By Alyssa Pierce
If anyone in Charlotte, North Carolina hadn’t heard about the Liverpool/AC Milan game taking place in Bank of America on August 2nd, they were surely overwhelmed and confused by the sea of bright red that flooded every street and amassed on every corner of the city the morning of the game.
I bought my tickets on pre-sale in January and eyed them, sitting in an envelope on my desk, every day leading up to the weekend of the game. Somewhere under the crushing excitement I felt, I was curious to see how Charlotte, home of the Carolina Panthers would handle such a foreign invasion. From the moment I arrived downtown, I saw the LFC colors every direction I turned. It was immediately clear that the fan base that had turned out for the game was heavily Liverpool support, although the occasional Milan jersey would make an appearance, each time turning heads. As with most American soccer events, fans of other teams took the opportunity to break out their own colors—Real Madrid kits flanked by Seattle Sounders, and even Netherlands kits, and of course I threw the BVB cap on with my Liverpool jersey (for good measure.)
Perhaps the most surprising and endearing aspect of the mob was the diversity of it. Fans as young and as old as they come filled the streets. Men, women, American, European, whatever the descriptor, we were all friends on that day. The bars and restaurants were showing their support for the event with staff dressed in Liverpool shirts and soccer games on every TV. If the event was an invasion, the city certainly embraced it.
Anyone who has been in the Bank of America Stadium, home to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, knows that the atmosphere is astonishing—the air itself reflects the bright blue of the 73,000 plus seats. For this game, fans got to see, feel and hear the results of a $65 million renovation that took place in the stadium over the summer. New 360 degree ribbon display surrounds the crowd offering statistics and game updates from every angle. Stunning new crystal-clear video screens, sixty-three feet high and 212 feet wide tower above the audience. The venue was a truly incredible place to experience such a rare treat for American fans.
Before kick-off cell phones and cameras came out to capture the notorious Mario Balotelli huddled with teammates or Simon Mignolet warming up, and as the boys walked out later to take the field, the inevitable chorus of You’ll Never Walk Alone signaled the very enthusiastic presence of the 69,000 fans in attendance. It wasn’t until the first whistle that it really sank in that many of us were about to experience what we’d only dreamt of before. From my seats I could look directly into Joe Allen’s eyes as he celebrated his 17th minute goal and see the sweat on Raheem Sterling’s face as he took a corner less than 20 feet from me.
Second half mass substitutions saw beloved skipper Steven Gerrard take the field and everyone was on their feet, showing their appreciation. The game wrapped up 2-0 in Liverpool’s favor and everyone lingered until the boys made their rounds reciprocating the support their fans had shown for 90 minutes.
From a personal standpoint, the experience was surreal. I was more emotional than I ever anticipated for a team that isn’t even my own. Standing mere feet from these legends, players I watch every week on TV was an experience that every super-fan of the game should experience.
The elation of the Liverpool support was palpable after the game. A mass of us took the street and walked from the stadium and straight into bars and clubs, desperate to keep the experience alive—to hold on a little longer. Of course the night wouldn’t be complete without another round of You’ll Never Walk Alone, this time in the club, somewhere between Rihanna and Lil’ Wayne. A mass of happy Liverpool fans paused dancing to share the moment. Scarves went up, voices rang out.
Alyssa Pierce is a commissioning editor for a book publishing company in downtown Charleston, with degrees and English and history. She is a passionate soccer fan and a follower of Borussia Dortmund. You can usually spot her at home Battery games or at various venues around town during the season. Find her on Twitter @UrBabyKate.
TOP IMAGE: Charlotte Skyline after the game. Photo by the author.