Today is a sad day, and an exciting one. It is a day of possibility, of hope, but also of reflection, of regret, and a chance to ponder what might have been.
On the eve of the start of the EPL, Owen has left Anfield for the Bernabeau.
Now, if you, unlike 99.99% of all Americans, have some idea of what that last sentence means, you might understand my conflicted mood. If not, let me parse it for you:
“On the eve of the start of the EPL:” Tomorrow, The English Premiere League kicks off!
“Owen:” Michael Owen, English striker and one of the best football players in England
“has left Anfield:” has decided to leave Liverpool, my favorite football team
“for the Bernabeau:” in order to play for Real Madrid in Spain, the so-called “best club in the world” and home to the ‘galacticos,’ the most impressive line-up of players assmebled on any football pitch anywhere.
You see, it’s a dark day in Liverpool. But it feels just as dark in Brooklyn, because I am an American fan of football.
That picture was taken in last week at Giant’s Stadium in NJ, as Liverpool were on their first tour of the USA. We were all celebrating a 2-1 victory over AS Roma of the Italian Serie A. With only five minutes left in the game, Michael Owen lined up the ball, took a shot on goal, and scored, giving Liverpool the victory. It was to be his last appearance, and last goal, for the club. And I was there to see it.
I have been following Liverpool FC since 1994. After the USA hosted the World Cup in 1994, I began to pay closer attention to the global variataions of the game and, having watched a young player named Robbie Fowler score some amazing goals for Liverpool (and seeing the ecstatic reactions of the Liverpool supporters to his exploits), I was hooked on the Reds. Fowler was a player of the people, a local hero who was embraced by the rabid fans of the club. He was tremendously gifted and a great character, and so, I began following Liverpool. And then I heard the Kop sing. The Kop is the name of the seating area at the goal end at Anfield, Liverpool’s stadium, where the most vocal fans and supporters sit and sing the side to victory. When I hear the Kop singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ goading the team to victory, only to erupt in orgasmic celebration (yes, it does feel like an orgasm when a goal is scored for your side), well, it is an incredibly powerful feeling, even on television.
I was hooked.
In 1998, an 18-year old rising star from Liverpool started for England in the World Cup quarterfinals in France. He won a penalty (which was converted by Captain Alan Shearer) to tie the game, and then scored one of the greatest goals in the history of the game to give England a 2-1 lead. We had a superstar at Anfield. His name was Michael Owen.
Today, after years of service for the club, Owen has been signed by Real Madrid, who bought his rights for 8 million pounds and a player named Antonio Nunez. One of our brightest stars is gone on a very undervalued transfer, and all because he lost faith in Liverpool being able to win trophies. Owen left Liverpool to take a pay cut and get LESS playing time because he wants to win championships in the league and in Europe. This is how he sees his legacy. That is unheard of in American sports… players almost always grab the money. But what do you do when your star loses faith in your club? You have to sell him. And we did. We had to. Unlike many American sports fans, I don’t care WHO plays for Liverpool as long as Liverpool win. The health of the club is all that matters to me, and no one player, not even Michael Owen, is bigger than that. I hate to see him go, but it was his decision. And we move on.
We move on because tomorrow, the season starts. I can’t be sad for too long, I am excited for the games to begin, to watch Liverpool in action. In recent years, it has become so much easier for football fans in America to to follow their favorite team. We have Fox Sports World (FSW– channel 124 on your Time Warner Digital Cable box in NYC), and that channel is a GODSEND for fans as they show several matches a day from various leagues around the world, inlcuding the EPL. In fact, I moved across Flatbush Ave from Prospect Heights PRIMARILY so I could leave a Cablevision neighborhood (Cablevision didnt carry FSW) to live in a Time Warner neighborhood of Park Slope. Now THAT’S dedication.
It is a ritual in my house to wake up at 7:30 am every saturday to catch whatever game is on FSW. Luckily, tomorrow Liverpool is on. I am excited to see how we play, and hope we claim the 3 points away to Spurs. Rest assured, I’ll be up at 7:30 every Saturday until May.
The rise of the internet has been crucial for fans in America following the game as well. We get instant scores and match reports, injury updates, even Fantasy Football. This is a case where technology has truly enabled me to become a deeper fan than I might ever have been otherwise. Sure, we have MLS here in the states, and I watch DC United play when I can (I used to live in DC when MLS started and went to many games at RFK– can’t change my loyalties despite my geography…), but the game in England is fast, tough, physical, and thrilling compared with the quality on display in MLS. There is no American Liverpool. And that is why I love the Reds, despite the fact that I have no geographic affiliation to them. They are a unique team, an exciting team, and they bring me joy. I chose to support them because of an exciting young talent, and they have repayed me with thrills, heartbreak, and excitement beyond anything I could ask for. They are my team, and I will follow them through thick and thin.
So walk on you Reds. The season is at hand, the title within our reach. Our ambitions are high, and our abilities can carry us to achieve them. It never matters who is on the pitch, only that they play for the Reds. Because when you wear our colors, you have hope in your heart.
Liverpool FC 2004/05!
Come on You Reds!
You’ll Never Walk Alone!