A Few Words on Liverpool, Because There Have To Be
There will, of course always be an asterisk over this season, in a general sense. That was inevitable from the point that it became clear that these were not normal times, that everybody’s lives were going to have to change. Football was not bigger than that, and football was not more important than that. But none of this diminishes the scale of what the team has achieved this season. The urge towards “bantz” right now is understandable. Neither Manchester United or Everton, traditionally their two biggest rivals, are showing many signs of doing anything like matching this Liverpool team in the foreseeable future. But this season isn’t something that can just be waved away with a shrug.
From the point that the season became clear that it was not going to be voided – and that was never going to happen, certainly not in the Premier League – the one saving grace of football’s near-manic urgency to get restarted was that at least Liverpool would get to be crowned as the champions in as close to a conventional sense as possible. And, as things turned out, the manner in which it was all decided on Thursday night gave it more of a feeling of normality than it might have done had it finished with Liverpool winning and having to parade the trophy around an empty stadium.
And of course they poured out onto the streets. The wisdom in doing so is questionable, but the urge to do is surely understandable to the supporter of any club. The vast majority of photos available online were a mixture of silhouettes and red flares, so judging the numbers was difficult. It’s doubtful, though, that it was a greater number than the 54,000 who turned out at Anfield for their Champions League match against Atletico Madrid, a match which many felt should not have been played when it was, and no-one saw fit to call a halt to that.
With the lockdown now effectively over by government decree and pubs due to reopen this weekend, blaming Liverpool supporters for wanting to celebrate their first league title in three decades feels a little… redundant, to put it mildly. We lived in a world of mixed messages now, a world in which this and this can co-exist literally side by side on the same news website. We can only keep our fingers crossed that everybody out last night stays healthy now. Just as with the crowded beaches also seen this week, those concerned have made an informed decision and taken their choice. Let’s hope it doesn’t rebound unpleasantly on the rest of us, too.
And with Liverpool, of course, there has to be a degree of looking back. The one tiny price that the biggest clubs pay for all their success is the yearning when it’s not there, and this looks entitled to the supporters of clubs who haven’t experienced it. And the weight of history had come to sit heavily on the shoulders of Liverpool players. Chuckling at their near-misses had come to be a national pastime for the supporters of other clubs, some with a degree of empathy or sympathy, others less so.
Liverpool have won the Champions League (twice!), the World Club Championship, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Europa League since they last won the First Division. How much sympathy were they ever going to get while they strained for the Premier League title without ever getting particularly close to it? Yet thirty years without a league title for a club that has won it 18 times before is a long time. And although there has been a tendency to identify Liverpool with those European trophies, being the Champions of England has also long been threaded into the club’s identity. Even in the years before they swept Europe before them, Liverpool only won the FA Cup a couple of times, in 1965 and 1974. By comparison, by that time they’d already won the Football League championship 6 times, the first time in 1901.
So that thirty year wait became symbolic, and it speaks volumes for the mental toughness of the players that they got through what must have been the huge disappointment of performing the way they did only to still come up short. Winning the Champions League a couple of weeks after the end of the league season presumably softened the blow. Those cobwebs have been blown away now, though, and the next question is whether Liverpool will now go on to build a generation of success as they did from the middle of the 1970s on.
The individuals within this story will help to shape this. Juergen Klopp will stay for now, but no manager lasts forever. The players are at the peak of their powers now, both collectively and quite likely individually, but refreshing playing squads is an ongoing process, and the competition won’t be going anywhere at the top of the Premier League or in the latter stages of the Champions League, as Liverpool themselves found out in their very last match before the game shut down in March. The owners of the club struck gold in Klopp, but the first few years of FSG’s ownership weren’t been without their bumps in the road.
But this Liverpool team is in no way over the hill. The Champions of England, the Champions of Europe, and the Champions of the World, and it doesn’t even feel as though they’ve reached the end of the road just yet. And that, of course, will be one of the big question marks over the start of the next season. How on earth do you follow that? For the supporters of rivals, that’s probably the biggest concern, right now. Despite having won the Champions League last season and the Premier League this season it still feels a little as though, for Liverpool, this week’s events have been the turning of a chapter rather than the end of a story.