Details of an American’s trip to Liverpool…and his struggles with the Holiday Inn fire alarm…
By Jim Kostecki
If there is a God, he certainly has a sense of humor. It was the morning of March 3rd – and when I say “morning” I’m not talking about the breakfast in bed while watching reruns of 30 Rock type of morning. It was 5:30 AM, and I, along with the hundreds of other hotel guests, was standing outside the Holiday Inn in my pajamas wondering what I had done to deserve this. “It’s OK,” I thought to myself. “Liverpool plays in seven hours.”
It was perhaps the longest seven hours of my life.
How It All Started
Liverpool Football Club is an essential component of my life. I follow the team’s progress religiously, and it is very rare that I miss watching a game. In fact, my mood during any given week usually depends on how the team’s recent results are. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up whenever I sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with fellow Liverpool supporters. I have to hold back tears of joy when I decide to watch Gerrard’s second goal in the 2006 FA Cup final against West Ham. I eat, drink, breathe, and live Liverpool Football Club. It is more than a club to me; it is a way of life. I had to see a game in the flesh, and the desire was unbearable.
“Let’s make this happen,” my friend Anthony and fellow Reds-supporter emailed me one day last spring. He had been harassing me for the better part of a year to plan a trip with him to see a Liverpool game. Why the hell not? I finally had a steady job with a solid paycheck, allowing me to save the funds needed to make up for what was sure to be a ridiculous exchange rate. “OK, let’s make this happen,” I replied.
Thus began an 8-month long journey of planning, planning, and more planning. The 2011/12 Premier League fixtures list was released on June 17th, 2011. My mouth literally drooled at the prospect of going to any of these games – but which one? We knew springtime would be ideal for a game, mainly because of the warm weather and it would provide enough time for me to save for the trip. After taking into consideration potential FA Cup and Carling Cup fixtures that would postpone any potential game, Anthony and I decided on March 3rd against Arsenal.
Thank You LFC Boston
Plane tickets were bought in September. The room in the Holiday Inn was booked in October. The train tickets from London to Liverpool were secured in January. Now all we needed were tickets to the actual game – no problem, right?
As a member of LFC Boston, I receive a number of benefits: a snazzy-looking LFC Boston shirt, food and drink benefits at the Phoenix Landing Bar (the designated “LFC Boston Bar”), as well as a direct avenue for game tickets. Essentially, the LFC Boston chairperson, Tim Treacy contacts all the LFC Boston members twice a year requesting them to submit ticket requests to a specific home premier league game or games, and in turn that request is sent to Liverpool Football Club. The only catch to this process is that tickets are not guaranteed. Yet, according to Tim, requests are rarely turned down and LFC Boston have always received the requests. It was a risk worth taking.
Anthony and I put our request into Tim in mid-November and were told we would hear back from the club “around Christmas time”. “What a Christmas present that will be!” I exclaimed in a high-pitched voice that would make any high-schooler proud. Christmas, however, came and went, and no tickets.
A quick search of “Tim Treacy” in my gmail shows that from early January through the end of February, I sent well over fifteen emails inquiring about the status of our tickets. By the fifth email, I could tell Tim was getting slightly annoyed with me. I didn’t care. We were now into February, only four weeks away from leaving for England, and still had no game tickets. To make matters worse, Tim sent an email on February 9th to inform me that the branch office at Liverpool that deals with ticket requests for International clubs had gone through some recent changes, including staff changes. He told me that the person he was dealing with left their role at the club and that the transition was not going smoothly. As he eloquently remarked in his email, “It’s a shite show!”
Yes, I thought, it was quite the “shite show”, seeing as I didn’t have tickets to this game and was leaving in two weeks. But then, on February 15th at 8:19 PM, just thirteen days before Anthony and I were scheduled to depart, I received an email from Tim with the subject line “You’re on the Kop!” My body went numb. Tim explained that LFC had felt badly about dragging their heels through the process, and – thanks to Tim’s behind-the-scenes pressure – he had been able to convince them to give us Kop seats at a discounted price. I couldn’t believe it. Tim had pulled it off. Anthony and I were not only going to see Liverpool vs. Arsenal, but we would be on the Kop to watch it!
I called Anthony immediately. “This is either really good news or really bad news,” he said when he picked up the phone. “Are you sitting down?” I asked.
For those of you that have never been, Liverpool is a fascinating city with two drastically different dynamics: the first being the vibrant nightlife, complex indoor/outdoor shopping malls, and cultural history – and the second, the bleak and often depressed neighborhoods that have suffered decades of economic recession. Anthony and I made use of the nightlife, enjoying multiple bars on the famous Matthews Street. Music from the clubs could be felt pulsating through the cobblestone as we walked through crowds of truly happy people. It was indeed a glorious first night in Liverpool, and we retreated to the Holiday Inn with plenty of time to rest up for the big game and to nurse any hangover that might arise. Which brings us to 5:30 AM on game day…
It was still dark when the fire alarm went off. I’m still not sure I can fully comprehend what happened in the next ten minutes, as I was still trying to wake up from a gin-induced coma. While Anthony called down to the front desk to ask what was going on (looking back, this was a rather silly thing to do, i.e. you hear a fire alarm, you evacuate the building), I proceeded to try and disconnect the fire alarm-to no avail. After a few minutes of gathering our composure and trying to determine whether our headaches were due to the previous night’s gin or the alarm, we begrudgingly put on our shoes and headed for the stairwell.
The scene outside the Holiday Inn was comical to say the least. There were people without shoes, people who looked like they had just rolled out of bed, and people who were fully clothed and decked out in make-up and hair gel. Regardless of state of dress, there was something we all shared in common – we were all pissed off. It wasn’t long before the Liverpool Fire Department arrived on the scene, and within five minutes, left the scene.
Ten minutes passed…then twenty….then thirty. I approached the girl that seemed to be in charge – the “Manager on Duty” as she called herself – and asked what was going on.
“I can’t let any of you back in until the alarm is turned off,” she explained to the crowd, which was steadily growing around her.
“Who can turn off the alarm?” someone asked angrily.
“The fire department,” was her response.
“Wait, didn’t they just drive away!?!” I pointed out. Yes, they did drive away. But no worries, twenty minutes later they arrived, and actually got out of their trucks, only this time with ladders and hoses. This clearly was not a good sign. The fire trucks were accompanied by a large van marked “Incident Management Unit.” Yet, the only incident they managed was to make sure they ate their breakfast…while sitting in their cozy van…while watching us freeze our asses off. Are we kidding, Liverpool??
Finally, after two absurd hours of waiting outside in the cold, after the sun had risen and the city’s morning commute had begun, the “fire fighters” – and I hesitate to use that term – gave the clear to let us back into our rooms. We later learned that a pipe had burst in one of the second floor conference rooms and the steam triggered the fire alarm. In an effort to be thorough, the fire department checked every room in the hotel to ensure there were no other fires. They didn’t find any.
No fire alarm, regardless of the time of day, could subdue my excitement for this game. Our trip to Liverpool was an eight-month long process and realizing game day had finally arrived was very surreal. I made sure I was properly dressed for the occasion. Considering the forecast called for a possibility of rain showers, my attire consisted of a white long-sleeve Under Armour shirt, a 2008/09 Gerrard home jersey, a 2011/12 warm-up jacket (given to me by my lovely girlfriend), a Liverpool rain jacket, and a red Liverpool scarf to top it off.
The game was scheduled to start at 12:45 PM. Multiple cab drivers advised us to head to the bars next to Anfield for 10 AM if we wanted the complete Liverpool experience – and what an experience it was. We arrived at The Albert pub, which sits cozily next to the stadium, precisely at 10:15 AM. The place was buzzing with Liverpool fans from all backgrounds. Individuals from all walks of life – young and old, English, American, African, and Asian – were enjoying pints of Guinness and Carlsberg before the match. These were my people. I was home. At least that is what I thought until I actually walked into Anfield…
The old concrete pillars and peeling paint inside Anfield reminded me of Fenway Park. The sounds from the thousands of fans buying concessions buzzed through the concourse. As I sit typing this article, I am struggling to find the words to accurately describe how I felt inside the stadium. My body felt numb as I was trying to take it all in. My senses were so overloaded with the sights, sounds, and smells that I had been dreaming of for years. As I ascended the stairs to our seats on the Kop, I couldn’t help but wonder what this section used to be like in the 70’s and 80’s. The history of this great football club seeped from every crack in the concrete steps leading up through the Kop. It was truly an unbelievable experience.
I sang the songs – note: it is very hard to sing in-tune with thousands of scouse accents clouding your chord progressions. I drank the beer. I witnessed Dirk Kuyt miss his second penalty of the season. I watched Robin van Persie score his 93rd and 94th goals of the season. I watched Luis Suarez hit the post twice. I screamed at Martin Kelly on more than one occasion to hustle back into position. I watched it all and experienced it all. I was there. I lived it.
We lost 2-1 in stoppage time to a brilliant van Persie goal. I should have expected as much. Other than the Carling Cup final, we had been playing sub-par in recent games – but it didn’t matter. I was on the Kop watching my heroes.
I returned home extremely jet-lagged, slightly hung-over, and completely overwhelmed with what I had experienced over the past four days. Liverpool and London treated me well and I would go back in a heartbeat.
The trip was everything I thought it could be and more – except for the result of course.
Edited by Tim Treacy March 28th, 2012