Private jets, official club buses – even bear hugs from Jurgen Klopp. It was a dream pre-season for Liverpool Women.
Last year, the women’s team toured separately to Germany. This summer, for the first time, the squad were invited to join the men’s team on their tour of the United States.
The women travelled alongside the European men’s champions, trained at the same facilities and stayed in the same hotels. They played in different stadiums but enjoyed “outstanding facilities” at Harvard University and Notre Dame University.
On the field, they came home with a 2-2 draw and a 6-0 win – experiences which manager Vicky Jepson hopes will help them improve on last season’s eighth-place finish in the Women’s Super League. Off the field, she hopes it is a sign of a new standing for the women’s game.
‘They had to pinch themselves’
During their stay in Boston, the women travelled on the official Big Red team bus, something Jepson says was one of those “little things which made the trip special”.
They flew out on a private jet from Manchester – many of the women posting images on Instagram – while Jepson said her players were chatting with the men’s squad on the flight to the States.
“It wasn’t just for the cameras, we did a lot of interacting with them at different events,” she told BBC Sport.
“When we got off the plane, the fans were already there on the tarmac. You had to get escorted out by the police. People were queuing up for pictures and the second the players got off the bus, they were being mobbed.
“It was probably the first time we have ever travelled with security. The reception was everything the girls deserve for all the sacrifices they make.”
Jepson said her players had to “pinch themselves at times” as they chatted with Klopp’s team and revelled in the huge support across the States.
“When we got back on the plane to fly home, some of the guys came over and asked the girls how the tour had gone and how training was going,” said Jepson. “That interaction was really positive.
“It was a bit surreal but we remained professional. Hopefully the club saw that and loads of things will come off the back of it.”
The highlight, Jepson says, was when the women’s team came on to the pitch at half-time in the men’s game against Borussia Dortmund in Indiana.
“The whole crowd were chanting ‘Liverpool Women!'” said Jepson. “That was a different experience for our players, and myself, to hear a whole stadium chanting the name of a women’s team.
“It was a bit overwhelming but it was something we embraced. The club saw that women’s football is actually growing quickly and it has the support – especially in the US off the back of the success of their national team [who won a record fourth World Cup in July].”
‘Klopp is obsessed with football’
While the players were rubbing shoulders, Jepson was learning from one of the world’s best managers – and was encouraged by his support of the women’s team.
“I sat on a panel with Jurgen and chatted with him loads in bars! He was really supportive,” said Jepson. “He doesn’t change behind the scenes. He is really keen on being the players’ friend but not their best friend.
“I remember walking into a bar in New York and he picked me up and gave me a big bear hug, asked how things were going and talked me through it.”
Jepson says Klopp is big on the idea of Liverpool being “one club” and takes time out of his schedule to speak to colleagues and work on community projects.
“He is obsessed with football, wants to get the best from his players and he really does care about the club,” she said.
“Obviously his priorities are with the men’s side but he was really welcoming. He is a really good role model and a good ambassador to lead us to success.”
‘It was a breath of fresh air’
Jepson says there was a different level of “respect” for the female players in the US – something she thinks her players deserve at home.
“The facilities we played in were outstanding. They really looked after us,” she said.
“It was a breath of fresh air to get that support. In England we get pushed to one side. We are not a priority. In the US, they were in awe of what we were doing but I guess that’s just their opinion of women’s soccer.
“Hopefully off the back of the World Cup [the situation at home] will change.”
Jepson says there were “so many fantastic outcomes” from the joint tour that the club are already considering doing the same next season.
“This time last year we didn’t have the best reputation as a women’s set-up,” she said.
“There was a period where the game probably outgrew our club. Now we are being taken seriously [within the club] from the men’s side.
“We have managed to put ourselves in a very good position.”
Liverpool Women take on Reading on Sunday, 8 September in their opening game of the Women’s Super League season at Tranmere’s Prenton Park.