LAST week the media fell back in love with Chelsea, lauding the Stamford Bridge side for their landmark dethroning of Barcelona.
It’s hard to see what all the fuss was about, really – after all, it was only a repeat of their efforts in 2009, when a 1-0 win at the Bridge saw them through to the final.
That Chelsea side was a decent one, but was as nothing compared to the Liverpool team which clung on to a 1-0 home defeat to Arsenal, clinching the club’s 18th title in dramatic style in 1989. That they followed it up with number 19 the following year was the icing on the cake.
Both of course will be more fondly remembered than the Manchester United vintage of 1999, a team of real promise which choked on the big stage, going down 1-0 to a tactically superior Bayern Munich side.
Welcome to the world of the early leaver, a strange parallel universe where football matches last for somewhere between 78 and 86 minutes; where telling interventions from Andres Iniesta, Michael Thomas, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Solskjaer simply never happened.
It’s always been an issue at Anfield, but as this season has ground on it’s become something of an epidemic. At every home fixture, not excluding the cup wins over United and Man City, a steady procession of supporters troops out of the ground.
Against West Brom it began earlier than ever, many people deciding that with fully 12 minutes to go there was simply no prospect of anything noteworthy taking place (they were right on this occasion, but still.)
I’m generally at a loss over this. The most common explanation is that people are trying to ‘beat the traffic’, but why? What essential appointment are they going to miss? Has the government convened a special meeting of COBRA they simply have to attend? Are they going to the dentist at 5pm on a Saturday?
More likely, they’re getting to B and Q before it closes, picking up the kids from swimming, making it back in time for the X-Factor. Football’s meant to be a distraction from this, 90 (yes 90, plus added time) minutes of release from the crushing realisation that your life is essentially futile.
Most traffic-beaters at least have the humility to look a bit furtive about it all, as if they might just have been holding in a desperate need for the toilet and can’t go on any longer.
There’s a more insidious, and vocal, group of early leavers. You can often spot these early on in the match, as they’ll spend much of the time trying to get one of their classic one-liners (eg ‘SHOOT!’ when Skrtel’s in possession on the edge of his own box) recognised by fellow chuckling morons.
Not for this group the surreptitious shuffle along the line of seats. They leave with a point-making flourish, a dismissive shake of the head and a pronouncement along the lines of ‘I’m not staying for this shite’. The self-importance is breathtaking.
If you’ve ever done this, you should know your gesture is as rewarding and productive for both you and Liverpool Football Club as carving the words FUCK OFF KENNY into your inner thigh and using the blood to scrawl BRING BACK RAFA on your chest. Stop it.
I guess if you want to pay close to £50 for a ticket to an event you don’t plan on watching all of, you might think that’s your business.
Except the early leavers make the experience for other fans in many parts of the ground unbearable.
Sit in the Annie Road and you’ll spend the last 10 minutes trying to peer round them, standing to let them out and generally being inconvenienced by their decision to give up on the whole enterprise.
The worst of all are those who insist on pausing every now and again to cast a baleful glance in the direction of the game they’ve decided is no longer worthy of their precious attention. Some of these take about four minutes to actually get from their seat to the exits.
If you go and watch the tennis at Wimbledon you can wait till after 5pm and pick up a returned ground pass for a knockdown price, the original bearer having overdosed on strawberries, Veuve Clicquot and free copies of the Daily Mail.
Maybe this is where we’re heading – perhaps we should halt the game on 75, let everyone with a more pressing engagement than supporting Liverpool FC head off and bring in a few thousand replacements who’d never normally afford a ticket to offer some genuine support.
Absurd? Yep, but no more so than mouthing along to something about walking through a storm at 3pm and walking back to the car park at half four.
Follow Steve on Twitter @steve_graves