Hi. I am not dead. My sister Amelia and I spent last week following Liverpool FC on their North American tour because sports nerd vacations are evidently hereditary in our family. With games in Toronto, Boston, and Baltimore we managed to have a nice little trip down the Eastern seaboard. This is the soccer-centric component of the trip. [Click photos for larger versions; a few are by my sister.]
Liverpool took forever to actually announce all the stops on their tour, with Toronto being the final location announced after I had already purchased tickets to Baltimore in panic. There’d been hints that they might come — Toronto has the largest LFC supporters club in North America, the tour had been billed as a “North American” tour rather than just an “American” tour, etc. — and so when they announced Toronto as the first date it was a very convenient and local way to kick off our vacation.
The night before the Toronto match we were able to attend the practice the team held at Rogers Centre.
To be perfectly honest, this was not exactly a riveting experience. It was plenty hot and the team mostly trained in the tiny modicum of shade afforded by the north end of the stadium. They did a few obligatory laps of the whole pitch so that those of us in the south end could catch a closer look, but for the most part this wasn’t too exciting. Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush came out and made their way along the stadium walls signing autographs for fans, which was nice.
I have to give the most credit to Brad Jones, though; when the rest of the team was signing autographs at the north end of the stadium after practice, he was the only one who came down to the south end to talk with the fans there. He was very engaging with the fans and had actual conversations with them about ‘keepers of yore, etc. The next day after the actual match he did something similar in going to talk to fans on the opposite side of the stadium from where the rest of the team were signing autographs post-match. He seems like a genuinely nice and decent guy and in terms of fan service on this tour, I’d say he comes out way ahead of everyone else. Top man, Brad Jones. Wembley Hero!
I’d made a banner for the actual match as our supporters club had a contest for it, but mostly because I like to craft.
I went Toronto-centric since standard LFC themes revolving around winning Champions League five times seemed silly in the context of playing a last place MLS team that has never won the playoffs and will never compete in UEFA tournaments.
We got to Rogers Centre several hours early and so mine was the first banner put up in the Rogers Centre Kop, which meant that a lot of the players and other LFC staff who were kicking around at field level early on started snapping pictures of it… including the official LFC Twitter/Instagram account!
— Liverpool FC(@LFC) July 21, 2012
The funny part is that the dad and his two sons on the left were oddly psyched about the banner and the fact that they were going to be in other people’s pictures of it; hope they managed to catch this picture on Twitter later on.
The game itself was kind of a non-event. Leading up to the match TFC were not exactly promoting the game and the fanbase were actively angry about the fact that TFC were playing a pointless mid-season friendly that wasn’t really about them anyway. [To be fair: I don't disagree with most of their points, but Liverpool will always come before TFC for me, so.] The highlight was definitely Lucas returning to the pitch after his long layoff due to his ACL injury. Standing ovation, obviously.
In terms of fan atmosphere, Rogers Centre was always going to be problematic because it’s where sound goes to die. The Rogers Kop tried to sing a wider range of songs than any of the other supporters sections on the tour, but the people who knew the words and were willing to sing were too few and too spread out to really make much of an impact throughout the game. We think the challenge with being a North American fan of a European club is that the context in which most people watch the team is not conducive to actually learning key parts of the fan culture. It’s deeply challenging to learn the songs solely from watching TV and I’d wager most fans do not have a local pub with active fans who do their best to keep that fan culture alive. “Poor Scouser Tommy” is a regular favourite on the Kop at Anfield, but you’d be hard pressed to find a sizable number of people who know all the words (granted, there are lots!) and can sing it in numbers large enough to create excellent stadium atmosphere on this side of the pond. Alas.
On Monday morning we did a tour of Fenway, which was pretty great in and of itself but extra fun because they were in the midst of converting the field into a football pitch.
It was also the morning that they were hosting some sort of LFC Foundation breakfast with members of the team (Brad Jones and I think Charlie Adam), so they had this on the big screen in centre field:
Something tells me… no.
The Boston supporters club had arranged an autograph signing at a soccer shop out in Foxboro for that afternoon and after hearing that Daniel Agger, Lucas, Martin Skrtel, and Joe Cole were going to be there I was determined to go. Only… Foxboro is in the middle of nowhere and unless the Patriots are playing and the Patriot Train is running, your options of getting there without a car are limited. We had to take a commuter train to a seemingly abandoned train station before taking a short cab ride to the actual store itself, which is clearly in a converted building in a very industrial part of town.
Seriously, this is it. I was worried that there would be a ton of people, so we got there at noon for the 2:30pm event… which turned out to be way too early as we were the first ones there. Oops. Slightly over-enthusiastic. We had a half-hearted lunch at the Olive Garden down the street wherein I was nearly sick from excitement. We found out when we returned that Agger, Lucas, and Skrtel were no longer coming to the signing, Agger because he was sick and Lucas and Skrtel because they were participating in an LFC Foundation charity thing. No matter, this meant that they were replaced by Jonjo Shelvey, Jay Spearing, and… Jamie Carragher. CARRA!!!
We probably should have guessed in advance, but they were only signing Warrior gear, much to the disappointment of 95% of the people there who’d brought Adidas kits with them to get signed. I’d bought a hat because I thought I might need one for the Baltimore game, so I got the four of them to sign that.
They put up a cute display in the store, which I thought was a nice touch.
It should be pointed out that Joe Cole’s a pretty personable guy and the fact that he’s so nice makes you feel kind of guilty for ragging on him all the time. I’d say I still prefer surly and awesome to friendly and “oh my god why haven’t we sold you yet”, though. Shelvey and Spearing were kind of shy and clearly realised people were most excited to see Carra, although I think they were generally fine with that.
I think everyone knew that the owners were going to put the most effort into the Boston game and the transformation of Yawkey Way on game day was fantastic.
They put up mini Shankly Gates at either end of the street, so we had someone take our picture again with my banner in front of one of them.
We decided to bring the banner because of the travelling fan support we’d seen in Toronto (NYC supporters club, some people form Ireland, etc.). Several people came up to us and told us they’d seen it on Twitter, which was neat. We ended up hanging it in the bullpen just to the left of the net as there weren’t really a ton of places to hang banners at Fenway.
LFC lost this game so the takeaway from this one was the atmosphere and effort that FSG put into the match. It was the only one where you could get any tour-specific merchandise; it apparently would have killed them to put out a shirt listing the tour dates, so we ended up with the shirt from this match, as well as a pin with the match graphic that they created. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was sung loudest here but, like with Toronto, there were not enough people sitting in the supporters section who knew actual songs to make it a kop worthy of the name “Kop.”
M&T Bank Stadium was probably the worst of our stadium experiences. Putting aside the heat for a moment — they claim it was 93°F at kickoff, but that probably does not take in account the temperature at pitch level plus the humidity — the level of security to get into this place was absolutely ridiculous. I feel like there are prisons you could get into easier than this; I feel like there is airport security you can get through easier than this. They had signs up everywhere telling you to put anything metallic you might have (coins, cell phones, cameras, etc.) in your hands as you went through the security checkpoint as they’d be using metal detectors to further ensure you weren’t bringing in any kind of weapons. I had a bag with my banner and our scarves in it, which was searched and tagged as fine until another security guard inside the stadium tried to tell me it was too big (“No, the guy at the gate approved this, so clearly it is fine” “Okay, go ahead”).
We posed with our banner again because we’d already done it in Toronto and Boston but decided against hanging it. We were in the 13th row right at the centre of the pitch, so even if we’d been able to hang the banner it would have been blocked by the temporary boards they’d put up to change the size of the pitch. The only place we’d be able to hang it would have been on the other side of the stadium and we predicted it would be hard to retrieve after the game due to the general fascistness of M&T Bank Stadium. It proved to be a good decision on our part because everyone else who was hanging banners in the supporters section were ultimately not allowed to have it hang down over the wall and cover the various Baltimore Ravens graphics, so all these banners were bunched uselessly on top of the walls. It was… not great.
I have to admit, this match was too goddamned hot to really get much out of. The substitution of various English NT players was a highlight but the game was meh and I’m pretty sure the entire stadium nearly died of heat stroke. Whoever’s idea it was to have the team dress in black should probably be fired, as that was a pretty inhumane choice to make just to sell a few extra away kits.
While the games on this tour might have been lacklustre and I think there’s more stuff the club/FSG could have done to truly make this a good tour experience for North American fans, we had a great time and it was fun to have done something like this. The opportunity to see your team regularly if you don’t live in England is really hard — I have no sympathies for people who live in London and think Liverpool is too far away to catch a mach — and getting to see them three times in a week was pretty special. This won’t stop us from seeing them as much as we can in England — we’ve already got tickets for a game in the fall — but I hope, apart from the soundbites that say all the right things, that the team really did get as much out of this in terms of experiencing the fans as we did out of them coming all the way over here.