TOWARDS the end of Brendan Rodgers’s time as manager, going the game almost felt like an inconvenience at times, writes CHARLIE CHRISTIAN. The Anfield crowd was utterly despondent as it had been for large chunks of the previous season, and who could really blame us for that? The football on offer was tepid. Drab. Uninspired. It’s one thing to play badly and win, but this? This was just painful. By and large, football had stopped being fun under Rodgers.
Then, one day in October, after a highly forgettable Merseyside derby, it was announced that Rodgers has gone. The next thing we know we’ve appointed Jürgen Klopp. Jürgen Klopp!
Even if you had preferred someone else for the job (as I did) it was impossible not to get kid-on-Christmas-morning excited about Klopp’s arrival. This was without doubt one of the world’s best managers, a man famed for his messianic qualities as much as his ability as a coach. And now he was coming to manage the Reds. Our Reds.
Things would get better inside the ground, surely? Now we’ve got something to get behind, something to cheer?
And yet… It never quite happened that way, did it? Things picked up for sure but it wasn’t the explosion of emotion and passion that I’d been hoping for. I remember being particularly embarrassed when Jürgen made his comments about “feeling alone” when he saw some fans leaving early after that defeat to Crystal Palace back in November. So much for the club motto, ey?
Here was one of the best managers in the game, a man who would probably get turned down by only two or three clubs in the world if he went knocking on their doors asking for a job. He’d heard about The Kop, the famous atmosphere, the unparalleled power of Anfield… And here he was, lamenting the fact that quite a few fans had bailed early after a disappointing result. To hell with that. That’s not us.
After that things did get better, it’s true, but the ground was never anywhere near its full potential. The prospect of an upcoming Wembley final helped things for sure but then, one day, the Europa League draw is made and Liverpool are drawn against Manchester United.
This had to be it.
And yes, this was it. This was very much it. It’s a funny old thing, a big Anfield occasion. I don’t know exactly what it is or how to describe it but as you make your way up to the ground, there’s a kind of electricity in the air. You can almost hear it crackling in the back of your mind. In so many ways, things are the same. You’re with the same people, you go to the same pubs and there’s the usual din outside the ground. And yet, it’s still different somehow. So very different indeed.
I’m walking up the stairs from the concourse to my seat and it hits me. The Kop in full voice. The whole stadium in full voice. There are flags, there are scarves, there are banners, there’s bog roll, there’s John Mackin’s rattle going off on The Kop. And we all know, each and every one of us, what everyone else is thinking: Come on, Reds. Let’s have these bastards.
As You’ll Never Walk Alone starts, I’m awestruck. I’m sad to say I never experienced Chelsea back in ’05 but I’ve still been lucky enough to have seen some fantastic renditions of our anthem in my time of going the game. This though — this was something else.
As the chorus is sang over and over again, more religion than football, I notice the little lad stood on the seat next to me. He must only be seven or eight years old and he’s stood there staring wide-eyed at The Kop, his mouth hanging slightly open. And you could just tell, from looking at his face — yeah, he gets it.
We all know what happened next. The Reds steamrolled Louis van Gaal’s abysmal United side and, as satisfying as it always is to beat that lot, I was more pleased with the fact that throughout the entire match, Anfield had been a cauldron of noise, of passion, of sheer audible love for this mad club of ours.
That’s what Europe does to us. It ignites passions that otherwise remain in the shadows, itching to be let out. It brings us together as a sort of glue, a common denominator — We’re Liverpool, us. And we’ll have anyone.
And have anyone we did. “Bring on yer Internazionales,” the song goes. Or yer Dortmunds for that matter, we’ll have yer Dortmunds, too. Villarreal? Yeah, bring ’em on. We’ll have them all, over and over again, until we see our name up in lights once more, the cream of Europe. Because we’re Liverpool. It’s who we are.
It’s been nine years since our last European final. That’s nine years, five managers, a new set of owners, two failed league challenges, an FA Cup final and two League Cup finals, one of which was successful.
In short, we’ve hardly been short of things to talk about these last nine years. There’s been no lack of action, no stretches where we’ve had nothing to preoccupy ourselves with. But without these European nights, there’s always something missing. Something not quite right. Seeing Manchester United, Chelsea and even Fulham go off to European finals while we’ve been deprived of continental football altogether at times has been galling. Well, this is the chance to put it all right.
Here we are, on the cusp of glory once more. There’s just one game to go, now. Ninety long, hard minutes to announce our return to the rest of the world. That’s not much, is it? Not much, yet it’s everything. It’s absolutely everything.
Whatever happens on Wednesday night, we can be proud of ourselves for this Europa League run. Win or lose, we can honestly say we’ve done our bit to drag us over the line, to get the Reds through.
But then, what else would we have done? We’re Liverpool, us. And we’ll have anyone.