A Masshole Goes Among The Thugs
Just before kickoff, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” came on the PA, and fans started singing along. This moment was supposed to give me chills — 45,000 people singing with one voice about loyalty and kinship. It beats the hell out of “Sweet Caroline,” but I gotta tell you, the song’s a bit of a downer — not exactly pump-up material. The Everton fans liked it even less than I did. Throughout the song, they were chanting, “Mur-der-ers! Mur-der-ers!” This ugly reference was to the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster, when a charging mob of Liverpool fans and the collapse of a retaining wall led to the death of 39 people, most of them fans of the Italian team Juventus. Life and death really are central themes in soccer here. It was for good reason, then, that a cordon of brightly uniformed police surrounded the Everton rooting section.
With the ceremonies and cruel chants finished, it was time for kickoff. For all the talk about how delirious and amazing English soccer games are, I was a bit skeptical. I was there when Pedro threw down Zimmer in ’03, and at the Garden when the Celtics pushed the Lakers to the brink in Game 5 of the Finals last season. Those crowds were electric. Could these people possibly dial it up higher?
At the beginning of the game, I thought they might. The singing and chanting was nonstop, and Anfield’s low ceilings added to the volume. Dalglish was getting serenaded and fans were singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “When the Reds Go Marching In” verse after verse after verse. When Liverpool’s Raul Meireles drove home a rebound in the 29th minute to put the Reds up 1–0, the crowd’s reaction must have registered on the Richter scale.
But as the game settled into its rhythm, the fans settled down with it. The guys behind me weren’t saying much beyond “fucking hell” this and “fucking hell” that. The guy in front of me was fiddling with his BlackBerry. And when the second half started with two quick Everton goals, the place went dead. Everton continued to control possession, and the stadium started to get agitated, almost angry. The guy next to me kept chewing his nails and staring at the floor. A man behind me huffed, “This is the worst we’ve seen.”
Thankfully, after a questionable call by the referee, Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt knocked in a penalty kick. The fans reacted with relief and glee, and tensions were soothed for a little while. But 15 minutes later, a Liverpool player blew a scoring chance, and the catcalls and boos began. The game ended in a 2–2 tie. People filed out quietly. That’s soccer for you.