"So many people have said it was the best day of their life, even though we got beat. I'm getting goose bumps telling you this now."
What does Shevchenko Park mean to you?
Does it mean memories of a sun-drenched place where you sang and danced and bounced and hugged and smiled and laughed? A place you thought about yesterday, are thinking about now, and will think about tomorrow? A place that makes you ask people ‘were you there?’?
Does it mean recollections of videos and photos taken in a faraway place that evoked both happiness and envy? A place you felt a part of - no, you were a part of - albeit in spirit, not body? A place about which you wish you could say ‘I was there’?
Or does it mean none of the above?
The point is, that you’ve decided to read this article indicates that Shevchenko Park means something to you.
Well, for Tom Cassidy, it means goose bumps.
Cassidy is a Scouser and a Red.
He’s also Liverpool FC’s head of tourism and was the driving force behind an occasion in Kiev that was intended to be a Liverpool-centric prologue to a Champions League final.
Instead, Cassidy’s creation became its own entity: linked, certainly, to the match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at the nearby NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, but by no means defined by it or its outcome.
He is the mastermind of events in Shevchenko Park on the afternoon of Saturday May 26, 2018; events that were a glorious celebration of the culture of the city of Liverpool, not just one of its football clubs.
“Along with support from plenty of talented people, I think I made that happen,” Cassidy tells Liverpoolfc.com, with a broad smile.
“The plans started a week after the Roma semi-final second leg and it all came into place in about 10 days. I was thinking about it non-stop and it was a busy, hectic time.
“The idea was always there, but I think I was trying to find out what the opportunity was internally - and if the opportunity for something is there, I like to think I’ll grab it.
“In previous finals there had been some things organised and with this one, I had hypothetical conversations within the club and externally with the likes of BOSS Night, the Anfield Wrap and Redmen TV.
“The first step was selling it internally: what are the plans, what are the aspirations for it?
“Those initial plans and aspirations were nothing like we scaled it up to, though!”
Cassidy didn’t see Shevchenko Park, the humble venue where his long-held vision would become an unforgettable reality, with his own eyes until the day before the final.
“Basically, before we got there, there was just a plinth of wood in the park and, as I found out two or three days before, there was no sound-system included in the original quote!” he laughs.
“We arrived in Kiev on the Friday and I went down there to do a site visit straight away. We knew flights had been cancelled and I felt bad for those fans and was worrying that some of the people who were performing for us might not be able to get there, so I was thinking about contingencies.
“I met the guy who was our fixer over there. Even though by that time I’d cascaded it internally, I don’t think people expected what I knew was going to happen: that everyone was going to converge there.
“I didn’t think the sound-system was going to be big enough, I didn’t think the space was ideal, we needed to beef up the sound-system.
“It wasn’t a massive stage either. The secondary speakers turned up and they were alright. We had to make sure that the contingency was there so everybody was part of it and so everyone was going to be safe as well.
“We were there for maybe a couple of hours the night before and there were some nerves.”
“We had a soundcheck at 11am on the day of the game, but as soon as I was up I got straight down to the park,” Cassidy continues.
“I got there at about 10 and there were loads of fans there already. At that stage, the soundcheck guys were playing this Euro pop, dance and trance so we quickly turned that off and got Dan [Nicolson] from BOSS Night to play off his playlist.
“Peter Hooton and John Power did their soundchecks and even then the songs were breaking out, before 11am. Then Jamie [Webster] came and did his soundcheck and you could just see people starting to get up for it.
“I think that was the only video I took on the day and I was like: ‘OK yeah, this is going to be good.’
“But little did I know…!”
Those night-before nerves were dissipating quickly and the 43-year-old grins again as he casts his mind back.
“We were playing songs the people wanted to hear, the atmosphere was great, the sun was out, it was 26 or 27 degrees. I’m taking myself back there as I speak,” Cassidy remembers.
“The Anfield Wrap and Redmen TV were brilliant and the crowd was starting to swell. John and Peter were great and were really happy to play their bit and then leave it for Jamie to come on.
“We put him on 20 minutes early because everyone was getting very excited and I had to manage the whole stage area. I don’t want to overplay how big a challenge that was, but I had to make sure everyone was OK.
“Jamie smashed it and everyone was so engaged with it. Contrast that with if we hadn’t done it, people would have had a great day anyway around Kiev - a great host city - but having everyone in the one place made it really special.
“It was just perfect and as it turned out, nobody would change a thing about Shevchenko Park.”
Not every day is a Shevchenko Park kind of day, of course, and Cassidy uses the word ‘intense’ to sum up the regular aspects of his role.
“I devise a strategy for developing different products and then take them to different markets,” the Aigburth native explains.
“What we deliver now is maybe only 10, 20 per cent of my job, so a typical day is planning for what we might be doing in nine months’ or a year’s time.
“A good example is the stadium tour. We launched a new one last August which is very, very different and we’re very much the pioneers and the market leaders on this. Given our fanbase, we deliver it in eight different languages plus British sign language.
“It’s a very interactive experience [but in] Liverpool we’re always famous for our people, our personalities, so although we are using this technology, I think we’ve got the right blend between that personal touch - the Liverpool welcome and Scouse humour - and the bits we can’t do, so we use augmented reality throughout the tour.”
Despite the tour’s success - in excess of 210,000 people are expected to take it between June this year and May 2019, a hefty rise on the 185,000 that did so from June 2017 to May 2018 - standing still is not an option.
“It’s good - but we want to keep pushing on it,” Cassidy asserts.
“We’re looking at how we can embrace technology to really set it aside. We’re always looking upwards, we’ve always tried to innovate and be creative and I think I understand what the fan wants.
“We want the hairs on the back of people’s necks to be standing up.”
Being in tune with ‘what the fan wants’ is perhaps made easier by Cassidy’s own lifelong allegiance to LFC.
His professional association with the club began in 2003, but attending Liverpool matches is a ritual that has been ingrained since childhood.
“I used to go with a good mate of mine,” he recalls.
“We’d be one of the first in the stadium, getting in about two hours before the game. We’d blow all our money straight away at the top of the Kop, buying a sausage roll, an Eccles cake and a cup of tea!”
In January 2009, 25 years on from his first trip to Anfield at the age of eight, the chance to join the club he loves full-time as commercial tourism manager arose.
Cassidy’s appointment as head of tourism followed a little over eight years later and he considers his current position to come with a welcome responsibility to attract visitors to his home city, as well as the club.
“I sit on the City Region’s Local Visitor Economy Network and work a lot with the tourist board to make sure our strategies are aligned with theirs,” he notes.
“A lot of the time when I’m at events across the globe, I need to sell the city as much as I do what we offer. We go very much hand-in-hand with the City Region.”
With the 10th anniversary of his time as an LFC employee only a few months away, Cassidy feels energised by the vibrant mood that envelops the club right now.
“I’ve been here through interesting times, through exciting times, but this seems to be the best time that I can ever recall working for the club,” he says.
“I still feel challenged, I still feel excited about the direction the club is going in. It feels very special and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt or seen before.
“If anything, the atmosphere around the club and the relationship between the club and the fans seems to have become even stronger since the Champions League final, which is remarkable given that we didn’t win.
“I think a lot of recognition needs to go to the different fan groups and gatherings who have been doing their thing for many years. They need to continue what they are doing, we’ll do the same and I’m sure there are more times to come when we all unite again. I’m smiling as I think about the possibilities.
“Working alongside those talented people and Tony Barrett from LFC has enabled us to get to where we are now. I’m not saying it’s perfect yet, but it seems like we are in a good place.”
But how on earth will he go about equalling, or even surpassing, Shevchenko Park?
“Already, my mind is working about how we can do it next time.”
‘Behind the Badge’ is a regular feature on Liverpoolfc.com which aims to tell the individual stories of the numerous men and women who work tirelessly away from the spotlight in an attempt to make Liverpool FC successful.
We speak to various members of staff across the first-team, Academy and Ladies set-ups who dedicate their lives to the club each and every day, covering a variety of different roles that make a vital contribution in preparing the Reds for action.