We met a group of young fans—some were just out for the scenes and didn’t really care about the football—that had congregated near us at the north end of the Sandon’s back garden, which was too far away from the big screen to actually enjoy the game. About twenty minutes before kickoff, the other group snaked their way through the crowd to get a better view of the big screen that had been bussed in from out of town, Amanda, Jeremy, and I followed, exploiting the gaps they were leaving in their wake. We made it to about four or five rows back from the fence protecting the bus from the crowd. It was as close as we could get.
There was a bit of a hiccup at the start of the match. The big screen was running on wifi or some sort of internet service and all of our cell phones were sucking up the bandwidth. After being instructed to turn our phones to airplane mode—a first outside of actually being on an airplane—the game booted up although we missed the first few minutes.
I could try to analyze the game here, but that’s not the point. They did win 2-0. But the real amazing moment was that all too brief 21 minutes when Liverpool stood precariously balanced at the top of the table. Sadio Mane scored for Liverpool in the 17th minute. But in a game much farther south between Manchester City and Brighton, one in which every Liverpool fan wanted Brighton to steal a point, Glenn Murray, Brighton’s journeyman striker, nodded home a corner kick to put Brighton up in the 27th minute.
The fans in the ground had started making some noise, which led all of us to believe that Liverpool had scored a second and for some reason our feed was delayed. As phones came out and off airplane mode there was a sudden realization that 29 years of waiting might actually come to an end.
Pandemonium. Scenes. Shouts. Screams. Ecstasy.
Beer was thrown, smoke flares were set off, fans quickly became friendly enough to embrace. An odd, profusely sweating chap with a Barcelona hat on backwards and wearing a heavyish leather jacket was giving everyone in his proximity double high fives. And this young lad with an Irish accent—or maybe it was Scouse, I don’t know—was nearly inconsolable. I’m not sure he was alive the last time Liverpool won a top division title.
“Are you okay,” I asked after we hugged in celebration, my hand still on his shoulder.
“No, I’m not,” he said laughing, possibly even holding back some tears, doubling over with his hands on his knees.
We all had some tears, if I’m honest. It was hard not to.
But less than a minute later, City had equalized. And ten minutes after that, they’d gone ahead. This was the exact scenario that my friend Jeremy and I had wanted to avoid. Brighton scoring first would only upset City even more and push them into a higher gear. They went on to win 4-1. Liverpool’s slim title hopes were dashed.
As both games wrapped up and the coverage switched from the Liverpool players lap of honor around Anfield to City’s trophy celebration down in Brighton, the inevitable beers started flying towards the imported big screen. Some missed. Some landed square in the heart of the screen. Fans cheered. It was an understandable frustration. Had Liverpool lost because of a bad call or egregious error by a match referee, the response would have likely been far worse. But Liverpool did everything they could—they lost once, had a points haul that would win the title in all but the last two years, and still managed to finish second place.
When we arrived on Merseyside the afternoon before, there was this overwhelming sense of jubilation, hopeful optimism, the idea that Liverpool fans were within 90 minutes of seeing their team get their hands on the league trophy for the first time in 29 years. My wife and I felt it on our walk Sunday morning. And in the bowels of the Sandon and more so as we emerged in the back beer garden, it was even more palpable. There was a buzzing a sense of accomplishment, that whatever happened, Liverpool had finally arrived back at the pinnacle of English football.
Maybe it was that feeling that somehow managed to mute what might normally have been a much more destructive response to having to delay their celebration for another year. But as we left the Sandon and headed toward Anfield Road to find Jeremy a match program, the entire atmosphere felt more deflated. As fans were finally filing out of the stadium after applauding their team for the best season Liverpool has had in ages, their facial expressions told a bigger story.
Dejection, confusion, heartbroken, but all with their heads held high. Not just because of the points total, but also because Liverpool’s season isn’t over. In two short weeks, Liverpool will travel to Madrid to face off against Tottenham in the Champion’s League Final—LFC’s second in a row.
Unlucky in our own pursuit for a program, we did manage to find much needed sustenance at a wonderfully named take-away counter. Wok On is exactly what you would think it is—a greasy spoon, serving asian noodles and rice, doing a thriving business on match days. It hit the spot, six hours of beer, sun, and only a smattering of water and our stomachs were engaged in a debate only the British Parliament could surpass.
My wife called it quits after the food, though. Jeremy and I spent the rest of the evening bar hopping. A quick beer at the Park Pub, just across the street from the Kop at Anfield. Then, on the advice of my wife, we headed down to the Flat Iron, where we got the last pints of Guinness before the owner cut off all the taps and ordered the bar staff to serve bottles only. To be fair, they’d run out of everything on tap…or were nearly there by the time we walked in.
We finished the night at the Arkles. Most of match day crowd had died down and gone home by that time. But when we entered it was still buzzing filled mostly with employees from the stadium. Plus they weren’t experiencing any beer shortages.
Jeremy and I struck up a conversation with Walter, a security guard at Anfield. He doesn’t get to actually see the games or participate in the chants/songs, because his job requires that his attention is elsewhere. But he does record the games.
“If we lose, I delete it. But I try to watch all the other games,” Walter told us.
He was a big fan of San Miguel, which is a popular spanish lager in the UK. We get it here, in DC, but its not as wide spread as it is there. We, also, found out that he supported the New York Yankees and does his best to catch as many games as possible on TV, but they were often too late. When we told him that the Yankees were coming to London, he seemed excited. But he didn’t act like he’d be able to make it. Before he left, Walter invited us to a few bars the next day to watch some bands play, which we declined since we had to leave for London early in the morning.
By the time we left Arkles, we had made several other friends, seen one person escorted out of the bar, one drink thrown on a patron, one person puke and then rally almost immediately, heard several renditions of the Bobby Firmino song, and at least one Sweet Caroline sing along.
When we arrived back at our AirBnB, we were famished but all of the chippies and restaurants had closed by that point. So we ordered Dominos, which is a realtively easy task rendered a bit more difficult once you realize you’re in a different country. What if the driver needs directions to your location? What if they need to call you? Will the pizza even be worth it?
Not being a Domino’s fan, it was a tough decision for me to make. But it wasn’t bad. And after an evening of beers, I’m pretty certain anything would have worked.
I feel asleep serenaded by the sound of Jeremy watching the Tick, or whatever it was called, on Netflix.
It was tough waking up honestly. Not because I was hung over…the hydration tactic worked, apparently…or maybe it was the pizza, but because I wasn’t ready to leave. Alas, we had an 11:45 train to London from Liverpool’s Lime Street Station.
The weekend in Liverpool was an amazing experience. And as cliche as it sounds, I’m already planning my next trip back. Hopefully, in late September-early October and this time for a little longer than two days. I’ll be back on Merseyside in no time.
David is the founder of DC Soccer Digest. He lives in Washington, DC. You can follow him on twitter at @ShamsWriter.