REY MASHAYEKHI was at the Yankee Stadium for Liverpool’s penalty shoot-out win over Manchester City.
“Hey Xabi, you know which train we gotta take?”
The man on the platform, identifying me by the “Alonso 14” on my back, was draped in red from head to toe. With him were his wife and two young daughters, likewise covered in Liverpool gear. They had made the trek from Florida to see an institution that they, like myriad others standing in the sweltering Manhattan subway station, had adopted as their own.
“We already have tickets to the final in Miami,” he said once we’d boarded the train up to the Bronx. “Just in case we advance.”
Like many, I’m sceptical of the cottage industry that’s emerged around pre-season friendlies in this and other parts of the world. For all their posturing, endeavours like the International Champions Cup are, at their core, money-making enterprises geared toward capitalising on the honest passion and dedication of foreign-based fans willing to spend an inordinate amount of time and money supporting their clubs.
A good deal of my own scepticism is also based on experience. Two years ago, I sat in a half-empty NFL stadium, on a morbidly hot summer day in Baltimore, as Liverpool and Tottenham slogged their way to a 0-0 draw – a game notable only for Charlie Adam nearly taking Gareth Bale’s ankle off. It was the first time I saw Liverpool Football Club play football in the flesh. In my head, I’d had an idea of what that experience would be like – flags and banners, dreams and songs to sing. I came away sorely disappointed.
Two years on, I found myself on a crowded 4 train heading to Yankee Stadium to see Liverpool play City. When the contest was first announced earlier this year, I’d initially discounted the notion of sitting through another meaningless friendly in the July heat. By the time they went on sale in March, Liverpool had found themselves in the middle of a thrilling, majestic, ultimately heart-wrenching title challenge. We’d just gone to Southampton and beaten them 0-3. And so I ponied up $99 – £58.66, at the time of writing – for a seat in the Liverpool section at Yankee Stadium. That’s before taxes and surcharges. For a friendly.
I also grabbed a ticket for an old Liverpool-supporting mate of mine. He drove up to New York on the morning of the game, and we spent the afternoon traversing a stretch of East Village bars that LFCNY had deemed “Anfield Row.” Outside 11th St. Bar, the NYC-based supporters club’s home establishment, emanated a chorus of songs and chants. But there was also a queue, as the bar was already packed more than four hours before kick off. This is an establishment so popular in New York that Daniel Craig was notoriously turned away at the door. And so we made our way to another nearby, more spacious haunt catering to Liverpool fans where we slowly got sozzled while watching the 2004-05 season review.
Any reservations regarding a lukewarm pre-season turnout were dispelled by the time we got off the train at 161st St. Before us stood a mass of humanity queued to get through the Yankee Stadium gates. The attendance that night, as later announced, would be larger than any Yankees home crowd to date this year. I was instantly remind that this was a city that went mad for the World Cup this summer; that this was an occasion that drew entire families from Florida for the chance to see Liverpool play.
Attendance for Liverpool-Manchester City friendly at Yankee Stadium: 49,653
Largest attendance at Yankees home game this year: 48,572
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 31, 2014
Once we had found our seats in the so-called Travelling Kop, it was clear that the City contingent was grossly outnumbered. Once You’ll Never Walk Alone began echoing around the cavernous stadium before kick off, it became apparent that this was more than just a friendly – at least for those watching.
Don’t get me wrong, the match (in the first half at least) was pretty standard, friendly fare. The tactical details have been pretty well-documented at this point; Liverpool started out with the 4-4-2 diamond that served the team so well last season, though it’s hard to imagine a front two of Sturridge and Lambert being the preferred option against the likes of, say, City in the league.
Coates and Toure did well to start, before it all started crumbling at the back in the second half. Jordan Henderson continued to display superhuman levels of endurance, playing the full 90 in yet another pre-season contest (which I’m convinced is Brendan having a laugh). Jose Enrique was a rustier version of Jose Enrique, if you could imagine.
Seeing how it was a friendly, I won’t bore you with a play-by-play breakdown of how the second half unfolded – you’ve all seen it anyway. What I will say is that once Hendo tied it up with his lovely finish past Joe Hart, five minutes after Jovetic had opened the scoring for City, the entire atmosphere in the stadium shifted. The contest taking place on the field before us suddenly evolved into something more than a mere exhibition, and my only explanation is that the 48,572 packed inside Yankee Stadium – overwhelmingly in support of Liverpool Football Club – willed it so.
The Travelling Kop fully earned its distinction; never have I seen so many Americans, most of whom have almost certainly never stepped foot in Manchester, so utterly convinced that the entire place is “full of sh*t”. For the entire 90 minutes, sitting down in the Liverpool supporters’ section was simply not an option. Across the stadium, meanwhile, you could see the City section rising to its feet only as play approached. When the officials wrongly ruled Raheem Sterling’s would-be, match-winning curler at the death offside – an all-too-real reminder of Boxing Day at the Etihad last year – the combination of disbelief and vitriol that erupted was simply exhilarating.
After the penalty shootout – after we had serenaded Yaya Toure with a chorus of Happy Birthday as he stepped up to the spot, after Lucas Leiva’s winner ensured raucous celebrations well into the night – Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York began reverberating out of the stadium PA system as it does after every Yankees win. A strange choice, sure – but instantly recognisable to everyone in the crowd, and oddly fitting given the venue and victorious circumstances.
Of course, it wasn’t the chorus everyone really wanted to hear. As the celebrations flooded out on to the streets and many made their way to the trains, the bars surrounding the stadium were filled to the brim with those wearing red.
Inside the Yankee Tavern, Liverpool songs reverberated off walls adorned with portraits of baseball legends. Someone, either from behind the bar or on the jukebox, struck up You’ll Never Walk Alone and dozens of scarves were held aloft, and hundreds of voices sang along to every word.
It was a great night for Liverpool fans as we head into a promising new season, and a brilliant night for football – or soccer, if you will – in this city and this country. And not bad at all for a friendly.
Nice write up Rey.. I have just moved to New Jersey from Liverpool and took the family to the game. I was really surprised at how few “scousers” were at the game and yet the atmosphere for a friendly was electric and that from a season ticket holder of 35 years plus.
The game really opened my eyes to the global appeal of my beloved Reds as the area we were sat in was all American with a few Aussies for good measure.
Top read. Perfectly sums up the experience of a far flung fan when the Reds come to town. Was so lucky to experience it last year in Melbourne. Planning for months with mates from across Australia, Skippy and Carl and Neil’s impassioned speech at TAW, losing my voice four hours before kick off, 95,000 belting out YNWA at the MCG and the rest. Was it a pointless friendly? Yes. But was it one of the greatest nights and weeks of my life. Fuck yes.
For the record, I was down in the City section behind goal and the stewards required people to sit after about 10 mins or so due to the sight lines being so poor. They mentioned there were a number of kids who couldn’t see. This probably wasn’t as much of an issue on the other side of the park due to the elevated seats.
Also, Sterling was offside by a step or two. It really wasn’t a difficult decision. Incredible shot though.
After reading that I feel bad for moaning about the atmosphere and match day experience at Anfield (pre second half of last season). Fascinating perspective. Clearly, the stakes are huge for the marketing of LFC in the U.S
I loved the line “the combination of disbelief and vitriol that erupted was simply exhilarating”. When i watched the Roma and Olympiakos games my only thought for the match was a feeling of unease for the fans in Boston and Chicago who’d made the effort and spent a fortune to attend. Really pleased you enjoyed the New York match. Sounded good.
Nice job on the write up. It needed saying. I was surprised more wasn’t written about the march to the stadium, the sea of red in the East Village and the singing of the crowd on other sites. I
am still hoarse two days later and drinking tea to prepare for Charlotte. Looking forward to meeting local reds and for me, that’s a huge part of the appeal of these friendlies: Meeting other supporters and sharing the experience of watching our Reds together.
I was also sitting in the Kop end at Yankee Stadium and the atmosphere was absolutely buzzing: the march to the stadium, the shouting at Citeh supporters, the 10:1 ratio of Reds vs Citeh, the singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the steady chants throughout the game. I’ve never experienced anything like it. And I’ve seen Liverpool play at Anfield, albeit a Euro friendly and the only first team player was Joe Cole who came on in the 2nd half and was coming off of red card suspension. This time I got to see STEVEN GERRARD!!!! I teared up when he applauded the fans when he trotted off the field. Two days later I still have “You’ll Never Walk Alone” going through my head and I still get tingles just thinking about it.
I know it’s a marketing ploy but that doesn’t bother me, I got to see a Liverpool game featuring the likes of Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturidge, Raheem Stirling, and other first team players in a match against another EPL team. I hope the LFC supporters who are lucky enough to have tickets and season tickets appreciate what they have. I also hope the players enjoyed their time in the states and I hope they fly back to Liverpool knowing they have a huge fan base outside the L4. As a supporter living in the States, I appreciate them making the trip.
Excellent Rachel. I’ve heard a lot of moaning about this U.S tour recently – we shouldn’t be playing them, it’s just a marketing ploy, we shouldn’t be doing that for publicity, the players weren’t trying, why wasn’t he playing, he shouldn’t be on the tour etc etc. Well, it’s nice to hear from fans who’ve appreciated it. Fans who don’t get any other chance to go and watch them. Fans who have a bond with LFC but who don’t get to feel that bond as fans in amongst the crowd until a tour like this. Seems to me our brothers and sisters in the U.S are ecstatic about the tour, the club is made up because of the potential and so what’s not to like about it. I think we just like moaning.
Great comments Rachel, it is easy for those of us who get to Anfield on a semi or regular basis to take it for granted or bitch about ticket prices or this or that.
Watching on tv/online from the UK has been great, so many people going and enjoying. Really loved hearing all the familiar songs with an American accent :-)
Makes you realise what an amazing global impact LFC have and how you could be in the most remote corner of the planet yet still find a red brother or sister.
After the somewhat disappointing Kop at Fenway, I had fears that Yankee Stadium was going to be similar with fair weather fans who would rather watch the game in the comfort of seats while carrying on side conversation rather than singing and chanting with scarves held high. I cannot believe the incredible turn out at Yankee Stadium. Between the march, the full stadium of Red, and the site that played out after the game at Yankee Tavern, it is undeniable that LFC is alive here in the states. I have been proud to call myself a Liverpool fan for 15 years and the sound of YNWA ringing throughout the stands, streets, and bars brought a tear to my eye.
To be honest, the most impressive and shocking stat of the game, for me, is the ratio of LFC to City fans. With City now investing in NYCFC out of Yankee Stadium, I expected to be run out of the stadium the same way as a Yankees vs. Red Sox game. After games like this, I’m hoping that this will spark life into American soccer supporters. The culture of “football” versus the culture of our “soccer” are completely different. It was nice to see the passion that I have for my team expressed through the majority of the stadium. By far, the best game of my life… for now. I cannot wait for both the next American tour and my first, second, third+ game at Anfield. Thank you, Liverpool, for the incredible experiences over the last two weeks. Until next time… YNWA! :)
Having worked through college in a NYC restaurant crowded with A-listers week after week, there have been very few times in my life that I’ve been genuinely star-struck. But arriving at Yankee Stadium to see the warm-ups, I was suddenly turned into a schoolgirl at her first boy band concert – OMG, that’s Joe Allen! Look, there’s Sakho! Hey, there’s Dr. Zafar Iqbal!
After a season of elation and heightened drama, following the journey at every step with such attention to the smallest of details, getting a chance to see the players not only play a game, but play a game where they come back twice and win on penalties, well that was well worth the price of the overpriced ticket.
It wasn’t even a dozen years ago when I used to wear my Reds shirt around Los Angeles and see a furrowed brow or two of curiosity. Most people in this country assumed that football started and ended with the World Cup. These days people will stop me on the road and talk me up for hours about footie, even if they don’t support LFC. In my years in the States, the sport has grown by leaps and bounds, both by the interest imported by us foreigners, and by the dedicated cult followers of the sport. There surely is a genuine interest here now and I think it’s about time. I hope the interest continues.