‘Pitch’ Perfect: Liverpool FC
Liverpool Lives Its Best Life In England, America and Beyond
By Stacey Gualandi
No professional English soccer team is quite as hot as recently-crowned six-time Champion’s League titleholder Liverpool FC. In fact, Forbes says almost 800 million people follow LFC on social media. (Let me break that down for you: That’s 1 in 10 people on the planet!)
Nowhere was that hotness more evident than the Redmen’s pre-season, three-city U.S. victory tour…during a record-breaking heatwave.
“We love America,” says midfielder James Milner about the unprecedented fan turnout. “The fans are great everywhere we go. It’s always fun to come to America.”
Being a (Las Vegas-based) Reds supporter, it was quite an honor for me to talk with the team while they trained inside Boston’s Fenway Park before their exhibition match against Sevilla. While the 97 degree-plus temps on the field left me sauna-sweaty, the players couldn’t have been more cool with this “football” novice.
“It’s always hard, but that’s how pre-season has to be,” admits midfielder Georginio “Gini” Wijnaldum on adjusting to the extreme heat. “It sets the standard for the rest of the season.”
Setting the standard is de rigueur for the 127-year-old club from Liverpool, England. Like the chirpy chant “Allez, Allez, Allez” says, they’ve literally conquered all of Europe with more titles earned by any team in the English Premier League.
The team boasts Mo Salah, the League’s record goal scorer, and UEFA’s 2018/19 Goaltender and Player of the Year, Allison Becker and Virgil Van Dijk, respectively.
“I just try to do everything I can for the team,” says Van Dijk, the award-winning defender. “Like everyone else, I have an important role. I just want to do my job and enjoy every bit of it.”
It’s that team ethos of collectivism—fans, management and players supporting each other—that sets Liverpool FC apart from other professional teams. This commitment to unity is emboldened by the squad’s famous pre-game anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone, and is what attracted German manager Juergen Klopp.
“We can build on last season, and what we always want to do is to create memories for ourselves and the fans,” says Klopp. “In 30 years, looking back, you can not avoid a smile on your face. That is the plan.”
“I think [our] manager sort of sets the ball rolling with what he demands from us,” says Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who in the summer signed a new long-term contract (and is dating Little Mix singer Perrie Edwards, if you follow the British press).
“We’re generally a good group of lads: We have a good mix on our team—quite a lot of young guys—but everyone’s hungry, and willing to learn and respect each other totally. There are no bad big egos. We haven’t got any of that on this team.”
Milner—the oldest player on Liverpool—echoes Ox’s belief, both on and off the pitch. In fact, he’s written a book specifically for faithful footy followers titled Ask a Footballer, due out in October.
“[It includes] questions from the fans: We get to answer what they really want to hear, more about football in general than about me,” says the versatile veteran.
Now the “Pride of Mersyside” is hitting its stride stateside.
This summer, tens of thousands of supporters came from all over the country for the rare chance to see their club at all-American venues like Notre Dame, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. Boston’s House of Blues even had a standing-room-only “Boss Night,” where everyone sang popular tunes about the team and their triumphs. It was the perfect opportunity to laud the lad’s legendary status.
Perhaps there is no one better than team captain Jordan Henderson to sum up the entire tour: “We’ve had a lot of time to reflect [on last season], but now its about the future and what we can do moving forward.”
But does that include signed copies of Milner’s book for the whole team?
“I should get it for free,” jokes Van Dijk. “I want him to sign it if i get it for free, otherwise I’m going to be angry.”