Just over two months ago, a few days before I moved to Ireland, I was sitting in the living room of my parents’ home watching Manchester City play Chelsea. There were no fans in the stadium, hadn’t been since the Premier League had restarted after a long, coronavirus-induced break. Stakes were fairly high for each team. A win for Chelsea would boost their Champions League qualification hopes, while a win for City would keep them in the title race for one more week. Chelsea’s young American Christian Pulisic opened the scoring, then City’s Kevin De Bruyne equalised. In the second half, a handball saw Fernandinho sent off and Willian step up to the penalty spot to bury a second goal for Chelsea. Twenty minutes later, the game was over… and suddenly Liverpool were champions.Continue reading “On Never Walking Alone”
Italy 20 – 61 Wales, Scotland 10 – 40 Ireland, England 55 – 35 France
I’ve never been a big sports fan in general. I’ve always liked to play sports, but apart from the Olympics fever that grips us all to some degree every two years, I won’t watch much of anything apart from football [note: to be fair, I do make up for this by watching as much football as humanly possible].
However, while living in Ireland I came to discover that rugby is much more similar to soccer football than American football in terms of skill and speed, with a set of rules I still don’t quite understand but find interesting to watch. Sitting on the floor of a packed Galway pub, at the edge of my non-existent seat while the referee deliberated about France’s last-second try in the final match of the 2013 Six Nations (the try was eventually taken away due to a forward pass, giving Ireland the win both of the match and the tournament), was at least as intense as watching anything during this summer’s football World Cup.
I caught the odd match on television or at the pub during the year, and went to see Munster take on Clermont live in Limerick in November (a fun, if cold, experience), but I don’t follow any team or league closely like I do football. Still, when this year’s Six Nations rolled around, I was firmly supporting Ireland. And this year’s tournament was just as dramatic as the last.
On the final day, Wales, Ireland, and England all had the chance to nab the title. Each team needed to win their match (against Italy, Scotland, and France, respectively), and then furthermore they had to have a higher points difference than either of the other two. With Wales beating Italy comfortably, Ireland had to win by 21 points to take the lead. Despite odds, they managed a record-tying victory over Scotland to put themselves ahead.
One of the key moments of the game came when Scotland appeared to have gotten a try, but video replay (come on football, get on this!) showed Ireland had made an important tackle to knock the player forward. The commentators speculated this could have been the difference-making tackle, and they turned out to be absolutely correct. In what has been said to be one of the best matches in recent memory (obviously I can’t comment having only watched one previous tournament and having only seen one half of this match due to being on the way to PPL Park to see the Union – more on this in a moment), England tok on France, needing a 26 point margin of victory to overtake Ireland. For the last 5 minutes, England was close, needing only one try to get ahead, but in the end they couldn’t quite get there. Despite scoring over 50 points against France, their points difference ended at +21, and the Irish boys in green were victors once again!
Philadelphia Union 0 – 2 FC Dallas
Now the bad times begin. Remember that picture of the snow from my post Friday? Well, 24 hours later the weather looked like this:
The match had been postponed from the day before and the reschedule meant that my dad and I were able to pick up some fairly cheap tickets, so we headed to PPL Park in Chester, outside of Philadelphia. I didn’t follow the MLS closely the last two seasons, given that many of the matches started at midnight or later due to the time difference, but I was excited to see them again.
At first, things looked alright. Dallas were outplaying Philadelphia on the wings, with the U unable to match their opponents’ bursts of speed. But when about 20 minutes in, Sheanon Williams was injured and substituted for Fernandinho, things started to go downhill. Things went from bad to worse before the end of the first half; a stupid, Fellaini-esque elbow by Zach Pfeffer saw him sent off, and the Union were down to 10 men for the rest of the game.
The second half was sluggish, with two goals by FC Dallas giving them the 3 points, but few strong attempts overall. I was impressed by Eric Ayuk, a midfielder who debuted during the match and at least had the speed and push to compete with the opposing team, but as a whole the Union need to do much better in their next match. However, it’s still always fun to go to a game live, especially at a nice stadium like PPL Park, and especially when the weather is 55F and sunny after a day of 34 and snow.
Liverpool 1 – 2 Manchester United
Well. This was the big one. I had a good feeling about it, based on Liverpool’s recent form. A good enough feeling that I had no qualms about talking smack to my United-supporting boyfriend (although to be fair I would probably do that even if our form was LLLLL). That feeling didn’t last long. Juan Mata is the only player I like at Manchester United (I was sad when he left Chelsea for the only team I dislike more than Chelsea), so of course he scored the first (and later the second) goal. Liverpool were outplayed at every turn in the first half.
I hoped that things might pick up in the second half, and the entry of Stevie G, back from injury, seemed to indicate that they might. Well, the drama picked up, but not to Liverpool’s benefit. Gerrard was shown a red card for a reckless tackle after less than a minute on the pitch, unceremoniously putting an end to his long string of entertaining matches against Liverpool’s biggest rival.
While even with my obvious bias I have to admit that there was some merit to the sending off, an equally biased United supporter should then have to admit that the referee should’ve sent Phil Jones off shortly afterward for an equally bad tackle. Instead, he merely received a yellow card – the latest in a long line of bad refereeing decisions in the Premier League this season (although at least Atkinson sent off the right Liverpool player).
Despite the blow, I actually felt more optimistic about the team when the match ended. We conceded another goal (Mata again), but pulled one back with a great run by Coutinho leading to a goal from Sturridge. In the final minutes, Mignolet saved a penalty taken by Wayne Rooney, continuing his long, goalless time at Anfield (only 1 goal in 11 games played against us at our home ground). It was a dirty game, and obviously not the result we wanted, but I guess it could have been worst.
Barcelona 2 – 1 Real Madrid
Take that last sentence above and transplant it here. A dirty game, a bad result, but at least it was exciting.
Blah blah blah, something something Ronaldo versus Messi… now that that’s out of the way, I’ll begin with the worst part: Suarez reminded Liverpool fans what we’re missing. If we could’ve brought him on instead of Balotelli, sure, he might’ve bitten Rooney, but he would’ve scored an equaliser, and really, would anyone (but Wayne) really care?
Poor defending and a good free kick led to Barcelona’s first goal. The drama began a minute later when Pepe was booked for a foul on Suarez. A few minutes after that, the latter also went into the book for a foul on the former. Fight, fight, fight, fight…
Of course it was Ronaldo who equalised, but the best move of the play was Benzema’s backheel. Obviously the best possible commentator for El Clásico is BeIn Sport’s exuberant Geordie, Ray Hudson, who waxed poetically/orgasmically about this and every other play of the game.
In the second half: more yellow cards! Suarez scored – ugh. Mascherano acted like a diving whiny brat. Barcelona won. Not great, Bob.
So there you have it: this weekend in “Matches I care about of sports I watch.” Tune in next week (or after international break), maybe, and hopefully at least one of these teams (excluding Ireland), will get a few more points in the bag.
At the start of the season, I predicted, like most, that Liverpool was still in their rebuilding period. We would finish 6th, maybe 5th if Tottenham really screwed up. I wasn’t being pessimistic, just realistic. The top 4 spot that would bring Champions League football back to Anfield was a dream for next season, and that was okay. If you’d told me then that I’d be sitting here now, sad that we didn’t win the league… well, sure, supporters of every team down to the ones that get relegated are sad that their teams didn’t win the league. But if you’d told me how close we came, I’d have never believed you. As I write this, I’ll admit I’m a bit teary-eyed that City (the team I predicted to win at the start of the season, mind) came out on top, but we’re in second. We’re back in the Champions League. We’re so far ahead of United you have to scroll down the league table to find them. I’m nothing if not very, very proud. It’s been a wild ride, and here are a few of the most memorable moments:
Liverpool 1 – 0 Stoke, 17 August 2013
The day before I left for Ireland, I got up at half-six on a Saturday morning and went to the pub with my father (dragging along my still-half-asleep mother and sister). There we were joined by about fifty other people, mostly my father’s age, mostly men, but some women, some young people, and nearly all wearing red. We said hello to the bartender, got our pints—yes, at seven in the morning—and sat down to watch the football. Liverpool v Stoke, at Anfield, the opening match of the 2013/14 season. Things got off to a good start, with Daniel Sturridge (more on him later) scoring a few minutes before halftime. It looked like we were on track for a win and the atmosphere in the Iron Abbey was upbeat. Then, in the 88th minute, when all we had to do was sit back and defend, Daniel Agger, my second favourite Dane after Hamlet, handled the ball in the box and the referee called for a penalty.
Here it is, I thought. Business as usual. Stoke will equalise and we’ll be on track for a season just like the ones we’ve had for the past few years; the ones that made me dread waking up on those early weekend mornings, hungover and watching Liverpool lose to Aston Villa. And then, and then. Simon Mignolet, our new keeper (whom I immediately liked even though I’ve always been a big fan of Pepe Reina), saved the penalty, and saved the win for Liverpool. At that moment I knew—I think we all knew—that this season was going to be something special.