This will be a long post but I want to and have to tell you about my second most important passion in life. You know about me and my girls – my wife and two daughters. But there is something else that runs a close second. I haven’t really spoken about them much on these pages. But they are in my blood. They affect my mood. And they are my boys.

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shankly

“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that…”

You know who said that? The greatest football (soccer) manager to ever walk this earth – Bill Shankly. I can tell you so many stories about Bill Shankly… But I won’t. Just believe me when I say that he was the best manager to walk this earth in each and every way. And he managed the greatest team to ever walk this earth – Liverpool.

I won’t say that I have an obsession with Liverpool. It goes much deeper than that. Like Mr Shankly said… My blood runs Red. The Mighty Reds. And it all started in 1980-something…

I was never that into sports when I was little. I watched it but I wasn’t obsessed with it. I know, I wasn’t normal. At least not in South Africa. And then I saw my first Liverpool game. Man, I can’t even remember who they played. But I remember watching and seeing these guys play like a dream. The smooth passing of the ball. The confidence. The masters of the beautiful game. And the crowd…

Oh that crowd. The 12th man on the field as we call it. The Scousers on The Kop. They sit on the cheap seats. And they never ever give up. Never. They back their team to the end no matter what happens. And when we score – that is the first place you run to. Those Scousers…

(The Kop has a South African link. It’s named after Spion Kop in South Africa where the Brits got their backsides kicked during the Anglo Boer War. And the regiment stationed there had many Liverpudlians who died on the battlefield at the Battle for Spion Kop. It actually means Spy Hill – Spioenkop.)

I wasn’t a nice Liverpool supporter. I used to teach Political Science back in South Africa when I was younger and my students knew about the “Liverpool Rules”.

Rule 1: Never ever wear a shirt of any other football team in my classroom. You will get kicked out. Some people used to think I was joking with them when they came to class the first time and I asked them to leave. They’ll ask why and I’ll tell them that no non-Liverpool shirts are allowed in my classroom. They’ll laugh and then slowly realize I wasn’t joking when I didn’t even blink – just stared at them. They will quickly leave the class. And they will never wear that crap in my class again!

Rule 2: Expect a test on Monday if Liverpool loses over the weekend. They slowly picked up on that one. A spot-test on Monday if Liverpool lost over the weekend. Thankfully Liverpool never lost often but they did learn to study and come to class when Liverpool lose. And not to give me any opportunity to take out my frustrations on them.

My mood when Liverpool lost was never a pretty sight. Like I said – I have Red blood running through my veins. I have calmed down since I got my girls but I got them “My dad supports Liverpool and so do I” t-shirts!

Liverpool is drenched in history. From when we started off because we didn’t like the religious fanatics of Everton. To come from nowhere to be a dominant force across the world. Always a team for the workers. Never flashy. Always sticking to the basics and sticking together. Never glory boys – always together. Always one. Always knowing the history and the people who bleed Red.

And with the greatest players ever to have played the beautiful game. Legends. Reds… Dalglish, Keegan. Rush. Grobbelaar. Hansen. Barnes. Beardsley. Souness. And all the other Red Legends. You name them and we had them. They died for the team on the field. They were The Mighty Reds.

My first hero? The Fat-Man-In-The-Middle. Jan Molby

Man… He was fat for a football player. But he controlled the middle. He determined the pace and flow of the game. He could pass a ball across the park with pinpoint accuracy. He was the man. He hardly moved. He controlled a little circle in the middle of the park – maybe a 20 feet radius. But he was the man. And I just loved watching him sweat Red. And drive other teams crazy. This blob of a man with the gift from God.

He wasn’t born in Liverpool. Nope. He was from Denmark. But no one would ever have guessed that. He had this heavy Scouser accent. No one understood what he said but that didn’t matter – he was a Red and he was our main man in the middle. Once a Red always a Red. That’s what he showed us. And we believed.

My next big hero was a man called “god”. Robbie Fowler

He was simply the best striker to ever put that Red shirt on. And he was born in Liverpool. He scored on his debut and two weeks later scored all 5 goals when they thrashed Fulham. Man… He was The Man. The leading goalscorer ever to put that Red shirt on. He was as lazy as hell but knew how to score. Always at the right place at the right time. He couldn’t miss even if he tried. And we called him “god”. And boy, did we love him.

He was also the reason why I had a bad patch with Liverpool…

Liverpool always had a Liverpool guy in charge. Someone with deep-rooted Red blood running through their veins. People who came up through the ranks to take charge as manager was called up from “the boot room”. (They started cleaning boots at first.) The Liverpool boss always came from a Liverpool background. Always. But we went through a bad patch in the 90’s. We hardly won anything. An FA Cup here and a League Cup there. But never our bread-and-butter – the League. So we went where others went and employed our first ever guy as manager from outside of the boot room – Gérard Houllier. He was a good guy but he wasn’t a born Red. We gave him his chance. But it started going downhill when he sold “god”. I almost turned my back on Liverpool…

Those were dark days.

You have to understand that Liverpool is not just a soccer team. It is Liverpool. From the working class side of the docks. And the most successful club in the history of English football. We have won more League titles than anyone else. We have won the European Championship title more than anyone else. We are Liverpool. We do not lose. We win. Always. Because we are the Mighty Reds.

So the 90’s was bad for us. We hardly won anything after dominating the 70’s and 80’s. Eventually Gérard Houllier had to go. Winning three trophies in one year wasn’t even good enough if it didn’t include either the League or the EUFA Champions League title. And in came Rafa…

Oh Rafael Benítez…

He wasn’t from the boot room either. And he was Spanish! WTF? But we knew that he was the man. From day one. All he could talk about was Liverpool. He was offered way more money to go to the glory clubs – Real, Barcelona, Inter Milan, AC Milan… But he came to Liverpool. He was ready to bleed Red.

And we had a new hero or two emerging from the player side as well…

Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. Both born and bred in Liverpool. Big Scousers. Red blood. And so different from each other.

Stevie G was and is simply the best midfielder in the world. He makes us who we are. He is the guy who will score the winning goal with seconds to spare. He is the guy you want to pass the ball to when you need a moment of brilliance to turn the game. He is Mr Liverpool. Down-to-earth but sublime. He has been offered so much money to go play elsewhere but always turn it down. Like he said, “What would I do when I am old one day and think about the time I left Liverpool? I was born a Red and will die a Red.” He is our man. He is our captain.

Jamie… He doesn’t have a tenth of the skills or talent that Stevie G (or anyone else for that matter) has got. But he is the wall you will not get through at the back. I have seen this guy cramp up and still lunge at attackers. You have to break his legs to make him even think of slowing down. He is everything that Liverpool stands for – not flashy but willing to die for the Scousers of Liverpool. He is the guy you want in the trenches with you when you are in a war. Because he will die for the cause. Die for the Mighty Reds.

Our Stevie G and Jamie – the heart of Liverpool today. Our big man. Our captain. Two Scousers and two Mighty Reds.

Now let me tell you about the greatest game of football ever played. The greatest game ever. Without a doubt. Up there with Ali and Foreman…

The 2005 EUFA Champions League Final.

It is the major club football trophy each year. We have won it 4 times – more than all the other English teams put together. But that was way back then when we still dominated. This time we were struggling in the Premier League in England and just scrapped through to the finals of the EUFA Champions League. We should really not have been there. We won games we should have lost. A few results went our way and somehow we made it to the finals. And this was Rafa’s first season in charge!

Everyone wrote us off before the game. How we should just celebrate the fact that we made it to the finals. That should be enough for us. As if Liverpool can settle for just that…

I was watching the game at home. Alone… I can’t handle watching Liverpool play. It drives me crazy and I go into a depressed state of mind when they lose. It’s best for me and everyone around to not let me watch them in public. So there I was…

And before I could open my first beer AC Milan scored their first goal…

They were all over us. They were the best team in Europe by a long shot. Everyone wrote us off before the match and here they scored in the first minute! And it got worse. Very quickly…

They scored again…

And again…

By half-time we were 3-0 down. And we were completely outplayed. We were like kids and they were the masters teaching us a lesson. They were having fun playing with us. It was a massacre. The gap in class showed. And it was painful to watch. Each goal was like and arrow to my heart. All the faint hope and belief I had before the game just disappeared. Our heads hung low. And our boys went off to gather their thoughts in the locker room somewhere at halftime…

Everyone wrote us off at halftime. Milan was a super team. The best defenders in the business. No way can any team come back from 3-0 down at halftime. Especially not a Liverpool team that wasn’t even close to being great. The commentators all spoke about how Liverpool must just try to not lose too badly. Keep the score down to a respectable level. No chance back. They actually felt sorry for us. Talking about how the mighty have fallen. How this was a shadow of the Liverpool of old. How we came here with nothing but empty promises. How we already lost this game. They all knew that and believed it…

And then the Scousers started singing…

You’ll Never Walk Alone“…

That is our song. A song that sounds like Sinatra should be singing it. Not a song for sport – any sport. But that is our song. Because our boys must know that You’ll Never Walk Alone. We all go down together and we all suffer together. No matter how bad things get – we stand by our team. We bleed with our boys. The boys in Red…

Just listen to this… Remember this game was played in Turkey but you can hear the Scousers sing and sing… Recorded from the stands…

Man, I still get goosebumps from that.

And the boys heard them sing from inside the locker room. And Rafa said, “Go out and make the fans proud. We can lose but we can never give up. We lose together but make the fans proud of who you represent and what you stand for in their eyes.” Or something like that anyway. No one is willing to say what he said but we know he said something about them having to go out and make the fans proud and that they must remember that they are Liverpool players – and that means something. And the boys went out to play…

And that man Stevie scored a beautiful goal. Just one from the captain. And he started waving his arms to the crowd and the rest of the team. Yelling at them to “come on!” Getting the boys up from the floor. Reminding them who they are and reminding them about that shirt they are wearing. And somehow the team woke up and realized what it meant to have that Red shirt on. The remembered that they will never walk alone. They are the Reds. The Mighty Reds…

We came back from the dead. We scored again. First Smicer who couldn’t score all season and who was already on his way out to join another team. And then again. Alonso taking a penalty and it being saved. But he followed it up and scored! Everything Liverpool stood for came through on that day. It was as if Shankly was playing with the boys. Smiling from above. Playing like only Liverpool knew how to play. Never give up and never give in. Because you are the Mighty Reds. You’ll Never Walk Alone.

It was 3-3. But our boys were out on their feet. Jamie was cramping up badly but refused to leave the field. He made one tackle after the other. Each time staying down because of his cramping legs.

Injury time… And we have run out of substitutes.

Milan was hammering at our goalkeeper. Jerzy Dudek made one unbelievable save after another. They kept on missing and Jerzy kept on making unbelievable saves. Right at the death of injury time the greatest player of the year, Shevchenko had to score for Milan – a clear run at goal and only a few yards out. And somehow Jerzy got a hand to it – but just enough to push it back to Shevchenko. Shevchenko just had to tap it in…

But Jerzy was there again. He had no clue what he did but he saved it. Again!

That’s when I knew. I knew this was going to be our day… Just maybe we are back where we belong…

And the whistle blew and extra time was over.

Penalties!

Jerzy wasn’t the greatest keeper in the world but Jamie ran up to him and shouted something only a true Scouser will remember to use, “Remember Grobbelaar in 84!”

Liverpool played in the 1984 European Cup Final and Bruce Grobbelaar was the keeper. It also came down to penalties and Bruce did his “spaghetti legs” impression. Moving his legs as if it was spaghetti to distract the penalty taker. And it worked. Liverpool won in 1984. And now Jerzy was going to do the same?

Pirlo was up to take the penalty for Milan. And Jerzy did the “spaghetti legs”…

And he saved it!

It went one way and another for the next few penalties. We missed one and they missed another one. It all came down to Shevchenko to keep Milan in the game. There was no way the greatest player in the world would miss a penalty.

Or was there?

Jerzy did the “spaghetti legs” one last time… Shevchenko ran up not looking at Jerzy. Staying cool. Jerzy dived to his right…

Shevchenko hit it straight down the middle…

And Jerzy saved it with his legs!

We won! We won! God dammit, we won!

I was jumping up and down screaming and shouting like a madman. I went crazy. This was the greatest day in the world! We are back! We are back! And only in the way Liverpool could do it! By playing the greatest game of football ever!

Everyone thought I was crazy. Our little one didn’t know any better but still shouted along with her dad, “Come on you Reds! Come on you Reds!”

We won the penalty shootout 3-2…

We were champions again! And I was crying like a little baby…

Look at this video. It is the highlights of that game. The greatest game of football ever to have been played. That’s my team. That’s the Mighty Reds. Liverpool Football Club. (Hey, even the music is cool to listen to!)

The greatest game ever…

Another shorter version. The one that makes me cry whenever I watch this short reminder of that day – which is often! The greatest day of 2005. Music – In My Life… You HAVE to watch this one…

That’s the story of my second biggest passion in life. Liverpool…

We are top of the league right now. Still a long way to go. Who knows whether we will win the league this year. Who knows. But you know…

You’ll Never Walk Alone

(The original version with stills from that game in 2005.)

I’m a Red. I bleed Red. I am Liverpool.

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A few more quick stories about Liverpool. Two about me and one about why I bleed Red. And that one gets to the heart and soul of Liverpool…

1. I actually missed all 3 those goals Liverpool scored in the second half in 2005! I was so down after we went behind 3-0 that I decided to walk over to the Co-op to buy a few more beers. I thought I needed a few more to drown my sorrows! I went at half-time… I was walking back with my head hanging low when I heard cheers and shouting coming from the houses down our road. Yes, everyone was watching. I though to myself that at least Liverpool scored a goal. I got home and put the beers down and opened a cold one – ready catch the rest of the game. And missed the second goal! I looked at the telly and decided to quickly go for a… hum… toilet break. And missed the bloody third goal! Liverpool scored all three their goals in the space of 12 minutes. And I missed them all… Needless to say, but I didn’t move again for the rest of the game! The girls had to hand me fresh cold beers…

2. The other story happened when me and my lovely suffering wife went over to the UK for the first time – back in 1994. She had to go back to South Africa for her brother’s wedding and I stayed behind. With all our money. So one day I was just walking around in London and happened to walk into the shop that had all these Liverpool goodies. I had to really look hard to “just walk into the shop”… Anyway, so I walked in and blew all out money on Liverpool stuff. Scarves and caps and shirts and wallets and loads of other stuff. The one cap is a red tartan one with woolly ear covers with the Liverpool logo on the front. My wife still refuses to let me wear it in public. And I still have no clue why I needed 3 of exactly the same wallets… I was like a kid in a candy store. I just couldn’t stop buying and buying Liverpool crap… I mean goodies. For some reason my wife was less than pleased with my purchasing habits.

3. Liverpool has many football enemies. Two stand out – Manchester United and Everton. Man U because they are the other “big” team in England. Of course we have won more trophies than them and they are a bunch of glory boys hunting the limelight… Anyway, Everton is the other BIG enemy because they are also from Liverpool. Actually, we share the same park. Anfield, our grounds, are on the one side of Stanley Park and Everton’s piece of mud and grass on the other side. We wear Red and they wear blue. There is NOTHING like the local derby. Nothing. We can not lose against them. They are the enemy. We were actually all just Everton back before Liverpool was created but we couldn’t stand their uppity ways and religious fanatics. So we started our own club. And so Liverpool FC was born. And they have hated us since then – because we are bigger than them and have won more trophies than them and are more loved in Liverpool than them. We kicked our older brother’s backside. The hate runs deep…

But sometimes we remember what this world is all about. A moment I will NEVER forget…

A little boy of 12 called Rhys Jones from Liverpool was brutally murdered on 22 August 2007. Shot in the back. It sent shock waves through Liverpool and the whole of the UK. He was just a kid. A good kid. And little Rhys was a huge Everton fan. He even had a season ticket to their games. Now you have to understand that Liverpool and Everton are mortal football enemies. They make the Red Sox and Yankees look like a Sunday school class. Nothing good ever happens between these two clubs. And little Rhys was an Everton fan. He wore blue… His favorite song was called Johnny Todd – the Z-cars theme tune and the Everton version of You’ll Never Walk Alone. It would never be played at Anfield. Never. But it was played at Anfield. Just once…

The Liverpool fans asked the club to do something that has never been done before. To show that the city is united as one even when the city is divided between the Reds and the blues. The family of little Rhys was asked to join Liverpool before a major game on the field – with the Everton manager there as well. And the played Z-Cars… While the Jones family stood on the field in their blue outfit. Johnny Todd playing to salute Rhys. To wrap the Liverpool arms around his family. To make his one dream come true. For Z-Cars to be played at Anfield. And everyone at Anfield sang along. We were all Evertonians for a day. And of course we won that game for Rhys.

There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen. I cried my heart out when I saw it. But that is my team. Because even an Everton fan like Rhys Jones must know that You’ll Never Walk Alone

Yes… That’s my team. Those are my boys. And my blood runs Red. Because I know…

You’ll Never Walk Alone.

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