The morning of September 1st, 2013 broke like most others: the sun was breaking through my window and I could here the slow awakening of the song birds in the pine tree next to my room. The difference, though, was that my phone was buzzing and, being that it was about 4am, I was thoroughly confused. Seeing “Kevin” listed as the incoming call, it was then that it dawned on me that I was supposed to have been up and ready to leave about 10 minutes ago. Kev and I were going to drive down to Lucky Baldwin’s pub in Pasadena, California to watch Liverpool Football Club take on Manchester United. And I was still in bed. I answered the call, apologize profusely, and dressed as quickly as possible. Soon, we were on the road.
Arriving at the pub, we were greeted with a very full house. Understandable all things considered - this was the local Liverpool supporters bar and it seemed that even the early morning kick off wouldn’t deter people. Packed to the gills with Reds of all ages (parents brought their children!) and pub staff hustling to get breakfast and coffee out to bleary supporters, it was a site to see. Till then, I’d only ever watched matches in the comfort of my home. Sure, I had twitter and TLO, but nothing like this: Reds from across the East LA region, congregated here. It felt like home.
The setting of the match itself is interesting: the third match of the season for Brendan Rogers charges. Also: the third match without Luis Suarez as he was working off his 10-match suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovič in the run-in to the previous season. The Reds looked less threatening without their talisman up top, but they’d also managed to nip 1-nil victories in the previous to league matches with Daniel Sturridge leading the way.
United, in the meanwhile, were struggling to find themselves under new manager David Moyes. The system looked a bit of a shambles and his new signings hadn’t quite gelled. Still, there was the slight tinge of fear that if there was a time United might find some form, doing so against their bitter rivals was likely.
As the whistle blew at kick off, there was a sense, then, that the match might hold something a bit special. Four minutes in, it was absolutely clear. Daniel Sturridge - celebrating his 24th birthday - headed home a flicked ball from a corner to put the Reds up 1-nil. The entire pub was in ecstasy. Beer, coffee, hashbrowns, all of it was everywhere. More, it was a deluge of Red celebration. Songs were sung (though, sadly, none directly for Danny), hugs dispensed, and all at once I felt knitted into the fabric of The Game’s Greatest Fans.
At half-time, with the Reds clinging to their lead on the strength of a robust performance at center back by Danny Agger and Martin Skrtel, the supporters group stepped out to take a photo. Awed by the atmosphere and the instant camaraderie, Kevin - not a soccer fan by any means - turned to me and said, “Wow. I wasn’t expecting this.” It seemed that, in a way, the spirit of the fandom began to make sense even to those outside of the fandom.
Once the game kicked back off, it was nervy time again. But with the defense bending-not-breaking and United’s attack about as sharp as a spoon, we managed to pull out a win. The supporters slowly poured into the just waking streets of Pasadena. For many the day was just dawning, for us, the sun felt at its zenith.
I look back at that experience often because it portended so much: Sturridge would go on to score 5 goals in 4 matches and manage to hold the fort in the absence of Luis Suarez. The two of them, along with Raheem Sterling, would then go on to light up the league on their way to a 2nd-place finish and the first trip to the Champions League in three seasons. It marked the beginning of a special time and another step forward from the Dark Days of 2010-2011.
It also marked a turning point in my fandom. I finally knew what it was to belong to this global community of fans. And, on that day especially, what it meant to not walk alone.