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Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool

8 Aug 2019
8 Aug 2019

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Y

ou know that saying about waiting for a bus and then two come along at once? That may be true for a lot of people, but it wasn’t that way for me. 

I had to wait 14 years for the second bus. And when it finally did arrive, I got right on it. The really mad thing was that when I did, I was wearing a Champions League winners medal around my neck, parading club football’s greatest trophy around the streets of Liverpool — where I’d grown up.

The word surreal probably doesn’t do it justice. Neither does the word magical. I love reading, but I’m not sure I’ve ever come across words that come close to describing how I felt on the top of that bus. 

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen the Champions League trophy parade through my hometown. Back in 2005, I waited on the front step of our home for what seemed like an eternity for the bus to arrive, finally feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I heard someone shout, “It’s coming!” I got an unbelievable buzz when Steven Gerrard and the rest of the players went past with that trophy — the one that defines our club. 

I was only six years old at the time, but I was already old enough to know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a Liverpool player and I wanted to be on one of those buses. There wasn’t anything unique about that, of course. Most of the kids in my school wanted the same thing.

Most of the kids in the city wanted the same thing, too.

In my case, it felt like a bit like an illness — but a good kind of illness. I don’t know what it’s called at that stage, but I had something in my veins. I was just … obsessed. 

I’ve always been serious about my ambitions and motivation was never far away. I grew up with my mum and dad and my two brothers, Tyler and Marcel, in a three-bedroom house right by Melwood, the club’s training complex. Back then, my brothers and I could get on each other’s nerves a bit, but we always had one thing in common: Liverpool Football Club.

And my brothers and I were right there, so close to our heroes on a daily basis — standing on bins or peeping through the fencing to try to get a glimpse of them training before pretending to be them in our own kickabouts.

Courtesy of Trent Alexander-Arnold

To be honest, we didn’t have any other hobbies. That’s probably bad to say, but it’s true. We were obsessed 24/7. My mum had this rule that we could go play wherever we wanted, as long as she could still see us — literally, with her own eyes. So the options were the front garden or the park across the way. But sometimes she’d lose sight of us because we’d be tearing around the back of the house with a ball made out of tinfoil or rolled-up socks.

We used to drive her mad. You can picture it: She’s trying to make dinner, and then three lads in Liverpool kits come running around the corner, sliding into the kitchen for a 50-50.

It was always football, football, football.

Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool.

When I was a kid, I remember riding through town and seeing Anfield out of the window of the car.

Just staring up at that iconic building so many times, thinking, What’s it like inside?

It was a bit mysterious, you know?

Then in April 2005, my mum got me and my older brother, Tyler, tickets to a Champions League quarterfinal match. First leg. Juventus. Buffon, Cannavaro, Nedvěd, Ibra — that whole lot. Pretty incredible side.

European nights at Anfield are just different. To really be there in the Main Stand, it’s unreal. You just try to take it all in. You just hope you remember everything in the morning. The floodlights beaming down onto the pitch. The energy coming from the Kop. But the moment that I’ll always have stuck in my head was when all the ball boys walked out to the center circle. There were like 20 of them, and they were waving that massive red flag. And then the Champions League anthem started playing. Usually me and Tyler used to never stop talking when it came on TV. But we were dead silent this time. Then the KOP started to sing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” And the power of that … literally, I just fell in love with it. All of it. I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

Couldn’t sleep that night.

A few months later, the Reds were champions of Europe again. I watched the final with my family. Even being six years old, I knew what that night in Istanbul meant. Just walking around the city a few days later, you could look at people’s faces and see how a run like that lifted up the community. We knew the parade was coming up, and of course my brothers and I wanted to be a part of it. The funny thing was that we didn’t even have to break our mum’s rule to see it. The Liverpool bus came right down our street.

We stood on the front porch with our Liverpool kits on, watching our heroes ride by with the European Cup dangling off the side of the bus. I nearly could have touched it.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo

You couldn’t experience a day like that and not want to be a footballer. It’s the same for my brothers. And that’s something that is really important to my story that people don’t always talk about. We all had the same dream. At the time, I was already a part of the Liverpool youth setup. For every six- or seven-year-old out on the pitch, trying to chase a dream they don’t even know a whole lot about — there’s a big support group behind them. It was no different for me.

It’s funny, my brothers and I were so competitive that whenever it would rain — which was all the time — we would be stuck inside doing nonsense, trying to play games. So one day my mum had probably had enough of it, and she had my dad teach us how to play chess. And it was brilliant, actually, because chess requires the same competitiveness and strategy as football. But the feeling you get when you know you’re about to finish off your brother, and there’s absolutely nothing he can do to get out of it? Ahhh, it’s incredible. The look on his face. 

The most important thing, though, was that it was another thing we could do together. My brothers weren’t just my brothers, they were my best friends.

As I got a bit older, and I moved up through the Liverpool academy, Tyler and Marcel willingly sacrificed their own dreams for mine. I think maybe we all realized at a young age that being a professional footballer was more realistic for me. And my parents did, too. That’s a hard thing for a young lad to understand. There were weekends when Mum couldn’t take my brothers to their matches because I had to be at the academy at a certain time — and it was always them who made the sacrifice. To this day I’m so incredibly grateful to both of them.

Every step I took, we took.

Every cap I got, we got.

Every experience I had, we had.

That’s how it works where I come from.

Every step I took, we took. Every cap I got, we got. Every experience I had, we had.

One of those incredible experiences happened when I was 16. Steven Gerrard was getting his coaching badges at the time, so he came down to our age group to help out with some training sessions. I don’t need to tell you how much Stevie meant to the lads in our side — especially the local ones like me. I can’t even count how many times my brothers and I pretended to be him when we were out at the park. One of us would be Neil Mellor … one would be Gerrard … the other was the commentator.

“Lovely cushioned header … FOR GERRRRRRAAAARD!”

Arms out. Run to the edge of the field. Knee slide.

All that.

To have him on the training pitch with us, it was really a dream come true. I didn’t speak to him a whole lot because, honestly, we were all pretty nervous just having him watch us. But he loved to stay after a session was over and ping long-range passes across the pitch. I liked a good switch of play, so watching him up close, just seeing his technique … I tried to memorize everything. 

One of the things I noticed about him, too, was how he carried himself. I don’t think there were any big differences between me and any of the other lads I played with in the academy just because I was from Liverpool — but there was a small one. You could hear it whenever Stevie spoke about the supporters, or about Anfield, or about the club in general — you could just tell he cared in a different way. It was about family. It was about being together. That stuck with me.

Alessandra Tarantino/AP Photo

A few years later, I started breaking into the first team. I didn’t have too many matches under my belt. I did get noticed from time to time when I would go out around town, but not as often as you might think. And then one afternoon, on an off day, I was out near the city centre when I saw a kid in a Liverpool kit. He was around 10 years old. He was a bit far away. I didn’t think much of it.

Then he turned away from us, and I saw it.

Number 66.

ALEXANDER-ARNOLD across the back.

He was wearing my kit.

Right. Like at this point I had played at Anfield. I had been a Liverpool player for 12 years. I’d met Gerrard. I’d done a lot of things that I’d wanted to do.

But seeing that lad in my kit … I’m not sure how to explain what it meant to me.

I know that people like to say, “I was that kid.”

But I was that kid.

I know that people like to say, “I was that kid.” But I was that kid.

I still am that kid.

When I got home, I remember telling my mum and dad what happened. The perks of still living at home! Don’t have to call Mum and Dad when something cool happens. Can just tell them before bed!

Even now, when I see a young lad wearing 66, it still means everything to me. Everybody that owns my kit, everybody that owns any Liverpool kit — I owe them something. I owe them my best. Because I’m one of them. We’re family.

That’s what our manager is all about. Lots of people see Jürgen Klopp and think they know what he’s about, or think they know him. But they don’t see everything. The pace that we play with, the relentlessness, it’s a product of the work ethic that he and his coaching staff bring to training every day. Every single day. He’s been here for a while now, and we just don’t know any other way. The thing that separates him from other managers is pretty simple, I think: He makes sure that we play for the supporters. I know that might sound cliché, but it’s really not. Our style, our identity, they’re what Anfield wants — they’re what I loved to watch as a boy.

That’s how you create real unity.

So when you go down three-nil to Barcelona at the Nou Camp, you aren’t too fussed about it. (I’m kidding, it was very stressful). But what I’m trying to say is, of course we still believed that night. Of course. Anfield is a fortress because of the unity between Liverpool and its supporters. For me, when Gini came on and scored them two goals, I knew we were going to win. You could feel it in the air. It was just a matter of when.

People ask me all the time about that corner I took for Divock. They want some kind of crazy story, I guess. But the truth is that that corner was a product of our mentality, not some training-ground stuff. We bring it at training every day, every minute. Don’t know any other way. The only real secret about the goal we scored off that corner was that Div was the perfect person to be on the end of that ball, because he’s probably the single most laid-back person in football. He’s just chill. He’s not phased, ever.

Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images

When the final whistle went, and we walked over to the Kop end, that was the single best moment I’d ever had on a football pitch.

They were singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and I remember thinking, I’m really out here, on the grass, experiencing this.

It was full circle for me. That same song had changed my life when I was six.

After the match, it was a quick ride back to my parents’ house. I said goodnight to Mum and Dad and went to my room. Kind of surreal.

Finally fell asleep at about four in the morning, I think.

Obviously, as incredible as that night was, that wasn’t our final goal. We had experienced the heartbreak of losing the final in Kiev the year before, and we learned a lot. We’d been taught a hard lesson about how to win a final. Madrid knew exactly what they were doing. There was no luck involved. Especially after they scored the third goal — we just couldn’t get the ball off them. It was clinical. It was frustrating. It was heartbreaking. But I think it was also a bit of a blessing in disguise. Throughout last season, we did to teams what Madrid had done to us. We closed out matches, won the one-nils and two-nils. We learned from them.

So for the final against Spurs in June, we just felt more confident. And for me specifically, I just knew what to expect — how I was going to feel come the match.

The thing you can never prepare for, though, is those six hours in the hotel right before the biggest match of your life. Killing that time is impossible. I think I scrolled through Netflix for six straight hours.

That first part of that day … when I try to picture it, it’s all one big image of nerves, noise and football.

And then Divock scores the second goal. That’s the moment when everything comes back to me. I remember running to the corner flag, just seeing those faces in our end. It meant so much to them.

Rome. London. Paris. Rome again. Istanbul.

And now Madrid.

These are the places we will remember for the rest of our lives. 

When my family got on the pitch to celebrate … that was what it’s all about, for me. There were hardly any words. What words could do it justice? There were a lot of hugs, a few tears. But when we held the European Cup together, I know exactly what I was thinking.

We won this.

From a park across the street, to a European Cup — we did this.

Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Less than 24 hours later, I was on an open-top bus, riding through the streets of Liverpool.

I hate to say it, but we didn’t travel the same route as the 2005 side had. We didn’t go down my street. Can you believe that? I need to have a word with someone….

But in the end, it was close enough. When we got near my neighborhood, all I could think about was me and my brothers standing on our porch in 2005. In June, I could look out and see, literally, hundreds of little Trent Alexander-Arnolds. 

Thousands of them, really, boys and girls.

There’s really only two things that I’d love to tell each and every one of those kids, if they happen to be reading.

One.

Chase your dreams with all you have. Give it everything you’ve got and they really can come true. 

Don’t let anybody tell you different.

Two.

Never forget who you are, where you’re from, and the people who helped you achieve your goals.

Without them, none of this would be possible.