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The Liverpool Fan

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THE LIVERPOOL FAN  is part of a special soccer fiction supplement that ran in Plastic Pitch‘s Autumn, 2016 edition…

“He’s tall and has great teeth and he’s good to his mom, or I suppose I should say, his m-u-m,” Kerry had laughed down the phone line to her sister. “He’s the one, and the wedding is in two months, so we can combine the honeymoon with a trip to his parents’ 40th anniversary party back in England.”

That had been the day after Tris had proposed and, in a way, it seemed to be the clearest memory Kerry retained of the previous 10 weeks. She had laughed off her sister’s hesitancy about her marrying a man from such a divergent upbringing to their own.

“He’s British, not Balinese. We speak the same language, we laugh at the same jokes, and he drinks better beer.”

Valerie had caved quickly, wished her happiness, and asked if she’d need a bridesmaid. At the time, Kerry brushed her sister’s comments aside, and delighted in the effervescence of planning her small but meaningful ceremony while dreaming of all her favourite moments from previous trips to Great Britain: the museums, the theatre, the National Trust buildings, the daffodils at Kew, the markets, the wonderful daily papers.

They may have grown up on either sides of the Atlantic, but she was pre-programmed to love Tris – she was a complete Anglophile and had vacationed there five times with friends and family and once on her own. Her family, like many Canadians, had mixed British roots, a little Scots, a little English, some Welsh, a dab of Irish picked up by the Huguenots passing through. Somehow, though, it had coalesced in Kerry, probably through all the Merchant Ivory films she’d glutted on as a teen.

Her brothers had played soccer through the community league teams, and Kerry had even had a go at trying cricket back in junior high when an enthusiastic gym teacher had tried to explain what seemed like elongated baseball, but it was the more cultured aspects of Britain that Kerry aspired to, not the sports which all seemed a bit antithetical to the way things were done in North America.

For instance, Kerry couldn’t imagine the Queen ever showing up at the horseracing at Northlands Park. And all those highborn folk watching the grunting and smashing into each other of the men on the rugby fields while hooliganism went on in the stands during elegant games of soccer. Kerry looked over at her new husband, driving them speedily down the narrow road. Luckily, he didn’t seem to be overwrought about any particular sport, though he professed to be a Spurs supporter, whatever that meant.

The flight over had been uneventful and the weather in England was the stuff of storybooks, all sunshine and summer flowers. Kerry was enchanted, which helped her shake the jetlag. They stayed with Tris’s parents, and Kerry pitched in with helping set up the anniversary party, silently adding up numbers and wondering if she and Tris would ever share a similar milestone, and if so how they’d be celebrating.

After the party, held in a church hall where everyone got rather drunk — even Tris’s Auntie Prim who kept patting Kerry’s arm and smiling at her —Kerry and Tris were free to have some actual honeymoon time. His Uncle Raymond had offered them his runabout, a lovely green Mini, and although it meant almost rolling out onto the pavement to get out of it, driving in it was a delight, like being in a tiny circus clown car.

They had driven through Wales, where Kerry had laughingly demanded to see a “red dog running free” in Abergavenny, just like the old pop song had detailed, and to their shock and delight, a red setter went bounding across the road.

Then, to England: Tris promised he would paint a seagull when they got to the white cliffs of Dover, just in case the bluebirds weren’t obliging.

What actually happened when they got to Dover was that they got a tidy room in a bed and breakfast and went off to Broadstairs to explore the Dickens’ House Museum and Bleak House. Tris wasn’t big on Dickens, but he had a fascination for the 18th century, as if living at that time would have been a shinier time for the British empire. Kerry had wondered if he would have been quite so happy with his lot in life at that time, before his National Health glasses and his Labour government enabled education. She, on the other hand, was a true fan, and had read even the more obscure novels like Dombey and Son and Our Mutual Friend. To actually witness the desk at which he had written David Copperfield gave Kerry a flutter in her heart. Or maybe that was all the fried food they had been eating.

The white cliffs were certainly as advertised, although she felt rather silly driving down to the car park, getting out to take a photograph and bouncing back into the car. Tris was getting tired of driving, though, and had expressed an interest in trying out one of the pubs near their B & B, which seemed to have been three terraced homes knocked together to create a mini-hotel.

They chose the pub at the top of the hill, Kerry having admired the stained glass windows when they had first arrived in town. Soon they were seated and digging into their dinner. Steak and kidney pie was very tasty if you didn’t think about the kidneys. They were on their second pints of bitter, a “bitter top” for Kerry which meant an inch of lemonade to sweeten it up a bit, when the red and white crew began to arrive. They wore scarves and tuques and striped jerseys, and it wasn’t readily apparent whether they were all together or not. Most of them were men, though a few boys and women were scattered among them. Tris and Kerry, seated near the wall, were soon wedged in as the room continued to fill.

“Some of them will get their drinks and head into the garden,” Tris assured her, but, if they did, more came to take their place.

“Who are they?”

“Liverpool supporters. They’ll be heading to the European Cup for the game tomorrow.”

“Are they heading for the ferry after this?”

“I’m not sure the ferry hasn’t stopped for the night. These fellows may drink here till closing and then go wait at the terminus for the first crossing.”

A lovely tenor voice across the pub began to sing, “Life goes on day after day, hearts torn in every way” and soon all the red and white crew was joining in on “ferry ‘cross the Mersey,” the Gerry and the Pacemakers song Kerry remembered from her childhood. The recollection and the good-humoured harmony relaxed her, and she let a bit of her guard down.

Tight crowds weren’t her favourite thing, and if she couldn’t see a through line to an exit, she often felt twinges of claustrophobia, but Tris’s presence and the light-heartedness of the crowd made it bearable. A barmaid came by asking if they’d like another round and Tris ordered them two more pints. Someone, perhaps the same fellow mired in the ‘60s, began to sing Henry the VIII and she and Tris joined in, to the delight of the crew next to them. Herman’s Hermits gave way to the Beatles, and by the end of the evening, Kerry had decided she had tapped into the quintessence of the English experience.

On the walk back to their B & B, Kerry told Tris that she had become a Liverpool fan. He laughed and asked her if she didn’t think she should at least watch them play one game first? They made the most of their last night on the road before heading back to Tris’s parents’ home the next morning. There was something awkward about sleeping together in his boyhood bedroom, with an old poster of a Doctor Who Dalek on the wardrobe door, right above the dining room where his mother sat doing crossword puzzles after breakfast.

They were home by early afternoon. Tris’s grandfather was on the settee in the lounge (what Kerry would call the living room) beside his father, and since Kerry had expressed interest in also watching the game, Tris’s mum was even coaxed in. Tris offered Kerry a spot on the settee, and took a throw cushion to sit on, leaning up against her legs. Tris’s mum sat in the big chair Tris’s dad normally used to read the paper and pontificate from. She kept poppng up to bring another plate of snacks in, or top up Kerry’s tea from the aluminum teapot. The men were drinking lager from tall cans settled in beside Tris, under the coffee table.

This story originally appeared in PLASTIC PITCH #10.

The camera panned the crowds of red and white, and then black and white for the Juventus team from Italy. The game was being played in Brussels, rather like the Grey Cup football games back home being set in a different city each year, regardless of what teams finally made it to the finals. Tris and his dad interrupted each other trying to explain the finer points of the game to Kerry to prepare her for her first professional match. The commentators were waffling on about the season’s highlights that had brought each team to the Heysel Stadium for this match.

Suddenly, the cameras were focused on a disturbance toward one end of the stadium, where dust and shouting were filling the air. The chaotic sense of things wasn’t aided by the yammering of the commentators who were uncertain of what was happening, and so continued to fill the airwaves with shrill speculation.

Later they were to hear that there had been an overflow of Liverpool supporters arriving at the game, demanding tickets. The stadium had put up a line of chicken wire in what was supposed to be a neutral section, to separate the latecomers from the neutrals and contain the overly boisterous, pre-lubricated fans. However, someone else had decided it was OK to sell tickets to Juventus supporters for the other end of that section.

The overcrowded Liverpool mass had surged to confront or attack the fans in black and white, and in doing so, many people who had travelled from Turin to support their team were killed. A wall of the stadium fell under the weight of the surging crowd, but the dead had already been trampled, asphyxiated and mangled prior. The police were suddenly there with riot shields. Belligerent yobs were lobbing cans and bottles, while others were trying to escape. Cement dust was hanging in the air. The announcers were sounding more and more manic.

Kerry was stunned, and no one else in the lounge could speak either. Carnage had just played itself out as a prelude to a game — a game where people were penalized for touching, let alone tripping their opponents.

The sports commentators were getting more and more flustered, unused to spontaneous hard news coverage. One of them sounded as if he was crying. Kerry and her new family sat transfixed. It was only when the announcement came that the game would be played regardless that Tris’s mother roused herself and swiftly turned off the television.

“That would be entirely inappropriate,” she said firmly, and no one argued.

Tris took his father and grandfather down to the pub, and after helping his mum with the washing up, Kerry went out to the garden to swing on the lounger swing and write some postcards home. In none of them did she mention the horror of seeing the crowd turning feral and the wall collapsing.

Two days later, Tris fell ill with allergies, and took to bed. Kerry, after making sure he was well-supplied with tissues and paperbacks, contacted a friend studying in Oxford and made plans to meet up in London for the day. Tris didn’t seem at all upset to miss the visit. He had on other occasions mentioned how dirty and crowded he thought London, and there was very little to see there that you couldn’t find elsewhere easier. Tris’s mum, who seemed to share her son’s opinion of their capital, helped Kerry plot her route from Waterloo to Covent Garden Station, and Kerry gave a cheery wave as she headed off to the train station.

An hour later, she was standing with a group of about 40 people waiting for the elevator to arrive. While the thought of being crowded into a heavy-duty lift with that many people wasn’t appealing, there were signs next to the narrow staircase adjacent warning that there were 193 steps and they were recommended for emergency use only.

The next few minutes were a blur for Kerry, made worse by the sudden haze of pain. The man next to her was pushed back into her, and his shoulder caught her under her right eye, while his hard-edged briefcase slammed into her thigh. A woman in front of him cried out, and fell.

A wild-eyed young man, wearing a white dress shirt wrinkled beyond a day’s wear and jeans, stood glaring at them, having pulled back from barreling into them like a bowling ball down the lane. Kerry would say later she saw a small knife in his hand, but she couldn’t swear to it.

“Bleedin’ Juventus! Bloody English fans!” he screamed. Maybe there had been no knife, for if there had been, Kerry would have expected blood at that moment, he was so wound up.

A calm voice carried over the heads of the cowering crowd.

“Now, now, we’ll have none of that.” The uniformed man responsible for loading people on the elevator was speaking, and his tone of authority must have touched a chord with the crazed young man, because he startled as if suddenly scalded and then turned and raced up the emergency stairs.

“That’s it,” said the elevator man, as the tardy elevator doors opened, and he began to usher the shaken people in. “No crazy people allowed in this lift, we’re going up.”

Kerry, whose cheekbone had begun to throb, laughed along with the rest of them, but as they ascended her mind was whirling around questions she couldn’t find answers to without sounding crazy herself. Where did those steps let out? Would that lunatic be waiting for them at the top? Had he been holding a knife? What was he riled up about? He didn’t sound Italian. Had he been in Brussels?

Kerry didn’t have to wait long to meet up with Grace, and after a hurried description of her Underground adventure, the two of them settled into a leisurely catch up visit.

“In Canada, it’s the hockey players, and not the fans who end up with black eyes,” Grace had pointed out drily, but dug in her purse for some paracetemol, which dulled Kerry’s pain. Tea, and then shopping the market stalls and fancy shops distracted her from what she hoped wouldn’t really turn into a black eye.

Grace was pursuing a doctor of philosophy in Oxford, which Kerry envied in principle, though she herself couldn’t think of anything she might possibly want to write a dissertation on. To study in Oxford sounded very romantic, though Grace was quick to point out that she had nursed a low-grade head cold for the past two years continuously.

“That’s what comes of living in a swamp town below sea level,” she had laughingly dismissed Kerry’s envy. She herself was eager for news of home, and a description of Kerry’s wedding, and gossip about their mutual friends.

By the time she and Grace had said their farewells, Kerry had almost forgotten the Tube station incident. Back at home, she walked in the back door to find Tris and his mum sitting at the dining table, playing cards.

“What happened to you? You look as if you’ve been through the wars!” they jumped up to meet her. She winced as Tris touched her cheek. She quickly told them what had happened in Covent Garden station.

“Hooligans everywhere,” his mum said, sadly.

“He’ll have been reacting to the ban,” Tris said. “They’ve banned British teams from playing in Europe indefinitely because of the tragedy.”

“And so they should,” his mother nodded. “We don’t need to be sending those louts to the continent to muddy our good name.”

“You mean the players, Mum, or the supporters?”

“I wouldn’t even call them supporters. They don’t go to cheer on their team, those hooligans, they just go to pick a fight and start a riot.”

“I’m sorry you got caught up in the crazy, love,” Tris squeezed Kerry around the shoulders. “The more you see of London, though, the more you appreciate Guildford.” He and his mother chuckled wryly.

Kerry’s cheek had begun to hurt again, so after taking some more pain tablets, she excused herself to an early night. Tris kissed the top of her head as she left the kitchen, telling her he’d be up shortly.

She lay in the dark in Tris’s old room, hearing the quiet rumble of her new husband and his mother playing cards one floor below, and the even quieter sounds of her father-in-law watching a nature documentary in the front lounge.

This wasn’t the England of the books she’d read or vacations she’d taken. PBS and Jane Austen had never prepared her for hooligans, or the sense of isolation in the crowds of commuters, or even the suburban drawing down of blinds on it all. As she turned to avoid the glare of the silvery Dalek on the wardrobe door, she wondered if she would ever fully understand this culture that was not hers by birth.

Janice MacDonald is the author of the Randy Craig mystery series. Look for her cross-Canada travel memoir, Confederation Drive, to be released in 2017 by Monto Books.

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