BY MOOMTAZ EMRITH
The International Champions Cup (ICC) was started some six years ago – that is, in 2012. It brings teams from Europe to compete in a Tournament in what is called “friendly exhibition games” played mostly in the U.S. and sometimes also in Europe and Asia. Among the participants in the tournament this year are well known power-houses in soccer, namely: Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, PSG, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Benfica, Roma, Juventus, Inter-Milan among others.
In the wake of the ICC tournament this year, a game between MANCHESTER UNITED and LIVERPOOL F.C. – an England Derby -was scheduled at Michigan Stadium, in Michigan, U.S.A. Sure, the announcement of the game created quite a stir among soccer fans both here, in Windsor, Canada, and in Michigan, U.S.A., which is next door to us. It certainly provided a rare opportunity to soccer fans here to watch two of the most celebrated teams of the British Premier League clash at the Michigan Stadium of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (Michigan), which is located just about one hour’s drive from our home in Windsor, the Canadian city bordering the U.S. State of Michigan.
I, for one, knew of the coming game scheduled for July 28, 2018. However, the hefty ticket price ($ 240.00 U.S. – close to
Rs. 8000.00) kind of left me cold. Manchester United, I knew had
lots of fans in Canada and U.S. and I knew the game as scheduled at Michigan Stadium, the largest in North America (sitting over 110,000 spectators), would draw a huge crowd. Besides, Liverpool F. C. too has countless fans here, including my own grand-daughter, Alia.
In fact, the British Premier League’s teams as well as teams from Spain, Germany, France and Italy are also quite popular in North
America. Indeed, soccer has been steadily gaining in popularity with youngsters of Canada and U.S. ever since the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994. As a matter of fact, nowadays more boys and girls in North America play soccer than hockey, which is a national sport here. Moreover, most of the soccer star players are practically household names here. I, for one, after much thinking, opted to settle to catch glimpses of the game on TV during the evening news telecast. But I was in for a BIG surprise!
My stepsons, who are all sports buffs, threw me a wonderful surprise! On game-day (July 28, 2018) my grand-daughter, Alia, an avid Liverpool fan, herself, all clad in her red Liverpool colours, came home and, to my utter surprise, said:
“Grandpa, dad and uncle Ismael are going to the game. We’ve an extra ticket for you. You’re coming with us. You’ve to get ready fast. We’re leaving in half an hour!”
I was surprised, elated and literally speechless for a second or two. Was it real? I asked myself. The kids, had sure, made my day, I said to myself! Sure, Saturday, July 28th was my lucky day!
Michigan Stadium, in Ann Arbour, a university town and home of the famous University of Michigan’s football team – the Wolverines. It is just about an hour’s drive from Windsor. But given the huge crowd expected, we had to leave early to avoid the traffic jams. Fortunately, everything worked out well for us. The game was scheduled for 5:00 o’clock.
When we got into the stadium bustling with people with many wearing Manchester and Liverpool colours, it was interesting to see some older fans wearing shirts bearing names of past soccer stars of both teams, namely: Ronaldo, Gerrard, Best, Charlton, etc. The huge stadium was slowly filling up looking more like a sea of red – given the fact that both United and Liverpool colours were Red. And what electricity was there in the air as kick-off time drew near! When the players finally made their entry on the field for the warm-up, the crowd erupted into wild applause. I was amazed that there were such hard-core soccer fans in the U.S. The atmosphere in the Stadium was festive.
The game began at 5:00 p.m. sharp, as scheduled, and the whole stadium rose and gave the teams an enthusiastic standing ovation. In the line-ups of both teams there were the known stars and crowd favourites: namely: Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Dick Virgil, Sturridge for Liverpool and Sanchez, Mata for Manchester. Unfortunately, Pogba and Lukaku would not be in the line-up that afternoon.
The game began with both teams making a show of their talents. Mohamed Salah, who played the first half, gave flashes of his brilliant skills and narrowly missed several opportunities to score. His combination with Mané created panic in the Manchester defense. And it was during one of the many offensive moves by Liverpool that Salah was fouled in the penalty area and Liverpool awarded a penalty that was successfully taken by Mané. Liverpool was up 1-0 – but not for long. Some five minutes later Manchester’s Pereira – a new recruit — shot a foul ball that went like a bullet past the Liverpool net-minder and the score was 1 – 1 to the delight of the many Manchester fans.
There was no doubt that both José Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp were also show-casing some of their newly acquired talents. At half-time, Salah was substituted by Shakiri, who was to make a deep impression on the Liverpool fans. As a matter of fact, during the second half, Liverpool took control of the game and scored three unanswered goals — the last one by the new member of the team, the Swiss, Shakiri. It was a terrific bicycle-kick goal that literally regaled the crowd bringing the score to 4—1 in favour of Liverpool. From the look of things and the performance of the ‘new’ Liverpool squad, it looks like for the 2018-19 British Premier League season, Liverpool would certainly be one of the teams to watch.
When the final whistle was blown, the crowd went ecstatic and gave the teams a rousing round of applause – a fitting end to a day that would ever stay etched in our memory.
For me personally it was a treat and a great privilege to watch Manchester and Liverpool play so close to home and to have the privilege to watch stars like Salah, Mané, Mata, Alexis Sanchez and others display their enormous skills and talents in the beautiful game of soccer. It had, indeed, been a wonderful experience – a day that I’ll remember for the rest of my days! A BIG thank you to my step-sons: Riaz, Ismael, Yusuf and Ibrahim! Way to go boys!