By David Rice @davidjrice83
I’ve always hated preseason.
Meaningless matches, fringe players, makeshift squads, hype, hype and more hype. All of it proven pretty much meaningless with the first competitive kick of a ball sometime in early August when the men tasked with doing the business for Liverpool get down to it in a coherent manner.
Preseason highlights that you actually remember often make for shit memories. Charlie Adam having a go at Gareth Bale. A completely forgettable Raheem Sterling goal and watching Lazar Markovic run around a bit before letting yourself think for the briefest of moments that Liverpool have not just wasted 20 million pounds.
The Sakho debacle, the rumors and rumors on top of injury concerns and lackluster play. Preseason tours are a time for the squad to purge the worst of its inclinations and for fans to drink a bit of the Kool-Aid in the summer sun.
The shithousery from opposing teams, the flesh sizzling heat; on the surface this tour resembled Liverpool preseason excursions of the past. But if you look at social media or scroll through the content of fan media sites, it’s not hard to see the difference between this club and its fans now versus previous years.
For a long time, preseason was the only chance I had in a calendar year to possibly see the Reds in person. As an American, the summer tours are your window into the team, the only way of being close enough to Liverpool to support the players with your voice and actually have them hear it. The only way to really feel a part of it without being lucky enough to afford the travel and secure a ticket to a match at Anfield.
The games don’t mean much, but to a lot of people on this side of the pond, the opportunity to do this means quite a bit. To do it in the heat, to do it in stadiums with substandard pitches and ridiculous site lines doesn’t matter. Our domestic league boasts no shortage of stadiums of a high enough class to welcome a side like the Reds, but for the commercial folks, they don’t possess the capacity.
So you get what you get and choose not to focus on the obvious, that you are watching a football match that doesn’t matter in a ground that has no business hosting one. Thinking about such things simply misses the point, a point the club have only begun to realize themselves since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp.
For years, these tours felt like window dressing. Take the players to America, trot them around behind security lines and have them wave on their way back to the locker room after a half-hearted performance. It was a bit like seeing a band fill their concert dates on a tour before they pack it in and go their separate ways. No gusto, no showmanship, just a glance at this thing that you love and then back to the bar.
The best part of the tours used to always be meeting other Reds from around America and the Scousers that made the trip over. I’m sure it still is to some extent, but the club have embraced the idea that it could be so much more.
Today’s preseason tour incorporates Jamie Webster, fan media personalities, legends and even the manager dropping in at pubs to say hi to supporters. And oh yeah, the club takes the European Cup on tour with it too. In a word, it’s boss.
I’ve not personally been able to experience either of these last two tours. After last year, I certainly wanted to join in the fun this time, but circumstances conspired against it, leaving me to live vicariously through the photographs and social media posts of close friends. But despite not personally being involved, I’ve seen something among supporters that tours gone by simply didn’t offer. A lasting impression of the club.
Coming home from Indiana, Boston and New York, fellow Reds seem to feel connected to the club in a way that rarely happened in the early to middle part of the decade. For many, the initial buzz following the tour would tend to get lost over the remainder of summer break or in all those months between now and the end of the season. Life gets in the way. Things closer to home get in the way and if the team wasn’t on fire to start the campaign, well, that didn’t help either.
It’s a hard connection to maintain on your own all these miles from Anfield. It’s why you get up in the early hours of Saturday mornings to crawl down to a pub and be with the same people, week in, week out. It’s why you piss away sunny Sunday afternoons talking about the best fullbacks in Europe, reminiscing about the times we’ve had and the times we will have.
Some of us are lucky enough to have our own memories of Anfield. For me personally, nothing that could occur at a preseason friendly is going to measure up to standing on the Kop that first time or watching Mo Salah bang that goal from distance against Chelsea last season. Nothing. But the fact is, whether you’re a seasoned traveler or have never seen Anfield with your own eyes, it doesn’t have to.
The tours just have to provide American, Asian, Australian, Reds from all over the world, their moment in the sun with this great football club. Their chance to feel like they belong in this corner of the football universe. Glancing at my friends’ timelines, it seems that is happening in a more significant way than ever. Sign us up, strap us in, shoot that Red Kool-Aid straight into our veins. Reds on this side of the pond are ready to go again.
Despite the results, this preseason has been a nice segue into the season, a needed follow up and essential closure to celebrations that followed June 1. But let’s get this show on the road. I’m sick of watching these lads play on baseball fields.