I wasn’t born in Liverpool; I’ve never even been to Liverpool. Yet, I am a Red, a Koppite, a Scouser, a Liverpool FC supporter. This is why.
I have watched football, off and on, for years. I have very, very vivid memories of the 2006 World Cup. I would sneak into my boss’s office and watch the games on the over-the- air Spanish channel. America didn’t do well that year, amassing a single point, but I was screaming with anger at an Italian side I was convinced cheated against “us.” (No idea if they truly did but it was my first emotional connection to a football match.) And I remember the Zidane headbutt, which was like if Kobe Bryant, in his last game ever, in game 7 of the NBA Championships, with the game on the line, just up and slugged someone for no apparent reason. There may have been words exchanged but it wasn’t as if Zidane had been on the receiving end of an illegal tackle or anything of the sort. One of the greatest ever, on the greatest stage ever, in what was arguably the most important moment of his life, headbutted a man.
Club football was what I had trouble getting into. National games are easy because you just root for your team. As an American, that means maybe seeing them play 3-4 games in the World Cup then observing Germany and Brazil make people look stupid. But there aren’t enough international games to sustain interest and how much of a shit can I be expected to give about America beating up on some random island of 15 people who just happen to be geographically close? (Note: we can’t even do that, these days.)
No, I needed a club team.
I watched league games from Italy and Spain and Germany but that was always going to be tough as an initiation: No one spoke English, the fans kept whistling instead of booing, and I quickly realized that that unless you threw a dart at the table, odds are you’d follow Barca, Madrid, or Bayern. That or find yourself never having a chance at winning anything. For me, it was the English Premier League or bust. And it just so happened that NBCSports had signed an amazing deal where they would air every single game, from every single team. I’m 90% sure people in England don’t get that privilege – and this was all free!
So, I had a friend from Liverpool and I was like, “That’s a good place to start for picking a club.” Didn’t know shit about their history of being awesome or anything, but at least I had some connection to the team. Then, the connection became affection as I read about the Hillsborough disaster.
The Hillsborough Disaster
I’m sure it’s a weird reason to be dedicated to a team but reading about the tragedy that occurred April 15, 1989 just struck a chord with me. I was overcome with this personal connection, one I’d only previously ever had with the San Francisco Giants (my dad grew up a Giants fans and so there’s that father-son bond thing). Sure, I root for teams here and there but if the Chicago Bears were somehow disbanded tomorrow … eh. Liverpool feels like it’s in my blood. I get up at 6:30 a.m. to watch matches, I curse under my breath people wearing Manchester United shirts, and I try to learn the fun songs that are sung, and a part of that is because of death.
Hillsborough never should have happened. It was one of the worst events in the history of all sports. 96 human beings died. Hundreds more were injured.
Long and short, the police fucked up, let in too many people, too quickly, didn’t direct them properly, and then human beings were being smashed into fencing. Fans were suffocated and killed, all while technically standing. People were literally being crushed into the pavement. Fans in the stadium begged and pleaded for exits until they finally started to jump onto the field just to have a chance to live. None of this was the fault of the fans. But that didn’t matter to authorities.
In the years that followed, there were stories and official reports that blamed the fans for what happened: drinking, fighting, etc… There was a general acknowledgment that maybe the police should’ve done things better but really it was just those scummy Liverpool fans to blame. Then the truth came out and it was worse than a reasonable person would expect. Police reports were doctored to remove any reference to the cops doing things improperly. 100+ reports were deliberately altered. The police checked the blood alcohol content of victims (likely before helping them) – including on children. Those in charge were so determined to make sure that the police were made to look good. Flat out lies were spread and the newspaper The Sun in particular helped, running a headline “THE TRUTH” which blamed everything on the fans. In Liverpool, the paper is probably held in lesser regard than used toilet paper.
The Real Truth about Hillsborough
Finally, after decades, all of the documents were released to the public. All of the truth came out. It lead to the Prime Minister delivering this:
Say what you will about his policies but for my money that is one of the most amazing apologies ever issued by a public official. There was no attempt to mitigate or pass the buck or give one of those, “I’m sorry if you were offended” type of apologies. Just flat out: we fucked up.
I’ll Never Walk Alone Because You’ll Never Walk Alone
You’ll Never Walk Alone is the rallying cry for Liverpool (and official song for the club). Fans sing it in unison at matches and it can lead to surreal moments. It is one of the most powerful experiences in all of sport. YNWA is probably the most popular tattoo in the city, if I had to guess. It’s fitting and thus perfect. Four little words encompass everything that makes the club great – because it isn’t just a group of athletes, it isn’t a little team that some oil giant bought and threw billions into, it’s a true community.
It’s that community that makes Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard special. Gerrard was born in Merseyside, the county where Liverpool resides, and had a cousin who died during the Hillsborough Disaster (the youngest person to die). He spent his entire career playing for Liverpool, leading them to the the Champions League trophy in 2005 – a match considered by every football fan to be one of the most incredible games of all time. He’s universally regarded as one of the greatest players of his generation. Local boy. Direct connection to horror. Greatness.
All of this made an impression on me. This town, a victim of an actual government conspiracy to defame the dead, the local boy with a direct connection to what happened later becoming one of the greatest players of all time; I may not have been born there but I felt like I was a part of it all.
One day, while at work, I listened as Liverpool beat Borussia Dortmund in a comeback that felt like it was a once in a lifetime occurrence. I sat at a cubicle and didn’t care who heard as I screamed in joy when they went up with just minutes to spare. Someone asked me what happened.
“We just fucking won!!!!”
“Liverpool. Football. Soccer.”
“Oh, is that your team?”
“Yes. I’m a Scouser.”