Monday, 16 April 2012

How I followed Liverpool to London

During an away game, you can normally find me in the local pub with my Liverpool shirt on, cheering our boys on.

I’ve always envied those in the ‘Travelling Kop’ and really depended on them to be my voice too, when showing support in a different setting from Anfield. The away fans represent us all, and I hoped to be one of those representatives at some point.

This season, a major sigh of relief came from me when Liverpool were lucky enough to get home games in all four draws of the FA Cup, and I was even more lucky to be able to go to them, having missed out on all of the Premier League games.

Although our games were at Anfield, I was extremely nervous about our chances. We may have had draws against Oldham Athletic and Brighton, but we also had to defeat Manchester United and Stoke City before advancing. It was rough, but nothing Liverpool could not handle.

I was standing in the Kop against Stoke City when I watched Luis Suarez and Stewart Downing assure our Wembley trip with a goal each against Stoke’s one. After I calmed down about the win in general, it hit me that I might have a chance to go with them.

The anticipation of a ticket announcement nearly killed me. The club’s Twitter feed finally showed me the link I had been waiting for: “FA Cup Semi-Final announcement.”

I fully expected instructions on how to register for a ticket ballot, as they did for the Carling Cup final. But no, this time was different. I read the website twice to make sure I was correct. Because of my attendance to the last four FA Cup, I was guaranteed a ticket.
Immediately I splashed my social networks with statuses on my excitement. Still, the thought of travelling to London to what is arguably the greatest stadium in the United Kingdom was a dream. Not only that, but it would be a Merseyside Derby due to Everton overtaking Sunderland in their replay a fe days prior. The real proof of my trip came when I went to stand in line for my ticket at 5am the day I was qualified for.

My friend, Stephen, was coming with me, and I was grateful for it. I was extremely nervous about booking my first trip away in three years. I must have driven him mad with all of my questions about the travel down there and the area of London anyways, since it would be my first time there as well. I made sure to save up some before booking the coach and hotel, and it was a relief when it was all sorted.

The night finally came to travel down to London. We arrived at the coach station early to claim our preferred seats to be as comfortable as possible on the long overnight journey. It did not go without a few hiccups though, as a stop in Birmingham saw three other passengers kicked off for smoking and drinking. The delay put us back nearly an hour, and we were exhausted after being unable to catch a snooze on the coach.

My adrenaline kicked in a bit when we pulled up to London Victoria coach station at 7am. There were plenty of Reds and Blues scattering one way or another. Some went to straight to Wembley, but as this was my first trip to London, I took advantage of the early morning hours to do some sightseeing.

The famous arch was a sight to be seen for miles

Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, The London Eye…they were all great, but absolutely nothing compared to the extravagance of seeing Merseyside take over the capital. The sea of Red and Blue outside of Wembley was well and truly the greatest sight of them all. Finally, I got to be one of the fans representing those all across the world in the grandest setting Liverpool has seen in awhile.

Fans were absolutely swarming the walkway into the stadium. Reds were to enter on one side with the Blues on the other, but until they got to the entrance, we were all mixed. There was lots of banter, but nothing too harsh, aside from the three-year-old in Blue giving all Reds the finger while sitting stop his father’s shoulders. The most important thing was seeing both sets of supporters show their support for victims of Hillsborough. 
Reds and Blues packed either side

The sight of Wembley on the outside was breathtaking with its distinguished archway inviting all match-goers, but inside it was even better. I sat down in my seat and took in the view. I do not think it could have gotten much better. I was sat 34 rows up near the corner. The amount of people that poured-in in the next hour was incredible and definitely nothing I have ever seen before in my life.

The next 105 minutes were some of the most intense I have ever experienced. The first half saw Everton’s Jelavic gave them the lead with an early goal, and I witnessed the Blue half of Merseyside bounce in celebration on the other side of the stadium. The way Everton were playing, I was sure Liverpool could walk away disappointed. Our side seemed to have quieted down a little bit. I think half time could not have come soon enough. Both the players and fans needed a chance to recuperate.

I suspect Kenny Dalglish gave the boys an earful during that break, because the second half saw a new rejuvenated team. They pushed hard onto the Blues’ defense and it paid off when Suarez brought hope back with his equaliser. I have never shown so much excitement over a goal in my life. The Kopites erupted in cheers. Everyone was hugging and holding onto whoever was close to them, and singing Suarez’s praises with his song and swinging their scarves in celebration.

The voices never died down after that goal. In fact, they probably got even louder as we sang our support. I would like to think it helped spur on spirits of those on the pitch, especially Andy Carroll who headed in Liverpool’s second goal and put us ahead.

I do not think I yelled so much in my life. I shouted encouragement to the players and things like: “Only three more minutes boys!” and “Let’s do this! Keep them Blues away!” Of course, they did not hear me, but it felt good to do it anyways. After all, I was there to support and represent the rest of supporters.

Suarez & Carroll: Cup Heroes

I may have shed a tear or two when the final whistle blew. I looked to Stephen and said, “I am so happy right now, I can’t believe it.” He smiled at me being overwhelmed, as this was something he had already been able to experience before at other games and knew how I was feeling.

The smile did not leave my face for a long time. Reds and Blues stayed segregated until we reached the Tube, but there were no issues, despite Liverpool fans singing all the way from the gates of Wembley to the entrance of the train. I watched an Evertonian sitting across from me during the journey back to Central London. His eyes were red and puffy from crying. Despite the strong rivalry between the two, I felt for him, as I would be doing the same if it had been the other way around.

I crashed in my London hotel room after being on a high for so long thanks to the win. When I woke up the next morning, I smiled again knowing it was not a dream, and Liverpool were off to Wembley again for the third time this season. Not only that, but I get to be there again and be part of this family that represented those fans worldwide.

So on May 5th, I will be making the journey again to London. I will sing just as loud and cheer on my team against Chelsea. No matter the outcome, I have been so thankful for my experience at my first away game and Merseyside Derby, and I am truly grateful to be part of the famous Liverpool family.

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