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Liverpool Football Club officially recognizes the fan club in Tampa

The Liverpool Football Club has bred fans that stretch as far as Gambia to Azerbaijan (a country east of Turkey for those of you who aren't geography geeks).

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The club has been around for more than 120 years and has some of the most decorated soccer fans in the world.

People like Marc Taylor, 52-year-old cardiologist who lives on Harbour Island. He's been a Liverpool fan more than four decades. To him, it's about more than sitting at a pub and watching a 90-minute soccer match 4,000 miles away.

He's seen it all. Championships. Losing streaks. Tragedy. Each game has the potential to bring tears — both types. If all goes well, the fans will sing You'll Never Walk Alone, a 1960s Gerry and the Pacemakers ballad, in a drunken key.

In June, Taylor and his band of 100 plus soccer fanatics received a letter from the Liverpool Association of International Branches. The group had been granted official membership into a collection of more than 200 Liverpool fan or "supporter" clubs worldwide. Taylor, president and co-founder, had sought the membership. Now, LFC Tampa joins only three others in the country: Chicago, New York and an affiliate group for fans in various cities.

Tampa, however, is a most unlikely place for a Liverpool fan club. The team's most-hated rival and reigning English Premier League champion, Manchester United, is owned by the Glazer family, who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In baseball terms, Man U is the equivalent of the New York Yankees and Liverpool, the Chicago Cubs. Needless to say, Liverpool has been close but just outside for quite some time.

Fans are bracing for one of the biggest games of the season on Sept. 13 when Man U and Liverpool go head to head.

For the record, Man U has local fans, but not a recognized supporter group in Florida. A spokesman for the Buccaneers said the family is very closemouthed about its international investments and wouldn't comment for this story.

Man U doesn't scare Taylor and friends. Nearly every week, they pile into MacDinton's pub in SoHo to root for their favorite English soccer team.

They often show up early for 7 a.m. kickoffs. They stay long after the game has finished, arguing over which players should start games or who should be signed to the team.

"To me, there's no other sport than soccer. I have no desire to watch anything else," Taylor said. "When you watch something and it's infused in your bloodstream, it replaces everything else."

Club co-founder Declan Haskins, 34, said he has lived in Tampa most of his life and has always been a big Bucs fan. But his love for the hometown team now has to compete with his devotion to Liverpool soccer.

"The fans there, it's part of their culture. It's part of who you are," he said. "The passion is greater than in any other sport I've ever watched."

As a supporter group, LFC Tampa has the right to use the club's logos. But most of all, Haskins said, it's about getting fans together to bring the atmosphere of Liverpool's Anfield Stadium to Tampa.

"Anybody we meet there that's a Liverpool supporter, you just become friends with immediately," he said.

On a recent Sunday morning, the group watched a close match against Aston Villa, another talented English competitor. At the game's 26th minute, Liverpool's star, Fernando Torres, went down with an apparent leg injury. Inside the pub, fans watched with worried eyes and shaky knees.

Among them, Aaron Colvin, 29, who drove from St. Petersburg. Colvin, who wore Torres' red jersey, said he grew up playing soccer and is usually at church on a Sunday morning. But he couldn't resist watching his favorite team of 10 years play.

He started frequenting Mac­Dinton's for games last year and knew a few supporters at the pub. After the game, Taylor, Haskins and a few others argued over whether the season's largest acquisition, Robbie Keane, was really worth the paid price.

Colvin chimed in.

"Who is this guy?" Taylor responded. "He knows his stuff."

The morning's match ended in a scoreless draw, but LFC Tampa had one reason to celebrate: The club had won over another potential member.

Eric Smithers can be reached at esmithers@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3339.

>>fast facts

LFC Tampa

In June, a group of more than 100 fans of the Liverpool Football Club were dubbed an official "supporter" group, one of four in the country. They meet at Mac­Dinton's in SoHo to watch most soccer matches. The group's Web site, www.lfctampa.com, has a link to join. Membership is free. In one of the biggest games of the season, Liverpool will square off against rival Manchester United on Sept. 13.

Liverpool Football Club officially recognizes the fan club in Tampa 09/04/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 5:44pm]
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