Admittedly, I was more looking forward to the Liverpool leg of this trip, and if the Arsenal leg of the trip was any indication, I had a pretty damn good feeling about the next few days.
14 July 2011
The day started off with Mich, Icang, and I meeting up at Pavilion Mall, whose Bukit Bintang entrance was dressed up as the Shankly Gates. Upon entering the mall, the red carpet leads to the atrium, where a gigantic Liverpool shirt hangs. Along the way, on the carpet reads the years when Liverpool won all of its titles. On the pillars on the sides were Liverpool banners (my absolute favorite: “The best 80s revival this year”, together with a photo of King Kenny).
Follow the steps down below, and an arch with the “This is Anfield” sign welcomes visitors into the atrium, which had: a press con table with Steven Gerrard and Raul Meireles; a FIFA station; a faux locker room (lord knows I wanted to steal the Pepe Reina shirt, but that was too obvious); a face painting area; a goal; numerous cardboard standees; and a center counter that was giving away “signed” posters and Liverpool Standard Chartered car stickers.
I can tell you now that any Liverpool fan would feel like it was being inside the candy store when we were kids.
After going through everything that “Anfield” at the Pavilion Mall had to offer, we did a bit of shopping (of course, ladies never leave Kuala Lumpur without purchasing at least a pair of Vincci shoes). Sometime at about 3 p.m., as we were heading out of the mall, we noticed a line of security men at the entrance. We asked one security man what was happening and he said, “Phil Thompson is coming.” A stern-looking lady (who appeared to be one of the organizers) turned to us and said, “No, not Phil Thompson, it’s Ian Rush coming.” Holy… we were freaking out. This was the man who owns the record for Liverpool’s highest number of first team goals, including the highest number of FA Cup and League Cup goals—and he was coming any moment now!
True enough, a black vehicle pulls up on the driveway, and out comes Ian Rush. There was a mad dash of people scrambling to get near him, while I stood on his way to get a few photos—until someone shoved me out of the way. Mich, meanwhile, extended her hand from the side and warmly greeted him, “HI!” (Ian said, “Hi!” back.)
And training hasn’t even started yet!
Mich and I joined up with Leo to go to Liverpool’s training at Bukit Jalil Stadium. We initially got good places at the center… until several tall Indian men stood in front of us and then decided to stand up on the plastic chairs, thereby effectively blocking our view. The crowd was really swelling in our area, and yes, I can confirm there were more people in Liverpool’s training than in Arsenal’s.
We waited for the team to appear before deciding to change seats. We then positioned ourselves behind one of the goals, which was not crowded and still offered a good view. The team did their drills and put on a good show for training. And how can anyone not notice Jay Spearing? He looks like a little kid (literally) playing with the big guys! You can’t also miss Andy Carroll because of his size. However, the loudest cheers were definitely reserved for Jamie Carragher and Dirk Kuyt.
After the training, we waited for the team’s bus, and yes, we got Spearing waving at us like a mechanical Chinese cat (cue in all the baby Spearo jokes). We met up with Rick and Coach Ariel after and got the Malaysian hawker street experience (oddly enough, there was a Chaang beer banner with Mikel Arteta nearby).
What did I tell you? The Liverpool leg of this trip was off to a great start.
15 July 2011
The Meet & Greet session with a few Liverpool players was scheduled at 3 p.m., and judging from the reception at the training session, we were betting that there would be a lot of fans present. We knew from the previous day that the ground floor would be cordoned off to accommodate just the members of the media, so we knew exactly where to position ourselves. After a quick lunch, we stationed ourselves at the floor above, where the only bench was, overlooking “Anfield”. Rick was able to get into the area reserved for media only and was able to get a bunch of Liverpool goodies—including that red and white umbrella (which he refuses to use, haha).
As predicted, the crowd swelled soon enough. Once the program began shortly before 3 p.m., we unfurled the “Mabuhay LFC” banner that Imon made. It seemed to be quite an inspired choice, given that it was the most visible and legible banner brought by fans, and it did get a lot of attention (so this is what a pseudo-celebrity feels like—strangers taking photos of your banner and you hamming it up at every camera trained in your direction). We were all floored when the host began acknowledging the fans, starting with fans from the Philippines! The four of us were cheering wildly, and it was rather heartwarming that the Malaysians clapped for us.
While waiting for the players to arrive, there was also an old Chinese man that was shouting how quiet it was, and as a response, the organizers began playing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. It may just be a crowd of 3,000, but man, even as small as that, I got goosebumps from hearing the song.
Pretty soon, Steve Clarke, Jamie Carragher, Raul Meireles, Andy Carroll, Christian Poulsen, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, and John Flanagan appeared. They stayed for 30 minutes, with Carra looking pretty tired and Raul pretty much looking like he was the one enjoying the most. Poulsen took footage with his iPhone (I was thinking, if we didn’t get on LFC TV, at least we’re on Poulsen’s phone). The team unveiled the new LFC Standard Chartered debit card, took a few questions, and a few lucky fans got to have their stuff signed.
What stood out most for me was that Raul nudged Soto, pointed at our banner, and waved at us. Wowowowowowow!
As if the day couldn’t get any better, when Leo got back to his hotel, he immediately checked LFC TV, and yes, we were included in their video of the Meet & Greet!
How else can you top this experience?!