Downing a pint at eight in the morning makes you a guy with a drinking problem. Downing a pint at a pub during a Liverpool game at eight in the morning makes me a responsible soccer fan. The fellas in here would understand.
Behind me to my left is Jolly Pete, a chubby regular that shows up wearing a grey flat cap, a sweater over his dress shirt, and a face that reminds everyone of Santa Claus. He orders a glass or two of Newcastle during the two-hour matches – one before the match, and another during halftime, “You know, for the home stretch,” as he puts it. Jolly Pete ambivalently laments that he’d come here less if his work were steady. He’s somewhere in his late fifties, struggling with employment, and more than happy to give a cheer and clink glasses with everyone after a Suarez rocket smashes its way into the back of the net. Jolly Pete ho-hums, hum-hos, and sometimes ho-hum-ho-hos, but he’s at his best when he’s tilting his head back and shaking his gut with his laughter and hailing our boys in Merseyside.
Sitting at the bar is Red Man, the unofficial hype man of the Liverpool crew that shows up at Fado on these weekend mornings, come rain, sleet, sleep deprivation, or hangovers. He wears a 2011/2012 Liverpool kit that has “Gerrard” and a large, white “8” printed on the back. Right as Sturridge, Coutinho, and Co. prepare to kick-off for ninety minutes of Premier League footie, he shouts with a deep voice that comes straight from the bottom of his belly, clapping his hands and drumming the wooden bar for added sound effect.
“C’mon, Red Men!” His accent is British and his fervor is batshit crazy – like, Suarez-seeking-Ivanovic-after-a-weekend-of-fasting crazy. But we all are, to a certain extent – the time reads seven fifty-nine, AM, on my cell, and the buzz of the fans in the bar grows louder and stronger. Gripped glasses, tingled backs, and excited smiles pervade the pub with the green and black exterior located on the corner of 15th and Locust.
At Anfield three thousand miles away, forty-five thousand people watch on. In the pub, forty, maybe fifty men and women draped in red jerseys glue their eyes on the various monitors that show the February clash between Liverpool and Arsenal.
“This is huge,” Tim murmurs next to me, and it looks like his entire right hand is lodged in his mouth. He glances over at me, and he repeats, “This is huge.” Arsenal are on the top of the league table, with fourth-place Liverpool gunning for the top spot and an eight-point margin separating the two teams.
Tim, wearing his Gerrard jersey, introduced me to Fado and Liverpool over a year ago. Upon learning that I didn’t have a team I supported, and us being good friends, he brought me here where we watched Liverpool bumble to seventh place in the Premier League. At first, I laughed at the Reds’ inability to win close games, to maintain leads, and to resemble anything but a group of underperforming misfits. After a handful of games, though, it stopped being about whether Liverpool were losing by one, barely squeaking past relegation teams, or getting demolished to bits and pieces by the top teams. The fans that gathered in the mornings continued to cheer the team on, even if they did have to chase their groans with gulps of beer. People were happy to be spending time with strangers, the other fans and the people who worked there, watching a game they loved, mesmerized by glimpses of brilliance, and knocked down by unforeseen heartbreaks.
But the ball is round, and Liverpool are forcing everyone to do a double take by making noise in the league this season. They haven’t won the league title since 1990, and here they were, only several points away from being in the title race. Liverpool fans can’t keep the optimism from bubbling up to the surface – you can see it in everyone’s eager grins.
Lukas, our waiter and friend, comes over to ask how we’re doing today. We give him anxious greetings and clammy handshakes
“You know Liverpool are gonna get their asses handed today, right?” he jibes; he’s a fan of Manchester United, a mid-table club no one’s heard of. We laugh and Tim tells him off. He takes our orders, brings us our pints, and disappears into the crowd.
“Man,” Tim says for the last time, “this is huge.” The opening whistle blows, and Liverpool start with possession.
After quick, successive passes from the Reds, Luis Suarez gets the ball wide left on Arsenal’s half, and Liverpool and Arsenal fans hold their collective breath, albeit for different reasons. Half-man, half-amazing, and halfway out of his mind, the Uruguayan striker has found a way to put the ball between the goal post twenty-three times despite missing the first five games of the season because of a suspension stemming from biting a player last season. Per Mertesacker, keen to get the ball out of the striker’s feet, fouls Suarez. An Arsenal fan, a Gooner, cracks from somewhere within the bar that Mertesacker better wear a protective sleeve on his arms if he wants to make it out of the game with his limbs intact. Tim rolls his eyes.
“Wanker. Typical Gooner,” Tim snaps, his teeth gnashing.
Gerrard goes up to take the free kick, and the game clock shows that the first forty seconds of the game has passed. Both teams form a human wall to take advantage of and defend the kick. Shouts of “C’mon, Stevie!” and Red Man’s distinct “C’mon, ye Red Men!” pour in from all directions. Big and small feet stamp floors, hairy and sweaty hands bang tables, and the crowd across the pond echoes our excitement with a buzz of oooh-ing and ahhh-ing sailing down onto the pitch.
Gerrard kicks, Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel pops through, and his noggin finds the ball. An informal introduction takes place between the ball and the net that lasts one, two seconds after the ball flies through the air and past the Arsenal keeper.
Ball, meet net; net, meet ball. Unbeknownst to either, they end up becoming regular acquaintances by the end of the match, with Liverpool hammering in four more in the next eighty-nine minutes to come out 5-1 on top.
Anfield erupts. Mount Fado, step-in-step, erupts as well, oozing matching levels of enthusiasm in shouts, cheers, and drunken camaraderie. I look over to Jolly Pete and he taps my glass of Yards IPA with his full pint of Newcastle. Tim grabs my head and puts it in a headlock of happiness. Red Man, ever staying true to the script, bellows, “C’MON RED MEN!” On the pitch, Gerrard runs to Skrtel and tackles him out of love. The rest of the team run over and pile on, rubbing his head and shake him, as if shaking him enough would yield another goal out of him –which it does, as he scores with another header nine minutes later.
As the goals pile on, the crowd becomes delirious, and Gooners begin watching more of their palms than their team. When the final whistle blows, the fans are out of their seats singing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the Liverpool anthem. Tim can’t carry a pitch to save his life, but he’s singing along, too.
Jolly Pete hobbles over to Tim and me. “That was a beaut’ful game, wa’n’t it?” he asks rhetorically. It was a beautiful game, and it is The Beautiful Game.