of this year, the ritual of following my favorite team away from home. A trip to Goodison Park with Tottenham’s fantastic away support was too good of an opportunity to pass up and I was on my way to Merseyside for a memorable weekend in Liverpool.
This was my fifth away day with Tottenham, and most of them had ended with an extremely disappointing result on the pitch as Tottenham lost and failed to score in three out of my previous four away days. A 3-0 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, a 2-0 loss to Fiorentina in Florence that sent Spurs out of Europe and a 3-0 loss at Old Trafford left a bitter taste in my mouth and was only mitigated by amazing away support that continued going strong until the final whistle. My only successful away day to this point had been a 2-1 win at Loftus Road over Queen’s Park Rangers with Harry Kane (who else) scoring both. Failure to score in three of four matches meant I had not really felt the real adrenaline rush of an away end and hoped that this trip to Merseyside would change that. Despite the fact that the game meant next to nothing besides bragging rights I was still really excited for this trip.
Because I am from America and this is the first time I have spent an extended period of time in England, I combine my away days with Tottenham with sightseeing in other cities in England and Europe. I had done this previously with Florence (and later Venice that same weekend) and Manchester. Unfortunately, the only mode of transport that made the opportunity to sightsee viable was an overnight bus that left London at midnight and arrived in Liverpool via Manchester at 5am. Not exactly ideal travel plans but I tried to make the most of it. Liverpool is an extremely lovely city with a beautiful waterfront. I spent most of the morning at the Beatles Story on Albert Dock learning everything about one of the greatest music groups in history and going inside the stunning Liverpool Cathedral. As a result, almost the entire day had a Beatles theme to it as I constantly had Beatles music stuck in my head. Given that most of their songs are about love and this was my final away day with the team I love, it provided a pretty fitting soundtrack to a memorable away day.
After a long walk from the city center to the Stanley Park area of Liverpool, I made a short detour from the throngs headed to Goodison Park and headed instead towards Anfield. As it’s unlikely I’ll be able to visit Liverpool again any time soon, this was my only chance to see Anfield up close and personal. As I took the fork towards Anfield instead of Goodison, I was met with some quizzical looks from some Everton supporters (I was wearing away colors). At the famous Shankly gates I saw a fellow Tottenham supporter with his young son with the same idea so at least I wasn’t the only one who had this idea. After that, it was time to walk across Stanley Park from Anfield to Goodison Park. As I had previously read about how close the two grounds were, I decided to time the duration of the walk. The answer? Nine minutes. That two iconic sporting franchises are located just a nine minute walk away is something that would be unheard of in the United States with all the petty disputes over territorial infringements whenever a second team is proposed to move into a major city. That both teams still manage to sell out every single game despite their insane proximity is a real testament to how significant the sport of soccer is in this part of the United Kingdom.
Goodison Park is very old and a little decrepit, which contributes to its unique atmosphere. Goodison Park is the only ground that I have been to in England where the visiting supporters are placed entirely on the side of the pitch in the Bullens Road Stand. The back of the Bullens Road stand Lower Tier has many supporting pillars that hinder the views of the fans and the overhang of the upper tier makes the view even worse. The stand opposite the away supporters at Goodison is three tiered and massive, while on the opposite corner of the pitch from the visiting supporters is a church that is clearly visible. Given that football is almost like a religion on Merseyside, this is quite fitting. The concourses are extremely packed and it was very hard to move about before the match. I went to my restricted view seat (as I did not earn enough loyalty points with Spurs to receive a clear view ticket) and could not see the goal immediately in front of me because of a pillar so I decided to move and see if I could stand somewhere else. Fortunately, because everyone stands in the away end I was able to do this without too much difficulty. I also got the impression that Everton are a very family oriented club just given the sheer number of birthday wishes read out pre-match and the handwritten messages from the players thanking the fans for their support that flashed across the video board. Goodison has a similar charm to Fenway Park in Boston, a throwback to a different era when stadiums were constructed for much smaller people and with different priorities in mind. The lack of amenities and comfort is more than made up for by the uniqueness of it all.
During the warm-ups, the fans were given one last chance to show their appreciation for the departing American goalkeeper Brad Friedel as he came over to pose for photos during breaks from warming up starting goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. He also gave his goalkeeper’s gloves to a very young Tottenham fan in the front row, which was a very sweet gesture. Seeing Brad in goalkeeper gear for the final was particularly emotional for me. One of my first memories of watching soccer was the 2002 World Cup. I was only six years old at the time but I still remember his incredible efforts against Germany in the quarterfinal. Thanks Brad for everything you created for US Soccer and for opening doors for other Americans to play in England.
I was very worried before this match that the fans would not be up for it because the team did not have a chance of qualifying for the Champions League. Last weekend’s home finale against Hull City was a very lackluster effort from fans and players alike and the lack of fans who stuck around for the traditional lap of honor after the match reflected that. Fortunately, my fears were not to be founded as the Tottenham fans really brought the energy to their final away day of the season. As the player’s walked out to the pitch to Everton’s theme tune of “Z-Cars” (coincidentally the same song that Watford walk out to), the travelling support broke into a loud chorus of “Everywhere we go, it’s the Tottenham boys making all the noise” that was so loud that I could not hear Z-Cars over the PA system. I should also point out that the PA announcer read Harry Kane’s name as “Harry Keane” when announcing the pre-match lineups, which is quite embarrassing given that he has probably been the most talked about player in England this season but I won’t hold Everton accountable for that.
The noise from the Tottenham fans continued after kick-off. The first 30 minutes was non-stop singing. Because it was the final away match of the season, the fans used the opportunity to sing almost every Tottenham song that could come to their mind. This was really amazing for quite a while as full renditions of “Oh When the Spurs” were sung as well as some of my favorites that I hadn’t heard for quite a while like “Oh Ledley, Ledley; he’s only got one knee; he’s better than John Terry,” the Nicola Berti song, “Hello, Hello we are the Tottenham boys,” “We are Tottenham, Super Tottenham” and “it’s a grand old team to play for.” Unfortunately, as the good chants started to peter out some nastier ones came out of the woodwork like a very inappropriate one directed at Sol Campbell as well as a song directed at Everton fans to the tune of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that went “You’ll Never Get a Job.” Given that You’ll Never Walk Alone is Liverpool’s song and there is no particular venom between Tottenham and Everton (in fact the two teams are actually very similar) I found this to be in poor taste, but relations between soccer supporters from London and Liverpool are somewhat strained so these songs do come out of the woodwork (most notably when Chelsea play Liverpool).
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