Some supporters were able to witness their club in action for the first time since the epidemic during Tuesday night’s Champions League match against Atletico Madrid.
“I’ve changed jobs, houses, wives, cars, clothing, and hairstyles. But my affection for Liverpool will never alter.”
As he delivers the deadly phrase, Jesus ‘Jess’ Gil smiles, but he isn’t kidding.
We’re at Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, right in the center of the city. The weather is bright, and there is plenty of beer to go around. Liverpool has arrived in the city. At the Wanda Metropolitano, they will play Atletico Madrid in the Champions
That’s a significant event in Jesus’ life. “The largest!” he exclaims, before explaining to Goal why he and his buddies spent most of Monday travelling 400 kilometers from Bilbao to Madrid.
He boldly declares, “We are the Basque Reds.” “From Bilbao to Donostia-San Sebastian, and everywhere in between, we support Liverpool.” And soon we found out Liverpool was going to Madrid, we knew we had to go!”
Jesus was born and raised in Bilbao, although he has supported Liverpool since 1983, when Joe Fagan’s side came to San Mames in the old European Cup second round.
It appears that he isn’t the only one. As he introduces the Basque Reds, Jesus, their secretary, chuckles.
He says, “We’re all obsessed.” “This is our existence.” He calls out to his friend, Antonio, across the table, to demonstrate his point correctly.
“Tomorrow is his wife’s birthday!” Jesus smiles. “To say apologize, he had to buy her a large seafood feast, like a banquet!”
Antonio returns the smile. “I’m not sure whether it’ll be enough!” he says, his palms up.
Gorka, the group’s youngest member, will be seeing his first Liverpool game in person. He hails from Bilbao, much like Jesus. He works as a steward for a Spanish fifth-tier team, but has been a Reds fan since he was ten years old.
He says, “I used to play a lot of FIFA, and Liverpool had Fernando Torres, so…”
This is an unique day for all 54 members of the Basque Reds, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see their heroes and, perhaps, start up where they left off when Covid-19 altered everything for everyone.
“The last game I saw was Atletico Madrid [in February 2020],” Jesus says.
“Every season, Liverpool gives our club with six home matches, which we attempt to distribute among our members.”
“But, of course, the epidemic struck, and we were unable to go at all.” We’ve been missing it!”
He’s not the only one who thinks this way. Goal had caught up with Jackie Willcox, the secretary of the Madrid Reds, who are headquartered out of the renowned Triskel Tavern tavern, around a mile or so from Plaza Mayor, the night before.
She admitted beforehand, “I’m nervous.” “Being in a crowd again makes me nervous, especially with what’s going on with case numbers in the UK right now.”
“At the same time, I’m really looking forward to seeing the Reds.” It feels like we’re coming to the end of a circle, when we can all start moving forward.”
Jackie, like Jesus, Gorka, and the rest, claims that Liverpool has taken up as much of her time and attention as anything else. She, on the other hand, would not have it any other way.
“Everyone’s life only has place for one genuine love,” she explains. “I’m frequently asked, ‘Who do you favor in Spain?’ But I’ve always been a Liverpool fan.
“When I was two years old, my father took me to my first game.” Jimmy Case was my initial hero, but Patrik Berger is my all-time favorite…”
The ‘initial’ members of the Madrid Reds were five. Every game now draws a crowd of 40 people, including Spaniards, English ex-pats, Scandinavians, and others.
“We call it our tiny Cavern Club,” Jackie adds, referring to the famous Liverpool venue where The Beatles first performed in the 1960s.
“The owner is a Leeds supporter, yet she is wonderful with us.” She answers the phone and refers people to us if they need us, and we have a noticeboard up in there. It’s a proper neighborhood.”
In the case of Liverpool, the word “community” is crucial. Few clubs are as international as the Reds, despite the cliche.
Goal is chatting with fans from Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Madrid, but we’ll also see fans from Boston, South Africa, Dublin, and Hong Kong during the game on Tuesday night. Official supporters clubs may be found all across the world, from Romania to Rwanda, and pretty much everywhere in between.
Jesus replies, “I often say that Liverpool is as close to religion as you can get.” ‘It’s not about football; it’s about family.’ That’s the way things are. Even though I’ve only known you for ten minutes, you’re already one of us!”
Jackie recalls the scenes from the 2019 Champions League final, when Liverpool visited Madrid.
She explains, “We hired out a nightclub and threw a celebration for admirers.” “Because nightclubs in this part of the world don’t open until late, it was an easy sale to the owners: ‘Do you want to open at 6 o’clock and sell a ton of beer before your night starts?’
“There are a few local boys in a band among the Madrid Reds. So, for the night, we renamed them ‘The Fabinho Four,’ and they performed for us, which was fantastic.
“Just for people to watch the game on TV, we could have sold out the Triskel ten or twenty times over for the final.” People came from all around the world to see us.”
They included, of course, Jesus and his entourage, who stopped by on their way to the stadium.
He responds, “I spent 500 Euros for my ticket.” “It was the most wonderful day of my life!” We had to leave at 5 a.m. in a bus with 60 people to return to Bilbao. We had quite a few Scousers with us, which was wonderful. “It was a day I will never forget.”
It was during the epidemic, for Jackie, that the need of supporters’ groups became clear. With Spain, and particularly Madrid, being under severe lockdown for much of last year, those ties, that sense of community, were crucial.
She explains, “It kept everyone linked.” “We couldn’t leave the house for nearly three months.” It was only once a day for basic shopping. People joked that they were getting dogs so they could take them for a stroll!
“It was difficult to go through that as a Brit living overseas, away from my own family, especially while witnessing what was going on back home.” You knew individuals who were sick, and you were worried not just about yourself, but also about your friends and family.
“During the lockdown, the supports group was really crucial. We held a lot of Zoom meetings, and the WhatsApp group was constantly active. We kept an eye out for each other.
“We accomplished a lot. We performed some work with The Anfield Wrap, and Jose Enrique joined us for a Q&A. He was incredible. He was particularly significant since he speaks so effectively about mental health and the challenges he’s had as a result of his condition and his decision to retire from football.
“I believe that having someone like him speak up benefited those who were dealing with their mental health during the lockdown.”
Last June, Jackie recalls the day Liverpool’s Premier League title triumph was confirmed.
“I dialed my father’s number,” she says. “I’ve always gone to Anfield with him, and we were both crying over the phone.”
“Do you think we’ll ever be able to go to a match together again?” he said, and it crushed my heart. I sincerely hope we will be able to do so. I haven’t visited Liverpool since the epidemic, but I plan to go so before the holidays.
“I’m a big fan of European football.” Every Liverpool supporter is aware of this. But, above all, I want us to win the league again so that everyone can enjoy it properly and collectively.
“That is Liverpool, and that is what Liverpool is all about.”
He adds, soon before leaving for the Wanda, “Big things are coming, I can sense it.”
A text arrives a few hours later, following the Reds’ thrilling 3-2 victory. It reads, “Ohhhhhh yeahhhhh!” “It’s great to see you again!”
Who could possibly disagree with that?