They say all good things must come to an end.
However, some things must end with a bang.
On my final full day at Kuala Lumpur, I woke up way too early (hardly got any sleep due to sheer excitement!), got ready for checking out, and donned my red Liverpool shirt. The plan was to be at the stadium early, as all tickets to the match were sold out. Of course, there’s a bit of comfort in knowing you’ve got guaranteed seats, but given how Bukit Jalil was pretty much far from the city center and the trains were going to be the primary mode of transportation, it was better to be there much, much earlier.
And boy, was it a fiesta at Bukit Jalil. As early as 2 p.m., there was already a sea of red in the area surrounding the stadium, complete with large banners that dressed up the place, even more stalls selling food, drinks, and merchandise, the non-stop blaring of horns, and even louder retro music.
Amidst the maddening crowd, we found space to pose with our banners and scarves, as well as finding time to buy some souvenir items. I got a Bart Simpson shirt, wherein Bart was wearing a “We 8 Mancs” Liverpool kit and pissing on Manchester United. Throughout the steps leading to and around the various entrance points, banners were unfurling and horns were blaring. There were the fans that seemed to have consumed several pints of beer already, a fan that had a broken leg but was still gamely in line, and the littlest of kids decked in their Liverpool kits.
As we (Mich, Leo, Leah, Rex, Johann, Ryan, Rick, and I) were seated separately (and Rick and Ryan had media passes), we eventually parted ways. Mich and I were seated at the second tier, behind the commentators, and almost right smack at the center of the stadium, giving us a good view of how it transformed into a sea of red in a span of a few hours.
Pretty soon, the big screen inside the stadium showed the team arriving, and they didn’t waste any time to get onto the pitch and soak in the atmosphere. Who enjoyed the most? I’d say it was Dirk Kuyt. He looked pretty relaxed on the bench, with even one legged propped up. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was interspersed with both American and Malaysian pop tunes in the hours leading to kick off. At one point, the stadium was only half-filled, yet the words to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was reverberating throughout.
Soon enough, the team began their warm up. I was alternating between taking shots of Daniel Agger stretching (quite fascinating, actually), Jay Spearing (I’m still guessing his height to this day) and taking photos of the crowd—the banners, the scarves, the shirts, and just how Bukit Jalil was dominantly red (Rajagopal’s request to wear blue in support of the Malaysia NT fell on deaf ears).
Before we knew it, it was already 5:45 p.m. Liverpool started with Jamie Carragher, Brad Jones, Raul Meireles, Daniel Agger, Conor Coady, John Flanagan, Jack Robinson, Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing, Joe Cole, and Andy Carroll.
Joe Cole was only somewhat impressive during training. When it’s an actual match, oh lord, he is the dead end when it comes to attacking. Raul and Carroll seemed sluggish to me. Charlie Adam was impressive in the first half—apart from scoring the first goal of the match off a penalty kick, he did seem like the general among 11 men. Malaysia, however, equalized toward the end of the first half from a brilliant free kick. Boy, the drumbeats of the NT’s boosters sure were loud and clear—and they had a simple, fierce cheer to boot.
The second half was definitely much better, with David N’gog scoring a pair of goals for Liverpool in a span of one minute (all together now: He’s alive!). However, someone should tell Jonjo Shelvey that he’s not the next Steven Gerrard—I have no idea what the hell was up with his free kicks. Martin Kelly was not having the best of days either.
Maxi Rodriguez would soon get on the scoreboard himself, off another pass from Insua (who also assisted N’gog’s first goal). Malaysia would soon respond with two quick goals, off defensive lapses from Liverpool. Following that, Maxi scored another goal off a cross from Dirk Kuyt (quality human being right there), who scored the final goal for Liverpool himself. It was definitely the midfield that made the difference in the second half—Kuyt was his usual hardworking self and Alberto Aquilani (the stadium announcer pronounced his name as “Aqualini”) was just silky smooth in his passing.
It was just sheer joy when the final score read 3 – 6 in favor of Liverpool, and the stadium was just going wild. This is the first time I’ve seen a match where the crowd was equally cheering both sides, and there was just a general state of euphoria as the match ended. Flares were lit, and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was heard loud and clear—it gave me the chills!
It still amazes me how we managed to file out of the stadium amid 80,000 fans. As fans were basking in the joy of the game, you could hear people still singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. When we managed to get onboard the train out of Bukit Jalil, we were standing in front of a guy wearing a Manchester United shirt—and yes, he looked like he wanted to melt. He did get some good-natured teasing from Liverpool fans in the cabin. On the other cabin, we could still hear other fans chanting “Li-ver-pool”. What one match does to the collective happiness of tens of thousands of fans—and yes, even to the collective happiness of a nation that loves football.
On the flight back to Manila, I started reflecting about the last five days and how much this trip meant to me. I know I do have a flair for the dramatic, but believe me when I say that this adventure was beyond anything that I had expected. I made friends along the way, saw a team I like and a team that I absolutely love, and created a story that I will probably be telling years from now. I made initial plans for this trip several months ago, with the thought that I needed to get out for a while, embark on an adventure after my mom passed away.
I haven’t mentioned this yet, but in several stages of the trip, I keep noticing a white butterfly—at the stadium, both during training and matches, and heck, even at the A&W at Bukit Bintang. A white butterfly was something I had always associated with my mom. Amid all the madness I got myself into the last five days, I knew my mom was sharing this adventure with me.
Yes, it did make me realize that no matter where I go, I can always take comfort in the knowledge that I will never walk alone.