THIS SPORTING LIFE
Melbourne (Australia) people are sport-watching nutters. Including me!
To illustrate the point, 95,000 spectators turned up last Wednesday night (24 July) to watch an exhibition soccer match between UK Premier League side, Liverpool, and a local ‘A’ League team, Melbourne Victory. Liverpool’s home ground, Anfield, has a capacity of 45,000 and, apparently, this was the largest crowd the club had ever played in front of! The match was a sell-out weeks ago.
On the way home from work that evening my tram went past Federation Square which was awash with fans decked out in Liverpool colours. It was party time.
Fed Square is about a 10 minute walk from the venue, that magnificent arena - the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The Square has bars, restaurants and cafes and is a great place to meet up with your friends before the game – whether it be soccer, rugby union, rugby league, Australian Rules (my addiction), the Australian Open Tennis, or other events that occur in the sporting precinct dominated by the MCG.
Now I have to confess I’m not really that much into soccer. I admire the skill of the players, but more often than not, I find it to be a bit boring compared with the high-flying spectacle and high-scoring game of Aussie Rules football. However, my encounter with these over-the-top fans all decked out in Liverpool’s colours of bright red, attracted my attention. Where did they all come from? Why are they in party-mode? Soccer’s not normally such a big deal here in Australia. Besides, Liverpool has never visited Australia before - so why all the fuss?
I watched the news on TV that night and the pre-match excitement was duly reported, with ecstatic fans being interviewed prattling on about their once-in-a-lifetime experience and so on. I kind of expected them to be expatriate Brits – but no, the ones interviewed were all Aussies! One guy was there with his two kids. They were all decked out in Liverpool jerseys (guernseys?), red scarves and beanies. He’d just spent over $600 on the stuff and he was over-the-moon with joy. Add to that the cost of admission and it would have been an expensive night out indeed. Curious, I thought. But there was more to come.
I switched to the game just as both teams made their way onto the ground. The fans were enraptured with resounding chants of “Liver---pool”, “Liver---pool” booming around the grandstands. And no-one had kicked a ball yet!
But the piece de resistance was to come. As the teams took their positions on the field, a male voice started singing over the p.a. and the chants quickly subsided as the crowd joined in singing “You'll Never Walk Alone". I kid you not, the whole stadium progressively joined in as I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
Imagine the scene, 95,000 people singing, “Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart …………,” with their red scarves gently swaying from side to side in unison above their heads. It was kind of surreal really.
The TV cameras panned on the crowd for close-ups. There was barely a dry eye in the place as they all belted out the song with unbounded intensity. Hey, how come most of the people singing knew the words, given they wouldn’t have been born when Gerry and The Pacemakers resurrected the Rogers and Hammerstein song from the musical, “Carousel” and turned it into a hit in the early 60s?
I have to confess that I was, inexplicably, swept up in the emotion. I felt a lump come to my throat and my eyes were glistening with tears. But why? It was just a ‘friendly’ game of soccer, not the World Cup or anything important. And it wasn’t only the Liverpool supporters singing, everyone seemed to have joined in. What’s more, no one had even kicked the bloody ball yet?
I didn’t get it. And I still don’t.
After such an emotional pre-game build-up, the game eventually got underway and, with due apologies to soccer purists, I have to make another confession – I could only bear to watch the game for about 20 minutes, before I started channel surfing to find something more interesting to watch. I later saw the replay of the two goals scored by Liverpool in the late news. That took less than a minute.
Now, I’m still at a loss to understand the intense emotional high those soccer fans were on hours before the game started; how it peaked when they sang the song; and how their chants and cheers never diminished throughout the boring 20 minutes of the game I watched.
Would someone please enlighten me?