"Amanda, I love you...." the voice of my mate, with his singsong English accent, cuts through the winter weather like a knife, "....but it's a bloody pain in the ass that you're doing this on Derby Day." Like Dante and Virgil journeying together in the Inferno, we give each other a look that says everything and nothing. We descend, carefully marking our steps, lest we end up in the local Liverpool Supporters Club pub bruised and battered from slipping down the stairs. There is nothing like a basement bar on Derby Day.
For those that are unaware, today was a Derby Day for Liverpool Football Club and Everton supporters. The Merseyside Derby clash between the two clubs that originate in Liverpool is an important bout. In the wee hours of the morning, my friends who support Arsenal (who have been up since 7AM, supporting their club in the North London Derby) blow up my text messages with insults.
"Neva been to the liva area???" My friend Ed texts, his condescending tone visceral and oozing from my phone.
"Stevie gee and tha lads! Carragh! Leeeeeegendah!"
For the record, not everyone who supports Liverpool speaks like that, Ed. Even if they did, it is not a cause for fodder.
I have watched Liverpool since I was 16, as long as the melodious tones of Ireland and the bodhrán have echoed in my ears. Liverpool's prominence as a port city has welcomed many a Connacht brogue to it's shores. One of my Great-Uncles has vanished in Liverpool, never to be seen again. Growing up in the Irish community in my small city, I was hesitant to pick a football club to support. When you pick a club, it is for life.
Everyone I know has an anecdotal tale about how they stumbled across the club they support, although none is as adorable as the O'Tooles. A true dynamic duo, the O'Toole brothers are close in age. When they were young, growing up in Tallaght, their Aunt each gave them a sheet set for their beds. One, we'll call him Colin, received a LFC sheet set. The other brother, we'll call him Steve (after St. Stephen, the patron Saint of one of the biggest drinking days in Ireland) received sheets with Manchester United emblazoned upon them.
To this day, Colin loves the Liver Bird, whereas Steve is a Red Devil until his death.
My story about LFC is nowhere near as epic and cute as that. I was impressed with the play of Steven Gerrard, so as a teenager, I chose LFC as my club.
Derby Day begins with Frank, the bartender from Dublin, offering this statement for the record: "Amanda, I love everyone." Prior to kickoff, Gerrard walks onto the pitch. I am standing in a sea of red. No Everton supporters here. My heart melts, as I see the young lad accompanying Gerrard has Downs Syndrome (my Uncle has Downs Syndrome as well).
"What a great moment for that young man!" I think aloud. Simultaneously, a LFC fan shouts:
"Look at Gerrard's face! He's ready to do business!" A moment of hilarity ensues, as the bartender forgot to switch to the channel playing LFC after the opening ceremonies. The snafu is amended, and I can finally get to work interviewing those who trekked through the snow and sleet to watch their club in this small city.
Everyone that is supporting and watching Liverpool Football Club in the pub is on their feet. Kris, age 27, journeyed to adulthood while playing on the uneven drenched turf that encompasses English football fields. Kris has an interesting interpretation of this American pub tradition.
"Back in the day, when they built football stadiums, they did not have seats, so you'd stand. The whole game. Even if it was freezing. You'd be bunched together like cattle. You'd stand with your team for 90 minutes. The wealthier teams, the home teams fans would get a seat, and the away teams would stand.
In bar culture, the home team stands. It's like you're out there with your team on the pitch. But you're drinking."
We all stand, transfixed, (with fans circling around the bar like it is their Mecca), watching the match. A bit of fried gold banter occurs when we see see Joe Allen attempt to square up to Romelu Lukaku. This begins another heated debate; "Can Welshmen do anything right?" Based on Richard Burton's background, and the success of Wales in Six Nations, I claim that they do.
During the half time break, I mosey on back to Kris, asking him what supporting Liverpool means. Kris retorts with one of the most eloquent lines I have ever heard from a sports fan:
" You're a Red. Your fire burns deep."
At this point in the day (and the match), the two Everton fans in the pub (brave souls they are) materialize in front of me. The Liverpool fans around me do not malign them. Instead, they Everton supporters are treated with a begrudging respect. As one Liverpool fan succinctly says:
"There's like a fucking of army of Scousers. But Everton were the first Scousers."
So many accents are peppering the air. English, Irish, Boston, Long Island, Korean, they swell in the pub like a melody. Only the beautiful game can bring people from such a variety of demographics together. I think of Clive Barker, my favorite Liverpool export. Barker aptly wrote:
"Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red."
We bleed as red as a Liverpool kit. The match ends as a draw. I finish my Dunhill and head home, football chants still echoing in my ears.
Image taken by author with permission