By Steve Horton
From Issue 53, Autumn 2001
On Millennium Eve in a drunken haze I asked my then girlfriend to marry me. Astonishingly she said yes and two days later we went for the ring as Liverpool played Spurs away. With spooky foresight that I would be required elsewhere, I had decided not to go for fear of road and rail chaos and even Easyjet were quoting something like £80 return. That turned out to be the only competitive game I missed in 2000 with the exception of Rapid Bucharest away, as I made it quite clear from the outset that the change from my bachelor status was not going to effect my following of LFC. As such our wedding would have to take place in June 2001, the only month when it was certain that there would be no matches. 9th June was settled on, a date agreeable to me as it is also her birthday so I wouldn’t have too much trouble remembering the date of our anniversary, and I could also buy a combined present.
Unfortunately, we soon found we’d have to pay for most of the wedding ourselves. Costs rocketed to the point where they almost matched a weeks’ wages for one of our fringe players. Mr R Parry wanted about £30 a head for soup, chicken and chips in a fancy sauce and some after dinner mints so we decided to go abroad. Not a problem I thought, and we settled on Sri Lanka. Then I looked at the little weather bar charts they have in holiday brochures and the rainfall chart for June only just fitted on the page. There was no other thing for it, we’d have to go in the season and my hopes of getting to all 38 league games for the first time ever were dashed. Damage limitation now became the aim. I decided that I could handle missing a home game as long as I made all the away games. Careful scanning of the fixtures meant that 2 weeks from the 6th March was best, as I was only liable to miss the Derby County game. As for potentially missing cup quarter finals, I merely scoffed at the thought.
So bookings were made and while my intended looked for wedding dresses and tiaras on Saturday afternoons I set about the task of getting to every away game during 2000/01. When the Bradford game was called off panic set in, as I began to worry about when it would be re-scheduled. My fears eased when it became obvious that as long as we remained in the FA Cup it couldn’t take place while I was away. As the season progressed I began to realise that I would be getting married during one of the most exciting periods in our club’s history for some years but the deeds had to be done. When I became aware that should we beat Roma, we’d play Porto in the UEFA quarter finals I was quite relieved. Not a place I particularly wanted to visit anyway, and from what I heard very few people bothered going. The Tranmere game was one I’d dearly liked to have gone to, but such is life.
Things in the 6 months preceding our wedding weren’t all sweetness and light. My request to go the cricket was quickly rebuked and when I casually mentioned that I’d like to go to the England-Finland game she started packing her bags, being that 24th March was to be the night of our party. Still differences were overcome and the plane was boarded, instructions left with a friend to text me all scores as they happened as I knew I could be entering a news free area. He was also left with my Euro Travel card, so certain was I that he’d have to be on the phone to Towns Travel for me.
So on to arrival in Sri Lanka and the fact suddenly dawns on me that I really was quite isolated from the news grapevine. All the locals wanted to talk about was cricket and although papers were printed in English, no other sports were covered except tennis. Unlike Benidorm, there was no Sky Sports, no English tabloids printed locally and no people arriving daily with news from back home. One of the first things I noticed was the lack of football shirts worn by people in the hotel. Not until my second week did I see one, as a section of the Barmy Army arrived fresh from the 2nd Test.
On checking the television in the room, I found an Oz sports channel which gave me some optimism, but this was soon dampened by a diet of golf, golf and more golf. BBC World was all I could rely on, but even then their sports coverage was about 30 seconds an hour so I decided I’d just have to live off the text messages. Then real panic stations set in when I couldn’t get a mobile phone signal due to the amount of palm trees in the hotel grounds. Going out of the hotel gate didn’t solve the problem, so the only option was to go and stand on the beach, despite what looked alarmingly like snake tracks appearing there after dark, or sit in the corner of the hotel restaurant.
The first game I needed news from was the Porto away leg. I decided it would be fruitless to stay up till 3am just on the off chance some football may be on the local TV so instead I drank as much all inclusive lager as I could before the bar shut at midnight and quite happily crashed out. I’m quite ashamed to say that the next morning I forgot the game had been played. It was my girlfriend who took my phone down to breakfast and when I heard the beep beep I feared we were being texted to say we’d forgotten to bring our affidavits or something. She then read what was a personal text message and informed me that the game finished 0-0. Satisfied with this knowledge I returned to the room to find BBC World showing highlights from games at Alaves and Barcelona but totally neglecting to mention our own game.
The day of the Tranmere game we went to see some of the local sights and a museum guide asked if we were from London. In response to our answer he said ‘Ahh yes, Liverpool very famous football team’. To hear this so far from home in a cricket obsessed country made me very proud, especially as he professed to know very little about MUFC except they were European champions a year or two ago. That day I saw my first football ground, just an unenclosed pitch with a hut serving as the main stand, even though it was a top flight club’s ground. By now I was getting very sentimental and a documentary on Liverpool bands of the 1980s shown on BBC World at teatime meant I was really excited about hearing more news from home.
After dinner and some beer 10pm came and the first of the nights trips to the beach was made as I went off in search of the score. No message yet, so I had another beer, downing the 600ml bottle in ten minutes as I excitedly wanted to get back to the beach (which was only 20 seconds walk away but still an effort in a hotel where staff would turn on the taps for you to wash your hands after going to the toilet). The bottle of beer followed by a beach trip was repeated three or four times as 11pm came, a full hour after the match and still no score.
Fuelled by alcohol and heat by now, I had to take action. ‘WHATS THE SCORE YOU DAFT BASTARD’ was keyed in and sent, by mistake, to my mum. An apology was then sent to my poor mother and the message then sent to the intended recipient. As that was being sent the late incoming message arrived. He thought he was doing me a favour by sending me news of the draw and West Ham v Spurs as well. TRFC 2 LFC 4, Wycombe in the semis, I could hardly contain my delight and wanted to kiss the patrolling security guard, who had become more and more bemused by my visits to the beach.
For the Porto home game I worried a bit. We were going out at 4.30am into the jungle looking at elephants and I was concerned about getting any signal at all. At 4.25am I made one hopeful trip to the beach and no message. All sorts of things crossed my mind. They could be playing extra time, or he may be getting pissed celebrating the result, how would he know I’d be up at 4.30am. At 5.15am the sleepy mini bus was awoken by the Nokia message signal. Not one football fan amongst my fellow passengers, who could not believe I was so keen to find out the result of a European quarter final. The mischievous friend, who had spent most of the afternoon in the Arkles thought it would be funny to send me a text saying LFC 0 FCP 2, followed by an ‘only kidding’ and the real result. What he didn’t realise was that Sri Lankan telecommunications are a little slow and the real result arrived first, so the joke backfired and my phone wasn’t thrown to feed alligators which may have happened if they had arrived in the right order.
I heard the semi final draw while being driven through the jungle by a Sri Lankan Jan Molby who was determined to get us back before they stopped serving dinner (at one point he overtook a car which was already overtaking another car – on a single carriageway road). Did I want to go to the Nou Camp – stupid question. I was by now married and after consultation with my other half (‘sorry, can’t take you to Aintree on Ladies Day, I’m off to Barcelona’) I gave instructions to book me on whatever trip they decided to go on. News came through the next day that Towns were relieving me of £229 for a day trip but I didn’t care, for the first time this season I was going to a European game where I would happily see the stadium and nothing else.
This just left the Derby County game to come, one I always thought wouldn’t go to plan, our team being oh so predictable. Sunday night came and I finally had some intelligent conversation with a Sri Lankan about football. He knew all about Michael Owen and his goals against Roma, but hadn’t heard of David Beckham! As per usual, I made trips to the beach every 5-10 minutes or so within 15 minutes of the final whistle. By now Sri Lankan telecoms had gone totally berserk and all that I kept getting was the UEFA Cup draw, about 15 times in all.
At 35p to receive a message, I was beginning to wonder if I’d be spending a large chunk of my Barcelona money on paying off the phone bill instead. Eventually I gave up and switched the phone off, by now getting my first dodgy belly as a result of a chicken burger which tasted more like lukewarm fish. My wife gave me some pills to close my arse up which was the worst thing she could possibly have done. The dodgy chicken was knocking so hard to come out I could feel myself expanding to Gazza proportions until it eventually turned round 180 degrees and decided to come out my mouth instead. The whole of Monday was spent in bed and I didn’t find out the score till Tuesday, 1-1 not surprising me in the slightest. I also got informed of the UEFA Cup draw three more times as well.
Now we are home, my wife has set about re-arranging what was my house and is now ours. My signed 1981 ball, my league champions 1964 mug, signed Shankly photo which are all proudly displayed are now the subject of intense bargaining as she wonders where to put some crystal we got as a wedding present. Normal service is resuming however by way of attending matches in person, even though I still won’t get to every away league game this season. I found myself unable to take time off work for the Sunderland game. Having missed one, the lure of arranging a stag night to remember then tempted me from Filbert Street on 3rd March. But now I’m back, I’m ready to get cracking again, in fact we brought back £500 in unused travellers cheques from Sri Lanka. That’s about the price of a flight to Bangkok. Aren’t we playing there in July?