Escape to New York (via Toronto)

Posted by Rushian on August 9, 2004, 05:29:59 AM

Hotwings, Les Dawson and the mysterious case of the missing Prada

It wasn't even the best laid plan the mice could come up with, but it still all went horribly Pete Tong.

You see, my uncle was supposed to fly into Texas to join my Dad and me for a roadtrip to Toronto and New Jersey and back again. But then a problem at work stopped my Uncle coming over, and I developed a medical condition that prevented me from spending the best part of a week in the passenger seat of our truck. So my Dad bought me a fistful of plane tickets and then set off alone with only an iPod and a makeshift bed in the back of the Tahoe for company.

He left at 2pm on Tuesday and arrived at the Toronto Skydome Renaissance Hotel just in time to check in at 3pm on Thursday. My flight arrived the next morning.

Dad had already promised to collect some Hard Rock Cafe merchandise for family back in the UK and Texas. So he was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of Toronto's two Hard Rocks was next door to the hotel within the Skydome complex. And even happier to discover that for the price of a beer and a plate of hot wings you could get a window seat with a view of the stadium and watch them laying the turf for the football pitch only 26 hours before the game was due to begin. According to his waitress, you can actually book window tables at the Hard Rock for any event at the Skydome provided you ask about a month in advance, pay a cover charge of $5 and spend at least $30 a head.

Since he's always said it was a small world, the old man wasn't that surprised to see Jim Trecker - a writer, a US football administrator, a slight acquaintance of my Dad's and now apparently a bigwig within the Champions World set-up - take a chair at the next table along in the company of a SkyDome manager and the guy responsible for the turf. Being a shy retiring kinda dude, my Dad waited until these three had all but finished their hurried meal before easing his way into their conversation. Things he learnt included:

a) Sir Bobby Robson is "slowing down dramatically" - US PC speak for he's one step away from fully fledged Alzheimers
b) there are all kinds of factions and internal wars being fought at Celtic at present
c) each club was getting $500,000 plus expenses per match - except for one unnamed side.
d) they hadn't received enough turf for the pitch but were hoping for a last minute delivery to fill in
e) after the second game in two days at the Skydome the turf was going to be removed and used to create a new park somewhere in Toronto.
f) the biggest security problem at the Skydome was expected to be controlling the press photographers

Unfortunately there was no gossip at all from within the Liverpool camp but Trecker had an associate watching them train at a University sports ground somewhere in the city and they were apparently better organised and working harder than any of the other teams this "associate" had seen so far.

That evening, Dad went to the Duke Of Gloucester to an LFC supporter's club piss-up where he met up with some very nice ex-pats -- three brothers who'd been photographed for an article in the local Paper That Cannot Be Named - who took this very tired Johnny No-Mates under their wing, bought him beers and made him feel very welcome. He also met an unlikely skinhead called Simon and his sister, and a comedy Scouser called Andy who:

a) worked at Anfield as a steward
b) had a full time job in Health and Safety
c) had fallen down drunk at the game in Connecticut and broken his arm

Any ideas who this might be?

Anyway, Andy from Allerton had brought with him the longest banner in the history of the whole world ever, but with only one arm was reliant on the help of others to ... *cough* ... get it out. We never saw his banner at the game. Either game.

The next morning, my flight landed in Toronto where I was met by my Dad and and my friend Jessie from Sarnia who is now working and studying in Toronto. Dad took us for lunch at the Duke Of Gloucester where the rudest waitress in the world would have got a kick in the crotch from me if Dad hadn't stopped me. Apparently in her view of the world, she was supposed to get a tip every time we bought a drink and not just at the end of our lunch. Cow, ey?

Anyway, even though the Duke was the first pub I've ever been to above a restaurant, it was still pretty empty and not at all thrilling, so steering very clear of the World's Angriest Man - a perpetually livid half man, half beast Les Dawson lookie-like in a YNWA polo shirt with a cellphone welded to his ear, Jessie and I went to wander around Toronto's "Gay Village" while Dad went off to buy me stuff and take a few quiet moments out to contemplate the fact that it would've been my Mum's 40th birthday that day.

I liked Toronto a lot. Of course, I only really saw the very centre, but that's the only place I'd consider living in any city. And Toronto's kinda like all the best bits of London or New York squashed together into one very clean, very tidy little village. Bloor-Yorkville is lovely. And Yonge Street has everything a girl could ever need - from tattoo parlours to retro-clothes shops to about a hundred Indian restaurants. And the subway is to die for -- clean, uncrowded, frotteur-free, relatively cool and utterly unthreatening. I felt completely safe the whole time I was there and I was amazed at the fact that if you don't have a ticket or a pass for the tube, all you have to do is drop a few coins in a glass jar as you walk through the barriers. It's supposed to be $2.10 per trip (I think!), but you could have paid anything provided it jingly-clunked as it hit the bottom of the jar.

I liked the SkyDome a lot. There was over 40000 people there, but it was far from full, so we were able to move from our ticketed seats to better seats on the very front row of our tier pretty much level with the six yard box. Jessie (who had my Uncle's ticket) and I sat next to a 12 year old girl called Alice who couldn't keep still and who loved every moment. Except for the one when my Dad lost his rag and called a Porto player on the far side of the pitch a "cheating, diving bastard" and tried to get a chant going: "Same old Porto, always diving".

Alice's parents obviously thought my Dad's next step would involve semi-automatic weapons and wanted Alice to go and sit on their other side. But I apologised, scolded the old man and she stayed where she was.

Highpoints from the match included:

a) Alice dancing and singing along to the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" during the pre-match "entertainment".
b) the ample leg room in the seats - I'm always OK, but my old man is 6' and built like a heavyweight boxer gone profoundly to seed and he always feels cramped at Anfield
c) meeting the Irregulars
d) the Reds' highly entertaining warm up sessions and the fast-paced football of the first half
e) seeing Cisse in the red shirt for the first time, terrorising one of the best defences in Yoorup with his pace
f) buying a match T-shirt with the wrong date on that also reckoned Toronto was in the United States of America - and this was Official Merchandise!!!!
g) Finally learning my alphabet
h) Eeegorrrrrrr!!!!!!

In other news, Zak Whitbread had a bit of a mare in the centre of defence during the first half, but played really well at left back for the second. Harry Kewell continued to play like he was in a different dimension - the dimension of a workshy, five-minutes-off-the-pace carthorse. Milan Baros still did not look like the top scorer in a major international tournament. And Porto look set to win Olympic diving gold in Athens. God help us all if Chelsea start playing that way.

The morning after the match, Dad set off for Noo Joisey while I stayed in Toronto with Jessie to catch up, to shop and to partay in a gentile ladylike stylee. I particularly enjoyed the no smoking rules in the city - something I'd like to see introduced in Texas and Freshfield - but I'm not entirely sure how it'll work when the mercury plummets and Toronto is suddenly under a couple of feet of snow.

Anyhoo, my Dad had planned to stop off in the Catskills on his way to Noo Joisey, but n engine warning light came on in the truck so he drove straight to the Meadowlands Crowne Plaza Hotel stopping only for a quick look at the Niagara Falls and a late lunch in Ithaca - which is apparently very nice if you like wealthy student towns.

We had a room booked at the Crowne Plaza for three nights - but not for the night Dad arrived and there was no room at the Inn. Or the Plaza. So Dad slept in the back of the truck on the top floor of the hotel's multi-storey parking lot. The next morning, he discovered a shopping centre a few miles west of Meadowlands with a great big eff off Barnes & Noble, a huge movie theatre and a really nice Mexican restaurant called Chevy's. So he bought a book, ate fajitas, drank Corona and watched the Manchurian Candidate before checking into the Crowne Plaza for - as he put it - a well deserved dump and an afternoon kip in a nice soft bed. That night, he caught the bus into Manhattan and wandered around for hours looking at the architecture and popping into occasional bars for an occasional cool beverage.

The next day, Dad discovered he was staying in the same hotel as Angry Les Dawson and a couple of his mates. But they seemed uniquely uninterested in letting on to a fellow Scouser ("Alright, lads?" Stoney silence) so he left the miserable bastards well alone - even though they all ended up getting the same bus into Manhattan. No doubt the crucial three were heading for the Eleventh Street Bar, but my Dad was coming to pick me up at JFK.

We had a very late lunch at a pizza joint near Grand Central Terminal and did some window shopping, architecture crawling and player spotting - half a dozen Porto players outside the very wonderful Japanese department store Takashimaya on Fifth Avenue and a handful of Roma at the Rockefeller Plaza - before spending a couple of hours in a rare non-Irish bar with my honorary Aunt Kat Of Brooklyn - an old artist and glamourous web terrorist* friend of my Dad's, chatting to the natives and trying to explain the allure of the world's game and then catching a late bus to the hotel.

I'd never taken the bus in NYC before, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal was surprisingly impressive. In fact, the only downside to Manhattan was that under the new security "lock-down", the police had decided to "hard-rain" the illegal street traders but do nothing about the myriad the Mancs fans in midtown. With the result that I couldn't find the pink leather faux Prada bag of my dreams anywhere but kept wanting to kick the always ample backsides of happy couples in matching the Mancs replica shirts. Based on a brief survey taken along Madison Avenue, Paul Scholes and Roy Keane are widely believed to be an "item".

The day of the match, with the engine warning light now out again - something to do with water in the electronics apparently, we drove to Lodi, NJ in search of the Bing Of Sopranos fame. Confusingly, Dad had been told the Bing was really called Tara's, but it turned out to be Satin Dolls. Or was it the other way around? I'm not sure why they wouldn't let me in - it was either my sex or my age - but whatever, we restricted ourselves to photos and signally failed to collect the Bing T-shirts we had promised to half a dozen friends and relations. Then Dad took me to Chevy's and the movies. A word to the wise: the Bourne Supremacy is way lame and the luvverly Julia Stiles is only in it for about five minutes. I think there's a reason no-one had ever made these books into movies before. And it's because they're shite.

Oh, I almost forgot, although I didn't see Angry Les and his mates at our hotel, I did see what I assume was his car - a red Volvo with a telltale personalised New Hampshire plate - parked a few spaces down from our truck in the hotel's lot and I realised immediately who this charmer was. The fact that I didn't immediately key his car just goes to show what a thoroughly nice young lady I am.

I love the smell of the moral high ground in the morning.

And so to the match ...

The Crowne Plaza's website had made it seem like you could walk from the hotel to the Giants Stadium. Presumably they had Jesus in mind. He could have legged it across the river and been queueing in inside a couple of minutes. Anyone else would've had to face a walk along the side of what is basically a motorway with no hard shoulder while crossing a river in a rush hour traffic. So we drove. I timed the drive from our hotel to the stadium and it took less than two minutes. Which was nice. But, in addition to paying $85 plus assorted Ticketmaster ripoffs per ticket for the match, we now had to spend another $15 on parking. Dad parked the Tahoe in pole position for a quick getaway and we wandered among the tail-gater parties - ost of which were Italian - for a while before heading into the stadium.

I was very surprised to see that the Giants Stadium had no roof. And I was disappointed with the time it would obviously take to get out of the place at the end of the game. Our seats were six rows back from the pitch roughly halfway between the halfway line and the edge of the area. In the middle of our row. Some locals - Roma fans obviously - we got talking to said that at a typical Giants match, we could expect to spend at least 20 minutes in our seats at the end of the game before we'd be able to start leaving. We made a mental note to move nearer the exits a few minutes before the end. But gave the seating a very warm round of applause. Our seats were wider and the leg room even more generous than they had been at the Skydome.

There were a few things I found very disappointing during our trip to Toronto and Noo Joisey.

The first was the ever-increasing proliferation of white and other non-black football boots - just say No!

The second was the numbers of neutral fans and Mancs turning up to watch the Reds.

And the third was the ridiculously low IQ of so many of the American Reds.

During the Roma game, we were unfortunate enough to find ourselves next to four such prize geniuses. Their footballing knowledge and vocabulary were both minimal. And their charm was as low as their volume was high. A shot on goal was a "hit". A move was a "play". And they talked about Italians the same way we might talk about Mancs. Without seeming to notice that we were surrounded by hundreds of NY/NJ Italian families or that the very obviously Italian guy in front of me was the size of several large houses and at least one barn, and based on appearances a mob enforcer with an interest in cruel and unusual maiming. Luckily, he turned out to be a very nice man and knowledgeable football fan who'd brought his wife and daughter to the game and in return for me playing with four year old Lily, he promised not to kill my neighbours.

Which was very much more than they deserved.

In the end my Dad had a less than quiet word with the moron quartet and explained that even if the Roma fans around them were prepared to put up with their stupidity, he wasn't.

Our other neighbours were a very nice and very large Italian family called Pelizzoli who had turned up with banners to greet their cousin Ivan - a goalkeeper for Roma - only to discover that he was in Greece with the Italian Olympic side. Oops.

Although Steven Gerrard looked very ordinary and Cisse too often displayed the first touch of a camel, I was pleased and impressed with Liverpool's performance against Roma. Based on the two games I saw, we are clearly going to see a better prepared and better coached team when the new season starts.

Igor Biscan turned in another top class performance in his proper position. I suspect the pre-season is flattering him just a little, but I hope he gets the chance to build on his good showings in America.

Josemi looked like an immediate first choice at right back. Tough in the tackle. Comfortable on the ball. Crisp passer. Keen to get forward. All he has to do is establish an understanding with the players around him and work on his positioning and he could be a star in the making.

Whitbread still looked a little unsure at centre-back, but again he is very competent and comfortable on the ball and could well be first team central defender or left back within a couple of years.

While Salif Diao looked improved but not yet good enough, Finnan flopped anonymously, Kewell continued to frustrate and Pongo put in a lot of good work but seemed to lack the full-on striker instinct and could be a contender for the Porto High Board team

After Michael Owen crashed home our second goal, we took advantage of the standing crowd to slip away from our seats and join the creditably noisy Liverpool end for a few minutes of singing before racing away at the final whistle. We were back at the hotel before most people would have made it out of their seats. On my flight back to Austin the next day, I was looking forward to the new season with renewed enthusiasm - thanks to Rafael Benitez, convinced that the club made the right decision when they released Le Previous Manager but concerned that we still have the same three areas to address:

First, we need to finalise our backline. If we're not going to splash the cash for a new central defender then I think the backline should be Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia and Riise - with Finnan, Henchoz and Whitbread as backup.

Second, the midfield: Danny Murphy is only a squad player. Dietmar Hamman is past his sell-by. Steven Gerrard needs to pick up his game -- unless of course he was under pre-season orders to take things easy. Igor looks a good bet to partner Gerrard in the centre. Big Sal will prolly sit on the bench and come on for either one.

Which leaves the left and right sides. Kewell is the obvious choice for the left, but he needs to get it in gear - and soon - and develop some consistency. It would be nice to see him playing for 90 minutes instead of nine. But I have no idea who should sit out on the right. Murphy isn't strong enough, or fast enough. Finnan just doesn't look good enough. So ideally we'd bring in a new right-sided midfield player before the start of the season as a minimum. And if possible I'd like to see us selling Hamann who looks very much like a spent force and using the money raised to bring in a new central midfielder to take his place in the squad.

And, finally, of course, the attack. Cisse will prosper in the Premier League - the team just needs to work out his game to give the chances he needs. Michael Owen will benefit from Cisse's presence alongside him. Provided Owen signs up again, we will start the season with two truly world class strikers. But Pongo is no more than bench fodder at the moment and needs time to develop, while Milan Baros just doesn't look the part - despite his success over the summer. I think we should seriously consider selling Baros at the top of the market and bringing a new striker to replace him and understudy Cisse and Owen.

My Dad got back home the day after me. In total, start-to-finish, he'd driven 4428 miles and spent four nights sleeping in the back of the truck. He was truly knackered. But he had no regrets, and like me, he thinks that no matter what happens between now and the start of the season, one thing's for sure. Things are looking up for Thee Mighty Red Machine. Viva Benitez!

© Low 2004

*Seriously. She's been investigated twice by the Secret Service for her "subversive" websites.

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