Liverpool is celebrating its 800th Anniversary this year and in 2008 will be the European Capital of Culture. Everyone has heard of THE FAB FOUR and recently the airport was renamed JOHN LENNON INTERNATIONAL with a larger than life bronze statue of the great musician in the concourse. Outside is a Yellow Submarine.
The Albert Dock is a World Heritage site and nearby are The THREE GRACES, The Royal Liver Building, The Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. Trans Atlantic passenger ships no longer call, but you can catch the World Famous Ferry Across the Mersey, highlighted in the song made popular by Gerry (Marsden) and the Pacemakers. The Beatles Story is a busy tourist attraction and a giant Indoor Sports and Entertainment Arena is almost complete on the waterfront.
You are either a Red or a Blues fan when it comes to football on Merseyside, and each stadium, Anfield home of 'The Reds' and Goodison Park home of 'The Toffees' are half a mile away on either side of Stanley Park. Everton's nickname came about because of a lady who walked around the pitch handing out Everton mints and other candy from a basket. They are also known as The Peoples Club and in 1966 at the World Cup, Brazil played all 3 first round matches there and you could watch Bulgarians, Hungarians and Portuguese take lumps out of Pele and his team mates due to slack officiating. Liverpool have been Champions of Europe 5 times, Champions of England 18 times, with 7 FA Cup wins and 3 UEFA Cup triumphs. Everton have been in the top flight longer than any other club and have won the League 9 times and the FA Cup 5 times.
Liverpool FC will soon have a new home 300 yards from Anfield and after the new American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett looked at the Stanley Park stadium plans to replace Anfield, they wanted to up the capacity from the proposed 60,000 to more like 80,000. They were so impressed at a recent Champions League second-leg clash with champions Barcelona, their first live match, when You'll Never Walk Alone was sung with its usual passion. The song is from the American musical, Carousel. The Reds lost 0-1 on the night but advanced to the Quarter-Finals against PSV Eindhoven on the away goal rule.
Anfield still has The Shankly Gates and the Hillsborough Memorial. I was treated to a grand tour of THE ACADEMY, their state of the art training site for young players by Arthur Edwards, a 16 year scouting veteran who wore his pride with a Cheshire Cat smile. I also renewed aquaintances with Barry Whitbread who is in charge of recruiting talent, and who had just returned from a week at Barcelona's Academy, swapping Paella for Bubble and Squeek- a local delicacy. He, along with Phil Barnes and Steve Heighway used to coach for Umbro in the USA, and his son Zack was born in Houston and has played on the USA Youth World Cup team. Heighway was an Anfield legend before going to play for the Minnesota Kicks and then coach the Clearwater Chargers club in Florida, and is now the Academy Director. When he was replaced by black player John Barnes, the speedy England winger, the new man was soon nicknamed TARMAC-The black highway!! Get it? The Academy has educational classes for about 120 players and a cafeteria, medical room, weight room, and about a dozen pitches, plus a giant indoor field. Local schools are also allowed the use of the facility. The first team and reserves have another site of their own at Melwood in West Derby.
I had a tour of the locker rooms-one for each age group team, and lovingly cared for by a couple of motherly cleaners who were as jolly as everyone at the Academy. On the locker room walls were sayings such as " If you practice badly, you get better at playing badlly.". There were also neetly printed suggestions for each boy above his place from his coach. Ryan K. " Ryan, Freeze a defender before beating him with a quick move". Jordan R, " Jordan, turn and switch play when you can't play forward." Tender loving care indeed.
Everton FC also have an academy which will soon be replaced by a newer one and we went along one chilly evening to watch Bill Irwin's USA Women's U21's play Everton Ladies. The referee tried his hardest not to leave the centre circle, and there were no linensmen and at least one USA goal was way offside. USA won 6-2 although Everton had half a dozen players with the England squad playing Holland the same night. USA beat Blackburn Rovers Ladies 2-0 the night before and Leeds United Ladies 5-0 the next evening.
Merseyside also boasts of the Liverpool Knowsley International Football Festival, and the inscrutable and always entertaining and informative Eddy Jennings, the Tournament Manager, who is happy to show anybody around the facilities at Liverpool University where the matches are played and where the teams stay, sleep and eat.
www.visitliverpool.com www.liverpoolfc.tv www.evertonfc.com