I didn’t really celebrate the fact that Frank and I were going to make our soccer game in Liverpool until we started our descent into Manchester, which happened to be when our plane was right above Liverpool. True, some things could happen that might prevent us from making it in, but all the major hurdles had been cleared.
I made it to the airport on time (left an hour earlier than usual). Our plane made it into JFK. Our plane was all patched up. We had a full complement of crew members. There was no inclement weather. Those are the most likely things to screw up a trip.
Of course the most definite way to assure a cancellation or diversion is to actually vocalize the fact that you have plans in whatever city you’re going to. Then you’re screwed. You tell the crew you have dinner plans in Vegas that night, you’re going to end up in Sacramento.
Once we got up in the air I felt pretty good, but once we landed I felt fantastic. We got to the Arora Hotel at around 8am and my alarm was set for 12:45pm in order to meet in the lobby at 1pm. I figured we’d get to Piccadilly Station at around 1:20pm, jump on a train at 1:30pm, arrive in Liverpool at 2:30pm, get to Anfield by cab at 3pm, and have plenty of time to shop at the club store before kick off at 4pm against the undefeated league leaders Manchester City, the New York Yankees of the Premiership with all the money they spend. I’m only slightly worried about the crowd on our train from Manchester to Liverpool. Don’t want any incidents with the away fans!
I tried to sleep, but I’m just too excited. I’m like a kid at Christmas. Or it could be that I’m not as tired as I should be because I didn’t have to work at all on the flight over and spent most of the time sitting in a First Class seat sleeping, editing photos, or trying to kill the baby roach that insisted on hanging around seat 1F.
When I heard the church bells chime at 10am, I knew sleep wasn’t going to happen. I killed a few minutes by putting in all the UK numbers I had into my new UK phone. Putting those two numbers in took about four minutes. I tested both out and immediately got responses from the recipients. Ok, now what to do with myself?
I got dressed and decided to take a walk since the early morning gloom had given way to bright blue skies. I proudly put on my Liverpool jersey and wisely covered it up with my puffy winter jacket. I grabbed my camera, the nice one, and took off towards Salford, not knowing exactly how far it was. I wanted to see the iconic Salford Lads Club from The Smiths lore.
When I came to my first Starbucks I jumped in and utilized their free internet. I got a white chocolate something-or-other to ensure I kept up the energy, though it made my stomach hurt from sweetness. I caught up on all my games of Words with Friends and sent WhatsApp messages to friends in Texas, Australia, and London. I looked up how far away Salford was and decided to just go to the Manchester Cathedral instead. I hear the bells chime eleven times en route. It’s a beautiful day and not a cloud in the sky. The red brick buildings were glowing like blood in the sun.
After a quick spin around the grounds, I started heading in whichever direction looked most interesting. I never really got to anything of note, but it was fun to explore. I stumbled across a random little vintage clothing store and went in. As much as I would’ve loved to have purchased something just so I could say, “Oh I got this at a hole-in-the-wall thrift store in Manchester,” there really wasn’t anything I wanted, at least not for those prices. Fail.
I came across the Hard Rock Cafe which normally wouldn’t even catch my attention, but the Manchester one might have some decent stuff inside. Maybe they have memorabilia from The Smiths, Stone Roses, Charlatans, Happy Mondays, Joy Division, Oasis, James, or any of the other iconic Mancunian bands. I don’t go in though.
I got some good pics of the Christmas market and of random buildings, but nothing to get super excited about. My photo shoot two days ago in South Kensington London was much more productive. While I’m trying to figure out which way my hotel is, I hear the bells chime twelve times. I pass by China Town and by the Monkey Bar. I’ve never been there but I know it’s very close to the hotel. Within five minutes I’m back in my room. Fifty minutes before I meet Frank in the lobby. I’m killing time now going between the two music video channels, both of which are having Top Christmas songs countdowns. Wham is on now.
The plan is to catch the last train from Liverpool back to Piccadilly at 11pm but more realistically I think we’ll be getting the first train in the morning, the 3am, especially if we win. Last time Chuck and his mates took us out after a game we ended up break dancing on a lighted disco floor at 3am.
Well…. we made it to Liverpool with no problem, even though we had to stand the entire way on the train. Thankfully most of the riders were wearing Liverpool red rather than City blue. When we got off the train Frank noticed Elvis Costello sitting at the Costa coffee cafe in the station. He looked exactly how you’d expect him to look. I took that as a good sign for today’s game. Not sure why.
We go out and join the queue for the cabs and did our customary thing of looking for other people in Liverpool jerseys and asking them if they wanted to share a cab to Anfield Stadium. Elvis was our first choice. We found a couple of Kuwaiti guys instead. I’d never met anyone from Kuwait but they were really friendly and hated Manchester City and their owner, billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zaved Al Nahvan of the UAE. They paid for our cab and wouldn’t let us chip in, very nice indeed.
We did a little shopping before the game, I bought a bootleg shirt from the hole in the wall place for six pounds, as is my custom. Frank buys stuff from the official club store which is way more expensive but the money does go to the club, so he’s doing his part funding the purchases of thirty-five million pound gangly, clumsy strikers that look like soft-core porn stars you see on Cinemax. (see above)
Our seats were in the famous Kop end of the stadium. The name comes from the German “Kopf,” meaning “Head.” Back in the day there were no seats, it was standing room only and it got very tight in there. And rowdy. And loud. And sometimes dangerous. This is what The Kop was like during the Beatles heyday, before the game even started. The Kop can be very intimidating to visiting teams and the Kopites are what the Oakland Raider fans in the Black Hole or the Bleacher Creatures in New York strive to be. They don’t come close.
Nowadays it’s a little more civil but we relished the chance to take our place in history as official Kopites. Once they played “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and we had a sing along with 45,000 other fans in red, Frank finally admitted that we’d made it.
The game was good, bad, and ugly. Manchester dominated the first half and scored first. The boisterous crowd fell deathly silent in the 30th minute, except for a tumultuous roar coming from the far corner where everyone was wearing a girly shade of blue. Somehow Manchester scored off of a corner kick, I think it got redirected off of a shoulder but no one could argue that they deserved to be up. It looked as if we’d never even get a shot off, much less score a goal, but somehow a horrible shot got deflected in the net by a Manchester defender and we went into halftime tied. At that point I would’ve been thrilled for the draw against the undefeated Blues.
The second half was a completely different story. We dominated possession and finally started getting some chances. The best part about that was that Liverpool was shooting at the goal we were sitting directly behind. We had the best seats in the house. Manchester couldn’t stop our midfielders but we never quite finished our attacks. Manchester brought on their highly controversial Italian striker Balotelli, who’s as famous for his wonder-goals as he is for his bizarre haircuts, temper tantrums, and setting his house on fire by shooting off fireworks from inside.
He’s only twenty-one and has enormous potential but his temper is legendary and now opposing players know how to push his buttons. He came on halfway through the second half and eighteen minutes later he got his second yellow card and was sent to the showers. I’m not sure how much he got paid for those 18 minutes but I’m sure it’s too much. He broke down a door in the dressing room out of frustration, another fine is coming his way I’m sure.
Even with a man advantage for the last ten minutes, Liverpool couldn’t quite get one in the net. That was mainly because the Manchester goalie, who is also the England keeper, played out of his mind and pulled some amazing saves out of his ass. When the final whistle blew both teams were somewhat pleased with the draw. It was a fantastic game to watch nonetheless.
That should’ve been the end of a long day but it was just the start. We met my friend Chuck and Frank’s twizzler-loving friend Aaron after the game by the famous Shankly statue, and made our way back in town, stripping down every minute of the game and what we should’ve done differently. I thought they should have brought on Craig Bellamy but it turns out that he told the coach that he was too upset to play because his dear friend Gary Speed committed suicide that day. Understandable.
Aaron had to catch a train down to London so we had a couple of quick pints at the White Star pub in Lime Street Station. We checked, but Elvis had left the building. Chuck’s mate Doug showed up and then another guy Steve. A night for the bulls. Frank and I suggested we find a cheaper place, maybe somewhere with food, but they only listened to half of our request.
We went to the student bar, The Flute, but it was not happening. Sunday night is not a good night for that place. We had our obligatory one drink while we watched Barcelona get shut out on television and then walked down to another pub.
More discussion of the squad followed as well as another break-down of how each and ever player performed and who the ultimate striking partner for Suarez should be. We all thought Lucas was simple brilliant as a defensive midfielder. The experts agreed and named him Man of the Match.
Frank and I begged for food and we finally got our wish, a dirty pizza slash kebab joint where you could get a regular pizza for just 3.50. Not a slice mind you, an entire small pizza. We super-sized to the large, which was only 5 quid. We inhaled it and then continued our journey down the road to Hannah’s pub. Hannah’s had a power outrage so everything was dark except for a single candle on each table and a few along the bar. It looked too much like a seance so we took off for a much livelier place, the Shipping Forecast, via the Swan, of course.
More drinks came and I was struggling to keep up. I’m always the slowest drinker with Chuck and his mates and I really should know better than getting into a round with them. I’m usually half way done with my pint when they’re ready for the next round so they’ll tease me until I chug what’s left. Next time I really need to do bottles rather than pints. It’s only slightly less beer, but that little bit might save my ass.
For some reason someone ordered Strawberry beer, so there were glasses of that in front of just Frank and I. I’m guessing the guys ordered those as a joke, but we drank them, like the well-trained monkeys that we are. I think at the end of the night I was trying to introduce Liverpool to Pickleback shots but no one was onboard. They were cool with the shot of Jameson, but skeptical of the pickle juice chaser. I felt like Marty McFly when he was trying to explain his guitar solo to the horrified kids at the 1955 Enchantment Under the Sea Dance.
The last train is at 11pm so we head back to the train station at the last second and they throw us on. The train was packed but we managed to find seats. The carriage was full of drunk Man City fans and they were having the time of their lives. They were still drinking, smoking pot, dancing around, and singing Manchester songs. I tried my best to sleep, but every time I closed my eyes, everything started spinning. I hate to think how bad I’d be if we didn’t have that pizza.
Frank wasn’t feeling well at all, he looked green and his eyes were glazing over. I couldn’t look at him without feeling more sick. That hour train ride seemed like seventeen. I only have two good memories of the train ride. One was of one of the drunk Mancs trying to climb into the overhead storage rack and falling out onto the floor with a massive thud. The other was going by where the infamous Hacienda night club/live music venue used to be. I was excited to see that. Madchester.
I don’t remember us getting home but we must’ve stopped by Tesco Express because I have a bag from there in my room and some random half-eaten snacks. I think I fell right asleep and even though that 8am wake-up call came way too early, I don’t feel that bad. Out of all the nights I’ve spent with Chuck since I met him in 1999, this is BY FAR the best I’ve ever felt the morning after, only slightly nauseous and a headache on the side.
I took some trusty-rusty Advil gel caps and downed a bottle of water so I think the headache will be done by the time I shower, shave, and watch the highlights of the game on the telly. Having a freshly shaven face gives the illusion to the passengers that I was a good boy the night before and they’re getting me at my best.
It wasn’t the ideal result for the team yesterday, but the night was just fantastic. The best part was that I got to have it on a layover so I’m getting paid for all of it. It’s trips like this that really make me praise my job and wonder why I’d ever give it up to do anything else.