We had dreams and songs to sing. Match report from the Zenit match.

Posted by JoakimD on February 28, 2013, 09:27:57 PM

We had dreams and songs to sing. traveling to a home match, from Norway.

After reading RedRedTom's match/travel report from the Zenit vs. Liverpool match I was inspired to write a report of my own, as a Liverpool fan traveling to the return match. Hopefully reading it will be close to as enjoyable as the trip was.

The story starts when I got tickets for the home match against Swansea, for me and my brother. At the time Liverpool had not yet progressed in the Europa League and Swansea had not progressed beyond the quarter final in the league cup, making it a slightly risky booking. At the time it was the only weekend that would work out for us, seeing as we both go to school; me at university and him at high school. By a stroke of luck we were able to extend the stay by a few days, making it a small vacation. In a short amount of time plane tickets and a hotel were booked, from Wednesday to Monday. All that remained was for Swansea to exit the Capitol One Cup, which I firmly believed they would when they were to face Chelsea later on. In a fitting irony the welsh team that hadn't won a major title in 100 years of existence duly went on to win the competition. Had I known that the league match was to be moved my heart might have been even more in my throat than it was on the evening of our final group match in Udine, knowing that only a win and a draw or loss for Anzhi would give us a home match in the return fixture. Thankfully Di Natale missed in the final seconds. So when the league fixture was moved I managed to acquire tickets for our home match against Zenit St. Petersburg. In many ways this would create an even better «pilgrimage» for me, and my brother, as it had all the promise of a great European night.

To explain the importance, or enthusiasm, of this «pilgrimage» it is necessary to go back to that night in Istanbul. As a relatively young teenager I'd grown up playing and watching football, in Norway. Like many others here I held an affinity for Liverpool, but it faded over time, especially as my interest in playing football gradually dissipated. Then, on that night, I remember watching the final with my family, not having paid too much attention to the previous rounds. And like many others my interest in Liverpool got a huge upswing after the match, but my reasoning was probably not one of the most common ones. It was hugely inspiring to watch and listen to the traveling supporters singing, in what seemed like defiance, despite being 3-0 down after the first half. I'm sure the result helped, but the performance of the crowd and the passion it inspired on the field also inspired and reignited my love for the club. Since then that enthusiasm is something I've shared with my brother, making this trip a bit special. Before this I had already been to Anfield once, for the match against Stoke earlier in the season, but this evening carried the promise of that unique atmosphere the club and it's fans are famous for, and for my brother it would be his first trip.

For me the trip started rather early on the Wednesday, packing and getting ready. Then on to a final lecture, before traveling from the capitol of Oslo to my families hometown of Larvik, a trip of about two hours. Our flight wasn't to leave until late in the evening, at 22:00(21:00 GMT), leaving some time for a family dinner and a lot of waiting at the airport. traveling from Norway to Liverpool is not that difficult, with flights every other day with that cheap Irish airline. We made it through security and found ourselves surrounded by a planeload of Norwegian Liverpool fans. At moments like that it is a mixed feeling towards being in that group, as it feels great to be part of a community of supporters and at the same time it is slightly embarrassing, almost cringeworthy. It feels sort of strange to have that many people around that support a team in a different country, often with lacking understanding of both language and the culture associated with that team. Of course that same criticism could arguably be turned around to reflect on myself. But enough about the supporters and back to the journey. After a two-hour trip we land at John Lennon Airport, right after the fleet of taxis left with the passengers from the previous three flights that landed. After waiting in the rather chilly, Merseyside air for about 30 minutes we got a cab and got to our hotel, a bit after midnight. For a student economy the hotel was a catch, being close to Liverpool One and containing all the necessities; beds, bathroom and a tv. We decided on calling it an early night.

The Thursday started with a bit of sightseeing, wandering around a bit on the waterfront. For some reason the Liver building is a building that makes me smile just by seeing it. The same goes for the city, which gives me a feeling of being «home», or at least not a feeling of being a tourist. It has a feel of being old, yet new and vibrant at the same time. And when you travel from minus 10 degrees, 4 degrees and wind seems like summer. Combined with a very welcoming and friendly local population it is a wonderful, quite boss, place to visit.

After a few hours of walking and watching, taking in the city and it's feel, we found some food and I got myself a pre-match pint (my brother being underage settled for coke). On a side-note it is fascinating how so many pubs and restaurants advertise how they have free wi-fi, a service we gladly took advantage of with our phones, to keep ourselves updated on news. When it became time to make the trip up to Anfield we went to catch the 26-bus, but managed to miss it by two minutes. Unfortunately that was at the time when it would only travel every half hour, and while we went to check if there were any alternative buses to take a queue formed that would take three to four buses to remove, leaving us short on time to make it there. After a few moments of stress we managed to hail a taxi, deciding that we'd rather make it there early and be sure to get there in time for the match and pay a bit more for the trip than running the risk of not getting there on time. The driver was a friendly fellow, repeatedly stating the importance of «getting behind the lads», which was more or less our plan, as well as that of about 40 000 others. On another side-note it is intriguing how people any- and everywhere we went felt like striking up a conversation, often on the finer points of football. When we got out of the taxi the streets were already filling up. After a short stop by the Hillsborough Memorial, we made our way inside. I'm not a religious person, but it felt almost like a religious moment when I first saw the floodlights, the green grass and the Kop, as we entered and found our seats. It is strange how a football stadium can mean so much, especially when all your associations are from watching it from afar, through a TV or computer screen. But it is a very special feeling when you've waited so long to see it, when you've built up the expectations in your mind and then you find yourself there.

We found our seats, settled down and just enjoyed watching people filter in. One hour before kick off we got the teams, by talking to a friendly fellow sitting next to us, which led to the inevitable discussion of team selection and formations. After a short trip to get something warm to drink we were back in our seats, kick off approaching and the Kop starting to sing, competing with the radio, sometimes sounding above the music. It was lovely to hear that others around us, besides us, were slightly frustrated that the music didn't fade out, letting the fans build up the tension and atmosphere. We also met some friendly guys from north-Wales, that drove up for the match. The atmosphere kept building, as the radio faded and the Kop's song sounding better and better. You'll Never Walk Alone came on, rather suddenly, and a fair few minutes before the teams were on the pitch, which was disappointing, but it was wonderful when it was taken up again after the Europa League theme/jingle. Even from our seats in the middle of the Main Stand it seemed to deafen out all else.

Of the match much has been written elsewhere, some a lot better than I could have written it but some elements of the match deserve some honorable mentions. As they scored from that unfortunate and horrible back pass it felt for a second as if the air went out of both the players and the crowd. Then that defiance that I fell in love with back in 2005 seemed to pick up, the singing got louder than before, every ball contested both by player and crowd and I honestly suspect that such energy, even in defeat, cannot be found anywhere else. Which made it even more amazing when Suarez put that first free kick, after Agger decided to take things into his own hands. Screams, cheers and jumping hugs from complete strangers all around. There was barely time to settle down before the Welsh Xavi decided to add to the tally, causing the process to be repeated. More hugs, more screaming, more chanting. By the end of the first half my voice was reduced to a soar croak, yet stopping the singing and chanting didn't seem or feel like an option.
In the break there seemed to be no doubt that this would be another of those famed Anfield European nights, from all those around me, and I must admit at the time that I only thought it was a matter of time before we'd score at least two more. It is fascinating how quickly people get a sense of knowing each other when they share moments like what goes on inside a stadium, where hugging strangers and joining in in songs and shouts and chants simply is a matter of fact. There is a bond between people, simply from shared appreciation of sporting performances, showing passion and enthusiasm.

The second half started, with a shout for handball after a few minutes, that as I replay the memories in my head seems clearer and clearer every time, but such is the biased, and fickle, mind of a supporter. In any case it was not given. Later on Suarez scored on yet another free kick, with a wonderfully curved shot. Repeat the previous process of screams, chants and jumping hugs. It was also inspiring to witness Suarez' own celebrations on the pitch, which showed just how much it meant to him. At the time I thought there was no way we couldn't get another, at least. Unfortunately it was not to be. Yet even in defeat, despite winning 3-1, it summed up the night wonderfully, showing what Liverpool FC is all about, with a heartfelt rendition of YNWA towards the end.

After the match we made our way out, walked towards Goodison and found a taxi. The driver was yet another highly friendly guy, as eager to talk about the match as us. Unfortunately the car did not agree, whining and making so much noise that the conversation was reduced to «....Carragher....Allen....Suarez...» and me adding affirming or negative grunts or very vague and general comments, without a proper voice. Still, a funny experience with a witty and enthusiastic fellow.

The rest of the night was spent recounting moments from the match, for me whilst consuming a few pints, and reliving the magic of the evening. Despite, or even because, the result it seemed to encapsulate all that is associated with the famous Anfield nights. The crowd's passion, the songs, the chants, driving the team on. A spirited performance by the players, with moments of complete brilliance by individual players and an overall excellent performance, in spite of the aggregate result. And even in defeat those were the elements that shone through. Everyone appeared focused on the same goal, and appreciated a brilliant performance even if it wasn't enough in the end.

For the remainder of the stay most of it wasn't directly related to LFC, including visiting the cathedral, other elements of sightseeing and shopping. As stated before it is a wonderful city, a friendly population and a very lovely place to visit. My love for the city did nothing but grow after this trip, with the Liverbirds on the Liver Building still creating a smile whenever I see them. As an ending note it is worth to mention that we got another trip to Anfield, going on the Legend's Tour with John Aldridge on Sunday. It was well worth the money, getting to see the stadium from the inside and hearing some fascinating stories.

The trip, from Norway to Liverpool for a home match, was an amazing experience, meeting fellow reds, visiting a boss city, and experiencing the most incredible atmosphere there is in football. Partaking in the songs, the culture, the shared hopes and dreams, was wonderful, sharing it with scousers and out-of-towners alike. I'm not trying to start the debate on the geography of the club's fan base, but I honestly believe that as long as one has the desire, almost need, for the team to succeed, and the will to sing and participate and perform with the crowd it does not matter where you are from, be it Bootle, Huyton or Larvik. In any case, it was an experience I will carry with me and treasure.

You'll Never Walk Alone.

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