Thursday, December 22, 2011

In my Heart, In my Soul

Liverpool has been a part of me since I was growing up in Israel. I'm still not sure who got me into the footy team, but since I was 8/9, I was a fan of Liverpool FC. A few years later, I was hooked on the Beatles after being a part of a 'She Loves You' skit while in Club Med in Italy. The passion for both took on another level when my parents sent me to Carmel College in 1992, a boarding school in Oxfordshire. Unfortunately, I never made it up to Liverpool and when my family moved to the US in '94, it seemed like the dream of seeing the city would be put on hold indefinitely. With the development of the internet, following Liverpool became easier and so that passion, as well as listening to the tens of Beatles CDs I had now accumulated, became an every day activity. Fast forward through high school and uni, and I moved to Israel. Within a few years, I was working for IDT Telecom and finding myself in London once to twice a year. In 2010, I managed to see Liverpool live for the first time, a 2-1 Carling Cup defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. It was time I decided - I had to get up to Liverpool.

When my boss told me he wanted me in London from November 28th to 30th, I quickly glanced at Liverpool's schedule. YES! Liverpool were playing Manchester City at Anfield on the 27th, not to mention the added bonus of playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the 29th. I started looking for tickets, and soon, a family friend (Ian) from Leicester struck gold. I had tickets ... The dream was about to be realized at the ripe old age of 31! I arrived in England on Nov 25th, and made my way up to Manchester to spend some time with friends I met in Israel. It was a pleasant Shabbat, and on Sunday morning, I made my way to Liverpool for the first time.

I arrived at Liverpool's Lime Street Station around noon, and met Ian. The next two hours were spent touring the city: From St. Luke's Church, to the Cavern Club, to the schools that John, Paul and George attended, to the Albert Dock, to the Royal Liver Building, to seeing the Mersey, to Penny Lane, to Strawberry Fields, and to a few other landmarks. The last landmark was what I was anticipating for decades ... Anfield.

Before the walk there, I stopped at King Harry, a pub frequented by many of my mates from, a Liverpool forum. It was nice to put faces on people I've been talking to for years. After a pint, I had to run. I wanted to go into the stadium a bit early and soak up the atmosphere. As I walked towards Anfield, it was an incredible feeling. I've been waiting for this for so long, a childhood dream that became an adult dream that was finally being realized. Here it was ... and I was smiling as if I'd just won the lottery. I stopped and bought a scarf - how else was I going to sing You'll Never Walk Alone with the 40,000 other Liverpool fans? I passed the gates and there was the statue of Shanks, the mythical manager. A quick picture, and I started walking with Ian towards the gate. I was in footy heaven.

We started walking up the stairs towards the pitch and I caught a glimpse of the green grass. I started smiling like a little child again. As I walked in, I saw the Liverpool lads warming up and the famous Kop. I was actually there ... Anfield. I sat down, and started staring, filming and taking photos. I was on cloud nine and it was only 30 minutes before kick off! As the clock ticked down to kick off, the players walked onto the pitch. A minute of silence. Gary Speed, a fantastic player in his day and the current manager of Wales, had committed suicide in the morning. Anfield was silent. You could hear a pin drop. The whistle blows, and the famous anthem starts ... You'll never walk alone. Goosebumps ... I have sung this song many times with the fans, but it was always in front of a TV monitor or the PC, but now I was singing with 40,000 Reds. "When you walk through a storm ..." "Walk on with hope in your heart ..." It was special. The whistle interrupts the high ... kick off!

The first twenty five minutes were very frustrating. Liverpool gave Man City far too much room, and in the process, the back four was harassed continually. It felt like only a matter of time really, and City duly obliged with a Vincent Kompany goal off a corner. "Great," I thought to myself, "Let's hope we can find a way to stay in this." Before I even had a chance to finish my next thought, Charlie Adam had equalized thanks to a wicked deflecion. 1-1. Game on! That goal changed the momentum of the game. From then on, Liverpool were on top and creating chance after chance. A few minutes later, we all jumped thinking 2-1 but Joe Hart produced a great save off Adam after some great work from Dirk Kuyt & Luis Suarez. A few more half chances, and it's half time. Lucas, the much maligned Brazilian, has been dominant. Our defense has been strong. We're on top here, and there's a sense that we're about to hand City their first loss this season in the league. What a great 45 minutes - I'm loving every minute of this.

The second half kicks off. The first 30 minutes are ok - with neither side managing to dominate. It's back and forth, with a few half chances but neither keeper is troubled. Kuyt seems a shadow of the player he was last year - either bereft of confidence, or on one of his regular 2-3 month slumps. The first real chance for Liverpool in the 2nd half comes around the 80th minute, a great ball from Jordan Henderson finds Stuart Downing. His shot (or cross?) is hit brilliantly but misses the net and the onrushing Kuyt. Downing has had an ok game, but the amount of money we've spent on him, you'd want a goal or an assist every few games. He's yet to register one, though that was close. The last 10 minutes are looking tense for both clubs, but it swings Liverpool's way with a second yellow for Mario Balotelli. He's a nutter, but a player I've loved since his days at Inter. It may be harsh, but Liverpool fans are all too happy to boo him off. The last few minutes are going to be great!

The game picks up. Suarez, on a nice link up with Henderson, forces Hart into a great save. Big Andy Carroll is now on the pitch. As the fans sense a late winner, City almost hit us on the counter with a great run by Edin Dzeko leaving David Silva one on one with Pepe Reina. Reina comes out so fast that Silva hesitates, and by the time he shoots, 3 Liverpool players await the shot on the line and clear without much commotion. Three minutes added on. The seconds are ticking away, and I'm hoping for a miracle to end this great day. Great cross from GlenJo, Carroll gets a head on it - and another brilliant save from Joe Hart, extending to his left. Suarez gets the rebound, and Hart keeps it out again, with Downing's follow up effort booted over the bar. The whistle blows. It's over.

A great game, but I left absolutely gutted. 1-1? We should have won. With my voice almost gone, Ian and I started discussing the game. Pity, a real pity. The result wasn't what I wanted, but the last seven hours were. Seeing the city that has been a part of me for almost 25 years, meeting mates and watching the mighty Reds at Anfield in one day? Sheesh, very few non-family events can compare to this experience. As we made our way back down to Leicester, I told Ian I'd be back. You can't do this just once ...

For more photos, click here (they include pictures from Liverpool's game at Stamford Bridge - an experience which I hope to write about in the next few weeks).

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