The Premier League is back in full effect and SoccerNation is bringing it home.
The buzz of the world’s most popular league is certainly palpable in and around America’s Finest City, San Diego, California. Powered by soccerloco, SoccerNation is spotlighting the supporters groups that fill local pubs to capacity, sing with unbridled passion, and create matchday atmospheres that should be the envy of most of any fan.
Next up is a trip to Princess Pub & Grill, an establishment that opened its doors in the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego all the way back in 1984. Since 2014, “the Princess” (as the pub is affectionately known) has been home to LFC San Diego, the always welcoming red men and women who dance proudly to the unwavering beat of Liverpool Football Club.
It is quite fitting for the Princess to be home to a solid core of Liverpool supporters, seeing as how the pub is owned and operated by true Scousers. Owner Gerry Kenny and General Manager Dave Evans were both born and raised on Merseyside, Kenny on the southeast border of the city of Liverpool in Halewood, Evans just across the River Mersey in Bromborough.
Kenny is a massive Liverpool supporter, and the decor around the nostalgic inside setting lets you know full and well where the owner’s allegiance lies. Homages to the great history of LFC line the hallways and hang from the rafters, from banners and plaques to framed pictures of famous European triumphs.
Evans on the other hand “doesn’t actually much care for football”. However it’s Evans, a kindhearted man with an affinity for Formula One and ample pride in his northern roots, who is often tasked with opening the pub doors for the large and boisterous contingent of Reds fans in San Diego, even for the 4:30 AM kickoffs on nights when he’s closed the place down, working until well past 2. When asked why he continues to do it weekend after weekend, with a sleep schedule as predictable as Jurgen Klopp’s temper, Evans replied with a dry wit that was so quintessentially Scouse.
“Because there’s no one else stupid enough to do it,” he said with a wry grin.
I like to think I have kept my footballing loyalties relatively under wraps while producing these latest Supporter Special pieces. I had no reason to do so on Sunday. Donning a black Reebok Liverpool top I’ve owned since childhood, I milled about the packed, capacity crowd of 130 Reds inside the pub.
Unconvinced by my passionate backstory of falling in love with Liverpool as a 5 year-old, having my heart stabbed by an Eric Cantona volley and a Manchester United victory at Wembley in 1996, and spending significant time on Merseyside as a young lad, Evans let the Liverpudlian cynicism flow.
“You know what you’re doing,” he emphatically stated, his voice accented by a distinct Scouse twang. “I bet you’ve got a different kit for every bloody bar and supporters group you visit.”
Someday I’ll earn his trust. He’ll come around. Maybe.
— Nate Abaurrea (@NateAbaurrea) August 27, 2017
I would have been hard pressed to have handpicked a better day to visit the Princess. Liverpool were due to host Arsenal at Anfield in the third fixture of the league season, certainly an intriguing match-up, but the eventual result and the morning fiesta that ensued were surely beyond the wildest dreams of even the most optimistic supporter.
Liverpool defeated Arsenal 4-0, a dominant performance that saw the Gunners of North London tally a grand total of zero shots on target, while the Reds played a brand of champagne football that was truly a marvel to behold.
Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah, and Daniel Sturridge all got on the score-sheet for Klopp’s side, while Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech spared his team extreme embarrassment with a handful of fine saves on the English afternoon.
The California A.M. party was in full swing, as the sound of Liverpool songs echoed around the Princess amid the classic scents of Sunday breakfast and a steady flow of beer, coffee, mimosas, Bloody Marys, and even a few celebratory shots of Irish whiskey for those so inclined.
Alongside me throughout the ninety minutes were Steven McGlynn and Justin Isaac, two of the founders of LFC San Diego. They told me how a chance meeting almost four years ago led to the forming of what is now an officially recognized Liverpool FC supporters group.
“I was out on my birthday in 2013 when I met this wank’ here,” Isaac said with a laugh. “We started talking with a few friends over a few pints and realized we were both huge Liverpool fans. He bought into the group idea and it just spread from there. We started with a half dozen dudes. Now there’s hundreds of different people, Liverpool fans from so many walks of life who watch games with us here at the Princess. I’m a co-founder, but all the credit for the growth of this thing goes to Steve.”
“I’d just moved to San Diego from Texas when I met Justin,” said McGlynn. “I lived in San Antonio, and I used to drive about an hour north to watch matches with LFC Austin. I had such a good time with that group, and I knew we could build something of our own here in San Diego.”
The tweed cap on his head and certain selections on his arm of tattoos might lead one to believe that McGlynn has some Irish roots. That lineage is a critical part of his love for the Reds.
“Four of my dearest friends across the pond hail from four different cities: Cork, Dublin, Belfast, and Liverpool,” said McGlynn. “They are all die-hard Reds. They introduced me to the club many years ago, and I dug in deep from there.
“For me, one of the most fascinating and beautiful things about Liverpool as a club and as a city is the relationship with Ireland and Irish soccer fans. Liverpool is a place with such a deep Irish history and strong connection to the Irish people. It’s more than just the geography. It’s a special bond.”
Isaac spoke of one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a part of the group, a sentiment seemingly shared by just about every supporters group in these United States.
“We have Liverpool fans from all around the world who have watched with us here at the Princess,” Isaac said. “Anytime someone who supports Liverpool is in San Diego on a matchday, they can just go online and find out where we’re at. That’s still incredible to me, and it makes me so happy anytime there’s out-of-towners or people who just moved to the area that join us.”
“I don’t want to watch matches alone,” McGlynn said. “That’s why I used to drive to Austin, and that’s why I’m here. And that’s why I want to meet, shake hands, and hug every last person who ever comes here to watch. The point of all this is to come together, sing, drink, laugh and party with good people. It’s all about a love for Liverpool and a love for the beautiful game. I’m just grateful my wife understands the importance of it all. She’s the real hero.”
The real heroes at the Princess are of course the bartenders, cooks, and wait staff, those who work tirelessly to serve the rowdy, early morning clientele, no matter the score of the match.
“I love feeling the loyalty,” said Liz Hagen, a longtime waitress at the Princess. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen with most other sports fans. Win, lose, or draw, they’re always here, and they’re always loud.”
I asked Hagen, who was wearing a gray LFC t-shirt and would laugh when McGlynn and a handful of others inside the pub would lovingly chant her name, if she ever gets overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and the dozens of voices yelling for another round.
“Just wait until the World Cup next Summer,” she said with a confident expression. “This is a piece of cake.”
Kevin Olivetti is a bartender at the Princess, and a longtime Liverpool supporter. He spoke of the unique connection between the pub and its red clad patrons.
“There are a lot of cool places to watch soccer here in San Diego,” said Olivetti, “but the Princess is one of the originals. There’s so much history here, and we take great pride in it. For Liverpool fans in San Diego, it’s awesome to know that this place is owned by Scousers. Anyone is welcome here, and I feel like we’ve hosted fans of every team in every major sport over the years. But there’s just something extra special here for soccer fans and most definitely for Liverpool supporters. The Princess is a Liverpool pub.”
The champagne football on display against the Gooners on Sunday called for some actual bubbles and OJ before I departed. As I quaffed a mimosa so graciously purchased for me by one Steven McGlynn, I posed the question that all Liverpool fans on Merseyside and around the world wish they could answer; when will the Reds win the league, thus ending the club’s domestic title drought that dates back to 1990?
“It’s our year,” McGlynn declared. “I can feel it. 2017/18 is the season. This is when the dreams come true.”
Whether McGlynn is channeling his inner Nostradamus or simply dangling his heart over the cruel, cold, competitive blender that is the Premier League, you can count on one thing, and that’s finding San Diego’s most ardent Liverpool supporters at the Princess, singing, drinking, loving, and never walking alone.
If interested in joining up with LFC San Diego, check out their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/lfcsandiego/, follow them on Twitter and Instagram @TheLFCSD, or swing by Princess Pub & Grille at 1665 India St. and enjoy a match with San Diego’s official Liverpool FC Supporters’ Group.
(Stay tuned to SoccerNation.com and follow on Twitter @Soccer_Nation for more good times with the Premier League Supporters’ Groups of America’s Finest City.)