This Is Anfield’s Michael Sweeting describes the experience as he attended Liverpool’s 3-1 friendly win over Bayer Leverkusen in the press box at Anfield on Sunday.
Waking up this morning, before my alarm had even ordered me to do so, I made my way groggily to the shower and then sat around in my boxers for a couple of hours playing FIFA and trying to find some information on potential loan deals for Conor Coady, Andre Wisdom and Nathan Eccleston – to no real avail. 11 o’clock ticked around and I thought it was about time to slip into my already pressed suit and polished shoes before travelling down to Anfield and my first time experiencing a day-in-th-life of a journalist.
Arriving at the Main Stand, a good three hours before kickoff and getting some obligatory photos with the family out of the way I picked up the press pass and made my way through the directors’ entrance and into the press room at the end of the hall. One door further down is the Home dressing room and the players – including Joe Allen – were already arriving there. Jamie Carragher popped his head in couple of times to wave to friendly journalists such as Tony Barrett.
Sat in that small room, surrounded by pictures of Luis Suarez and the Kop, I was happy to sit close to the wall and observe the group at work; big news was a potential interview with Joe Allen and Everton’s sale of Jack Rodwell which everyone agreed was a hugely inflated fee at £15m and a bizarre transfer given Rodwell’s obvious inability to get into the Everton team, never mind the Man City side. Brilliantly there was a complimentary food bar so I tucked into a bit of Chicken Tikka and watched the end of the marathon while having a flick through the match day programme. An article by Dani Pacheco made my heart sink, he was discussing his chances of first team football and sounding upbeat but it was tainted by an underlying belief that his chance had gone. The absence of a squad number was almost confirmation.
I was about to pose the ‘Does Dani have a future question’ to Tony Barrett when a member of LFC staff came in with the team sheets. There was general bafflement at Liverpool’s decision to name only six substitutes and some slight concerns over the lack of Agger and Skrtel, though these were quickly put to bed by some bright spark who mentioned international football friendlies later this week. Chelsea v Man City came on the TV and I was quite pleased to hear some well known (though nameless) journalists say “fuck off Terry” when he began his routine argument with the referee. Media bias towards the Chelsea ‘lionheart’ may be overstated.
I spoke a while with Radoslaw Chmiel from LFC Poland as well as Paul Machin from Redmen TV and Jimmy from live4liverpool. I think it’s fair to say we were all excited as we took our seats in the press area and it was a struggle not to join in with the chants of “Oh Sami, Sami” or “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. We had to extend our gratitude to a Liverpool legend with a warm round of applause though, smashing our professional guise.
Sami Hyypia, as athletic and trim as he has ever looked, strode forwards from the technical area and aimed a clap at the Kop in response to their chants, evoking a great roar of appreciation from the crowd. Rumours shot around the ground that he joined in YNWA as well, but this remained unconfirmed. The message was clear though, Hyypia still held those fans and this club close to his heart. Throughout the match spontaneous chants would break out and Sami – livid about his own team’s performance – would break his icy gaze to wave to the adoring Scousers.
Make no mistake though; this was a friendly that both sides were desperate to win, naming strong sides. Leverkusen were down early in the match as a Liverpool counter attack caught out Schwaab at right back and Raheem Sterling took full advantage by curling an effort into the far corner. Sterling was delighted, and it was hopefully the first of many great moments in a Liverpool shirt.
However, from then on it was Leverkusen who looked the most dangerous with Steffan Kiessling and Karim Bellarabi causing a few problems with their clever movement. Down the other end they coped easily with Liverpool and managed to negate Suarez’s trickery through a combination of excellent positioning and robust tackling. It was within a back drop of Leverkusen dominance that Liverpool’s second goal came – a training ground routine eventually leaving Lucas with a tap in and big Sami tearing his hair out (what little he has left anyway). It was also interesting to note that Rodgers was like a trap door spider for much of the game, flying from his technical area to remonstrate with players when they failed to retain possession. Indeed it was when Liverpool had the ball going along their backline that they looked most comfortable and solid. Central defender Sebastian Coates was the stand out player showing composure on and off the ball, certainly putting himself in the frame for a bigger role in the first team this season.
Half time was most notable for the complimentary soup and sandwiches as well as the opportunity to overhear Sky Sports trying to arrange an interview with Joe Allen, who was sat in the directors’ box, and Sami Hyypia. Rumours that Clint Dempsey was sat with the squad today though are unfounded.
The second half was pretty much a non-affair, both sides made plenty of changes and the game petered out despite brief moments of class from Andy Carroll and Sidney Sam to make the score 3-1. One interesting, though hardly groundbreaking, note from the second half was that Charlie Adam’s set pieces were once again terrible and far less dangerous than the corners in the first half.
After the game we all filed out of the press area and back to the interview room before being treated to a visit from Sami Hyypia, who was furious about getting heavily beaten, and Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers allayed some of the fans fears by claiming there wasn’t any bid from City as far as he was aware and revealing that Lucas is always deadly from six yards and an open goal! Rodger’s relaxed demeanour was great for the interviewers and you can see why the press have warmed to him more so than they ever did with the edgier Kenny Dalglish.
And just like that it was over. People dispersed to various laptops and began to write their match reports or disassemble their cameras and I was left standing alone clutching a camera phone and pad of paper filled with notes realising I probably looked about ten years out of date, but the overriding emotion of the day was “I could get used to this”.
A huge thank you to Liverpool FC and Jen Chang who launched the initiative to invite fan groups to the stadium, I think this is indicative of the improved relations to club is building to the fan base and also corporate sponsors. My special thanks though must go to Matt and Max the owners of www.thisisanfield.com who offered me this role when they couldn’t make it, it really was a fantastic and totally unexpected opportunity.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Kelly, Carragher, Coates, Enrique (Robinson 46); Lucas (Spearing 46), Shelvey; Downing (Henderson 46), Gerrard (Adam 46), Sterling; Suarez (Carroll 46).
Subs not used: Jones.