THERE’S no hiding it. It’s going to be a tough one, this one.
A game we are going to have to heave over the finishing line of a league season sadly long departed.
It would be hard to fashion a contest as potentially uninspiring and lacking in relevance as this. The challenge then, for those of us who follow the Reds up down the UK’s motorway network, is to try to frame the game as if it was something worthier. Something meriting spending time, money and effort on.
This is one of those occasions where you have to soul search. You have to ask yourselves some big questions. Is it the sport you love or the just the day out? Are you so blinded by devotion to the Reds that you even go to aways that are this meaningless or are you really about the excuse to get out the house and on the ale before midday?
The truth, my truth, is that all of the above apply. Why becoming a Liverpool fan engaged me and then retained my attention for so many years is not down to one thing.
When I was much younger I could attribute much to the endless winning. Boy, it was easy to get out of bed knowing you were going to see Liverpool beat another team handsomely. So spoilt were we back then that I’d want more than just the three points I’d always take today. I’d want a Kenny Dalglish goal. I lived for those. The Liverpool FC win was a given. The only mystery lay in the identity of the goalscorers.
The problem in those heady times was that when we failed to register the win, it became a personal disaster of cataclysmic proportions. The deep dark funk I’d retreat into was a terrible place. I’d be seeing the black dog for days on end. The memory of pain of those rare failures lives with me and haunts me to this day.
I remember developing coping strategies. The key was always total distraction. I’d go home after a defeat and put albums on. Make mix tapes. Refile my record collection. When I was a bit older and could control my own immediate environment better I’d always look to go out for tea. Think about the treat that an Indian or Chinese meal might represent.
The best distractor would be the prospect of a really big night out with the realistic potential of meeting a girl. That possibility, however remote, could knock football out the park. The problem was though that I’d be so mired in dark depression that getting motivated enough to leave the house would be an issue. Often the actual respite from a Liverpool defeat would amount to sitting in, smoking loads of weed, eating a picnic from the petrol station, and watching about four hired videos back to back until I could bear no more.
As I got older and Liverpool FC became increasingly less reliable, I came to the realisation that I couldn’t put all my eggs in a red basket. My love for the club couldn’t wane, so I had to develop different coping strategies for the much greater inevitability of disappointment.
Football days became all about set routines for me. I found I needed to be anchored to a series of events around the match, as the chaos within the main event itself was so uncontrollable, so lawless.
Liverpool may conspire to throw away a two-goal lead and end up losing, but I would not go down with them.
The away day is the quintessential example of an occasion that needs planning and programming from start to finish. It’s not easy for football teams to win matches away from home. It never really has been. If you follow your team away from home be very ready for regular bitter disappointment. Your boys can deny you happiness but you can still do your best to try to manage that.
West Brom away. This particular West Brom away feels like one which will be won or lost off the pitch. The game itself looms like some sort of vacuum in the day. A void. A lost hour and 45 minutes.
All our victories will take place outside of the Hawthorns stadium. We will convene at about 9am and discuss provisions for the journey. Have we the right balance between tins of lager and small wines? Have we considered the need for rehdryating waters and resorative multi-packs of crisps?
The first win will be the McDonalds at Sandbach services on the M6. Double sausage egg McMuffin meal. The breakfast of champions. It’s like scoring in the first five minutes with a header from a corner. We’re not going to have to work for this today.
We’ll haul up within site of the Hawthorns by about 11.30am. There’s only one place Reds can contemplate going before a West Brom away, and we will be at said place as they’re unlocking its doors. The now legendary Vine boozer is the Liverpool away fan pub of choice.
I’m one who ordinarly eschews designated away fan pubs — I don’t like not getting served, and getting shit ale in plastic cups — but the Vine is different gravy. It’s a kebab/curry pub. Something we don’t have in Liverpool but proliferates in the Midlands. It’s a concept I’d consider moving for.
The scran is really good. Smells really good. The beer is the nice stuff, and there’s always loads of people you know in there. Like a bit of a Liverpool night out teleported to a parallel universe where everyone just routinely bumped into each other in a kebab pub.
What I’ve always loved about Liverpool is that despite being a city of substance and size you still always bump into people you know. It’s a weird and wonderful thing and creates a relatively unique sense of community.
The time we’ll spend in the Vine will pass quickly with the meetings and the greetings and the scoffings and the slurpings and the pissings and the burpings. We’ll get mildly interested in Klopp’s 11 as early news of it leaks about an hour-and-a-half before kick off. I think we’d all be very comforted if Henderson, Origi and Ings got some minutes on the pitch. Two out of three seems likely, with doubts over Divock remaining after he failed to train on Friday.
The game will be the game. Fuelled, we’ll all get into it. Some get-us-in-the-mood-for-the-European-final songs will be aired. Hopefully, we’ll get the win that we’re not really expecting at this stage.
It will be nice to not really care for once. There’s a massive fish to fry in midweek. Sevilla. In Switzerland. Emotional batteries are recharging for that one.
We’re all about the kebabs this Sunday.
The Red 11 to skewer West Brom:
Bogdan; Flanagan, Skrtel, Lucas, Smith; Stewart, Brannagan; Ojo, Allen, Ibe; Benteke.