IF he didn’t know it already, Jürgen Klopp discovered yesterday that he’s got a job on his hands in more ways than one.
Not only did Liverpool cave in to opposition that ambition dictates they should be beating on home turf, hinting again at a fragile mindset among this group of players, but the manager also discovered that things are also not quite right among the minds of that other vital component of the club — the fans.
After a nervy Liverpool conceded a late goal to Southampton last month to end another Anfield match 1-1, Klopp hinted then that modern-day Anfield is not a theatre conducive to what we all want the Reds to achieve.
He said then: “It’s only a goal, only a game of football. It’s like it’s the last thing in your life and we have to calm this down.
“I don’t understand this pressure but the guys feel it. I hope I’m not the only person in the stadium who thought ‘this is not the end of the world’. We can work on this.”
After Crystal Palace’s Scott Dann upset his Scouse friends and family with the winner yesterday, Klopp was more explicit, referencing the fans who routinely file out of the ground when things aren’t going well.
It’s a topic he was right to raise. When Dann headed home at the second attempt past the floored (flawed) Simon Mignolet, there were eight minutes of normal time remaining. A further five were added on.
That’s 13 minutes of football — almost a sixth of the match. OK, there was an element of “same old, same old” in the performance that had unfolded; it was an action replay of a game we’ve witnessed too often at Anfield in recent times, not to mention another goal conceded as a result of a corner.
But like the fury-laced voiced frustration that rains down after every misplaced pass from a red shirt, or the arms folded, “entertain me” silent gait of so many, how is leaving the ground early muttering “shite” going to help to remedy matters?
What’s more likely to result in a Liverpool comeback — a ground full of fans urging the Reds on, screaming for them to attack and appealing for everything from the referee, or an indifferent silent snake of supporters heading for the exits, metaphorically waving the white flag as the players toil away in the rain?
Common sense suggests the former, yet far too many plump for the latter.
What gets me as a culture of supporting the team seemingly erodes away from Liverpool, making Anfield an homogenous Premier League experience rather than the special place we want it to be, is that so many rile against suggestions that it could and should be different on a regular basis.
Take Klopp’s comments yesterday. Some on social media replied with the “people have paid their money so they can leave when they like” line. Others suggested en masse exits are not a problem to worry about in the grand scheme of things.
Sorry, but what? Why wouldn’t you want to feel you can make a difference to the atmosphere? That you can play a part; inspire? And why wouldn’t you want everyone who files through the Anfield turnstiles to feel the same way?
Like half-and-half scarves, the shrugging indifference is another signpost that traditional football culture is dying. Show your colours? Nah, I’m showing theirs, too. And if it’s crap, I’m going home.
Klopp was right to also highlight that it is up to the team to inspire the fans, but surely it works both ways? The 12th man shouldn’t be allowed to just become the name of a pub at Anfield and something that exists on club marketing literature; a nod to times gone by.
The atmosphere debate never seems to reach a logical conclusion, instead slamming into a dead end with fingers pointed in the usual directions — cut and paste your favoured argument:
– “It’s the old fellas who have seen too much football and won’t give up their ticket for the new blood.”
– “It’s the too cool for school fellas who snarl you when you try to start a song.”
– “It’s the daytrippers, the bucket listers, the wools and the Thomas Cook-ers.”
– “It’s the price of the tickets and the gentrification of the game.”
– “It’s because the team is shit.”
Perhaps match-going supporters should turn the mirror onto themselves sometimes. Undoubtedly, more should be done to encourage the next generation of football fans to consider a a life of match-going. Tickets should be cheaper and more accessible.
But while the battles are fought on those fronts, what about the 44,000 that filled Anfield yesterday?
Klopp is right to put supporter mindset on the agenda again. I’ve banged on about it over and over and make no apology for doing so again: when things are right between players, manager and fans, Liverpool is a force to be reckoned with. When they’re not…well, as Klopp has made reference to, it can seem like the team are walking alone.
So why not try to improve our end of the bargain? It seems this is a team — and a support — still scarred by recent experiences. So why not make the first move on putting things right?
In The Kop, block 306 is the unofficial standing/singing section yet it’s in part of the ground where much of the noise emanating from it can’t be heard elsewhere around Anfield. Most fans seems to agree. So can it move? Is there a will among the people there to move?
Through the current avenues of engagement with fans, the supporters’ committee for example, how often is atmosphere on the agenda? If it’s not, it should be. The club markets itself as being special. We say it’s special. There are undoubtedly smart minds on both sides of the divide. Can’t more be done to actually ensure it is special?
Back to ground level, there’s also an issue around the current Anfield songbook. Why are so many songs about ex-players? When have you ever heard the ground absolutely rocking to “Every Other Saturday?” And “Stand Up for the 96”? Just stop. Then there’s a group of blokes on the left of The Kop singing their own songs that only six of them know. What’s the point in that?
What’s wrong with the simple songs: “Liverpool” –clap, clap, clap — “Liverpool”, that kind of thing?
It should be easier than ever before for fans to organise and improve things, and the atmosphere generated at Selhurst Park by a significantly less number than present at Anfield yesterday is testament to that.
Closer to home, the welcomes to Anfield that greeted the side in 2014 show what the Liverpool fanbase — however fractured these days — is capable of when minds are focused.
We’ve got the right kind of manager for Liverpool, let’s not give up on being the right of kind of fans for Liverpool.
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Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo