Allez, Allez, Allez…..

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EL PASO, TEXAS – This new adventure was inevitable. I was drawn there without realizing it for a remarkable birth, or re-birth.  However, as with any great journey, the first few steps rarely foreshadow the ensuing patchwork of experiences.  So it was with this one, my path into the world of international club soccer – seeking the inspiration and emotional fan-experience of a world-class sport club to fill the void eaten away by years of Dallas Cowboy and NFL mediocrity – was destined to become a blockbuster sequel to the tale I told here several years ago:  A Border Gringo in King Kenny’s Court

It had been a wild ride, leaving behind decades of my life as a fan of the Dallas Cowboys to seek out and find another sport and a team where I could immerse myself.  Soccer (or football/futbol) was the sport, and Liverpool Football Club in the English Premier League, was the team.

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I had watched Brendan Rogers become and leave as Liverpool’s Manager.  I saw players of all sorts recruited and stay, or leave or be traded away.  A run in 2013-2014 to the top of the Premier League Table ended in a heart-breaking loss to Chelsea FC, with the famous “Gerrard Slip“, and a second-place finish in the League a few weeks later.  The great club FC Barcelona stole our rainmaker, Luis Suarez, that same summer and a few years later poached another magician from Anfield by paying a record transfer fee for the services of Philippe Coutinho.  But, I get ahead of myself.

In 2014 I chased Liverpool FC across the Eastern United States during their International Champions Cup tour, where I saw them play in Chicago at Soldier Field beating Olympiakos from Greece; at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte where they beat AC Milan; and in Miami, for the ICC Final against Manchester United, which we lost. Those were my first tastes of a “live” game day match, and I came away with several mementos and incredible memories. The seed had been planted.

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Liam and Devin Etzold at Soldier Field, Summer 2014

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Joseph Perry (L) and David Etzold (R) with great seats for the AC Milan game in Charlotte, North Carolina during the ICC Summer Tour 2014.

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THEN, THERE WAS KLOPP

Everything changed when the owners of Liverpool FC hired the services of a manager from Germany by the name of Jurgen Klopp.  He replaced Brendan Rogers in October 2015, when the Fenway Sports Group (owners of the Boston Red Sox) decided a new leader of the team was needed.  Klopp inherited a mix of talent put together by Rogers since 2012, and others before him.  Some legendary players such as Steven Gerrard (710 appearances, featured in a 2015 interview on BT Sport (click here and then hit back to return): Gerrard BT Sports Interview) and Jamie Carragher (757 appearances for the club) were being replaced steadily and surely with new, young talent recruited from abroad as well as some promoted from the local Liverpool Academy.  We were in the hands of a master.

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This particular master had taken his former Borussia Dortmund (BVB) Bundesliga team to two German club championships in 2011 and 2012 and was highly regarded as one of the finest soccer managers in the world.  Jurgen Klopp succeeded in his first season at Liverpool, taking the club to the finals of both the Football League Cup and UEFA Europa League, finishing as runner-up in both competitions.  Could I hope that this was another step along that journey towards a deep emotional fervor in sports?

The next International Champions Cup Tour in 2016 saw Liverpool play two games on the west coast of the United States, one at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena against Chelsea FC and the other at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara against AC Milan.  My son, Liam, and I took a summer road trip from El Paso out to California to see them in person once again.  Liverpool lost to Chelsea and beat AC Milan.  It was a good trip.  That seed had sprouted and was growing strongly.

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Martin Skrtel, Philippe Coutinho and Dejan Lovren celebrate with passion….

Emotion does make the difference.  This team, this club, this “football family” of mine had certainly found their stride, and the drumbeat of that stride carried a tune that resonated deeply inside of me.  This was the emotion that I had sought.  Klopp had found a way to focus that emotion on the field, and was attracting the attention of talented players from all over the world.  He has attracted players with the potential to lift this team to the heights of international soccer, bringing new championships and trophies to this famous historic football club. The fans have responded.

An exceptional video was produced by Liverpool FC,  narrated by Jurgen Klopp himself, about the special nature of the relationship between the club, the players and the fans.

Take a trip to Anfield and its surrounding neighborhoods.  Enjoy this short video, turn up the sound and hit “back” when you’re done (click here): This Means More – Liverpool FC

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David Etzold (R) and Gary McAllister (L) in San Jose, California during the 2016 ICC Summer Tour. McAllister (#21 in his day) signed a Philippe Coutinho jersey, asking “So, is Coutinho your favorite player these days?”

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As I mentioned, at the end of the 2015-2016 Premiere League season, Klopp (in his first season as manager) and his Liverpool boys had made it to the finals of both the Football League Cup and UEFA Europa League, finishing as runner-up in both competitions.  In his next season in charge, 2016-2017, Jurgen Klopp inspired his team to fourth place in the Premier League, earning a place in the UEFA Champions League competition the next year.  That was all I needed.  My dream was about to burst forth in full blossom.

LIVERPOOL AND ANFIELD JOURNEY MID-WINTER 2018

It was time to go to Anfield, that famous football ground in northwest England, home of a team named after the city where it all began: Liverpool.  Founded in 1892 by entrepreneur, Lord Mayor of Liverpool and owner of the land on which the Anfield grounds had been built, John Houlding, the club is today considered the eighth most valuable football club in the world.  Liverpool also brought the world another phenomenon, this in the popular music industry: The Beatles.  It’s an ironic combination of music and sport in this English port city that is nearly 800 years old.

Songs become part of the fabric of our memories. “Strawberry Fields” is a real place in Liverpool, England and so is a place called “Anfield”. Songs have been written about Anfield and the hallowed team that plays there, in fact there is an official songbook “The Anfield Songbook” available with over one hundred chants and anthems.

One popular song in my own background, performed by the rock group Pink Floyd, was an important waypoint in my early search for the right football club: “Fearless“, the third track on the 1971 album “Meddle“, where echoes of the Kop singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” are heard in the background.

Another, a more specifically-written fan chant or anthem, is sung at games, pubs and fan gatherings world wide:

“Fields of Anfield Road”

Outside the Shankly Gates
I heard a Kopite calling:
Shankly they have taken you away
But you left a great eleven
Before you went to heaven
Now it’s glory round the Fields of Anfield Road.

All round the Fields of Anfield Road
Where once we watched the King Kenny play (and he could play)
We had Heighway on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing
Of the glory round the Fields of Anfield Road

Outside the Paisley Gates
I heard a Kopite calling
Paisley they have taken you away.
You led the great 11
Back in Rome in 77
And the redmen they are still playing the same way

All round the Fields of Anfield Road
Where once we watched the King Kenny play (and he could play)
We had Heighway on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing
Of the glory round the Fields of Anfield Road

Follow this link to enjoy a YouTube version of this famous song (click here and then hit back to return): The Fields of Anfield Road

These songs build a texture to the fan experience, whether watching live or on television. Obviously, the live experience is preferable. I wanted to know that experience. Badly.

As I noted earlier, Liverpool had qualified for the Champions League tournament for 2017-2018 by their placement in the Premier League Table the season before. That tournament gathers the very best finishers from the European Leagues overseen by UEFA together in a season-long competition which begins with group stage eliminations and home-and-away matches, to a final knock-out stage. The top four, three, two or one (depending on UEFA country coefficient) teams in each European league participate in this tournament, ergo the name “UEFA Champions League”.

By mid-Fall of 2017 it was looking good for Liverpool in the Champions League competition. They had won their Group Stage and had drawn FC Porto, from Portugal, at the formal UEFA draw in Switzerland for the Round of 16 series.  Those home and away ties were to be played first on 14 February, and the second leg on 6 March 2018.  The draw was held on December 11th of 2017, and that same afternoon I looked into tickets for the second leg game at Anfield on March 6th, and any other league games either before or after that date so we could have a double helping of Liverpool at Anfield, hopefully.

Bingo!  The games are on.

The Saturday before the Tuesday night home game against FC Porto, Liverpool were scheduled to play Newcastle United FC at Anfield. That would be a great game, as a previous manager named Rafa Benitez, who took Liverpool to glory on 2005 in Istanbul, would be up against his former club on their home ground!  We could see two home games in less than four days!

Tickets to each game were purchased on-line. The first game, through Thomas Cook Sports, included “hospitality” along with the good seats in the brand new Main Stand.  That meant access to a pub within the Main Stand called “The Anfield Beat”, where we could order food and drinks and enjoy some live music before and during the game.

For the second game, the important UEFA Champions League match against FC Porto, I stretched and purchased from a qualified re-seller two seats on the second row of the KM Section of the newly-named Kenny Dalglish Stand, near the famous Kop End.  The Thomas Cook package for Newcastle included hotel accommodations at a Hampton Inn by Hilton in Liverpool near the Queen’s Dock plus entrance to the Anfield Beat.  The other vendor only offered the second-row seats, but what seats they were!

I booked complementary nights’ lodging at the Crowne Plaza Liverpool City Centre after the Newcastle game and including the night of the FC Porto game.  Liverpool was now covered, we’d arrive on a Friday from London, stay three nights at the Hampton Inn and then move to the Crowne Plaza for Monday and Tuesday nights.  We could take the train back to London on Wednesday morning after that Porto game.

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London became our entry and exit base of operations to England.  I wanted to arrive with plenty of time to spare on each end of the Liverpool experience, so that Melinda and I could enjoy London together.  Each of us had been to London before, on a trip with one of the children, but never together. This would be our trip, our adventure!  It would be a good to start the journey on our 34th Wedding Anniversary, February 25th, 2018…a Sunday.  We booked flights, first to LAX on Southwest Airlines, then the next day to London Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic via their new Boeing 787-9 “Dreamliner” and Premium Economy seats.  It was a sweet flight.  That gave us three full days in London before we caught the Virgin Train to Liverpool out of the Euston Station on Friday.

The first snow flakes were beginning to fall around London when we landed and exited the plane for customs and immigration checks.  A car and driver waited for us and whisked us downtown in a black Mercedes. The snow was beginning to fall harder and stick as we pulled up at The Montague on the Gardens Hotel, near the British Museum in Bloomsbury.  It was unusual to see snow falling and staying on the ground in Greater London, a thrill ran up my back as we stepped out on the white-covered sidewalk and were greeted by the doorman with his snow-speckled great coat. By the time we freshened up, changed into cold-weather gear and headed to the British Museum, it was a virtual blizzard. Incredible!

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The media didn’t need to exaggerate when they described the storm that descended on London the day we arrived.  It was quickly referred to as “The Beast from the East“.       I was glad that we had packed properly for such an event as this.  Nothing could deter the excitement of the adventure, in fact, it added to an already stellar trip.  Besides, the underground was nice and warm and dry.

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We enjoyed The Montague, a quaint boutique hotel with fine food and gracious hospitality, part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection.  The tube was nearby, just on the other side of Russell Square.  We were within walking distance of many of London’s best sights. Needless to say, the snow storm gave us a great excuse to stay indoors and really dig into the British Museum.

On Friday, 2 March 2018 we checked out of The Montague and took a cab to Euston Station.  The weather reports were dire for the northern and eastern portions of England, several trains had been cancelled and the storm was still pounding the country.  Our Virgin Train to Liverpool was on time, thankfully.  While milling around the great lobby of the rail station, I ran into and talked for a moment with Ian Ayre, former chief executive officer of Liverpool FC and soon-to-be-named manager of the newly-formed Nashville MLS expansion team. He was in good spirits, but admitted to having to catch our train to Liverpool because his earlier train was cancelled.

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Ian Ayre, former CEO of Liverpool FC and newly-appointed chief executive officer of the new Nashville MLS team.

This was our first experience with a Virgin Train.  I had booked First Class seats, which were reasonably priced, for the trip to Liverpool.  The service was excellent, food decent and the trip long enough to enjoy the scenery zooming by and stretch the legs in the snack and beverage car.

Arriving in Liverpool at the Lime Street Station, we hired a cab and were shuttled to the Hampton Inn by Hilton, down by the docks south of the City Centre. Right across the busy main arterial with five names adjacent to the dock areas: New Quay, The Goree, Strand, Wapping and Chaloner Street. Settling in and getting our bearings on a drizzling/sleeting afternoon, we opted to grab a taxi over to the Albert Dock, where restaurants, pubs and shops had re-gentrified the old warf’s warehouses. What better time to visit The Beatles Museum, I couldn’t imagine.  First day in Liverpool, dreary outside weather, curiosity about the Fab Four’s history in this, their hometown….vamanos!

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Nearby was a cozy pub where we ate a light dinner and enjoyed some drinks.  Lots of people from foreign lands were there, some Danes sat next to us curious about the Americans who had come to see a Liverpool game, like they had. The difference was that they hopped over on a flight that cost $100 each way and took an hour. We had significantly more time and money invested in this particular adventure.

Saturday, we went by Uber to Anfield for a tour.  The good news was that I was able to retrieve my lost cell phone from the driver who took us there!  The damn thing had slipped out of my overcoat pocket on the drive over.  The bad news was that Melinda sacrificed the last half of the Anfield Tour to go meet that Uber driver outside the gates and retrieve my precious iPhone.  She was not allowed back into the Tour after exiting.  What a sweet wife!

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Then, there was time to explore the outside grounds of Anfield.  I especially wanted to find a memento from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, a simple greeting from a big fan on the Border with Mexico, from the Pass of the North. The stone that I ordered had been part of the remodeling of the Anfield grounds associated with the construction of the new Main Stand, in an area now called Anfield Forever. Searching it out, I finally found the stone with Melinda’s help under a tree near a Memorial Bench dedicated to the most famous of Liverpool Legends, Bill Shankly.  Wonderful.

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More exploration in the Anfield Liverpool museum and around the grounds….

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The game against Newcastle United on Saturday night was good, Liverpool won 2-0 and the hospitality and seats were exceptional.  Thank you Thomas Cook Sport…and Anfield!

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End of a great day….and a reminder… You’ll Never Walk Alone!

The first night’s game at Anfield was now behind us.  Great memories and emotion are still pounding through our veins.  What a team, what a family!

A couple of days of sightseeing in and around Liverpool awaited us before the second night of soccer…what’s called “European Nights” at Anfield.  To relax and see the country side we enjoyed a new BMW X1 rental car and tried to quickly learn the nuances of driving on the left side of the road – with a steering wheel on the right side of the car!  Wales beckoned. We responded.

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It was the roundabouts that did it for me.  I got used to the left-hand lane, and even the right-hand steering wheel, but going clockwise around a roundabout, rattled my nerves. There were several of them on the hour and half drive out of Liverpool to Conwy, Wales. What a gloriously preserved castle and walled village.  Right out of a storybook.

We returned to the Liverpool and the hotel, changed and headed out to Anfield for the last of our home games for the trip: a Champions League Round of 16 second leg against FC Porto. We had won the first leg in Porto by a score of 5-0, a real crushing blow. This was the first “European Night” at Anfield in a while, and the natives had been brewing up a surprise for us.  Stay tuned.

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The tickets worked, and our seats were awesome. From the second row, we could see the perspiration on the players as they were almost within touching distance.

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Sitting next to us, on Melinda’s right side, was a young man with a heavy Liverpool accent.  You can see him in the image captured from the television broadcast of the game above, just to the left of Melinda.  He had a damaged leg in a cast and had to use crutches.  The stewards seemed to know him as they helped him down the steps to our row.  As the game progressed, this young man started singing a rhythmic fan chant, starting softly but quickly gaining strength of voice, over and over he sang those words.  The lyrics were absolutely indiscernible because of his strong accent.  His singing was echoed by a growing group of voices from the Kop to our left.  That didn’t help.  I could pick up a word, or two, maybe even a piece of a refrain, but the whole chant was “Greek” to my ears.  However, Melinda decided to record it for later…and proceeded to pretend filming the scene on the field with her iPhone as our young man went through an entire rendition of the song.

Here, for the first time, you can watch the first voice of this song recorded on March 6, 2018 in Anfield “live”!  This rendition is pretty raw compared to what is now an incredibly famous anthem for the club, sung in pubs and during games from Liverpool to the steppes of Russia: “We Conquered All of Europe…Allez, Allez, Allez”.

A side note here: Jurgen Klopp, in an interview earlier this year, said that he thought this anthem was an “old classic” brought out of the cupboard for this run in the Champions League in 2018.  He had no idea then that it was a brand new addition to the fabric of songs, chants and anthems in Liverpool’s long, storied history. Now he knows, like we do!  We’re never going to stop….

I feel blessed to have been there to hear it first sung at Anfield that night. The lyrics still haunt me, lift me…enchant me.  This fellow’s voice will be with me always. YNWA

Watch it here:

The lyrics are here:

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What can I say?  I’m amazed to have witnessed the birth of this new creation.  This anthem, this hymn, was created and practiced in the pubs along Walton Breck Road, in the Anfield neighborhood of Liverpool in February and late January 2018.  It has become an internationally known anthem for the club in just a few months’ time, evoking all the history, hopes and dreams of the club’s fan base around the world. It will last far beyond my lifetime and bring hope to many future Liverpool fans.  Remarkable what music does for the soul.  This club, my club, is rekindling old embers that had nearly died.

Enjoy a few recent videos of crowds singing this anthem, the emotional force in these captured moments is amazing:

Jamie Webster – Official Vocal Track – Allez, Allez, Allez

We Conquered All of Europe – Bar Crowd

Jamie Webster surprised by Jurgen Klopp – Allez, Allez, Allez

We Conquered All of Europe – Kiev, Ukraine

Allez, Allez, Allez – Kiev Pre-UCL Final Fans

Liverpool went on to beat Porto FC in the Round of 16 by an aggregate score of 5-0 that night of March 6, 2018. We watched from the second row and will never forget. YNWA

Manchester City was drawn as our next opponent in the Quarter Finals. We dispatched them in due course with an aggregate score of 5-1 and moved to the Semi-Finals.

FC Roma was then drawn for our Semi-Final match of the 2018 Champions League, and Liverpool went through to the Finals with a 7-6 aggregate score over their Italian opponents. The aggregate score total was a UCL record.

The final match of the 2018 UEFA Champions League Tournament was held in Kiev, Ukraine on May 26, 2018.  Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 for their 13th Champions League title. Liverpool were runners up.

Allez, Allez, Allez…..

YNWA

 

~ by Dave Etzold on August 5, 2018.

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