It all began when I was in Haiti…
My wife and I had taken a group of high school students from our native Canada to Haiti to do some relief work in a place where friends of ours lived when I discovered “The Beautiful Game”. I was dressed in semi-formal clothes wearing semi-formal shoes (I had been working with some of the church leaders I think) when the Haitian guys challenged us to a game of football (soccer).
For the next half hour or so all I remember is sweating like a pig aimlessly running around in a gravel pit in 30+ Celsius heat, all the while thinking “This is a great game!”. Our young guys had grown up playing it and knew their way around a little but it was to no avail, the Haitian guys killed us.
I came back home and was flipping channels trying to find some “soccer” and came across Italian league football. The particular games I watched were extremely boring and all you could hear were two very dry English commentators with absolutely no crowd noise whatsoever. It was like watching golf with two slightly bored Brits who were a few pints in.
Then something changed my life…
Setanta Sports offered a free preview for two weeks, largely of the English game. I was hooked! 60,000 fans chanting ridiculous insults and singing songs at each other, some of which are made up on the spot, while the ebb and flow of this beautiful game unfolded before my eyes. The tension that I now consider unique to football was delicious to my sporting palate! Only $19 a month and it could be mine!
I remember the moment I knew there was no going back to lesser avenues when I started losing track of the clock. So entranced was I by the movement and strategy that it was nearly half time of a Premier League game before I looked up. Ninety minutes of tension slowly building and then this unbelievable release of energy bordering on violence when a goal is scored! The soaring highs! The raging lows! And footballing politics! I had found my purpose in life! (Not that football actually resembles any sort of purpose in life…)
One of the earlier games I watched was a European match at Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club. The commentators were discussing the history and partial insanity surrounding the famous grounds during the buildup. The intense loyalty of the fans, especially those of the Kop, were famous the world over. A place that had fallen away from its previous glory in recent years while maintaining its atmosphere and belief. Yes, they still believed!
The year I started watching was the year following that monumental and shocking comeback in Istanbul where LFC won the most prestigious tournament in Europe, the Champions League. Could fortune return to Liverpool once again? The supporters believed so!
During that game I watched Steven Gerrard in all of his glory galloping down the sideline while he plucked a ball out the air from head height with his boot and kept running; and I knew! He was the one! No hireling was he, but a Scouser through and through. His team was my team and his team was Liverpool!
Having decided my favourite team I figured I had better find out who were our rivals in the footballing world? I knew who I loved, but who did I hate?
Up until this time Manchester United had been making an impression on me with their attacking style and ability and drive to WIN imparted to them by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. I had actually been enjoying their success right up until I discovered my love for Liverpool and, being informed by other Reds fans, my hatred of United was born. With all the passion in my Irish soul I hated them! Surely their success was due to some pact with the devil! How could anyone cheer for a team like that? There was no use in trying to salvage their souls, you could only pray for their families and loved ones.
The year I began my love affair we lost to AC Milan in the Champions League Final. I couldn’t remember the last time I had really cared about a sporting event or shared anything but a passing fancy for whoever won or lost. For them. But it was us now and everything changed. I spent the rest of the day mildly depressed and somewhat lethargic, which isn’t like me at all. Something had changed inside of me and I couldn’t go back.
This year we just about won the Premier League in England. (Sir) Brendan Rodgers somehow in his short time with us has brought success back to our shores. Though Manchester City took the title (we also assume through a pact with the devil) things are looking bright for LFC.
It’s a funny old game where anything is possible and the outcome can bring both elation and the dashing of hopes, but it’s my game now. I think both the strength and frailty of man is exposed and enjoyed by all as we feel a joy at times that can only be described as excruciating.
Excruciating joy as we look forward to success for the Reds and the sure demise of Manchester United!
Post Note: England just went out of the World Cup with a bullet today, but a Liverpool boy named Luis Suarez scored the goals that beat them. I’ve been informed as a Liverpool fan that I’m strangely indifferent to the England team (full of Liverpool lads). I’m not sure what the heck to feel now….