It was like the Steve Martin and John Candy movie, the fans arriving in Boston by planes, trains, and automobiles. They came from Australia and Poland, Canada and Los Angeles, Ireland and England, all to witness their beloved soccer club toe the hallowed Fenway outfield.
In the hours leading up to Wednesday’s match against AS Roma, roughly 650 Liverpool FC supporters gathered at An Tua Nua in Kenmore Square. They drank American beer and talked international soccer. Passers-by stopped. Television cameras lurked. The flags flapped. And they sang fight songs, arm in arm, to the tunes of “Amazing Grace” and “When The Saints Go Marching In,” the music flooding out the open windows onto Beacon Street, framed by signs overhead reading, “You’ll never walk alone.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this, not even around the World Series,” said Joe McCabe, owner of An Tua Nua. “It’s all about Liverpool coming to the United States. Some of these kids will never get a chance to see soccer at this level again.”
Alongside Kevin Treanor, McCabe also owns Phoenix Landing, the Central Square pub that has become the official destination for Boston’s Liverpool fan base. The devout flock in the early mornings, on Sundays and bank holidays and Christmas, to watch the day’s match.
But even this, Liverpool’s first appearance in Boston since 1964, was something special. It brought people like Andy Roe, a Seattle-based music promoter, across the country for a preseason friendly in a baseball stadium.
“This is way better than any rock show I promote,” said Roe, who was born in Liverpool. “This is like a fraternity. This atmosphere, it doesn’t feel like I am in the States. It’s international.
“I’m a 44-year-old man, and this makes me feel like a kid again.”
Nearby, the Sutherland Pipe Band warmed up to lead the Liverpool bedlam on its scheduled pregame march to Fenway. Three snare, one bass drum, 11 bagpipes, and 15 kilts. Motorcycles were supposed to provide the escort, but never showed. Police and ambulances drove in their stead.
“It’s really amazing,” said bagpipe player Frank Igoe. “It’s a horde, a sea of red shirts. I didn’t expect it to be this big. There’s just so much energy here.”
Among those lingering behind the pack was Tony O’Brien, a Boston emergency medical technician who moved to the United States from Liverpool in 1994. His mother is an Everton fan, but he raised his three kids to love Liverpool. O’Brien’s sister and her four kids flew in from England for the match. His nephew, Ethan, donned his EMT helmet, autographed by the players.
Ever since John Henry and Tom Werner’s Fenway Sports Group purchased the team in 2010, the locals have waited for this day, when the 18-time Premier League champion would transform Fenway from a place of pitches into one giant pitch.
“About the past month has been pretty mental,” O’Brien said. “We’ve all been building up for this ever since they bought the team. The past week or two have been like Christmas. We all knew it was coming.
“These are our legends. This is just phenomenal. We have young American guys and girls in the fan club who follow Liverpool religiously but have never seen them play. This is their chance of a lifetime.”
As the fans poured out of the bar, intoxicated by draught specials and the promise of summer soccer down the street, an out-of-uniform police officer, infuriated with the ruckus, tried to shut down the bar. O’Brien talked to him, explained the fandom filling the streets, told him they were preparing to take the show on the road. The officer relented, and drove away before the procession began.
Then the bagpipes swelled with air. Their music blared. And off to Fenway the fans went, like 650 fire ants, shoving their red Liverpool scarves to the sky, marching with purpose beneath a cloud of sweat and smoke and song.