“I thought they were nicer. Liverpool was more like home to me. They are working, real people. They were all friendly. They’d speak to you. If they heard you talk they were interested in why you were there, why’d you come to Liverpool.”-Jessie Lou McFaul
The first shot of the Civil War was fired by a gun built on Duke Street in Liverpool, and the last ship to surrender, the CSS Shenandoah, did so in the Mersey River, surrendering to the British government rather than the American government. The last official Confederate Flag was lowered on November 6, 1865 in Liverpool. John Wilkes Booth’s father was a Scouser. These connections aren’t really that strange. 60% of the South’s cotton went through Liverpool on its way to textile mills in England. Liverpool also was a main supporter of the Atlantic Slave trade. The American South and Liverpool were bound to one another for their financial survival. The Union blockade of the South caused ripples that spread from the mouth of the Mississippi in New Orleans to the mouth of the Mersey in Liverpool. In 1859, manufactured textiles took up 1/3rd of Great Britain’s total exports. Four million British citizens were employed by the textile industry, 1/6th of the British population. The cotton from down South kept this industry and those workers afloat. Well, until the War broke out. The Brits adapted and forged on, the South, well there’s no telling if it ever really recovered. There are some, no doubt, who believe the Deep South is still wallowing in the mud of a long lost war. That’s all in the eye of the beholder.
The Civil War ended in 1865. Everton Football Club was formed in 1878, Liverpool F.C. in 1892. From 1882 to 1892, Everton played home games at Anfield. A dispute regarding the operation and future of Everton broke out between Anfield landowner, John Houlding, and the club’s committee. Politics, religion, and alcohol were among the issues at hand, as well as the rent. Everton crossed Stanley Park and took up residence at Goodison Park. Houlding was now the owner of an empty stadium, so Liverpool F.C. was born in March 1892. The two clubs have been in the top flight together, playing at least twice a year, since 1962. The Merseyside Derby was dubbed “The Friendly Derby” by the media due to the lack of violence at and around matches as compared to other derbies, and the lack of specified lines defining the differences between the two fan bases. Like some homes in Mississippi, split between State and Ole Miss, homes in Liverpool are split between the Reds and the Blues. There is certainly animosity between the two fan bases, but each respects the other more than any other club, and in times of crisis, like the Hillsborough disaster when 96 Liverpool fans perished, the supporters can be found consoling one another and fighting for justice together. The rest of the time it’s all put downs and verbal assault. Bragging rights are always utilized. That’s what makes it fun
I arrived in Liverpool later than expected on that day in January 2005. A mechanical issue in Atlanta forced a switch of planes, which led to our arrival in Paris being delayed by an hour and a half. That meant five hours sitting in Charles De Gaulle airport, waiting for a 5:30 pm flight to Manchester and then a train to Liverpool. After finding my room, I found the campus pub and two fellow Americans, Joe, from upstate New York, and Pat, from central Pennsylvania. I was the only American kid from south of the Mason Dixon line. The union pub shut down around midnight and we ventured around the corner to a pub called the Halfway House. I spent the next 4 ½ months visiting the Halfway three to four nights a week.
The Halfway House Pub and Carvery sits on Woolton Road around the corner from Liverpool Hope University College in Childwall, Liverpool, UK. The front half is a traditional English pub, and the back is the Carvery, a restaurant featuring a buffet line for vegetables and gravies, and then a selection of ham, turkey, and roast to choose from and then watch as it is freshly carved and dollopped on your plate. It is a quaint little haven, and it looks and feels like the pubs you see in pictures, the wood paneling and carpet and grizzled workers sipping beers. Only the jukebox, with it’s neon bright yellow outline and contemporary music, felt out of place; not that it stopped me from pumping coins into the damned thing during long nights pounding pints of Guinness Extra Cold.
Damian was a squat concrete block of a man with a rugged wrinkled face like dried out alligator hide. He was always located at The Roundtable, a name given to the square patch of territory where the small group of VIPs sat whenever they came in for a pint. The irony of the VIPness of the round table crew is found in the poshy surroundings of the bar located on the other side of the thin wall splitting the pub in half: the side they never ventured into. Pubs have always been split in two, one side for the well to do, the other the riff-raff. The nice side of the Halfway was rarely occupied. Maybe a businessman or two on their lunch hour, but otherwise nothing, there’s just too much fun to be had with the working class. The music is louder, the drinks taste better, and the jokes are raunchier and funnier.
Damian was in construction. He once told me he lived in a home that would cost one million in US dollars, but that it paled in comparison to it’s American counterpart. Damian’s apparent wealth, along with the involvement in various construction fields by the rest of the Roundtable occupiers, often made me wonder if I had fallen in with some sect of the Merseyside Mafia. Everything about them seemed meticulously intertwined. Damian once held his fist up and said, “Ya know what I call this?”
“My sleeping pill.”
I didn’t doubt its abilities; the man’s fist was three times the size of mine, a shocking fist for such a short man. He showed me this while informing me that I had come perilously close to an altercation the previous night while arguing with a couple of folks about changing the television away from the Barcelona game and onto the NFL Playoff Game. As I recall it I was quite cordial, but apparently I had failed to notice the ominous vibes that I was soliciting.
“Don’t worry son. We’d’ve taken care of ya,” Damian said.
Jessie Lou arrived on the morning of March 18. I, nursing the worst hangover of my life, met her at the train station. I had only just managed to return from the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Dublin; it’s a story I have no time to tell now, and further complicating matters is that I remember maybe half of that particular day. We celebrated my 21st birthday the following day, the 19th, and then on the 20th we walked over to the Halfway House to watch the 201st Merseyside Derby. I was proudly wearing my Everton jersey.
“It was wild, I had never seen anything like it,” Jessie Lou said, “They were all so passionate. Grrraaawwww, they were hitting the tables. Just loud, in this small room. It was not real big, but it was packed.”
That day was the most crowded I ever saw the Halfway. Followed closely by the night of the Liverpool v Chelsea Champions League semi-final second leg, a game won by Liverpool and celebrated boisterously by most of the customers in the bar. Many of them started singing, “We’re all going to Turkey, We’re all going to Turkey, la la la la!” The site of the Champions League final that year was in Istanbul, and Liverpool would go on to win that game by coming back from three goals down to beat AC Milan.
It was a pretty and cool spring day and the walk to the pub was pleasant. The grass had come thriving back and miniature fields of daffodils took up large swaths of the campus. As we reached the door to the pub, a man outside, who I knew, said to Jessie Lou, “Better be careful walking in there with a man wearing that shirt.” I chuckled and smiled, as did he. No menace, just some ribbing.
David, ruddy-faced and overweight, with a shaved head and big personality, was the son of the pub owners, and another regular I had managed to befriend. He had saved us seats near one of the big screens. It wasn’t a monstrous plasma flat screen, but rather the type of screen high school math teacher’s use with an overhead projector. The blessing of being friends with the owners kid meant not standing and straining the eyes for the next two and half hours. It also meant that there were nights when the bill magically never came.
Liverpool went into half time with 2-0 lead courtesy of a Steven Gerard goal from a set piece in the 27th minute and a goal by Luis Garcia, who rebounded in Fernando Morientes’ almost stunner that was saved by Nigel Martyn. Upon both goals the Liverpool fans in the pub exploded. High fives and shots, groans from those wearing blue. As usual, or maybe because I was too ignorant to know better at the time, I was optimistic, “There’s a whole half left, still plenty of time.” Tim Cahill, now a member of the New York Red Bulls, pulled a goal back in the 82nd minute, but it was not enough.
“It was just a really interesting experience. I mean Saints fans get rowdy, well anybody,” Jessie Lou said, “I guess I had never seen anybody that overdone about soccer, that would be the thing. It wasn’t something we grew up playing. We’re all about football. That is our football. I just thought, ‘God they’re rowdy’. “
I don’t recall specifically how I felt after that game. I was no doubt disappointed. My first experience of the Merseyside Derby ended in defeat. I’ve experienced it a few more times since then, and I’ve gotten to celebrate a few big wins. But none of them hold a candle to the first time, even though it is awash in the stench of defeat. Looking back at the lineups and subs for both teams is a strange experience. Of the players involved only 4 remain at their respective clubs. Steven Gerard is still captain of Liverpool, and Jamie Carragher is still in a Liverpool shirt as well, though his career is careening towards its conclusion due to his rapidly declining skills. Tony Hibbert, Thom Yorke’s doppelganger, is still with the Toffees, as is little Leon Osman; both are still regular contributors. Looking at Everton’s line up from that day fills me with optimism for the current state of the club. The team is better in just about every position on the field this season as compared to 04-05.
This Sunday, at 8:30 am CST, Liverpool and Everton will meet for the first time this season. Everton have had their hottest start to a season since the 2004-2005 campaign. That year the Toffees finished fourth and ahead of Liverpool. That’s been the high water mark, as far as league accomplishments are concerned of my Everton fandom. As a rube, I didn’t even really get to enjoy it. I did not understand the importance. Now I do. And now Everton have a legitimate shot at winning, though I don’t dare let myself start to feel the least bit confident about that possibility.
The Halfway House still exists, but under new corporate ownership it appears. David and his family have moved to Newcastle, his parent’s hometown and where he was born. Reviews are not good; the Halfway has declined. The service slow and poor, the beer flat, the roast beef dry and a pain in the ass to chew. My era now only exists in memories and pictures. I have often thought of going back, having a pint, and an order of fried mushrooms while I watch a soccer game, but now I don’t think I’ll ever do that. Why spoil a good memory with an awful knock-off version of what once was?