Since my earliest recorded history, I have been a sports nut. I followed both college and professional sports and knew my stuff. At the very pinnacle of my interest, I could recite lineups from the World Series going back to the 1950’s. Madison Square Garden had been a regular haunt. The same for Fenway Park, Boston Garden, Connie Mack Stadium, Franklin Field, Shea Stadium, and the Penn Palestra. I had even been to the Moose Lodge in Trenton New Jersey to watch professional wrestling. Bobo Brazil performed his famous coco-butt. There was a a quantity of fake blood. We screamed our approval.
It was only natural that I became a bit loopy about my likes and dislikes. I scorned golf, hated Texas football, and really loathed soccer. My cadre of sports geeks felt the same way. No one could believe that soccer was called football in Europe. That only added to our disdain. As sports fans, we were ugly Americans.
In 1991, a work assignment took me to the UK. We were opening a printing plant and I was the training director. The site was in Bromborough, located in an industrial estate on the River Mersey. It was just across the water from Liverpool. Yes, that Liverpool.
On the first day, I met the “lads”. They were all from Liverpool and didn’t speak English. At least not English that I understood. But they laughed a lot and I sensed that I could work with them. At the end of the day, we found our shared language in a nearby pub.
Over pints, they defined themselves as “Scousers” and spoke in a dialect unique to Liverpool. By paying attention, it became easier to understand. Three pints helped. That seemed to be a linguistic sweet spot. Understanding tapered off quickly from that point.
The lads were big fans of chatting, darts, and football. Less so of working. Unfortunately, our printing presses were late to arrive. We covered the basics of graphic arts, set up workstations, and created our dart throwing area. The earnestness required for the assignment began to wan. I was becoming a de facto Scouser.
Soccer was a topic of sharp disagreement. They argued for the speed, finesse, tradition, and blood rivalries. I was unconvinced but finally agreed to attend a match in Liverpool. They bribed me with a steak and kidney pie and two points of Whitbread Ale.
On Thursday we received our pre-work. Chants and songs were traditionally directed at the opposing sides. They changed based on the opponent. These diddies were imaginative, vulgar, and hilarious. I grew up a Philadelphia sports fan. Obscene taunts were old hat.
This was the era of British soccer hooliganism. Getting to the grounds required a military – type campaign. First, you had to evade marauding fans from the of opposing team. An armored personnel vehicle was in the center of each intersection. Pubs were closed for miles around. Surprisingly, everyone was quite chipper. That old Scouser mentality was on full display.
The stands were packed. Seats were incredibly narrow. It didn’t matter, no one was going to sit. Fans from Coventry were packed in and surrounded by yellow-jacketed bobbies. This was Yankees – Red Sox on speed.
Suddenly, things quieted down and music started. It was The Gerry and the Pacemakers song, “You Will Never Walk Alone”. Immediately 50,000 invoices joined. There was a pulsating ocean of red banners, flags, and scarfs. No printed lyrics needed. It was the anthem of Liverpool.
The match was extraordinary. I was surrounded by fans who were knowledgeable, sober, and vociferous in their hatred for Coventry. They sang, chanted, and cheered each Liverpool attack. A missed opportunity evoked a collective moan. They were of a single voice. Mine was included.
No one left after the final whistle. Players saluted the fans and exchanged jerseys with the other team. I was struck by the collective passion of fans, coaches, and players. The lads were pleased. They had won a transatlantic battle.
A few days later I was at my local pub. Paddy, the innkeeper, asked about the trip to the match. A number of patrons leaned in to hear my response. I bought the house a round. How else could I admit defeat in a room full of Scousers?
I have a new passion for Liverpool FC. They play brilliant football and the action never stops. The fans chant, wave banners and hurl taunts at the other side. They still never sit. They’re my people and I do get a wee bit weepy when they sing our song.
I wish the lads could see me now.
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