My Anfield of Dreams: Match Day
by rick olivares
It was almost perfect.
Steven Gerrard scored off a set piece in the 65th minute. Liverpool were clearly the superior side. Anfield was rocking; ready to celebrate its first win after absorbing two consecutive losses.
However, with a few minutes left in the match, the Reds mysteriously played a holding pattern; merely defending without pressuring desperate Everton. Adam Lallana was the lone figure in red harassing their blue-shirted cross-street rivals into sending the ball back to goalkeeper Tim Howard for a reset, delaying any last minute thrust.
Then Everton forward Romelu Lukaku was able to push deep into the right side. For the most part of the match, Liverpool’s left back, Alberto Moreno, along with centreback Dejan Lovren, had been able to stymie the Belgian forward but a missed tackle allowed Everton one last dangerous set piece. The cross into the box was long but Everton’s Aiden McGeady was able to track it down and keep the ball alive.
In the past few minutes, Liverpool looked vulnerable on defense as they gave Everton space to fire at goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. The ball found its way to Blues defender and captain Phil Jagielka whose thunderbolt from outside the box punched the back of the net.
Everton’s Steven Naismith ran close to the Kop and punched his fist in the air; a sign of defiance towards Anfield’s most rabid supporters.
Several Reds crumpled to the pitch in anguish. Moments later, referee Martin Atkinson blew his whistle to end the first Merseyside Derby and left Liverpool still in search of its third win of the new league season. Liverpool’s last win at home was the season opener to Southampton. Their last win in the league was an away match last August 31 at Tottenham. In six matches, they only accrued seven points.
“Good game; bad result,” pronounced the man who sat behind me. “I hope it didn’t spoil your Anfield experience?”
It put a slight damper on my feelings, but no; it didn’t spoil my experience.
In Liverpool for the first time in my life, the past four days have been nothing short of magical. I have to constantly pinch myself and wonder if it’s a dream. The city that I learned so much about through songs of the Beatles and later on through its football team… well, I was now walking it streets and to borrow the words from the Fab Four’s “Penny Lane,” everything “is in my ears and in my eyes.”
I was staying at the Britannia Adelphi Hotel that is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The hotel is famous for hosting the passengers of the ill-fated Titanic right before it set sail from Liverpool to New York City. The venue is also the site of the annual Beatles convention. And another footnote to the hotel’s history, the late John Lennon’s parents, Alf and Julia met on its steps before walking up to Mount Pleasant to get married on the 3rd of December in 1938.
The Beatles Taxi Tour I took was worth every penny. The Beatles were my first musical heroes and this reconnected me to them. The songs took greater meaning as I saw their childhood homes and the clubs where they first performed either as the Quarrymen or the Beatles.
The Anfield Stadium Tour brought me to every part of the world famous football field that had seen so many historic matches and championships. To sit on the bench inside their dressing room where all its players listened to their managers and laced up their boots for matches, I tried to recreate with my mind’s eye everything I could possibly imagine.
When we hit the pitch, I was overcome with a wave of emotions. “I’m here,” I said aloud.
“Aye,” said Ian our tour guide. He put a hand on my shoulder and said nothing more. Words weren’t enough to describe my feelings. And I am a writer. But he knew what I was feeling.
But that hardly prepared me for Match Day at Anfield. Saturday was the official 223rd fixture between the two teams (the tenants have won 88, the visitors with 66 while 68 of them have ended in a draw). I hardly slept a wink and arrived a good four hours before kick-off. I wanted to soak up the match day atmosphere with the impromptu booths set outside selling a variety of unofficial club merchandise, the fans gathering outside for pictures, for a smoke, for a song, and for camaraderie.
There were many first timers – a group from Denmark, a father and his daughter from South Africa, as well as fans from South Korea and India to name a few.
And me, of course. I held up a sign, “Came from Manila to watch the Cap’n & the Reds play. To see a Balotelli goal, 3 pts. and good memories going away. YNWA!”
One man went up to me to shake my hand.
Later on when I went to Lounge 7 (I was in Anfield on a hospitality package), that same man entered and shook some more people’s hands. I then found out that he was David Johnson who grew up a Liverpool fan, played for Everton and then eventually with the Reds. He is the only man in the history of the two clubs to score against either team.
Experiencing Lounge 7 with its five-course buffet was like fattening me up for the experience. When I finally took my seat (Lower Centenary Stand, Row #4 and seat #0233), I thought I had died and gone to football heaven. I was close to the Kop and a stone’s throw away from the left corner. This is where the team did their warm-ups. And Anfield it seemed was like one big pub with everyone your mate and launching into song after fight song.
This was the sixth time I was watching them team live (all exhibition matches on) and so far, I am 6-0. A few months ago, I saw Steven Gerrard, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Mario Balotelli, Dejan Lovren, Phil Jagielka, Romelu Lukaku, and Tim Howard on television for the World Cup. Now they were playing right in front of me.
I teared up when the 45,000 (save for the section reserved for Everton fans) rose and sang the club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” There is greater meaning over here.
I sang along with the crowd, “Ste Gerrard Gerrard. He’ll bust ‘em from 40 yards. He’s Scouse and he’s f***ing hard. Ste Gerrard Gerrard.” And scant minutes later, the Captain scored from a set piece and it seemed that a win would crown my Liverpool/Anfield experience memorable (and I can now say that I have seen the club on three continents, North America, Asia, and now, Europe).
Jagielka was determined to be the party pooper. Two days earlier, Everton’s captain lamented, “I’ve been desperate to win every time we’ve been to Anfield, we all have been. As far as memories go, I haven’t had the best ones but I want to create some positive ones now.”
And he turned out to be Nostradamus.
Technically, it wasn’t a win for them. But as the fan said, “good game; bad result.” Football, especially a derby, are very unpredictable. And cruel too.
We shook hands and I broadly smiled. He knew how I felt.
All throughout my stay, the people of the city have been very gracious, polite, helpful, and downright hospitable. They are traits Liverpudians are proud of and I have only good words for them and the place. I have no idea if I will be able to return. It sure cost a lot of money to put this together; one I had thought about and planned seemingly forever.
It took a confluence of events and movements for the stars to align – a ticket to a “Class A match,” some money to spend, a break from work, and good sunny weather during a time of the year that is normally cold and sees a lot of rain. Draw or not, these days are some of the best of my life and will be happy thoughts I can return to time and again.
In my Anfield of dreams.
THANK YOU TO BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE PHILIPPINES ASIF AHMAD, MS. NIMII AND ANNE OF STANDARD CHARTERED, AND LIVERPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB. THANK YOU FOR AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE.