Monday, November 27, 2006

Liverpool FC – PSV Eindhoven (22-11-2006)

It has been a lifelong (well, kind of) dream of me to visit the legendary Anfield Road stadium of Liverpool FC and 22 November 2006 the moment was finally there. I was a big fan of Liverpool in the early 1980s, particularly of central defender Alan Hansen, but my allegiance to “the Reds” proved a youthful infatuation that dissipated with time (unlike my ‘love’ for PSV and BMG). Still, Anfield Road remains one of thé football temples in the world and, given that Liverpool FC wants to move to a new stadium, it had become increasingly urgent to visit it. My sense of urgency had been heightened even more by a couple of failed attempts to visit Anfield Road for a Premiership game (impossible to get you hands on tickets).

I was therefore thrilled when PSV Eindhoven drew Liverpool FC in the Champions League group. Despite problems with the sale of the tickets on the PSV website, I managed to get my ticket in the first attempt and enjoyed the feeling for the rest of the day (while following the growing anger and despair of other PSV fans on the PSV Netwerk website). Unfortunately, PSV has still not overcome its provincial mentality, and so it remains an expensive and tiring affair to get the actual ticket to Antwerp. Please PSV, finally understand that you have now fans well beyond Eindhoven, who find it always impossible to visit home or away games because of the ridiculous policy of exchanging your tickets at the PSV Stadium in Eindhoven.

Wednesday morning I take the bus to “Antwerp International Airport” and get a VLM flight, with stop-over in London City, to Manchester. There I check in at my hotel, and make my way by train to Liverpool. In the train I meet the first fellow PSV supporter, who lives in Denmark for a couple of years and meets up with friends from Eindhoven in the center of Liverpool. Around 3pm we arrive at Liverpool Lime Street Station, where, surprise, surprise, it is grey and drizzly. The center of town is full of PSV fans and, as always, I have mixed feelings about being identified with them.

After visiting the huge LFC shop in the city center, and deciding not to buy a megalomaniacally large club banner (there are no smaller ones; do we need to compensate for something?), I make my way to a very busy bus stop to take bus 17A (together with hordes of PSV fans) to Anfield Road. Annoyed by the pseudo-hooliganism of several fans (shame how few people can withstand peer pressure), I am happy to get out of the bus and face the outside of “The Kop”.

More than one hour before the start of the game more PSV than LFC fans have amassed outside of the stadium, most of whom admiring two of the most famous sites of international football: the arch with the world famous text “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and, next to it, the impressive memorial for the 96 fans who died in the Hillsborough disaster of April 15, 1989.

Around 7pm I enter Anfield Road Lower to take my place in Block 123, row 32, seat 64. Obviously, none is keeping to their seat and, given that the away supporters blocks are already quite full, I have to go quite far up on the stand. There I am confronted with the discomfort of old stadiums like this one, a fairly poor view (reminiscent of one of the stands of Arsenal’s old Highbury stadium). Still, it’s better than the poor slobs who come after me, and who have to sit on the upper row (as the police strictly enforce the policy of keeping the steps free of people). They complain bitterly and loudly, but to no avail. Quite a rip-off given that they, like all of us, have paid 34 pound (ca. 50 euro) for a ticket but see almost nothing of the pitch!

Maybe it is the bad view from my seat, or it is the fact that I’m surrounded by 2.400 PSV supporters, but I am not particularly impressed by the LFC stadium and its fans. I had long looked forward to hearing the LFC crowd sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before the beginning of the game, but it didn’t impress me as much as it did at Celtic Park. During much of the game I will only hear the PSV supporters sing and, even when they are quiet, the Liverpool supporters (that day) really “only sing when they are winning”. This is not to say that Anfield Road is not a beautiful ‘old school’ football ground, just that it wasn’t as impressive as I had expected (maybe I had too high expectations).

As both teams were already qualified for the next stage of the Champions League, the pace of the game wasn’t impressive. Moreover, both teams excel in defending rather than attacking, and so the game didn’t have the highest amusement value. Though biased, I admit, I thought PSV kept the 0-0 score without much problems in the first half, although the first 15 minutes were clearly for the home team.

The second half was decided by one mistake of the PSV defense, finished in great style by the only two class players of LFC: Dutchman Dirk Kuyt passing to Englishman Steven Gerrard: 1-0 and I am seriously pissed off! After that PSV finally starts to attack, but without the much desired result. In fact, in one of the counter-attacks the young central defender Da Costa makes a positioning mistake and the ridiculously tall and sluggish Crouch scores the inconsequential 2-0. Game over!

After the game we have to stay for an additional 30 minutes in the stadium, in which ‘we’ taunt the Dutch tv commentators with songs against ajax and the Dutch national coach, Marco Van Basten. Many PSV fans discuss the disappointingly tame atmosphere at the LFC end of the stadium – friends who had seen the game on tv would tell me afterwards that the PSV supporters were far more vocal than the LFC fans; a not uncommon experience at European games.

After I finally got out of the stadium, I walk some 20 minutes through the rain in search of a (free) taxi. In the end, I settle for a bus, which is again packed with (less buoyant) PSV supporters. I discuss the first exit poll results of the Dutch parliamentary elections, sent by sms by friends of mine, with some of them. At the station I find out that I have to wait an hour before I can take the (last) train to Manchester; I kill the time by hunting for anything eatable that is not kebab or, the local favorite, chips and gravy. After a short stop-over at Manchester Piccadili, I arrive at my hotel at Manchester Airport at 1am. An hour later, after checking the last results of the elections, I fall asleep. Five hours later I am checking in for my flight back to Antwerp

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