Row 71, Seat 61, Anfield Stadium
Turnstile S, row 71, seat 61, main stand upper, Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, England. August 24th 2019, 5.30pm.
As long ago as I can remember, I've called myself a Liverpool FC fan. I was eight when I decided I preferred the bright red of the LFC jersey to the deep red of the Arsenal jersey, or the electric blue of Chelsea. Simple reasons – but a lifetime of commitment to follow, so it certainly meant something. Since making my important eight-year-old decision, I’ve followed the club, waking up at all hours of the night to watch games, spending some of the only money I had on jerseys and merchandise. Liverpool FC and I were in a long term relationship – my first, if I’m honest.
Coming out of a few unbelievable seasons, I couldn’t believe I was standing in seat 61, staring down at the squad of Reds I had followed closely for so long. To be on the other side of the planet and feel such a connection is strange yet wonderful. This is the power of football, and why I love it.
Whether you’re a crazy football fan like me, or you are reading this because you happened to come across it, let me say this; Football is not just about seeing men or women on a pitch kicking a ball around with the unified focus of scoring goals. Football was my childhood, my teenage years, and now my young adulthood. The constant variable found in every stage of my life and Liverpool FC is the first love that never left me. Maybe you have something in your life that has this effect on you? It’s hard to put into words what it means to me, so I hope that in explaining my experience, I can show you instead.
The stars aligned and I got tickets to the Liverpool v Arsenal game on August 24th.
As I write this, I am sitting next to a couple from Liverpool who live in Mallorca and have supported the team their entire lives. I told them all about my experience.
“How the hell did you get tickets to that?!” It’s not the first time someone has asked me. To be honest; a mixture of luck, meeting the right people, asking the right questions, and a little divine intervention are the most likely explanation for those tickets. Put simply, a dream come true.
I took my friend May to Liverpool with me. May had just moved to England and is a devoted football fan herself, she was the perfect accompaniment to the game. When I found out I had tickets, I had called her at 4am England time. Realising the time, I hung up. She later told me she had woken up and thought if this is about anything other than football tickets, I’m going to kill her. Talk about intuition. Well, I survived that one.
Back to August 24th, around 3.30pm, May and I took the main road towards Anfield. As we turned the corner, I saw the red brick walls of the stadium appear in the distance between the regimented homes that neatly lined up as far as the eye could see. It was the image of England I had seen in the movies and the Liverpool I had seen so many times on television, but never in real life.
Anfield Stadium was like seeing the colosseum in Rome for the first time. This huge structure that steals the eyes of walkers by. Just like the colosseum, Anfield is also home to battles. Though blood may not be shed the way it was by gladiators in ancient Rome, the stadium certainly stirs emotions the way the colosseum once did. Seeing Anfield moved me. People have talked about it and told you what it looks like, but no one has told you how it felt to finally see it. My heart was racing.
We are almost a kilometre away but we are met by a sea of Reds walking towards their place of worship. A mixture of vintage jerseys and Stevie G and your newer Mohammed Salah and Virgil Van Dijk merchandise. There is a calmness around the stadium as you enter it, reminiscent of entering a place that demands respect. In the distance I can hear “You’ll Never Walk Alone” being performed by a band on a stage. Anfield couldn't have been more... well, Anfield.
We pick up our tickets and we are met by my uncle Nabil. Uncle Nabil is my dad’s cousin from Egypt but he has lived in Chester, outside Liverpool, for 30 something years. Try to imagine an accent somewhere between a Scouser and an Arab. He grabs my hand, hugs me and welcomes me. A Haddad with a love for Liverpool that even I can only imagine. He moved his life from Egypt to Edinburgh and then to this part of England to be closer to his beloved Reds. That’s worthy of some kind of award, surely.
He proceeds to inform me of the duty that follows. “You cannot come to Anfield and not have a Scouse pie from Homebaked.” The adventure continues.
May and I walk over to the famous pie shop with Uncle Nabil, where he greets each staff member personally, introducing me as his niece that has come all the way from Australia for this pie, and – of course - the game. Scouse pie is a meat pie made from quality beef chunks and fresh flaky pastry. A combination of nerves and being overwhelmed beyond words meant that I had little to no appetite, but you don’t say no to Uncle Nabil on your first visit to the pie shop at Anfield stadium. This is my proper initiation. Eat up and carry on!
Uncle Nabil smashed his pie. I think he ate it in 3 or 4 bites. You could tell it was all apart of his Anfield routine. He told me he came to the pie shop at the start of every home game. The pie shop was full of scousers firing each other up for the match in-between bites of beef and pastry. This was the experience I had hoped for. I was seeing typical Liverpool traditions take place around me and I was savouring every moment – with the pie.
Pie: done. Time to enter the stadium.
Long term member and pie enthusiast Nabil departs as he heads off to his own seat. May and I enter turnstile S, main stand upper, we find row 71 and then seat 61 and 62. We made it. We found our little bit of paradise.
A few years ago, I watched an exhibition match between Liverpool FC and Sydney FC at ANZ Stadium in Sydney. A barrage of Sydney siders dressed in red, and with their LFC scarves stood up all around the stadium, singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ at the top of their lungs. It gave me goose bumps. To think, that for a moment in time, all these people from different backgrounds and walks of life, are in complete synchronisation. Being at Anfield, I was overcome with that same feeling again. The stadium was on their feet, besides a small area of Gunners, belting YNWA like each of their individual performances would alter the outcome of the game. Call me superstitious (to be honest, I am) but I think these traditions can change the game. This is why the home-team advantage theory exists. If you have 40,000 people chanting your name or your team song, you’re going to run a little faster, pass the ball a little better and shoot the ball a little harder. Both teams make their way onto the pitch, even from my altitude, I know who is who.
Hands are shaken and pleasantries exchanged, each team of 11 take their positions, whistle blows. Kick off.
There goes the fastest 90 minutes of my life. Watching the game was an unreal experience. Each of the boys delivered on their unsaid promises. Van Dijk; the wall. With his effortless strides that would be at least triple mine, and the ability to gain speed and defend against some of the best attacking players in the world. Trent and Robbo with their strategic passes from the wing and their world class assists. Firmino, the underrated (in my opinion) forward with his ability to calm down almost every situation, always looking for a way to outsmart his opponent, sometimes even without looking. Salah and Mane with their pace and shots at goal. Fabinho, Henderson, Milner, Matip, Wijnaldum; the ones who never give up and fight until the ball is in our possession, creating chances for our strikers. My Reds.
Seeing the likes of Aubameyang, Pepe, the new arrival Ceballos, David Luiz, Xhaka and Monreal amongst others was also exciting. They may have been our competition – but they still belong to one of the most famous English clubs and are world class players. It was truly a delight to see them face up against my boys.
The squad delivered - and I sat back, stood up, screamed and shouted, I put my arms in the air questioning the referee, I high-fived fans around me, I laughed and I turned away in anguish. All in 90 minutes. This is the rollercoaster football takes you on, riding with heightened emotions as you feel like you’re on the pitch with the boys. The boys provided the quality and the entertainment that I had flown across the world for. Pure class, and truly unforgettable.
The whistle blows, the game is over. Liverpool has won. Fans start to leave and I imagine Uncle Nabil is long gone. Just like his pie, he would also have his ‘get out of Anfield before the traffic’ routine as well. May and I follow the crowds down and out, packed like patient little sardines, we waited until we reached the street and then we began our walk back to Liverpool City. Debriefing every pass and attempt at goal, we broke down the game, still in awe of the last 2 hours of our lives. Did that really happen? Truly one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life.
I feel inspired and motivated to create a life full of moments like this one. Chasing every kick off and striving for experiences that overwhelm, surprise and consume me, reminding me that life is less about what you’re doing and seeing, but all about what you are feeling.