Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A life in Liverpool matches… AS Roma 0 Liverpool 2, 15 February 2001

In front of me, outside the Colosseum, is a Roman centurion smoking a cigarette. He’s not alone. There are a lot of them about, all of them puffing on fags then getting their pictures taken – for a small charge of course – with tourists, who find the juxtaposition between the ancient and modern endlessly amusing. The centurions have tough faces, gnarly like varnished wood, tough, unsmiling. One of them fingers his , the sword that conquered the known world 2,000 years ago. You get the feeling that he won’t be the only Roman with his hands on a blade this evening.

The eternal city has a magical place in the hearts of every Liverpool fan. It was here where the Reds won their first European Cup in 1977, the glorious romp against Borussia Mönchengladbach that cemented our reputation as a club with ambitions unconfined by national borders.

Seven years later, we were victorious once more, bringing the Cup back to Liverpool, defeating AS Roma in their own Stadio Olympico: a victory that saw Reds fans stabbed in serious numbers for having the temerity to support that ended the home sides apparently assured victory.

Tonight, our team, a side that’s rapidly growing in confidence under the educated eyes of Gerard Houllier has come once more to do business: to knock these self-important whoppers out of the UEFA Cup. And no blag centurion with lungs like the chimney of the Lobster Pot is going to stop us.

The city is crawling with Liverpool fans. Many are resisting the magnetism of the city’s Irish bars, and instead can be found around the sights, from the Colosseum – which a group of Lacoste-tracksuited youths successfully bunk into – to the Pantheon, the huge dome with the big hole in the top, built by the great General Agrippa over 2,000 years ago as a place of sacrifice. Our group, good(ish) Catholics to a man, even meet up with a couple of Rome based Scouse priests who show us the wonder of St Ignatious’ church and its cosmic 3D ceiling. Stoke City away this is not.

Late in the afternoon, as we get ready to leave our splendid spec near the Piazza Navone to go the game, we’re approached by some lads in Liverpool tops.

“Fucking Eyetie cowards,” shouts one, and his mates give us the Vs.

We look at around. Does he mean us, in our expensive knitwear, tasteful Roma scarves and Steve Wonder sunglasses? He does.

“Fucking come on then, Rome!”

Blimey. He is extremely agitated, and his mates, in a selection of British casual wear that could have come straight from Doncaster’s latest pound store are just as angry. The sensible thing to do here would be to explain – in the years-old tradition of the peace-making Liverpudlian abroad – that “we’re all Scousers, aren’t we.” Fuck that.

“Hey, Eeenglish, fuck your mother,” we shout, showing them the finger, aping the activities of every cliched, scooter-riding biff we’ve all encountered on school holidays abroad. The leader of Kwik Save Fashion Dept mob is not happy. Perhaps he’s scared of flick-combs he think we’re carrying.

He walks over in order to assert his masculinity and only then does he realise that we too, are not just Liverpool fans, but Liverpool fans with Liverpool accents. Something he’s not. Now he wants to be bezzie mates. Sorry, lad, but we’ve just spotted an extremely officious official from a well known Merseyside travel firm with the biggest hair/head combo we’ve ever seen. The opportunity for mirth is too good to resist.

“Can everyone on Coach A come this away,” he says.
“Hey you,” says a well known Liverpudlian from our crew.
“You’ve got a massive swede. It’s mad. Your head is dead big.”

He doesn’t know what to say and walks off, clipboard in hand.

The night draws in, the warm February sunshine replaced by the chill of a winter’s night, and we’re all put on buses and shipped to the stadium. Reports come in – as they always do – of lads who’ve been stabbed or set upon by groups of Romans, confirming every stereotype the British football fan has about Ultras. But we get in unscathed and find our place near the back of the packed Liverpool end.

And packed it most certainly is. There are thousands of Liverpool fans here, a tough, loud and some would say mob, fired up in a way that only a game against serious opponents or hated rivals can make you. The Italian crew, sparse but determined, run up to our enclosure and lob plastic bottles of us, a never-ending shower of Evian and Vittel, unlikely to cause damage but irritating in the same way a fly buzzing round your head is. At the other end of the ground, the Ultras hold up a flag that says, ‘Fuck the Queen’ on it. At least there’s one thing we agree on.

Before the game I spot two banners that have gone down into Reds folklore, not just for their wit, but their sheer pointless abstraction.


and even better,


In the following years, Liverpool fans will outdo themselves in trying to come up with the most profound pieces of banner ‘poetry’, but these flags are what we’re really about: wit, surrealism and nasty, biting piss-taking. They will only be outdone by the legendary ‘I Hate Flags’ flag of a few years later.

The game begins, and Liverpool are superb, passing the ball like a proper European team – patient, but incisive, and over the course of 90 minutes provide a masterclass that eclipses – in playing terms at least – the efforts of the ’84 team. With Michael Owen at his absolute fearless best, Liverpool ride out winners 2-0. “In Rome,” we sing. “We always win in Rome.”

Unsurprisingly, we’re kept in the ground, not just for 30 minutes, but for a whole two hours. The stadium authorities put a recent Liverpool-Man United match on the big screen to keep us happy, but we’re more engrossed by the plastic bottle fight that’s developing among two groups of Liverpool fans near the pitch. The entertainment is enhanced by the sight of some lad covered in masking tape and passed above the crowd like a stage diver at a rock gig.

Finally, we’re let out, many of us ringing our mates back home on the mobiles that have gradually become part of the match-going experience. In the dark, we spot shadowy groups lurking in the distance, people we’ll later learn will be responsible for the stabbing – yet again – of Liverpool fans. But for those of us lucky enough to get back to our hotels unscathed, the party is only starting.

This article appears in the current issue of Well Red, the unmissable Liverpool magazine

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Griff Rhys Jones, CP Company and TV’s best ever city guides

One of the people who influenced us in the setting up of Umbrella was, somewhat surprisingly, TV comedian and presenter Griff Rhys Jones. Obviously he was known to us for his role as one of the Not The Nine O’ Clock News team, but eagle-eyed viewers of a certain age and disposition noticed something else: his predisposition for wearing CP Company and Stone Island jackets in his programmes.

This was no accident, Jones has a love of the works of Sportswear Company stretching back years, and his red Mille Miglia has followed him in his journeys around the world. As he tells the excellent Proper magazine:

“People are fascinated not so much by the goggles on the hood but by the window on the side of the sleeve and I've had a lot of questions about that and I've had to explain that I assume it’s so you can look at your watch. I wish the goggle was slightly smaller to be honest as it’s a bit too prominent on some of the things I wear.”

Of course, a liking for the works of Signore Osti doesn’t automatically qualify you as a good egg, as anyone who’s been to an away game in the Midlands can testify. Instead, it’s his constant inquisitiveness and the desire to uncover stories that makes his programmes essential viewing for those of with a liking for a secret passage or an underground river. His greatest triumph – and there have been many – is his Greatest Cities of The World series, where over the course of 24 hours, he immerses himself into the lives of citizens in places like London, Rome, Paris (below) and New York.

From exploring secret tunnels under Holborn to working with the graffiti removal team on the banks of the Seine, Griff and his team tell the sort of stories that all of us who are fascinated by big, urban centres love. Speaking of his time in Rome, he says:

“I take part in a ceremony that dates from the Renaissance and a church service that could have taken place in the middle ages. Everywhere I am taught the correct way of doing things – drinking coffee, eating a meal, directing the traffic, going for a walk, carving marble. The Romans love their customs and their city. It feels like a jumble but is in fact a melange of displays and ‘mostra’ or shows. This is the city as theatre. Everybody is playing a role and their life is partly about fulfilling their allotted place in and amongst the beautiful scenery and props, partly about showing that they are above it all and all that stuff is for other people.”

If you have time, take an hour or two out to watch these programmes, all of which are available to watch on YouTube. And next time you see him on the telly, check out his clobber: more than likely it’ll have come from a very reputable source, probably in Italy.

See the rest of the series, including the incredible Rome episode here.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Seven championship-winning tennis shirts

This year’s Wimbledon saw the return of classic tenniswear to the All England Club, with Sergio Tacchini coming up with a beautifully simple range for men’s champion Novak Djokovic. Here’s my selection of the summer’s best polos – and they're all winners.

Yellow Lacoste Live

Robe di Kappa

Pretty Green

Ralph Lauren Polo

Fred Perry


Brooks Brothers