Of the more than 66,000 soccer fans in Charlotte on Saturday for the match between Liverpool FC and AC Milan, 12-year-old Beecher Lewis probably ranked among the happiest.
A passionate soccer player from Tallahassee, Fla., Beecher’s favorite team is the Liverpool Reds. Getting to see them play in person “seems like a dream come true,” he said Saturday.
Rene Lewis said her son’s journey to Bank of America Stadium began 15 months ago when he suffered torn cartilage in his right hip during a soccer tournament in Apopka, Fla.
During the long recovery, which included physical therapy and eventually surgery, Beecher couldn’t play his favorite game. Instead, he had to settle for watching soccer matches on television and reading books about the sport.
The book he picked for an accelerated reading assignment at school was Liverpool soccer player Steven Gerrard’s autobiography. Gerrard is a hero to millions, including Beecher.
Still, TV and books weren’t the same as actually being in the game. For Beecher, recovery was mentally and physically challenging, his mother said.
About six months ago, when Lewis learned about the Liverpool-Milan match in Charlotte, she and her husband told their son that if he stayed focused on recovery and did his exercises they’d take him to the big game.
“He was over the moon with elation,” Lewis said. “It was hard for him to keep his feet on the ground.”
On Friday, the family soaked in the pre-game excitement around uptown Charlotte. They shopped for Liverpool memorabilia at Bank of America Stadium.
And while standing in line for Liverpool team autographs at Whiskey River they met Stuart Brennan, secretary/treasurer of Liverpool Supporters Club Atlanta and told him about Beecher.
“It was a great story,” said Brennan, 40, who grew up in the town of Southport near Liverpool. “So touching.”
About 100 to 150 members of the Atlanta club came to Charlotte for the soccer event, and Brennan said the organization had been allocated tickets for Friday evening’s practice. There were a few extra tickets so Brennan gave them to the Lewises.
“There’s no better cause,” he said. “We want to do what we can to help new fans.”
Rene Lewis called the gift gracious and kind.
“My son had a front row seat watching his favorite team practice,” she said. “We were so excited we couldn’t eat.”
Looking back over the past 15 months, she said “it’s been a long road. Being here brings tears to my eyes. This will be a moment my son will remember for the rest of his life.”
Lewis can foresee her son playing soccer in high school and college.
“He tells us he’ll play for Liverpool someday,” she said. “With Steven Gerrard as general manager.”