THERE are going to be numerous season reviews following the mighty Reds missing out on the Charity Shield qualifier yesterday but they’ll mostly focus on the individual games, goals and tactics. I’m going to try something a little different as, for me, this season has been more about surprise and emotion than stats and tables.
Most people I spoke to yesterday were experiencing the possibility of a League Championship for the first time. Obviously there’s 2009 and 2002 at a push but nothing as close as a last day decider. We’re used to grey endings. Look at last season. A one nil home win to a relegated side, a speech and walk around the pitch with the feeling that we were merely filling an itinerary than a turbo charged swell of emotion. Back then we just wanted a break from the game for a bit, maybe even a break from senseless and unfounded transfer speculation. We got it too. I hope you enjoyed your hour off.
But it’s been different this season. There’s been nothing uniform about it at all. From Mignolet’s penalty save at Stoke to whatever Glen Johnson was doing yesterday it’s been a surge of emotion, risk and joy. Football has been incredible again. It’s become theatre rather than marking time for a couple of hours. Usually you’ll take a Derby or United win to post as season highlights but this year’s it’s been packed with quality. Last night the Anfield Wrap voted for Spurs away as the game of the season from a short list of five but it missed out so many encounters that would storm other season’s awards. Stoke away, Cardiff away, City away even. It’s been far from beige.
People of my age have been lucky enough to witness the lot. The all-conquering sides of the 70s and 80s, the improbable wins and the stomach churning lows. If Istanbul had one sour point it would be that football could no longer surprise us. It ended drama. Coming from three down to beat the best team in the world is something that fiction cannot mimic without it being too far fetched or cloyingly sentimental but sometimes life isn’t like that. The difference between the real world and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. 2013-14 bore no adherence to the sense at all. Fiction doesn’t talk of dropping only five points since February and still managing to miss out on the League. If this were fiction the last five minutes at the Etihad would slow down and be replaced by Andy Carroll jumping impossibly high with taut neck muscles just as a slow piano tinkles before merging into a violin concerto. Life is far more prosaic. A bog standard home win for City and a bog standard Newcastle going to pieces away from home. No late drama. Ah, well.
There were some tears yesterday but not from me. Many think of this as our last chance, as Steven Gerrard’s last chance but I keep thinking back to our beating United in the last game of 1992 to deny them the League. They were close to beating their double decade long hoodoo and we took it away from them. I can still hear Ray Houghton’s high-pitched squeal as the winner went in. So what did United do? They took that pain, that loss and made damned sure they put it right the next season. There’s a lot to be said for that. They took that experience and added the extra percentages where needed and I don’t think that Brendan is a man who will stop working on the team. This season should make next season easier. Should. It’s in their bones now. They were two City goals away from winning the most incredible and unlikely league since Forest in 1978. That’s ample experience, even if it’s born of tears.
I love this line from the film, Shadowlands.
“Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers any more. Only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”
I can’t agree more and that’s what’s been missing from Liverpool FC in recent years. A loss this year, maybe, but left at least. From civil war to this in just a small number of years.
The panto made it better. Yesterday United fans flew a plane over the ground with a trailing banner bearing the legend ‘Man United 20 Gerrard 0’. The people around me shouted at it and tutted in admonishment. Not me. I hugged myself. It was fantastic. Twenty points and five places behind us and you’re doing all you can to be remembered. It’s the same as Mourinho’s remarks about Suarez. Both are utterly irrelevant to the state of our nation. We’ve gone past that now. If you can slide down the tubes in a panic and your only answer is to pay through the nose for a four second joke then I love you deeply. Thanks for caring. No, really. If we did something similar to that last year I would lead a torch-carrying mob to their door. Do it when you’re ahead, not when you’re facing a year in the wilderness, lads. Let’s look at context. Thanks though.
Well! we don’t quite do it. Life got in the way and it hurts but I’ll say this. Last night we walked down Hanover St towards the City centre. It was 1.45am and I could hear the faint hum of a busy street, punctuated by shouts. As we got closer the noise grew louder and was alive with Liverpool songs. 1.45am. The game ended nine hours earlier and we were still singing.
And this is when we finished second!
You can’t plan anything without a foundation and you can’t do anything without being ready. We weren’t quite ready this season. Close, but edged out at the last knockings. It’s different now. Those people were ready yesterday. Those foundations are steady. Liverpool are ready.
No, there’s been nothing prosaic about Liverpool now, nothing dull. We’ve gone close and we know what we have to do now. The fact that we brushed greatness is magnificent in itself and it’s nothing but bad news for the rest of the division. We can smell blood. We’ve learned, remembered that football can still surprise you in a positive way. We’ve grown to accept that and we’ve learned to love it. We can do anything. All bets are off.
Enjoy your break, lads. Come back hungry. We’re right behind you.