After Football's Craziest Week, Here's Proof That Aussie EPL Fans Are The World's Best
This is the story of a very remarkable morning, as experienced by some equally remarkable, and now exceptionally hungover people.
4:30 am, May 8, Sydney. The temperature: low. Expectations: even lower
Lea Safouris-Stevenson stumbles into the Cheers bar in George St, Sydney, the effective home base for the LFC Supporters of NSW, for the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona.
The LFC NSW were recently named the best official Liverpool supporters club in the world, out of hundreds of candidates. This large, diverse and wildly passionate group usually cram hundreds into Cheers.
But this morning there are far fewer than usual.
That's because Barcelona won the first leg 3-0. To make the final, Liverpool will have to score at least four goals against a team with Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player in football history.
It's a Herculean task, bordering on impossible. To make matters worse, two of Liverpool's best players, the Egyptian Mo Salah and the Brazilian Roberto Firmino, are unavailable.
"We have faith," Lea says as she settles in for the match.
On this frigid Sydney morning, the small crowd in Cheers don't have much else.
Adding to the general sense of gloom is the result a day earlier, when Manchester City found a dramatic goal to beat Leicester in the Premier League. That put Liverpool one point behind in the title race with one match to go.
A first-ever Premier League title now hanging by a thread, and the most prized piece of European silverware virtually gone. These are the thoughts inside every Liverpool fan's head.
But they have their faith. And soon, that faith turns to genuine hope.
After seven minutes, Liverpool score. A lovely run from Jordan Henderson, the tap-in from Divock Origi. 1-0. Cheers goes off. Last week there were 300 here for the first leg. It's starting to sound like it again.
"This is it. This is the early goal we required. We're starting to believe now, not just hope. This is the sign that we're in it," Lea says.
In 2005, Liverpool were down 3-0 at halftime to AC Milan in the Champions League final. Famously, they won that day. But that was then. This is now. And the opponent, as mentioned, is Barcelona.
The rest of the first half is intense. Barcelona attack. And attack some more. Liverpool's Brazilian goalie Alisson keeps them in the game with a string of great saves.
"Phenomenal. He deserves so much praise," Lea says.
In Sydney it's still dark outside. Inside the beating red heart of Liverpool supporters there's still a light of hope. Messi has not been at his best. Liverpool still need three goals, but maybe this is a sign.
The 1980s. England.
Nish Veer is a boy of Indian heritage, who is born in England and grows up in the UK. His dad falls in love with Liverpool FC, and moves from Belfast to Liverpool to live near his beloved Reds.
"It was the people's club, the club built around the fans. Nobody sang like the Liverpool fans," Nish, now a married man in Australia, recalls.
They had good reason to sing. Liverpool won the old Division One title 11 times in the 1970s and '80s, as well as numerous FA Cups and European trophies.
But Nish also has some much less happy memories of that era. He experienced constant racism in England and never quite felt at home in his own country.
"The person who lifted me up was John Barnes," he recalls. "He was an absolute superstar. For a guy with dark skin to be playing for the greatest club in the world was something extremely personal to me."
Nish's family moved to New Zealand, then Australia. Today, he's a proud member of the LFC NSW, and also runs the super-popular "The LFC Couch" podcast.
On this particular morning, he can't make it into Cheers due to an early start at work. So he grabs a blanket, hits his own couch, eats muesli, and hopes.
When Origi scores that first early goal, he sits a little more upright.
"I knew if we score one we could get into the match," he tells 10 daily. "It's a bit of an innate thing with Liverpool fans in the Jürgen Klopp era. Give us a sniff of blood and we will hunt you down."
2 Pm, May 7, THE LFC BARBER SHOP, SYDNEY
Kleames Dawod, an Iraq-born Aussie who has followed Liverpool his whole life, has a brief moment between clients at his Liverpool-themed barber shop in the Sydney suburb of Chatswood.
The shop walls are decked out with dizzying amounts of Liverpool memorabilia. There are several posters of Aussie Craig Johnston, a Liverpool star of the '80s, as well as Steven Gerrard, the barber's favourite ever Red.
Kleames is disappointed after the Manchester City result. He'll get up for the Champions League second leg against Barcelona on Wednesday morning, but he's not expecting much.
"Whatever happens, I still love my Liverpool," he says. "It's about the team, not whether we win."
6:15 am, May 8, The CHEERS BAR, Sydney
Cheers erupts! Liverpool has scored again!
Lea Safouris-Stevenson are her fellow LFC NSW members are definitely getting the sniff of something special now, as their Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum scores.
And then another! The match 3-3! Two to the Dutchman in two minutes!
A famous Liverpool FC chant breaks out:
We've conquered all of Europe,
We're never going to stop,
From Paris down to Turkey,
We've won the f**king lot,
"3-0 basically means extra time and a penalty shootout," Lea says. "We're happy with that."
Lea has been steadily drinking pints of Magners Cider. "It doesn't break the seal like beer does," she says.
Even if she did have to pop off to the loo, she wouldn't dare now. This is incredible. This is Liverpool making an incredible comeback against the world's best club team with the world's best player. This is...
A fourth goal! Unbelievable! Origi again after a cheeky quick corner which caught Barcelona napping! The world's best club team has been headed on the score sheet now. But more than that, they've been made to look amateurish.
This will be a moment discussed for years to come. Was the corner, taken by 20-year-old Liverpool product Trent Alexander-Arnold, a clever trick practised hundreds of times behind closed doors? Or was it an impulsive moment of sheer brilliance? A combination of both?
Cheers has gone mad. People stand on tables waving scarfs like drowning sailors. Those people have responsible jobs to go to later when they will sit behind desks, not dance on them.
7 AM, MAY 8, A COUCH SOMEWHERE IN SYDNEY
Nish Veer can't believe what he's seen. Any of it. But he's especially stunned by the audacity of the corner kick that resulted in the fourth goal.
"The kid’s 20-years-old and has played 54 games for Liverpool. He's a local Scouse boy. Just to know that he's that smart... it was an actual moment of genius."
Nish can't think about what lies ahead yet. That elusive Premier League title, the Champions League trophy... it's all a step too far while he processes his elation.
Also, like all Liverpool fans, he's been burned before.
"We have a protective layer. We've put up with so much pain in the past, so we have to protect ourselves a bit. I kind of refuse to think about it till it happens."
Nish says his feelings are best expressed by the famous lyric in "You'll Never Walk Alone".
"With hope in your heart. That's all we have."
3 PM MAY 8, THE CHEERS BAR, SYDNEY
Lea Safouris-Stevenson and several hangers-on are still drinking shots of Fireball cinammon whisky as the sun dips low in the afternoon sky.
They still can't believe what's happened, eight hours after the final whistle.
Lea has tickets to the Post Malone concert in Sydney, but thinks she might give it the flick. She talks about a woman whose partner was part of the LFC NSW group. Recently, her partner passed away suddenly. She came into Cheers and all the Liverpool fans bought her drinks and gave her hugs. Most of them went to the memorial service too. It sounds like a cliché, but the Aussie Liverpool fans really are a family.
"You’ll Never Walk Alone is more than a song, more than a motto," Lea says.
Ain't it, though.
Lea thinks ahead to the Premier League final round this weekend, and further, to the Champions League final on June 2. Does she dream of victory? Of course. Does it matter if it they don't win? Of course not.
"Whatever happens, the ride has been phenomenal," she says.
POST SCRIPT: 5 AM, MAY 9, A DIFFERENT COUCH SOMEWHERE IN SYDNEY
Ex-pat Englishman and father-of-two Toby Stenberg has lived in Australia for the best part of 15 years. He describes himself as "Australian-ish", and supports Fremantle in the AFL and South Sydney in the NRL.
But his heart lies with Spurs, and that's who he nervously watches this morning in his robe, with tea and buttery toast for companions.
Toby, who grew up in London, remembers Spurs winning back-to-back FA Cups in 1981 and '82.
"What else has been good or exciting for Spurs since then?" he wonders aloud, scanning his mind over nearly 40 years of football.
And then he lets out a long sigh.
Two hours later, after a last-gasp winner, he will let out a yell that will wake his children, his neighbour's children, and startle his dog. And he will have his answer.
This. This is the most remarkable thing his team has achieved in the best part of 40 years. Like Liverpool, Spurs have erased a three-goal deficit. And now they will meet Liverpool in the Champions League final.
Someone is going to be very, very happy on June 2. Toby thinks he'll go out and watch the match with an Aussie mate who's a Liverpool fan. They'll have a beer together no matter what happens.
And if anything sums up what makes Aussie fans of European football more special than the Europeans themselves, that's it.