Local Liverpool Fans Prove that Indeed You'll Never Walk Alone, even in Texas.
Soccer is truly a global game. It's no a stretch to connect seemingly disparate people and places, even ones separated by oceans and continents.
Wednesday, one of the highest profile matches annually plays out in Athens, Greece. It's the Champions League final, the culmination of the yearly tournament of elite European clubs, to be seen extensively throughout six continents.
Talk about global relevance and interaction. Wednesday's highly anticipated match involves a team from England (Liverpool) and another one from Italy (A.C. Milan). Players featured on the rosters hail from England, Italy, Spain, Holland, Brazil, Czech Republic, Finland, Australia, Norway and France, among others.
And here's the implausible Texas kicker: one team is owned in part by a man in Dallas, Stars and Rangers owner Tom Hicks.
Even if half the majority ownership duo didn't reside in Dallas, the connections would be easy to identify. Liverpool gear is widely available in the local soccer shops. Dallas is among the many U.S. cities with a local Liverpool supporters club. Even in the local youth leagues, teams call themselves Liverpool and wear the familiar Reds jerseys.
And countless diehard Reds fans from North Texas, regardless of the significant distance, proudly proclaim their allegiance to LFC (the club's familiar acronym, meaning Liverpool Football Club.) That's why quite a few loyal locals might find themselves with sudden, uh, "toothaches" that require a couple of hours of dental assistance between about 1:45 and 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday. That's when the night-time match from Athens, Greece, kicks off locally. "I started mentioning a 'conference call' that was likely to eat up the afternoon about three weeks ago," said one Liverpool fan, who works locally in consulting but requested that his name not be used. "I was hoping Liverpool would make the final, and I wanted to start laying the groundwork to be able to slip out of the office and watch the final."
He gathers with other Liverpool supporters occasionally to watch the regular season matches, which sometimes requires rising before dawn on Saturday mornings to catch matches at one of the spots known to show English Premier League matches. Trinity Hall inside Mockingbird Station, also a favorite spot for Stars' broadcasts, is one of the local favorites.
Most large U.S. cities have a chapter of the LFC supporters clubs. Some are grander than others. New York's club, for instance, has its own spiffy web site (www.lfcny.org).
Dallas' official Liverpool supporters group includes about 40 diehards, according to Simon Roberts, a wine broker and involved member. He's from Liverpool, having relocated to Dallas about 10 years ago. He said the local chapter was once mostly ex-pats such as himself. Now, the greater majority of local members are actually Americans.
"And they are good fans," he said. "They know the club inside and out."
Wilson Schoelkopf is an aircraft instructor in Dallas and a member of the local Liverpool supporters club. He likes the idea of watching Liverpool alongside other Reds loyalists at Wednesday's Champions League watching party at AAC -- but he's too superstitious and too much of a fan to go.
Schoelkopf will be exactly where he was (in the very same seat, if that's possible) at a Greenville Ave. pub where he and other friends traditionally watch the important Liverpool matches.
"I have to trust my instincts, stick with my roots and traditions and go to the same place," he said. "It's going to be a heck of a match." In terms of exposure, Liverpool benefits from being a truly global brand, situated conveniently in one of the world's most high-profile associations, the venerable English Premier League. The EPL is among the world's top leagues not just in terms of talent and financial heft, but also in terms of exposure.
EPL matches are fairly easy to find on most U.S. cable and satellite systems. While some of the more obscure Premier League clubs may be featured only a times a year, the league A-listers (Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal for the most part) are on almost every weekend.
Pair that with the ESPN family's coverage of midweek Champions League matches, and with the ubiquitous news and information available over the internet, and it's really quite easy to be a well-informed fan of English soccer from Dallas. Or Denver, Des Moines, Detroit, etc.
(Ironically, due to complicated and often restrictive TV deals in England, an EPL fan can conceivably watch more games right here in Dallas, Texas, than they could if they lived in England. Strange, no?)
Plus, there are weekly EPL preview and weekend wrap-up shows, a la the NFL previews and wraps that blanket football here. So with the EPL matches and analysis so readily available, some soccer fans simply select a team to cheer for and strap in for the ride.
That's exactly how it happened for Matt Hunter, a Reds supporter who lives in Dallas.
"I really liked their defenders," he said. "Plus, they were scoring a lot of points for my EPL fantasy league team."
Local sports personality Bob Sturm, half the BaD Radio tandem that fills the station's mid-afternoon slot, arrived even earlier to the Liverpool party. Sturm once explained on his blog how he became an LFC diehard. A longtime soccer fan, Sturm watched the 1998 World Cup from the United States and was particularly struck by Michael Owens' goal for England against Argentina. Owen was a relatively unknown then, but his stunning charge from midfield in the teams' ballyhooed elimination match immediately elbowed its way into most lists of the best World Cup goals ever.
Owen was 18 then, the youngest player at the time to ever to score for England. He played his club soccer for Liverpool. So, when Sturm began consuming a steady diet of EPL soccer around the year 2000, he embraced Liverpool as his team.
Sturm recently returned from England, where he took in a game at LFC's famed Anfield grounds.
Here's something else that galvanizes international soccer fandom: supporters show up substantially just to cheer against the other side.
Some fans despise not just one team, but an entire nation of teams. And because of Italian soccer's reputation as overly defensive -- in some opinions, a league full of destroyers instead of attractive creators -- teams from the Big Boot are more susceptible to the odd phenomenon.
Local posters on the national soccer message board BigSoccer.com have announced their intention to show up to American Airlines Center on Wednesday because they can't stand Italian soccer. They have no particular affection for Liverpool, but will be singing the Reds praises on Wednesday.