EVERYONE HAS THAT family member whom they love, but shouldn’t trust. And every fan has that person who invigorated their passion for sports. In my family, my uncle Flloyd wears both hats. On a trip to Liverpool in April 2014, Flloyd, a veteran European soccer watcher, assured us we could get game-day tickets to see the Reds play Manchester City. But Liverpool isn’t an ordinary club, and this wasn’t an ordinary day—it was the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. There wasn’t a ticket to be had for less than £200, and stadium officials were warning spectators (in the most polite British tone) not to buy anything on the secondary market because they were probably fake. No one was giving up their tickets.
Since gaining entry clearly wasn’t a realistic option, it seemed that a bar with a television was the next best thing. After surveying a few, I made the executive decision that we—me, my brother, my girlfriend and Flloyd—would go to the Albert, directly across from Anfield’s front gates.
MORE SPORTSNET ROAD TRIPS:
At the entrance, we were asked to make a donation to the local youth soccer league. Two mothers propped the door open, greeting us with cut eye before we dropped our loose cash into their bin. I suppose the thinking was if you can pay to drink Guinness inside, you can support the future stars outside.
To get into a bar to watch Liverpool in Liverpool, you have to arrive at least four hours early. If you manage to score a seat, it’s rendered useless when the game starts because you can’t see any of the many screens from such a low angle with hundreds of people standing around you. Drinks and cash are passed overhead. There is no chance of making it to the bar yourself, so you rely on the guy next to you to make the transaction.
Annoyance breeds easily in tight quarters, but the vibe in the Albert was entirely jubilant. When Raheem Sterling scored for Liverpool, it seemed like the ground was moving beneath our feet. “Come on, that boy is going to star for England!” a complete stranger screamed in my ear as he wrapped his arms around me. I jumped along with him awkwardly, like a baby mimicking his parents. I enjoyed it, but felt some guilt, like I was an imposter. None of it meant as much to me as it meant to them.
There were honeymooners from Hanover, businessmen from Dubai, a bachelor party from Dublin. All had made the trip despite the fact that they could have watched the game in their hometowns, in their local bars. But the scene was a natural resource only to be found in England. No duplication was possible.
My uncle’s bad advice was a blessing. Being in that bar helped me learn what Liverpool Football Club really means. It means mourning the losses of the past while sharing the faith that wins will come. As the final whistle sounded—a 3–2 win for Liverpool—the songs began. “You probably won’t believe us, we are going to win the title” echoed through the bar. Arms locked, fans swayed side by side. But the song was wrong—I did believe them. Their conviction left me no other choice.
This story originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Sportsnet magazine.