Yesterday I returned home from my pilgrimage to Melbourne to participate in one of the most amazing experiences of my life as a sports fan. If you’ve been hiding under a rock, the Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League came to Melbourne to play a preseason friendly match against A-league side Melbourne Victory. Fellow EPL team Manchester United took on an A-League All Stars team in Sydney on Saturday night, but as a Liverpool fan I was one of thousands of Reds fans who descended on Melbourne for the event.
The news has attempted to show just how incredible the atmosphere was in the city and at the match itself, but it also isn’t able to do it justice. I have been to some incredible sporting events in my life and sat in some massive crowds, but very little compares to what we experienced on Wednesday night.
Whilst I’m sure Liverpool expected there to be a solid turnout at the game and to make some money whilst also giving their players a taste of another country, I don’t think they were even remotely prepared for the outpouring of passion from Australia’s Liverpool faithful. I am also about to make a statement that may be completely biased but I still believe is true, but I think Liverpool fans, at least in Australia, are the most passionate and hardcore fans of any EPL club. It is possible they are rivalled by some of the fan bases of smaller clubs, but those clubs don’t quite have the numbers to rival it.
Having been in Sydney for the build-up to the Manchester United match, Sydney did not feel like it was invaded by Red Devils. The match sold out and plenty of United fans got to experience seeing their favourite team play, but the entire city of Melbourne was covered in red as well as all the flights in to Melbourne from Sydney and I’m sure elsewhere. Then on Thursday the entire Melbourne airport was once again covered in red as the fans flew back to their cities of origin.
I am not sure what percentage of the 95,000 in the crowd on Wednesday was actually from Melbourne, but I would suggest that a large portion were people who travelled for the match. It was truly an incredible experience, starting from arriving at Sydney airport on Tuesday morning.
I personally bumped into several people I knew that I had no idea were even heading to Melbourne for the game as well as all the people I did know were coming and planned to meet up with. The walk to the stadium almost felt like being part of an army going to war, back in the days when armies used to actually march into battle like that.
The MCG being completely red (besides the pocket of very vocal and passionate Victory supporters) was a sight to behold and then we sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. I posted a video of this on my Facebook, but again it doesn’t do it justice. Until Wednesday night the most amazing singing experience I’ve witnessed was ‘Advanced Australia Fair’ being sung before the Socceroos qualified for the 2006 World Cup against Uruguay in 2005, but this blew it out of the water.
I had goose bumps the entire time and it was one of those moments you know as it is happening that you will remember for the rest of your life. Other friends of mine have said they were in tears, but the joy and togetherness and emotion of the experience was palpable all around the stadium. It honestly felt like all these strangers were part of your family for that moment in time. These are the moments where sport is more than just some meaningless game, but actually does make the world a better place.
Later that night a stranger in a Liverpool shirt asked if we were from Melbourne so we could give him directions. We told him we weren’t but we looked up where he wanted to go on my phone and helped him find it. I’m not going to lie, if he wasn’t in a Liverpool shirt I probably would simply have said I’m a tourist and didn’t know where the pub he wanted was, but on that night I felt compelled to get him to where he wanted to go because we were family.
The game itself obviously wasn’t the greatest football match ever, but seeing Steven Gerrard score in person is another amazing experience that added to the night. Also seeing his celebration and how stoked he was to be able to deliver for a crowd he admitted he didn’t expect made it even more joyous.
I was particularly impressed with youngster Jordan Ibe as well as Andre Wisdom playing centre back. Raheem Sterling continued to look like a threat every time he touched the ball and after a slow start Fabio Borini looked dangerous as the game went on.
On the negative side there was the continued incompetence of Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen also continuing to struggle defensively in midfield. But the biggest negative of course was the attitude and body language of Luis Suarez. When Suarez got on the ball he looked dangerous every time and of course he finished the match with a lovely assist, but his lack of work rate, sour attitude and refusal to even celebrate the goal he created showed where he is at mentally.
Every fan I spoke to seemed to agree that Suarez was sending a clear message that he no longer wanted to play for Liverpool and we may well have witnessed his last ever appearance for the club. I still hope he decides to stay and if he is to be sold, I would hope that it is not to a direct rival to make the top four in Arsenal. But clearly he doesn’t want to be there and something has to change one way or another.
The 2013/14 season could be a bounce back year for Liverpool, but selling Suarez on the eve of the season will be seriously detrimental, especially if they are unable to secure an adequate replacement on short notice.
However, the main story is the success of Liverpool’s first trip to Australia and playing in front of the biggest crowd in their entire existence. I’m sure they will be back soon, probably to play in Sydney next time.