John Irving came to M&T Bank Stadium from his home in New Jersey Saturday to see his favorite soccer team, Tottenham Hotspur, play in person for the first time. But Irving, whose allegiance is derived from the fact his father grew up near the team's base in North London, felt as if he could have been in Liverpool.
Red replaced purple as the favorite jersey color for the preseason friendly between the two English Premier League teams. Still, Irving and other Tottenham fans who came from all over the United States and Canada didn't seem to mind being in the minority.
"If it was Arsenal red, yes, but Liverpool red is a little better than Arsenal red," said Irving, who came to the game with his 16-year-old nephew, Xavier Irving-Smedley, who grew up a Liverpool fan in Chevy Chase because his father was raised in Liverpool.
Brock Smith and Sean O'Callaghan were among fans who came down from Canada for the game. Smith, a Tottenham fan from Ottawa, and O'Callaghan, a Liverpool fan from Toronto, didn't think things would be so cordial if they were going to see their favorite team play a more hated rival.
"It's not Liverpool-Everton, it's not Tottenham-Arsenal," Smith said. "These are two teams that especially in the last decade that are perennial top six finishers. You flag this match on TV to watch because it means a ton. Tottenham has got Liverpool's goat over the last couple of years but prior to that Liverpool usually came out on top. There is certainly a heated rival, but it's not as intense as others."
Yet when tickets went on sale, fans were asked if they wanted to sit in the Liverpool section or the Tottenham section. Elias Akouri, who said he bought tickets for him and his son "in the first 10 minutes," chose Liverpool.
Akouri became a Liverpool fan growing up in Lebanon because he was attracted to the bright red home jerseys as well as former stars Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish (who was fired last month as the team's manager).
But even he didn't expect to see such the breakdown of the fans being so overly one-sided until he arrived in Baltimore Friday after driving from his home outside Cleveland.
"We've taken over the city," Akouri said.
His 10-year-old son, Habib, was also decked out in a red Liverpool jersey.
"Like father, like son," Akouri said proudly.
The same couldn't be said for Jimmy Coffey and his 17-year-old son, Ciaran. Coffey grew up in Limerick, Ireland, a fan of Liverpool because one of the team's stars, Robby Keane, was Irish. His son started rooting for Tottenham because his two brothers rooted for perennial Premier League power Manchester United.
"This is not a rivalry," the older Coffey said. "They are not from the same city and they only play twice a year."
Coffey knew he would be among his fellow Liverpool fans on the train ride down from New York City Saturday morning.
"There were a lot of red shirts," he said. "I can't remember Liverpool ever playing in the U.S. before."
Irving, in the clear minority of Tottenham fans, didn't mind. Despite numerous trips to England to visit family, and spending more than a year there growing up before back to the U.S., Irving had never seen the Spurs in person before.
"This," he said, "is a once in a lifetime opportunity."