Monday, September 26, 2011

A Life in Liverpool Matches, FA Cup Final 2006, Liverpool 3 West Ham United 3, (Liverpool win 3-1 on penalties)


“Football?”
?” 
“FA Cup Final, Liverpool v West Ham?”
“No,” says the barman.
“But you’re an Irish bar. You simply have to be showing the match – all Irish bars will be showing the game.”

He looks up at the flat-screen tellies. They’re blank.

“No.”

“Fuck, what are we going to do?” I ask my mate outside. “We can’t miss this.”
“Keep looking, keep looking.”
“OK, good idea, let’s not panic,” I say – panicking.

We run off to another one of Cadiz’s many bars, then another… each one filled with carefree locals eating plates of tapas, and supping glasses of beer and ice-cold sherry. Not one of them is showing the Cup Final. Christ.

Then we get a lead.

“That bloke over there reckons that an ex-Argentina player owns a sports bar by the beach – that’s bound to be showing it.”
“Yes!” I say, and shake my fist. “They’ll probably have the BBC commentary just to add to the atmosphere.”

Sports bars. Normally full of beauts in thick ties high-fiving each other in front of England rugby matches, but I’ll sell the owner my missus for the avvy if he has the game on.

We run back to our hotel, tired/irritated girlfriends in tow, and down into the underground car park where the hire car is. We get in. We are not going to miss this match, that simply cannot happen.

***

The seeds of this debacle had been sown months earlier. With a job paying me enough to afford a spring bank holiday, me and my West Ham mate, Justin, decide to take our girlfriends for a long weekend in Cadiz, that little-known, but ancient city stuck out on a spit of land in the deep south of Spain. A town that, my half-Spanish girlfriends assures me, never gets visited by the British. Great.

“When do you and your bird want to go?” I ask Justin.
“May?”
“Yeah, I’m up for that, be getting hot then, but not too hot.”
“We can maybe go and watch a match, too. Cadiz have got a team.”

Two months later, I get a call.
“You know that weekend we’ve booked.”

“Yeah?”
“It’s FA Cup Final weekend.”
“Is it? Bollocks. I love the FA Cup, I’d rather it watch at home… though I’m sure it’ll be nice to see it in some Irish bar with a mad Spanish commentary. Biggest game in the world, is the FA Cup Final, that’s what Des Lynam used to say.”
“Yeah, everywhere will be showing it.”

I put the phone down. I’m not worried, but in the back of my mind there’s a niggling thought: what if Liverpool get through? Before the appearance of master tactician Rafael Benitez there would have been scant chance of a Cup Final appearance, but last year’s Champions League campaign that ended with that glorious evening in Istanbul has changed everything. We’re already in the Quarter Finals, after beating Man United in round five – there’s a distinct possibility we’ll get to the Big One in Cardiff. And I won’t be able to go.

I pause, and start to entertain the possibility of Liverpool getting knocked out. Would I really sacrifice the glory of my football team and the happiness of hundreds of thousands of Reds fans all over the world, just so I can enjoy my holiday without wishing I was in Cardiff? You’re fucking right I would. It simply doesn’t count if I’m not there.

But Liverpool, with Steven Gerrard at its heart are not going to miss out on English football’s other great prize. They, inevitably get to the Final following a semi with Chelsea. but even more incredibly, West Ham are finalists, too. Well, at least that Cockney get Justin will be buying me drinks when Liverpool destroy them 5-0.

***

The “sports bar” is in fact a bar. A bar like any other in Cadiz, except with no visible televisions around. It’s also closed. There’s another bar nearby. It is crammed with Spanish men on a stag do, throwing gallons of ale down their collective necks and hitting each other with giant foam rubber hats. Ah, that’ll be the sophisticated Spanish cafe society I’ve heard so much about.

“What are we going to do?” I say, losing hope and starting to sulk a like a six-year-old who’s just has his Nintendo confiscated.
Justin looks at his watch.
“It’s ten to three, British time,” he says.
“Is it? Shit.” I say, glumly, then look up and spot a glam-looking hotel nearby. “Hang on a minute, let’s use the computer in that gaff and listen to the British commentary from Radio 5 online. It’ll be like listening to a match in the ’80s.”

We run over to the hotel. Sure enough, there are two big computers in the lobby. We’ll have them.

Justin pays the confused looking fella at the reception some money and we settle down for Alan Green’s biased commentary.

“I fucking hate Alan Green,” says Justin.
“Ha! He’s boss,” I say as I type the URL in.

Here we go. The BBC “player” thingy comes up and we settle back to enjoy the game.

“Tony, turn up the volume, I can’t hear anything.”

I put the mouse over the loudness graphic. Come on, Reds!

“…the programme you want to listen to is not available in your region, come back later…”

We look at each other. That’s it, over. We are broken men – like Scott at the South Pole or the Captain of the Titanic as the waves engulf his indestructable floating folly. Our fate has been decided by events outside of our control.

We walk slowly back to the car and drive to our hotel. The four of us go to the bar. Justin rings up a mate in London, who agrees to text us every time there’s a goal – and in this afternoon, that’s a lot of texts. We never see West Ham taking a a 2-0 lead, Liverpool’s fightback or Steven Gerrard’s last-gasp wonder strike to make it 3-3. The texts tell us that Liverpool finally win on penalties in what will be described as the best FA Cup Final since 1979. We see none of it.

I toast the Reds with a bottle of Cruzcampo, and think about all my mates having the time of their lives – in the truest sense – a thousand miles away in the Welsh capital. Bastards.

This article appears in Well Red, the Liverpool magazine written by fans for fans

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Paddington Station vs Hipstamatic

What a terminus Paddintgon is. From the street there’s none of the show of St Pancras or King’s Cross – instead it skulks moodily behind a nondescript hotel, waiting for the unwitting visitor to stumble on it. The main entrance is a little road which cabs drive down from time to time, and vans use as a drop-off point for deliveries. So you walk down and then suddenly it hit you: one of Britain’s most awe-inspiring structures: Isambard Kingdom-Brunel’s gigantic glass roof. Higher than it needs to be, and all the better for it, light floods down in sunbeams illuminating the highly polished floor with spots of sunshine. 

Then there’s the station’s width, the vast expanse filled with platforms, each one the starting point for a journey to the deep south west on the line, that if Brunel had had his way, would have been smoother thanks to his wide-gauge track size. Sadly, that dream – and his idea for a rail link to America – was never fully realised, but his genius lives on in a station a thousand times more iconic than Heathrow Terminal 5 can ever be, even if the only country you can visit from it is Wales.











Thursday, September 01, 2011