That starts Thursday morning at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
Futbol? We had it Wednesday night at Fenway when Liverpool FC played AS Roma at packed, sweaty Fenway Park. We got 89 minutes of standard nil-nil, then Roma’s Marco Borriello winning it with a right foot volley off a corner kick. Folks seemed to have a swell time.
It was the ultimate collision of the favorite toys of renaissance man John Henry. We had John Henry’s Premier League soccer team playing at John Henry’s Fenway Park, covered by multiple representatives of John Henry’s newspaper (I swear, the guy does everything but sell Dos Equis). The intersection of Yawkey Way, Van Ness, and Ipswich Streets was the intersection of Brendan Rodgers, John Farrell, and Brian McGrory. Henrymen, one and all.
In this spirit, I took the night off from watching the surging, last-place Red Sox and made a date with The Beautiful Game in the world’s most beloved ballpark.
A friendly. In Friendly Fenway.
Fenway Futbol requires some interesting configurations. It’s a tight space for soccer, sort of like the small ice surface at the Old Boston Garden. The pitcher’s mound — flattened and covered with sod — is part of the pitch. One goal is situated to the left of the third base dugout where the left field grandstand juts toward fair territory. The opposite goal stands in front of the visitors bullpen where Gino Cappelletti deposited field goals for the Boston Patriots in the early 1960s. Those were days of Yaz at Fenway, but it might interest you to know that Pelé played in a soccer game involving the Boston Beacons in front of 18,431 fans at Fenway in July of 1968. The best seats for soccer at Fenway are the Monster Seats and anything up high on the first base side.
Liverpool Red jerseys dotted the stands Wednesday. A lot of the fans wore winter scarfs. A scarf seems like an odd item when it’s a million degrees outside, but the Liverpool scarves feature the team motto — “You’ll never walk alone,’’ and I think I saw Dr. Charles Steinberg taking notes. Look for your Game 120, Red Sox-Kansas City Royals scarf next season. You’ll never walk with the bases loaded.
Steinberg’s presence was heard Wednesday when a string of 1960s Beatles tunes blared from the sound system during warm-ups. John, Paul, George, and Ringo put Liverpool on the map long before Luis Suarez’s first bite (after his World Cup biting episode last month, Suarez was sold to Barcelona for $150 million, which is double what the Red Sox offered Jon Lester in March).
This was not a baseball crossover crowd. Walking through the stands an hour before kickoff, I saw no one from Red Sox Nation. Other than a few ushers and Sox employees, the only familiar face I saw was that of Sox security chief Charlie Cellucci. I reminded Charlie to be on the lookout for hooligans. He said he was on it.
Liverpool FC-AS Roma was strictly an exhibition. Nil was at stake. And the field bosses acted accordingly. Veteran Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard did not play. The intensity was nil. Think Red Sox-Twins in Fort Myers — after the Mayor’s Cup has been decided.
Still, it’s a little bit of history every time Liverpool plays at Fenway. And like the Red Sox, the Reds are all about history.
The Sox were founded in 1901. Liverpool was founded in 1892. The Sox went 86 years between World Series championships. Liverpool has not won a Premier League title in the 22-year existence of the league.
Last season Liverpool qualified for this year’s Champions League. The Sox won the World Series last year and are in the throes of a desperation run to qualify for the phony second wild-card spot in the American League in 2014.
According to the official Liverpool press notes, “hitting a home run over the Green Monster is the equivalent of scoring in front of the Kop at Anfield.’’
“What the hell is the connection between Liverpool and Boston, between baseball and soccer?’’ Henry asked at a Boston Chamber of Commerce gathering after buying Liverpool FC. “The larger part of the story that struck us . . . was the similarities of the two cities, the two teams, the two histories, the two stadia.
“Liverpool has a large Irish Catholic population. It’s a seaport on a famous river. Both cities are about 45 square miles in size. Both have around 600,000 people, both are college towns. They play in the most historical cathedrals of sport. When we play our rival Manchester United the audience on television is about a billion people . . . This is very similar to the relationship between the Yankees and the Red Sox.’’
Indeed. Liverpool looks up to Manchester United the same way the Red Sox once looked up to the Yankees.
And just as the Sox cleaned house with the departures of Terry Francona, Theo Epstein, and Bobby Valentine a few years ago, Liverpool sacked manager Kenny Dalglish and director of soccer Damien Comolli, who was blamed for low yield after spending $175 million in player acquisitions.
In a 2012 New York Times piece headlined “For Liverpool and Red Sox, the Same Owner and Parrallel Debacles,’’ former Liverpool forward Andy Carroll was compared with Carl Crawford.
Carroll is gone. Just as Crawford is gone. And Liverpool FC is a debacle no more.
Wednesday at Fenway the Reds were just a little too tired and friendly.
And they delivered nil. It reminded me of an ancient quote from Liverpool’s John Lennon, who once said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.’’
Only soccer. Where it always seems to be nil-nil.