Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dispatches from the Worst Soccer Game of All Time

"I want this game to get chippy."

That was an actual sentence I said during the first half of last night's Liverpool-AS Roma debacle at Fenway Park.

I was obviously deluded. So deluded, in fact, that my friend had to inform me of the fact that the players for Liverpool's first team (names like Gerrard, Sterling, Johnson, Sturridge, and Reina) who were paraded across the pitch at halftime like returning war heroes were actually labeled as "Liverpool legends" by the Fenway P.A. announcer.

Yup, now apparently a 19 year old midfielder with one good season under his belt is a "legend."

This game, with perhaps two exceptions, was a disappointment from beginning to end.

Being the massive Liverpool supporter that I am, I was thrilled to be seated in the midst of the "Fenway Kop" and was expecting a full-throated, rollicking version of "You'll Never Walk Alone." The song began with no introduction several minutes after we were seated, and a halfhearted, half-full bleacher section mewled out the anthem in much the same way a kitten cries for more milk.

One positive moment was the tribute to the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster which happened 25 years ago in April. A banner reading "Never Forgotten, 25 years" was placed over the center circle, and there was a minute's silence, during which Kenny Dalglish released 96 balloons which floated over the Green Monster and out into the city.

From there, it went downhill quickly.

The play was uninspired, with both teams trotting out their B- (or even C-) squads. Philippe Coutinho was far and away the best player on the field, showing brilliant ball control and vision on nearly every touch. Several narrow escapes from tricky situations pulled a breathless exclamation from the Liverpool faithful.

Unfortunately, aside from one Rickie Lambert effort in the second half, Coutinho was the only bright spot for the Reds. Yes, the berserker Martin Skrtel was solid in defense, as was the lanky and somehow skilled Martin Kelly. But there was no invention going forward, with Lambert cutting a lonely figure amongst the central defenders of Roma.

The second half turned ugly, at least from our perspective.

Now, I've never attended a European football match in Europe. But I have been to many college soccer games, New England Revolution games, and two other matches between European teams (Celtic v Sporting at Fenway and Milan v Inter at Gillette), and I seem to remember standing up the whole time at all of these events.

Soccer is a game of ebb and flow, a constant swirl of motion, with few stoppages and no timeouts. Though many deride it as boring, it actually produces the most consistent action of any major sport. Thus, you can imagine our confusion when the second half started, and almost everyone in our section (allegedly the Liverpool supporters' section) remained seated.

The group in front of us, a similar collection of mid-20s soccer enthusiasts, stood up as soon as the whistle blew. This seemed to be the norm for them, as it was for us. We soon realized that we were in the minority, and if we hadn't, the people behind us were all too ready to alert us to this fact.

Curses, sarcastic jeers, comments about our appearance, and actual objects were hurled from behind us, as those patrons who no doubt sit in an office chair all day couldn't be bothered to stand up and watch a soccer game which they paid good money to attend. As a few of us turned to engage, my attention was particularly drawn to a portly man in a Wake Forest baseball cap. This was a man who clearly had less than the first clue about anything related to soccer, yet he was in the thick of it, screaming sarcastic taunts at us as we stood to watch. We returned a few words, but soon realized it was distracting for other patrons and ourselves.

I understand that not being able to see is a legitimate complaint. However, the entire section to our left was standing up, as were many other patrons around the stadium. The energy on the field was lethargic at best, but it was certainly not improved by the sentiment in the stands. Granted, we're not watching the first team go plunging into challenges on a European night at Anfield. But, come on now, this is the team that you wake up at 7 AM on a rainy Saturday in November to watch. The team that you stream at your desk during a Europa League group stage match. The team that you spend far too much disposable income on to ship products from the official team store on Anfield Road (I'm assuming that's where the team store is. I've never been.).

The second half, for us, was endured under the heckling of men who should have been our friends, our comrades, our drinking buddies. "You'll Never Walk Alone" blares the Liverpool anthem. An umbrella statement that seems to indicate that anywhere in the world that two people sporting the Liver bird beneath the Shankly Gate meet, they're bonded instantly by the love of a football club.

Last night, as we were pelted by insults and plastic cups while standing to support our football club amongst a crowd of those who allegedly supported the same club, walking alone to the exit doors of Fenway Park often felt the best option.

But, I did get my wish. It definitely got chippy.

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