Liverpool FC Summers: Four Meaningful Trips
Being a Liverpool FC supporter living in America is a different kind of commitment. You have to be an early riser to catch matches on weekend morning, you have to block out your work calendars for Champions League afternoons, and most of all you must seize any opportunity offered to you to see the Reds play if they are ever anywhere near you. Such has been the case for me since 2012 when LFC began their regular pilgrimages to North America for summer preseason matches. Each match, each commute, each experience, all very different and yet all worth it to watch my beloved football club. All of my trips starting in 2012 were with my best mate, and each time a tour was announced we were more excited than the last tour.
My first trip took place in late July of 2012. Liverpool were set to play Spurs on the east coast, a six-hour drive to one of my least favourite places in the world. Baltimore, Maryland is America’s answer to, “Show me your least attractive city.” We got there the day before the match, tried Baltimore’s poor excuse for supposed seafood, watched the London Olympics, and drank Dale’s Pale Ale. The pre-match wasn’t much the day of the match, nothing like LFC experiences today. Brendan Rodgers had been named manager a month prior to the match, and LFC supporters like myself were questioning the role of the likes of Andy Carroll, Fabio Borini, and Raheem Sterling. Carroll and Borini, as was typical of the time at LFC, did little, but Sterling was a stand out on the wing with his pace and attacking. The highlights were little, Gerrard made an appearance after an hour, and Charlie Adam’s poor tackle on Gareth Bale ended his afternoon. The match was hot, over 32 degrees (90), and over 42,000 spectators had little to discuss on their commute home following a 0-0 draw.
In 2014, my distance to travel became a little less as LFC were set to play Olympiakos in Chicago. The venue, Soldier Field, is a well-known stadium for the NFL’s Chicago Bears. The LFC supporters on hand were full of optimism, the team had just come off an EPL campaign that saw them finishing 2nd. The team was also trying to bring in reinforcements and the game saw us featuring new additions Adam Lallana, Lazar Marković, Emre Can, and Rickie Lambert. New signing Dejan Lovren was just signed and not with the team yet, and Rodgers had just been dealt a blow when Loïc Rémy failed his medical to join LFC. Again, new signings aside, the match was rather lifeless. Raheem Sterling scored in the fifth minute, and beyond that quick, scrambling goal, the game was rather meaningless. Gerrard again featured, but this was following the 2014 World Cup in Brazil where he appeared largely dead-legged. Olympiakos dominated the closing minutes of the match allowing for some excitement, but overall the match was rather nondescript. The trip to Chicago only stands out in my memory for the hours leading up to the match, where across town I was able to meet Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler at an LFC fan experience. Game aside, the trip was made superb by my quick exchange with two legends.
Liverpool next visited the United States in 2016, and this time we made the trip to St. Louis to watch the Reds against Roma. The match took place on a quiet Monday night in front of a smaller crowd of nearly 29,000. The Reds were now under the leadership of Jürgen Klopp for the first time in front of a United States audience, and the team was greatly turned over from the trips of 2012 and 2014. This match, though in a smaller venue and with less of a loud environment, featured some football worth watching. Džeko scored a left-footed master touch from outside the box in front of befuddled Dejan Lovren. Sheyi Ojo evened the match just before the half with a deflected header that found the back of the net. Ultimately, however, LFC would lose the match when an energetic young winner named Mohamed Salah worked passed sloppy defending on the part of Andre Wisdom to secure a 1-2 victory for the Giallorossi. Looking back, the match was a sign of things to come for LFC. Alisson and Salah featured heavily for LFC in St. Louis, neither knowing at the time that in the near future they would serve as two of the most prominent players for the Reds.
Liverpool announced their summer 2018 plans for the United States this past April, and at the time I was in the Merseyside to watch LFC play against both Bournemouth and West Brom. I was massively excited to learn that LFC would be playing in Ann Arbor, easily the closest drive I would have to see the Reds. This also meant, that for the first time, I could share the joy of LFC with my family (well, at least those members of my family that would want that experience). The event on July 28th did not disappoint. Nearly 102,000 spectators made the trip to southern Michigan to see LFC take on Manchester United. This match, as can be expected when playing United, was anything but boring. José Mourinho spent the hours leading up to the match selling the idea that he would be forced to play his ‘kids’. The United side, however, featured Alexis Sánchez, Eric Bailly, Matteo Darmian, Ander Herrera, and Juan Mata, hardly an explosion of young talent. The Reds looked fresh from the offset and their attack was on point from the first whistle. LFC took the lead on a penalty, but Andreas Pereira equalized on the only moment of glory for United in the 31st minute.
The second half of the game featured the type of attacking football that LFC supporters have come to love un Klopp, and much of that is credited to Xherdan Shaqiri. Shaqiri’s introduction in the second half and his move to the middle of the pitch in a roaming #10 role opened up Liverpool and provided their full dominance from 45’ on. Shaqiri showed unselfishness with a gorgeous setup for a perfect finish from Danie Sturridge. Eight minutes later, Sheyi Ojo waived off Sturridge and took a brave penalty to put the Reds up by two. The 82nd minute, however, created a memory for the masses. Shaqiri took a chipped cross from Ben Woodburn and outmuscled Ro-Shaun Williams for a world-class overhead strike. The goal ended the game and sent United away with a three-goal loss.
Each trip in the United States has left me will valuable memories and stories, but none more than Ann Arbor. The tremendous amount of LFC supporters (far outweighing United), the atmosphere and noise, the victory, and a great rendition of YNWA long after the music had ended, will remain with me forever. Fortunately, none of that compares with the fact that Ann Arbor was my first LFC experience with my family. My wife and daughter made the trip with me this time, and seeing them smile, enjoy the day, and lose their minds when Shaqiri scored a screamer, were the best memories I could ever imagine. The love of LFC is shared by so many supporters around the world, but when the love of LFC is shared amongst your family, it becomes so much more. The summer 2018 tour has been the best one yet and I look forward to seeing what 2020 holds.