NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Notre Dame Stadium had never seen football quite like this.
Sure, in the literal — American — sense, the storied venue had rarely seen anything but. When it came to the world’s game, however, Friday’s preseason friendly between Liverpool FC of the English Premier League and Borussia Dortmund of the German Bundesliga, it became nothing less than another crackling arena playing home to some of the world’s best.
When Liverpool, announced its American tour in April — scheduling stops at Notre Dame Stadium, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium — no one knew just how successful a season the Reds would be wrapping up. The club, in fact, lost just one match in the Premier League and finished one point behind the champions Manchester City. In June, Liverpool defeated Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League final to capture its sixth European Cup Championship and first since 2005.
That success only sweetened the prospect of bringing international soccer to Notre Dame. Difficult though it is to believe, Friday’s match — won 3-2 by Dortmund — represented the first of its kind in the venue’s 89 years. Not even a Fighting Irish soccer team had played a match inside the stadium before.
By all accounts — heat and humidity notwithstanding — Notre Dame delivered. The Reds boast one of the world’s best home-turf advantages in Anfield Stadium, but found the Irish home-base quite to their liking.
“Brilliant stadium,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said. “The whole facility is brilliant. I don’t know why you ask this question. Does this place need a commercial or what?”
Not exactly. Since the dedication of the Campus Crossroads project and installation of the video board, Notre Dame Stadium has proven itself a venue for all seasons. It ticked the final box Friday, wrapping up a year of firsts from October’s Garth Brooks concert to January’s NHL and NCAA hockey games to, now, European football.
Klopp and company spent the week on campus, training at Alumni Stadium and the practice fields on the east end of campus. In between, they played tourist — and liked what they saw.
“Notre Dame is — wow — very impressive. Between sessions we went around and saw all the different gyms, the different indoor facilities. It’s a dream. In Europe we always think we are pretty good at different things … but no club in the world has facilities like the University of Notre Dame. It’s just not possible. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen something like that." - Jurgen Klopp
“I would have loved to study here. Not sure what. But to be around all these world-class athletes and maybe be able to use all these (facilities) as well, that would have been great. It must be a fantastic place for young people to get their education, their school and university time and make yourself ready for the rest of your life. It really is a very, very impressive place.”
Indeed, Liverpool defender Nathaniel Phillips gave the Irish men’s soccer program a serious look before signing with the Reds’ Academy in 2016.
“It’s funny driving around and seeing the facilities, and I recognize the pitch from the pictures when I was emailing all the different coaches,” Phillips said. “It’s a nice little reminder of where I was and where I’ve got to.”
Even Liverpool’s women’s side took advantage of the week-long stay, playing an exhibition against the Cleveland Ambassadors of the NWSL Thursday evening, playing to a 2-2 draw on the Irish practice fields.
For Friday’s main event, Dortmund — fresh off a Wednesday exhibition win over the Seattle Sounders in Seattle — used the recency to its advantage, building a 3-1 lead early in the second half and never surrendering.
Liverpool, meanwhile, used the opportunity to give experience to its reserve of upcoming talent while missing stars like Mo Salah to international tournaments.
That didn’t stop the pro-Liverpool crowd from importing the traditions of Anfield, including the singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “Allez, Allez, Allez.” It was a familiar, yet wholly different, sight for a setting more used to hearing its occupants croon “Notre Dame, Our Mother” in unison.
Certainly, now that the final whistle has blown and the Reds head off to Boston on the next stop of their tour, the hallowed halls of Irish football will be hearing those sounds again soon enough.