A pilgrimage to Anfield that starts in the Sandhills of North Carolina is indeed a labour of love. The sheer distance between the two destinations is considerable. My journey to Liverpool in order to watch the Merseyside Derby versus arch rivals Everton began with a flight from Raleigh Durham Airport to Philadelphia. Three thousand plus miles later and one transatlantic flight down, I was landing in the Emerald Isle in Dublin.
This is the city I was born and raised in and it was here that my passion for Liverpool was nurtured. Dublin, and Ireland as a whole, contains a large following for the Reds and weekly short trips across the Irish Sea were and are still very much a part of many Irish Reds’ lives. Over the following two days in Liverpool I was to hear many accents attending the match, Irish being one of the most prominent of the global Liverpool support.
Short notice trips equate to having to wing it, and a little inventiveness saw me get lucky with a half-empty flight from Dublin to Birmingham (all the flights to Liverpool and the close by Manchester were full). From Birmingham a train to Liverpool Lime Street station was in order whereby I met lots of Liverpool fans who were travelling home to see the game.
Tickets for games at Anfield are sold out ninety per cent of the time. If you travel early, sometimes you can get some resales at the ticketing offices, however for me it was trust in a fellow overseas fan, who now lives in the Liverpool area but couldn’t make the game, to loan me their season ticket.
Eventually, I was successful and the Holy Grail of a match ticket was secured. The atmosphere locally before the game was tense and at the same time mostly good-natured, with both sets of fans mingling and having some great banter.
The game itself was a terrific night for Liverpool fans: the home team tore into Everton from the offset and were rewarded with two late first half goals. Everton rightfully had Ramiro Funes Mori sent off for a nasty tackle on the excellent Divock Origi. The seriousness of the injury to Origi was apparent as Lucas and others gestured frantically to the medical staff to rush to his aid. Ten man Everton were then ruthlessly put to the sword and in truth it could have been six or seven-nil.
The celebratory post-game mood of all Reds fans made for a long night in one of the local pubs. I chose to go to the Albert pub, a traditional Liverpool supporters’ pub in the shadow of Anfield. It was in here that the global appeal—something that was not as present when I was a younger fan—that Liverpool has amassed over the boom years of the English Premier League was very much in evidence.
Old Guard local Liverpool fans, veterans no doubt of trips to Istanbul, Rome, Goodison, Old Trafford and great Anfield nights amassed in the upper tiered back of the pub. In the middle and front was a mix of locals and internationals. There was great camaraderie between locals and non-locals as Liverpool hymns were sung deep into the night.
I met Reds fans from Canada, USA, Indonesia, Philippines, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Germany and of course Ireland. Judging by the fanatical interest, especially from internationals, in attending Liverpool games, the new upper tier of the stadium, that impressively dwarfs the Anfield area, will be sold out in record time.
Liverpool is indeed a religion and its supporters are its congregation. Anfield is the temple and the sermons are provided by the players. Jurgen Klopp and his gregarious style have instilled renewed belief that the Reds are on the rise. It will be an interesting journey to watch, support and write about, and of course a journey that will be never walked alone.