“We badly need a win,” says the guy selling us a £2 fanzine outside Anfield.
It’s a fresh morning, the fans are crowding the stadium and a worn club scarf is hanging over his coat. He says he’s been with the zine for 20 years. Obviously, the Liverpool fan’s lot hasn’t gotten any easier during this time.
Later, when Liverpool score a goal against AFC Bournemouth within 10 minutes of kick-off, I think of that man.
My son and I are sitting in the Anfield Road stands and it’s like someone threw a blanket over the stadium. The crowd was momentarily silenced save for a small group of Bournemouth supporters who couldn’t believe their luck. They cheer and hoot while most of the 53,384 fans are angry. There are no big screen replays; just a goalie picking a ball off the back of his net.
It’s 7th March 2020. Liverpool are in a crisis having lost three of their last four games and this home game marks the first time Sam, then 10, has been to a Premier League game.
We had considered continuing the trip as multiple cases of a worrying new coronavirus were reported in Ireland. But there is no advice against traveling and at this moment we are ecstatic. The Kop stand is singing and soon swaying again. The mood lifts all around the floor. The team reacts.
Mohamed Salah soon scored for Liverpool. Nine minutes later, Sadio Mané adds another. The singing and the 2-1 score lasts until full-time.
Days later, the WHO declares a pandemic. A week later, Ireland is in lockdown. Three months later, Liverpool win their first league title in 30 years, celebrating in an eerily empty Anfield as we watch on a laptop.
These images feel stuck in my brain forever. The exhilarating thrill of being part of a massive sports audience, and the solitude of lockdown when sport — albeit clinical and without crowds — gave us something small to look forward to and rally around (virtually, at least).
Today, in the summer of 2022, sport and travel continue their breathtaking upswing. I am not suprised. During the worst of the pandemic lockdown, many like us have vowed to seize the day when they could – whether it’s diving back into live sport or booking trips on the bucket list.
Or both. Sports travel is booming, says James Fleming of Cassidy Sports, with whom we booked our 2020 Match Break package to Liverpool. ” he says.
Not surprisingly, Liverpool trips are among the most sought after. Sam is one of many thousands of Irish fans who follow a tradition that can be traced back to emigration in the 19th century to Irish players like Mark Lawrenson, Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan, Steve Staunton and John Aldridge playing in the last golden The club’s era played a key role in the 1980s. Our short Ryanair flights to and from Liverpool are packed with fans of all ages.
Arsenal and Spurs trips are also proving popular for the 2022/23 season, says Cassidy. And there is unusually good value for Manchester United. “Because the team isn’t in the Champions League this year and didn’t play their best last year, ticket prices for United have come down a lot,” Fleming said. The company also sells trips to the Spanish La Liga and the Italian Serie A, among others.
As well as Cassidy, tour operators such as Club Travel, Abbey Travel, Marathon Sports, Shandon Travel, Killester Travel and Celtic Horizons have packages to sporting events as diverse as Six Nations rugby matches, the Ryder Cup Rome 2023, Wimbledon, Cheltenham and various Formula 1 majors Price. Covid hasn’t gone away but the crowds are back with a bang. Formula 1 will add a race in Las Vegas next year and Anfield will be expanded to seat 61,000.
The big trips can cost a small fortune. But being in that atmosphere and seeing Sam’s superheroes play in real time is electrifying. The majestic Virgil van Dijk conducts from back center. Mané’s grace, balance and piercing punches. Manager Jürgen Klopp punches in the air in front of the grandstand. James Milner’s heroic goal-line clearance ( YouTube it). Salah trotted back to the center circle after scoring and touched his forehead to the ground in Islamic sujood.
Of course, you miss the angles and analysis of television. But you get an overview of the field (“It feels so small,” Sam says) and you get a sense of what the players are doing off the ball, right down to the facial expressions. And temporarily we are part of a tribe.
The language is getting salty around us and we all know that sports fans can have their darker sides, but our Liverpool experience is broadly a positive one from start to finish. We fly in the night before and spend the next morning exploring the Albert Dock, gazing across the Mersey, talking about the Beatles, buying a bag of sweets and wondering how this team captured the Irish imagination has grip. “Everton fans are from Liverpool,” says our Uber driver on the way to the stadium. “Liverpool fans come from all over the world.”
We belong. And the first sight of Anfield, rising between red brick terraces, gives us goosebumps. We take our time soaking up the action, buying a scarf, perusing the £2 fanzine and enjoying a cake from the community-run Homebaked Bakery (which has the word “Shankly” on it, the legendary manager of FC Liverpool) stands to devour. We circle the ground, squeeze through the ridiculously overpriced LFC Superstore, stop at the lovingly tended Hillsborough memorial and watch the team buses arrive. Bournemouth’s is booed. Liverpool is cheered.
Next to us two US tourists, also father and son. “I talk as if I know everything,” says the father. “We watched a lot of YouTube videos.”
Our hospitality package includes pre-game food and beverages in a suite just a short corridor from the stands. We take our seats and watch as giant LFC letters are swallowed as the crowd pours in, the players warm up and we’re soon immersed in the sound of over 50,000 people singing.
“All the songs start in the head,” Sam notes. “The atmosphere is incredible.” Most moving is You’ll never Walk Alone, sung before kick-off, powerfully voiced and emotional. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
“Being at a game at Anfield is like being high without taking anything,” he writes Guardian Columnist and fan Hannah Jane Parkinson the next day. “The stands seem to have lungs.”
After that, we follow dozens of other fans to the stadium’s garage exit and hang out there until several players drive out. Salah shows up in a white Bentley, Roberto Firmino in a yellow Lamborghini, Milner in a Range Rover and Klopp in a Vauxhall station wagon, which feels perfect.
Football itself was nervous and irritable. But the locals get the result they want. A few games later, that three-decade duck will be broken.
“I’m 30 and going gray,” says the Uber driver who takes us back to town — a season ticket holder who stopped to catch the game. Welcome to Liverpool.
Premier League Packages
Pól and Sam have been guests of Cassidy Travel, whose 2022/23 Premier League match break packages include trips to Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Leeds and Newcastle.
Package prices start from €279 per person (excluding flights) but prices and availability depend on the popularity of the games, length and type of stay and what is included.
For example, Liverpool vs Bournemouth on August 27th starts from €439pp, while the Titanic clash with Manchester City (October 15th) starts at €749pp (both excluding flights).
Liverpool Sandon Hospitality Packages include tickets to the Anfield Road stand, drinks and food at reception, post-match refreshments, match program and hotel accommodation. Upgrades are also available.
Remember that packages are not sold for exact dates but for fixtures. League schedules are subject to change, so make sure all travel arrangements allow for this.
See cassidytravel.ie/sports-breakscall 01 877-9853 or email email@example.com for more details.
Match day tips & stadium tours
Taxis or Ubers cost around £8-£10 (€9.55-€11.94) from the city center and there are several bus options including the 917 express service from St John’s Lane opposite Lime Street Station. It starts about three hours before kick-off.
top tip? get there early Eat a cake, sip a pint, chat with the locals and feel the excitement build. Bring some cash (sterling) – Anfield is a cashless stadium but many of the vendors outside selling scarves, zines and such are not.
In winter the stadiums can get wet, windy and cold so bring layers, a hat, thick socks or boots and gloves to keep your hands cool. Also useful are some energy bars, water (in a plastic bottle) and a marker (if there is an autograph opportunity). See thisisanfield.com for more tips.
You can also book stadium tours of Anfield, including dressing rooms, dugout, kop and museum, from £23/£14 (€27.46/€16.71). Guided tours are offered on matchdays but are more expensive at £25/£18 (€29.85/€21.49) and for obvious reasons do not include dressing rooms or press rooms. stadiumtours.liverpoolfc.com
Official tickets and trips
It is possible to buy tickets direct (from £9-£59/€10.74-€70.43; Liverpoolfc.com) and Ryanair flies from Dublin to Liverpool (ryanair.com); Ferry ride is also an option.
However, tickets to games will be sold first to members and season ticket holders, with a limited number going on sale about a week before the games. For a one off trip, we thought it would be safer (and certainly a lot easier) to book a package.
See Visit liverpool.com for more things to do in town.
Note: All prices and availability subject to change
Netflix’s Drive to Survive poured oil on Formula 1’s popularity and gave sports fans a lifeline in lockdown. Venues for the 2023 Grand Prix range from Silverstone to Las Vegas.
The Irish rugby team travel to Cardiff, Rome and Edinburgh for the 2023 Six Nations. Next year the Rugby World Cup will be held in France, for which packages are also available.
Would you like to watch an exotic sport at home? The Aer Lingus College Classic brings Notre Dame vs. Navy and Northwestern vs. Nebraska to Dublin on August 26th and 27th.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/europe/one-young-fans-bucket-list-trip-to-see-a-liverpool-fc-game-and-why-match-break-travel-is-booming-41888190.html A young fan’s bucket list trip to a Liverpool game – and why match break trips are booming