So much so, it makes figuring out what to get me for my birthday like, the easiest task in the world. Slap on a Liverbird onto any random object and tadah - the perfect gift for Pei Ru! (But seriously guys, I've got enough Liverpool souvenirs to last me a lifetime already. Kits, on the other hand, I can never have enough. HINT. Love you and thankies!)
So when the Reds come marching into town, you can bet your best hat that I wouldn't miss it for the world! Here's how it all went down...
Geeking out at the LFC Fanzone, Pavilion.
I had seen pictures of the set-up prior to the visit, and naturally, expected it to be some cheesy event thingymagica that offers no value to Liverpool fans whatsoever.
To my surprise, not only did I not find the set-up tacky - I loved it! I must say that the organisers actually did a pretty decent job in bringing (a tiny fraction of) the Anfield experience to Kuala Lumpur. The Shankly Gates outside the mall, the tunnel entrance, the banners, and the most squeal-worthy of all... the dressing room!
It didn't take much for me to pick that very spot!
Allan calls this the "Rafa face".
Why, isn't this is a nice touch?
Then, on to the Liverpool training.
It was a really bad day. One thing led to another and I ended up taking the train to the stadium. (Quick fact: I am not particularly fond of public transportation in KL, especially cabs. I admit that I'm somewhat sheltered like that.)
But guess what? I am so glad I did.
It was like Singapore all over again when I bumped into this group of Malay boys at the train station. They were proudly sporting their Liverpool jerseys already, with not one - but multiple training passes hung around their necks.
What began as a question on which train to board turned into a whole Ray Wong fanfare within minutes. (Dude got famous cause that very morning, only ONE player had stopped to drop an autograph for the fans - and he was the lucky fart.)
Kuyt signing Ray's kit that morning.
Turns out that they, too, were part of the 200+ fans who waited for the players' arrival at One World Hotel at 5am in the morning. 5 GODDAMNED AM. But truth be told, this shouldn't come as a shocker to anyone. The Reds have never touched down on Malaysian soil before, so it would be the first time many of the local fans would get to meet their heroes real life. What's sacrificing a few hours of sleep, eh? I myself stood rooted in the same spot for up to 4 hours waiting for the '09 squad two years back, and I was well-rewarded!
The training session itself was well... wow. Approximately 35,000 fans showed up to catch the team prance around the field. (Sorry, I couldn't help but find the jogging bit a little like show horses prancing in a circus ring. There was proper training going on, of course.) That's one heck of a turn-out considering the fact that it's only 7,000 less than Anfield at full capacity, and it was a working day! Mexican waves were going round and round the stadium, refusing to die. The chants of "You'll Never Walk Alone", "Fields of Anfield Road"and of course, this. Which led to the infamous this.
Panda and I, after scouting for seats.
And finally, the big day.
Which didn't start out that big, really. In my one last attempt to at least try to get an autograph from a player, (I already got a couple from the last tour, so I'm just being greedy) I spent the entire morning at One World Hotel.
And it was a complete waste of time.
I found it so comical that the security actually bothered to pull all sorts of trickery on the fans. There were what, 20-30 of us max? (And very well-behaved, mind you.) Waiting at the bottom lift, we were informed that the players would be appearing from the top lift. But when we headed up, the guard manning the top lift told us that they would instead, be coming out from the bottom lift.
Seriously. I get that it's your job but couldn't you have come up with something more, intelligent?!
So after wasting another two hours being stuck with a bunch of annoyingly paranoid fans on the landing of the 2nd floor, headed by some bossy teen and a woman with cockstares worthy of an award ("IS THAT YOUR PHONE RINGING? Don't tell anyone the players are up here or the security won't let us meet them!), and more security nonsense which cost me a close encounter with Charlie Adam and Joe Cole - I decided that enough was enough.
Lunch was more important.
So, this was all I came home with.
Sorry, dude. At least you don't look like a football which bounced into the frame.
Come on, Liverpool!
And so, I made my way to Bukit Jalil Stadium for the third time in four days. Thankfully, I was with my folks this time around so there was no need to speedwalk all the way in. (The last two trips were such cardio workouts!)
We arrived at the stadium a good three hours early, and if you think that's some class dedication on our part... you are about to be proven wrong. Most of the best seats at the Green Gate were already snatched up by the time we entered the stadium. Fortunately, we found Benny (bless the poor boy, who was given the impossible task of reserving 20 seats for MyRAWK, a mission which he abandoned as that would be suicidal) and the boys, seated up at the second tier.
With Benny, Jonno, Allan and Ray.
Try spotting me! (Hint: second row, long hair)
The atmosphere in the stadium was ELECTRIFYING. The build-up alone would put the full game at Singapore to shame. It's like the Malaysia vs Indonesia final, but more organised, more united, and with less men grinding down my back.
We are talking about over 87,000 fans singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" at the top of their lungs, while holding their scarves up high and proud in the air! I saw people with their friends, families, girlfriends - and boyfriends, even. It's as if no one was walking alone. (Or maybe some were, but it's impossible to tell since everyone's dressed to theme.)
Chris with his fiancee, Agnes! That's dad on my right.
Just look at that crowd!
Cheering the team on with the rest, I had found myself at home in a sea of Reds.
LOL at my mum.
However, if I had to find fault in something... it would be WHO THE HECK MANAGED THE MUSIC SELECTION?! Hey wait, f*ck the word "selection". They played the club anthem almost SIX times! As if that wasn't bad enough, each time came with a repeat of the song! The first two rounds were met with full vim and vigour, but those after that... oh god. Was the system manned by a United fan who's out to get us or what?!
The first half of the game was decent at most. With the likes of Charlie Adam and Raul Meireles tightly marked, the Tigers managed to secure a pretty good foothold in the game. And Andy Carroll - oh, wasn't he an absolutely pain to watch! I was on the verge of yelling "run, fat ass, run!" till I was reminded that he's possibly still recovering from an injury. Ah, that could be it.
The second half, on the other hand, was when the magic happened. The team fielded was much younger and faster - aided by the return of Aquilani, a handful of brilliant crosses by Insua, and of course, the amazing finishes by Maxi, Ngog and Kuyt respectively. With the Tigers putting up a good fight (on the back of a lackluster performance against Arsenal), goals were flying here, there and everywhere! Heck, there were possibly more chants of "MALAYSIA" than "Liverpool" at one point! So goodness knows where the real Rajagopal was that evening.
The ecstatic crowd, cheering on both Harimau Malaya and Liverpool.
WHOOOOTS GOAL! And check out that dude trying to take a pic of himself!
Good job, teams!
One last (still broken) smile for the trip home!
The final score? 6-3.
What a scoreline. What a game. What a week, even!
But if I had to leave you with a message, it would be this: those Ramly burgers you see at the stadium? Uh-huh. Not genuine Ramly. Save yourself the pain of being totally famished, only to discover that your sustenance comes in the form of a truly pathetic piece of patty, wedged between two slices of the driest bread you'll ever taste. Seriously, don't be a victim of the fake Ramly. It's not a pleasant experience.
Also, DO NOT TAKE THE TRAIN BACK.
Pic credits : MyRAWK, Kevin Gan & Ray Wong