Being a Manchester United supporter (and believing that Barcelona will take their bracket through to the final), I didn’t have much at stake emotionally for today’s Champions League second leg quarter final match between Chelsea and Liverpool.
All I really wanted was a bit of drama on the pitch and a quality atmosphere provided by supporters at the pub. So I made the hour long drive from Washington DC to Slainte Irish Pub in Fells Point, Baltimore, because I knew the place would be packed and the fans would be up for it.
And as for the drama I was seeking, spectators today got more of that than if they were watching a Greek tragedy.
The match ended 4-4, with Liverpool up 2-0 at the half with goals from Fabio Aurelio and Xabi Alonso which meant if the reds could get one more net and hold Chelsea scoreless, a trip to the semi finals was theirs. Scousers were looking optimistic at half time even though skipper Steven Gerrard was out of the match with a groin injury, while the boys in blue were outside frantically smoking and talking about what their side and manager Guus Hiddink could possibly do to turn around the bleak situation.
And me? I went to go put more money in the meter, thinking penalties were on the afternoon’s menu.
The second half must have been an emotional roller-coaster for fans of both sides as Chelsea then went up, with goals from Didier Drogba, Alex (he’s Brazilian- Brazilians are so sick they can just go by one name) and Frank Lampard. Chelsea supporters were ordering celebratory shots of whiskey and more rounds of Guinness, and the chatter had gone from worried talk to a bit of cheek and slightly premature singing of “Who the F*ck are Barcelona?”
But the Scousers had their chance to make noise again as Leiva Lucas and Dirk Kuyt both found net just 2 minutes apart and now they would just need one more goal to win and had 10 minutes left to make that happen.
But yet another one from Chelsea’s Lampard in the 89th minute crushed any Liverpool hope as aggregate was now 7-5 in Chelsea’s favor. And although things became a bit heated as supporters from both camps threw a few words back and forth, handshakes, congratulations and condolences were exchanged by final whistle as the crowd gathered around the bar to pay their tabs.
Chelsea Supporter Adrian Stupski was overjoyed with today’s victory and his side’s advance to the semifinals: “Nothing short of quality atmosphere ’round the pub today. As always, I’m proud to be part of that blue island within the red sea. Though I can never hope to afford you the most objective of perspectives, this had to have been the most scintillating champions league tie since Eidur & Duffer stormed the Nou Camp. Fantastic to go through. Up the Blues!”
And then after a glance around the pub at those in red, Adrian added, “One important thing…please take a moment to put your shirt aside and think of those that were lost, just trying to support their side, twenty years ago.” He was referring to the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989, where on April 15th, 20 years ago today 96 Liverpool Supporters lost their lives watching the FA Cup Semifinal against Nottingham Forest as a terrace at Hillsborough stadium collapsed. The tragedy will be marked today with 2 minutes of silence in Liverpool beginning at 3:06 PM GMT.
I asked one of the less thrilled attendants, Liverpool supporter (and a female- oh snap) Jamie Watson, to give her opinion about the match and pub culture. “I kind of stumbled upon the pub by accident – I’d been watching matches at home. Quickly I realized that you could LEARN a lot more by watching with others. Not just about tactics, but songs, history, you name it. And then I made friends – really GOOD friends who I spend 2-5 hours a week with, every week, for 9 months.
Of course yesterday’s match was something special – it could have gone any way. It’s impossible to describe the energy in that place for the last 30 minutes. I love it when a tourist wanders in at 10 a.m. right when a goal gets scored and they peek in the windows trying to figure out what on EARTH is going on in there!
I love Slainte – I love that there are supporters there from most teams, and the camaraderie is incredible. I occasionally watch matches in New York, at an all Liverpool bar and that’s great too. But when you KNOW your opponent, and can shake hands afterwards, it really helps to heal the pain of a loss. Except for Mancs,” she jibed, “It never feels good losing to the Mancs. It always feels good watching the Mancs lose.” Touche, Miss Watson.
And giving credit where it is due- both Liverpool and Chelsea have a very decent representation at Slainte and today’s turnout was no exception. Each pub has a different supporting demographic and Slainte seems to pull a lot for those two sides while Manchester United surprisingly only have a handful. Of course we get numbers who will occasionally get up out of their armchairs and crawl out of the woodwork for the odd massive match but in my opinion, that’s no reason to feel proud. We may not live in Jolly Old England, and season tickets to the mecca that is Old Trafford may be out of the question, but at least we can do the next best thing, which is to get off our arses and down to the pub and organize some solidarity and representation for the club we claim to love. And this is exactly what Darren Rudham and three of his Liverpool supporting friends did when they created the Baltimore Liverpool Supporter’s Club. And Chelsea fan Adrian Stupski reported that he’s been in touch with the New York City Blues and the two groups will be getting together when Baltimore hosts the expo match with Chelsea and AC Milan on July 24.
So this afternoon, as the Mighty Red Devils from Manchester face FC Porto away for their second leg quarter final (kick off 2:45 EST), I will be leaving work early and reporting from Lucky Bar in Dupont Circle, Washington DC.
The pub owner is a true Red and Lucky’s actually musters a decent amount of United supporters. We’ll see if today”s match can bring the same level of drama, the same quality of pub atmosphere, and of course a win for the best club in the world.
Ferguson’s Red Army! Ferguson’s Red Army! Oh, I’m not going to concentrate at work at all this morning.
-Your Killahbeez resident Geezer-Bird
Chelsea FC American Tour:
Saturday July 18th – Chelsea FC vs. Seattle Sounders at Qwest Field (Seattle, Washington)
Tuesday July 21 – Chelsea FC vs. FC Internazionale Milano at the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, California)
Friday July 24 – Chelsea FC vs. AC Milan at M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore, Maryland)
Sunday July 26 – Chelsea FC vs. Club America at Cowboy Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Slainte’s Blues: They’ll shag your beer and drink your women.