Eric: Surrounded By Football

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Bram and I couldn’t help but do a bit of writing about our first two days in England. Before heading off to London for the 2013 FA Community Shield at Wembley Stadium, as well as touring a number of historic grounds, we had 48 hours in Liverpool to unpack our bags and put our feet up for a bit. At least, that was the plan. Who would have thought that 2 days in which we didn’t visit a single stadium could have such an impact on the way we perceived supporter passion? I believe I can speak for the both of us on this point, as we both mentioned repeatedly how overjoyed we were with It’s Football Day’s introduction to the English football lifestyle.

Cue the football-related madness!

We landed in Manchester Airport, and got a ride from there to West Derby, Liverpool. Inside the airport, I coincidentally met a guy who my dad played football with for a number of years. Then, since it was my great-uncle who picked us up, our first conversation as we stepped outside the airport was about the most recent updates in the Luis Suarez transfer saga. In the car, a selection of local papers was waiting for us, littered with pictures and articles about the ongoing pre-season preparations as well as the transfer window. Then, when we got to the house we were staying in, we enjoyed a full English breakfast while watching Sky Sports News.

As if that weren’t enough football all at once (in less than 2 hours mind you), my great-aunt got in from taking her young grandson for a walk. On her way home, she passed by Liverpool’s training ground, Melwood, and said a man out front had mentioned the  team was training, and was due to leave in 90 minutes or so. Naturally, Bram and I took the five minute walk down the road, and sure enough, the gate opened at 2:30pm. Over the next half hour, the players of Liverpool FC left one-by-one in their expensive cars, most stopping for a few quick pictures and autographs for the fans waiting by the driveway.

Now, it’s worth slowing down for a moment to allow non-football fans a chance to catch up, and Liverpool fans a chance to breathe. Of course, from my standpoint, as a Liverpool supporter, it’s beyond amazing to see the captain Steven Gerrard, the manager Brendan Rodgers, England internationals like Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson, and future stars like Philippe Coutinho, to name a few. It’s a bit hard to comprehend too how something seemingly so foreign back home, was part of this incredibly local community overseas. Walk just five minutes, and you can stand outside the training ground and watch your team practice! In Canada, we’re fortunate enough to get 90 minutes each week on television, yet we just spent four hours watching them training and getting photos with the players.

Now of course, it added something special for me that it was Liverpool FC, but had it been any other professional team, I would have been blown away as well. We had been on the road for two weeks at this point, and walked with a number of different football supporters. This though, was the first time we had the chance to be in the household of football fans, to consume such a quantity of football media, and then to be, in a matter of hours, up close with these players who we’d seen on TV.

This other-worldly perception of professional football was shattered. We were experiencing the supporter culture we had travelled across the Atlantic to discover. We were surrounded by people who work for the weekend just to meet with friends or family to watch their team play. And now, we were at the training complex of a top-flight club, literally in the heart of the suburban community, surrounded on all sides by the homes of their supporters.

As a Liverpool fan, this was surreal, but as a football fan, it really emphasized the regionalism-based pride one can find in their club.  Now, there were some people around there who were a bit dodgy. Like, putting the signed shirt on eBay that evening, dodgy. Then there were of course the hormone-driven teenaged girls whose shrieking could be heard in Manchester when the younger players like Jordan Henderson and Jordon Ibe exited the premises (note the difference in spelling in these players’ first names – their young fans were keen to emphasize this subtlety).

However, there was also a young boy, decked out head to toe in a full Liverpool kit. He seemed shy until a kid in an Everton kit bicycled past the entrance to Melwood; the boy stared the kid down and loudly booed him. This was not an unusual sight; we saw this all over Liverpool, and in many of the other English cities we visited. The older kids wouldn’t necessarily wear full kits, but the love for their home team was still evident.

It was weird though, and maybe a result of us both following the English Premier League a little more closely than other European leagues, but around the cities of these famous stadiums, that inexplainable feeling in the air on football day seemed to be present every day.

This could entirely be a product of the fact that we were staying with family of mine who are lifelong football fans, something we never really experienced prior to our arrival in England, so I naturally won’t overgeneralize by saying this is something you’ll only find in England.

However, more than any other place on our trip, football in England seemed to be more of a lifestyle than a hobby. For us, we couldn’t imagine a better definition of “home”.

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