“THE Atmosphere tonight, not that I’ll forget it, was absolutely unbelievable. It was really great and I want to say thank you to everyone who was involved in this atmosphere.
“It was easy to enjoy from the first until the last second. This was Liverpool how I knew it before I came here so that was really, really great and thank you for this.” – Jürgen Klopp.
IT was palpable wasn’t it? Never mind the day of the game, as soon as the final whistle went at Crystal Palace, there was a sudden straightening of the back, a glint in the eye and a hint of swagger returning to those exiting Selhurst Park in anticipation of what lay ahead.
For the first time in either team’s history, by either a twist of fate or UEFA’s warm balls, Liverpool and Manchester United had been drawn together in European Competition by the powers that be in Nyon.
The gauntlet had been laid down with a with a thud that could be heard from Switzerland to Old Trafford and Anfield.
It’s accepted wisdom that the atmosphere at Anfield isn’t what it was, and there are a million reasons why there’s an element of truth, albeit exaggerated, as to why.
Even the traditional ‘big games’, the Derby apart, over the last few years have been a let down — a forced show of defiance that lacked any real conviction; a pantomime, a raging at the dying of the light.
But not last week, not against them, and not in those circumstances.
Last week proved that Anfield can still be a cauldron, but why?
If you could bottle whatever the formula is that can rouse the old, gnarly, weathered, cynical and ageing Anfield congregation you’d have an elixir worth more than any ticket price rise.
While you can never force an atmosphere, you can definitely encourage one.
But what was so special about last Thursday?
The occasion, the manager, the opposition, the performance and the cost.
Liverpool, somehow, found themselves in the eye of perfect storm conducive to ensuring that the loudest noise of the night wasn’t a defender swearing at the goalkeeper.
Any game against Manchester United should need no introduction or encouragement, but a game against a waning United side in a knock-out situation in a European competition when the home team can smell blood?
Results are never guaranteed, especially where ‘they’ are concerned, but despite a few stand-out performances against better sides than United under Jürgen Klopp, this was one that whet the appetite more than any other.
Off the back of an against the odds last-minute winner against Palace days earlier, the United game suddenly presented the biggest match of Klopp’s short tenure and offered an opportunity for him, the team and the fans to put a marker down — a glimpse into the future of what could be.
The Liverpool crowd were always going to keep their side of the bargain.
The manager had been looking for an opportunity to test the crowd, having offered them out directly and indirectly a few times over the course of the season, and this fixture was manna from heaven for providing us an opportunity to show the manager, and each other, that if the club can get it right on the pitch, we can get it right in the stands.
What was also noticeable last week, especially before the game, as pointed out by our very own John Gibbons, was the presence of a few old faces, lads and girls, former seasoned regulars who in the main had been priced out of going the match week in and week out.
Due to the new pricing structure offered by the club, people who were desperate for whatever chance they can get for their football could now get in the ground for £35. It’s still too much, but certainly more within reach than the £70 it would have cost earlier in the season. It certainly helped.
And at what point, psychologically, does a price affect a person’s attitude anyway, whether they can afford it or not? Does the switch in the brain go from, ‘I’m here to contribute, I’m here to get involved, this is my team’ to, ‘I’ve paid for a product, I’m a consumer, this is an event, entertain me’.
A by-product of the pricing and availability of tickets, and the evening kick-off time — affording people the time to congregate before the match with time to spare at an acceptable drinking hour — was the number of different groups of people out who probably hadn’t seen each other in that scenario for a while and were determined to make the most of it.
And then, the game. The magnificent spectacle of The Kop, for once full well before kick off was a sight for sore eyes. The ‘banner-men’, led by the Spion Kop 1906 lads, aided and abetted by a raucous crowd, sent shivers down the spine in the most natural rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone in a long time — one sung out of feeling and gusto, not mouthed and whispered out of a forlorn sense of duty.
Atmospheres at football matches are a strange one — it only takes a few hundred people to drive an entire stadium, to rid the timidness of thy neighbour and cajole them into joining in, but it’s hard to sustain if it’s not reflected on the pitch.
Fortunately, Liverpool kept their part of the bargain, tearing into United from the first whistle, keeping United and their lot in the Anfield Road End, along with their ‘famous song book’ drowned out for the vast majority of the game.
“Where’s your famous atmosphere?”
Christ, lads, is that it? We thought we were playing Manchester United not Doncaster Rovers.
But back to us and how we can make last week count for much longer than our UEFA Cup run.
A ‘one club mentality’ has been the message that Klopp has been trying to drive into the fans since the day he stepped off the plane at John Lennon Airport — the desire for the crowd and the players to feed off each other’s energy.
And the fans, even if only sporadically over the season, have shown they can deliver if their passion is matched on the pitch.
It’s not perfect, far from it, but it’s a start that needs to be built on.
Can it be done every week? No, it never has been and never will be, and anyone who says otherwise is talking bollocks and probably didn’t go anyway.
You’ll always have a New Year’s Day noon kick-off against Stoke that no-one can be arsed about.
But what can we take from last week? What barriers can be removed to help rebuild a crumbling Kop?
In the eternal chicken/egg atmosphere paradox, the most important stakeholders in creating a better atmosphere are the crowd and the teams on the pitch and in the dugout.
But the club could use last week’s happy accident and create an environment where a good atmosphere is again the norm, not the exception.
Think about how they could let mates and people with a similar mindset and attitudes sit closer together (this applies as much to the miserable arl get on the Kop who can’t be arsed as much as the young lad desperate to get involved but left marooned in the Main Stand).
Even on a game-to-game basis, if people want to swap seats, surely the club could let them. I’m sure the tech is there, it just needs the will to get it done.
Ask Martin Fitzgerald, he’ll have it boxed in the time it takes him to run a bath.
They could encourage and actively support those TRYING to make a difference instead of, it seems, making their lives as difficult as possible.
Those images that the club sells around the world in glossy pitches to global partners? They didn’t happen because of the club, they happened because of the fans. And yet they’ve framed the gantry in The Kop with advertising like a super-sized photo frame of shiny happy punters.
The club could work with us, learn lessons from their supposed peers — look at Dortmund. Liverpool have a man who knows a bit about that club and how they do things. Ask him.
The stadium on match day should be a living, breathing organism, not a venue where people turn up, some sport happens and then people go home.
The club from top to bottom needs to realise that people want to help because they want to help — not for financial or personal gain or shady ulterior motives, but simply because they want Liverpool to be boss again. More importantly, they want to feel part of Liverpool being boss again.
Unity is strength.
Bring on your Manchester United.