Father-son soccer trip to England is a winner
A trip to England to watch top soccer teams, including Manchester United, is a winner for a father and son
AP Sports Writer
MANCHESTER, England — My 8-year-old son stretched his arms wide above his head, trying to hold up his new red-and-white scarf as he and most of the 45,000 soccer fans at Anfield stadium sang "You'll Never Walk Alone." Three days later, after walking up what seemed like endless flights of stairs to the top tier of Old Trafford, he turned wide-eyed as he saw Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in the flesh for the first time.
Some father-son outings are camping trips to the woods. Our first father-son journey was to England, to watch Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United, three of the top football (as soccer is called here) teams in England's Premier League. He would get to sit with tens of thousands of singing, rabid fans, an atmosphere that can't be replicated in the U.S., no matter the sport.
If you can afford to travel, England is a less expensive destination for Americans than it was a year ago, when the pound was worth nearly $2. It has dropped in value by nearly 25 percent to just under $1.50. But while you can get good deals on hotels, getting tickets to British soccer matches can be a bit challenging.
While most U.S. teams put tickets for all games on sale before the season starts, English soccer teams have a different method. Most of the time, they go on sale only several weeks in advance and they are sold to various groups in stages. Season-ticket holders go first, followed by members of supporters clubs. Only after that are any remaining tickets made available for general sale.
However, in recent years some team Web sites have started resale services for season-ticket holders to make their seats available to others. Many teams also have started bundling hospitality seats with meals at stadium restaurants and even with hotel rooms. Tickets, for the most part, are in the $60-$70 range (40-50 pounds) at current exchange rates. The season runs from August through May.
Since the reforms that followed rowdy-crowd trouble in the 1980s, standing-room has been eliminated and the atmosphere is far more family friendly — although don't expect more than minimal food such as fish-and-chips and soup.
Liverpool is about an hour away from Manchester by car, bus or train. Liverpool's stadium, Anfield, opened in 1884 and seats about 45,000 — meaning every seat is close to the field. While the stands have been rebuilt in recent decades, the team hopes to build a new 73,000-seat ground — as stadiums are called in England — next door in Stanley Park. Those plans have been stalled by the financial meltdown.
Outside Anfield, Eric viewed the Hillsborough Memorial — dedicated to the 96 Liverpool fans crushed to death at the 1989 Football Association Cup semifinal — and its eternal flame. We also saw the wrought-iron Paisley Gates and Shankly Gates, named for two former Liverpool managers, Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly. The Shankly Gates are topped by the words "You'll Never Walk Alone," the Anfield anthem that was a 1960s Gerry and the Pacemakers' hit (although the ballad comes from the American Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Carousel").
The seats at Anfield are made of wood and there is little leg room, but the atmosphere can't be beat. We got to see Robbie Keane score two superb goals, one off a nifty pass by Steven Gerrard, the other on a fast break started by a rollout pass by goalkeeper Pepe Reina. Final score: Liverpool 3, Bolton 0.
Back in our room, Eric watched the replays on Sky TV and learned that unlike the U.S., where teams are chasing one prize, top English clubs are in four competitions — the Premier League, the League Cup, the FA Cup and either the Champions League or the UEFA Cup (to be renamed the Europa League next season).
Two days later we took the train from Manchester's Piccadilly Station to Liverpool's Lime Street Station. We got there early and went to the Beatles Story museum at the Albert Docks — I found it interesting, Eric was thoroughly bored.
Then we went to Liverpool's other stadium, Goodison Park, where the seats are blue and many of the fans are dressed in blue. Opened in 1892, it seats 40,000 and is even more cramped than Anfield. Both are plopped into the middle of residential neighborhoods.
While Liverpool is one of the "Big Four" along with Manchester United and London's Arsenal and Chelsea, Everton bills itself as "The People's Club." There was even a video board for replays, which was lacking at Anfield, and a mascot.
Mikel Arteta scored twice, on a free kick and on the rebound of his own free kick, in a 3-0 win over Sunderland. Eric began to think every match he attended would be a 3-0 final. He especially liked the public-address announcer, who when reading the out-of-town scores on the video board declined to mention Liverpool had won 5-1 at Newcastle, saying: "I'm not going to even mention the first one."
We spent the next afternoon at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and discovered there are so many interactive exhibits and interesting displays — such as old motors and engines — that we could have spent two or three days there. After going back to the hotel for a bite, it was time to take the super-convenient Metrolink tram to Old Trafford, which bills itself as the "Theatre of Dreams."
England's largest club ground holds 76,000 fans and has modern, molded-plastic seats, far different from when it opened in 1910. Nearly everyone is dressed in red and there is loud music, much like U.S. stadiums, with speakers blaring a Manchester United version of the old John Denver hit "Take Me Home, Country Roads." The team store was several times larger than those at Anfield or Goodison Park, and there were more foreign languages spoken among the spectators. Not a surprise — after all, the United team is the Yankees of Europe.
For all the modernization at Old Trafford, there were few options for food, and on the end of the stadium where we had tickets there were no visible escalators or lifts. But the fan singing was far louder than at the other grounds.
Even with enough stars to fill two lineups, United struggled to beat Middlesbrough 1-0 on a second-half goal by Dimitar Berbatov, dashing Eric's hopes for another 3-0 game. Still, on the tram home, he pronounced the trip a success.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
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