Those who attended Bible school may recall the story of Christ performing his first miracle. A subtle nuance in that story was how the guests were impressed that the best wine was saved for last. As kids we could never appreciate the full extent of that detail because we were too young to fully understand getting drunk. All that changed for me last night when a couple of friends and I resolved to watch the Europa League final at Ridgeways Racebar, home of the South African Liverpool Supporters Club; the official best Liverpool supporters club in the world.
As Liverpool fans, we were deeply disappointed in ourselves that this was our first time making the trip to the East to get to this place. In our defence, anything would need to be pretty special to convince us to go to the East (boet) but this really was. For people like me who cannot yet afford the pilgrimage to Anfield, the atmosphere was enough to make me consider taking out a loan for a flight to Merseyside yet left me comforted to know that until I go, I’ll can get as closest to the experience as possible in Johannesburg.
Televisions are mounted everywhere so you won’t miss a kick no matter which direction you’re looking but for the true connoisseur of Liverpudlian talent, the hall in the back is for you. Making our way through the passage, passing the bikes and Reds memorabilia, there was a sense of terrifying trepidation…the kind you feel when the protagonist walks through the restaurant to the backstreet poker game; What if we didn’t know all the right chants? What if we weren’t wearing the right kit? What if I accidentally let slip that Wolves is my second team?
Our fears were allayed instantly as we stepped into the hall and immediately determined that this place would be where we would spend at least 90 minutes a week from July. Unfortunately, our resolve was not as powerful as that of the regulars and no seats were available in the super fan zone despite arriving three hours before kickoff. We did take the opportunity to take it all in and observe the sights of the home of the South African Liverpool faithful; from signed shirts to flags the only chance we’d get to avoiding seeing red was to find stare at one of the few people wearing the away kit.
We decided that we should ease our way into the supporters club more gradually and made for the regular restaurant area which itself was filling with supporters; supporters spanning the vastest array of people I’ve been around since my trip to the United Nations. Of course there is the obligatory occasional presence of a git appropriating the culture in an attempt to please a client or something mundane. Fortunately, those are easily identifiable as the ones who wear none of the kit save for maybe a scarf (or other easily retractable garment which is stowed away in their trunk along with those of other teams for similar occasions) and spend most of the game staring at their phones…and still think Michael Owen is the captain. Once you’ve identified who to ignore, the rest of the crowd is as jolly and pleasant as I’ve ever experienced.
The last of my thoughts before my memory gets slightly blurry is that of learning new chants and belting them with not a modicum of care for my voice in days to come. I ventured off to experiment and spent a couple of minutes with different groups of supporters, all of them welcoming me in to chant with them.
John 2:10 states, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now”. I’d always thought it was this way because when you’re too drunk you won’t taste the difference between good and bad wine but when I started drinking, no matter how much I drank, Zappa would always taste awful and Jack would always be divine. I learned last night though that it was not the ability to taste the good stuff but rather the ability to recall a way to describe it the next day.
The menu was notably particular of a pub menu and the excitement I felt when I saw the V8 burger was well warranted when I dug into the egg, bacon, and huge patties (yes two of them). It was however the beer towers that elicited the most joy. We were not aware of the Benn Koppen Lager so we went with the usual commercial beer.
After the unfortunate 3 – 1 loss, I discovered the Benn Koppen and, after my friends left, indulged in some sorrow, which was emotionally trying but the beer actually tasted good. I wish I could describe it to you but I can’t remember why it tasted good, only that it tasted good. Similarly, I can only describe why I was having such a great time up to about 40 minutes into the game. After that, I can only provide confirmation but the memory is too staggered to provide reasons.
Save to say that even if it is a mission, it’s a mission worth making to head to Ridgeways Racepub and join the Liverpool Supporters Club for a game. If your experience is anything resembling ours, and it’s likely to be, you’d probably be scheduling going there at least 38 times between July 2016 and May 2017.