A Scouser Abroad

I’ve begun answering to the name Mo Salah.

Which is surprising, given that I look nothing like the man (a pity) and wouldn’t last two minutes in the Premier League (an even greater pity).

But I do spend a lot of time in North Africa. And I am from Liverpool, which, it transpires, is enough to be associated with the man known as the Pride of the Arabs. So, when someone yells ‘Salah’ at me from the back of a pick-up truck on a dusty Moroccan road, I’ve learnt that they’re generally just saying hi.

Forget English; football’s the real global language.

Or at least that’s how it feels when I run into Aziz, just about managing to ask how he is doing in the impenetrable Moroccan dialect of Arabic. ‘Labess alhamdulillah,’ comes the invariable reply.

What’s he up to today? He gives French a shot: ‘Jouer foot’.

Fn? Lrahm?’ (‘Where? Sand?’) I demand, unexpectedly aggressively, completely blanking on the word for beach. No worries though – Aziz understands.

Viens? Coming?’

Obviously mate, see you there in five.

I’d been speaking Spanish for maybe six weeks, amassing phrases off the streets by osmosis, when I found myself in a hospital in Mexico City getting an STD test and chatting about the standings in the Liga MX with the doctor repeatedly stabbing me with a needle. He’d get it this time, he promised.

Now, let’s be totally honest, I know pretty much nothing about the Liga MX. When the good doctor told me he thought Liverpool had a real shot at the Champions League that year, a pact was made that I’d be supporting his team, Cruz Azul, in Mexico. They were going to do it this year, he said.

Absolutamente,’ I affirmed, utterly convinced by the solemnity of his gaze.

They came eighth.

Regardless, that afternoon I walked back out in the city with a clean bill of health and a new football team. I was maybe 19 when I first noticed that being from Liverpool was a bit of a thing outside the UK.

I was – as I so often am, it seems – in a weathered hospital, catching side-eyes as the only foreigner. This time I was in Malaysia. I’d smashed my chin open by fainting spectacularly, straight onto the tarmac of a main road in the city earlier that afternoon. I’m still embarrassed.

The trainee doctor studiously avoided eye contact, so I entertained myself by chatting away with his supervisor.

When Liverpool gets mentioned, an eyebrow raises, and there’s a quick glance up.

‘You know it?’

Favourite team, he muttered, the corner of his mouth flickering up as he quickly looked away, picking up the needle. He says nothing more, but back in the UK the nurse tells me that they were ‘the most beautiful stitches’ she’d ever seen. Can’t be a coincidence.

With the popularity of the Premier League across the world, no matter where I am, I know someone will know my city. And that they will often have opinions to share. Like the Argentinian I watched the 2022 Champions League final with.

The British are detestable, he asserted vehemently, the Falklands War clearly still cutting deep. But in this matchup between Liverpool and Real Madrid, supporting Liverpool would be the ethical choice – he was no monarchist, and Scousers hate Thatcher too, after all. Or this one lad, hitchhiking between Tiznit and Mirleft in southern Morocco. He jumped in the car, clad in a bootleg Barça shirt, and asked if we could be friends – I’d be his first foreign friend, where was I from?

Sure, I said, telling him, pretty used to this by now.

The remainder of the journey was spent impressing on me that, while Liverpool were great, it was only because of the African players. I’d never said otherwise, but kept my mouth shut, understanding it was clearly very important for me to understand this. He wasn’t wrong to be fair to him; this was the height of the Salah-Mané era.

Every so often, though, I’m just faced with pure excitement to have met someone that acts as the embodiment of the club abroad. St Patrick’s Day 2022 was spent in a dive bar in Austin, Texas, where I was cornered by a bloke who wanted to talk about Istanbul 2005 and who plied me with Guinness in a bid to show his understanding of the Scouse-not-English concept – I was Catholic, wasn’t I?

In Oostende, Belgium, a seaside town that feels like a cutesy Blackpool and used to get a lot of rowdy Brits in the 90s, I was sent into the bar to get two Orvals. A friend had carefully prepared me with the necessary Flemish sentences.

‘Where are you from?’ the barman demanded, narrowing his eyes and instantly switching to English.

The UK. Liverpool.

‘Ah, as I thought, the last of the hooligans,’ he nodded, reaching for the glasses.

You've reached the end. Boo!

Don't panic. You can get full digital access for as little as £1.66 per month.

Get Offer

Register for free to continue reading.

Or get full access for as little as £1.66 per month.

Register Free Subscribe

Already a member? Sign In.