One of the most important soccer fixtures of 2018 has been appropriately dubbed the “Boston Derby” despite taking place over 3,000 miles (and one continent) away from New England’s hub.
The UEFA Champions League semifinal between Liverpool FC and AS Roma is a matchup of storied European clubs, but their respective Boston owners have received much of the pregame attention.
It’s an unprecedented situation in European soccer, where two Boston ownership groups have found themselves locked in competition at such an important stage of the prestigious Champions League. And the Boston ties run deep. Even Cam Neely is involved.
Yet to measure the “Boston Derby” beyond the exclusivity of ownership, the soul of the matchup can be found in two of area’s best venues for watching soccer. At Caffe Dello Sport in Boston’s North End, and Cambridge’s Phoenix Landing, observers can get a genuine glimpse of soccer in America.
Mixing old and new, American and European (and other world influence too), the two scenes will be on prominent display for the two-game Champions League clash between Liverpool and Roma. And like the on-field matchup, it’s a contrast of styles.
On one side, Liverpool fans will congregate in their pub in Cambridge’s Central Square. Phoenix Landing has been the chosen spot for Liverpool fans in the area for over a decade. And from a handful of diehard fans who started it, the group now sports over 7,000 Facebook followers.
“The environment at Phoenix [Landing] is great,” said LFC Boston’s Marc Davis in a recent interview. “We have Irish guys, Scouse guys, American guys, people from different parts of the world, and a lot of people that are just very warm and inviting.”
Simply being a fan in attendance at the pub can be a rite of passage, considering the five-hour time difference. Early morning weekend kickoffs are a routine.
“There are matches where there’s a line out the door,” said Davis, who is LFC Boston’s digital manager. “People are there at 6:30 in the morning for an 8 a.m. kickoff, standing in line in the cold.”
“Champions League Tuesday, I mean if you’re not there an hour before the game, you’re not getting in,” Davis explained. “There’s a tremendous amount of support.”
As for Liverpool’s opponent, Davis is aware that they aren’t without local support.
“Boston has a huge Italian community. They’re going to be all out for Roma in places over in the North End. I think it’ll be great atmosphere for both legs.”
And Davis is correct, as Roma’s Boston fan club has been gathering steam recently.
“Just recently we took it another step and mentioned getting together,” said Peter Gianascol Olson, who is the founder of the AS Roma Fan Club Boston. Prior to the recent Champions League run, Olson explained it has primarily been a “virtual club for area fans” since it was started in 2015.
Since jumping in as a Roma fan, Olson said that his interest has grown exponentially.
“I am such a fan now of Roma I actually started to buy some of their stock.”
Despite its relative youth, the Roma fan club has begun to grow in leaps and bounds. It even recently received a shoutout from Serie A commentator Matteo Bonetti.
— A.S. ROMA FANS BOSTON (@ASROMA_FansClub) April 21, 2018
Both groups are excited for the “Boston Derby.”
“It is wonderful,” Olson said. “Boston is a great sport city, not only for our own teams but we are connected to great teams around the world as well.”
“I think it’s an amazing thing,” Davis said of the matchup. “Ironically enough, our star player, Mohamed Salah, we just bought from Roma. I think there’s a lot of twists in this.”
Salah, Liverpool’s recently named Professional Football Association Players’ Player of the Year, remains popular in Roma even after departing last summer in a transfer.
“I got to meet him and get a photo and autograph in Boston when he was here with Roma,” said Olson. “He is nice, and also a humble player who is well liked and respected by Roma.”
— Mohamed Salah (@mosalah) April 13, 2018
Neutral fans simply looking for entertainment will most likely have an excellent pair of games to look forward to. Both teams have produced a flair for the dramatic in 2018. And both have history in the forerunner of the Champions League (Liverpool beat Roma in the 1984 European Cup final on penalty kicks).
And whether they end up in a classic pub rooting for the English team, or a traditional cafe rooting for the Italian side, it’s evident that the growth of soccer culture in Boston continues.