I’M taking next season off to see what else happens in the world, so this is the last of my Five from Fitzgerald columns.
I’d like to thank The Anfield Wrap for asking me to do it and the 27 people that read it on a regular basis.
Most of all though I’d like to thank The Anfield Wrap’s Kate Forrester who has sent messages of encouragement and support like: “The match finished a whole minute ago so where’s your column, you lazy prick.”
She’s definitely brought out the best in me.
So, for the last time, here are five thoughts on the game of football that just happened.
I’ve been going home and away for the last seven years and, as I make my way to the Hawthorns, I can’t help but reminisce.
Kenny’s return, Suarez’s brilliance, the end at Villa when Lambert scored, and the night against Dortmund. The memories are fleeting, whizzing past in flashback, as I realise what I’m walking away from.
More than anything, a place in my heart will always remain in the 2013-14 season.
It was the best football I ever saw and a run-in that made me stare at the league table for weeks. I’ll never forget how I felt before the Manchester City game, how I refused to accept Chelsea, or how Suarez got the ball out the back of the net against Palace because he refused to accept it, too.
I can still feel that moment — the expectation of glory.
For nine months a year, across the pitches of this country, I’ve seen everything — communities cheering on their own and some of the world’s best players trying to make them happy.
In the process, I’ve experienced every emotion possible and felt more alive than not.
But if there’s one moment that sticks out, a memory that endures, it’s the Liverpool fan who wanked himself off with both hands in front of the Norwich fans.
2) Rob Gutmann’s Vindication
Prior to the match, a man that looked like a potato came up to Rob Gutmann and took issue with his ongoing love for Jordon Ibe.
“He’s shite,” the potato man said. “I don’t know why you’re always defending him on The Anfield Wrap.”
Rob stood his ground, said something about Ibe having a higher ceiling, and a temporary peace was brokered.
Jordon Ibe then scored the best goal ever and Rob started crowd surfing with a potato peeler in his hand.
3) Bit weird
The second half was so boring that the kid in front of me kept trying to attach his head to his dad’s.
This genuinely went on for 45 minutes — a father and son trying to form one massive head.
Probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen to be honest.
4) The Realisation
In between a man who looked like a potato, and a father and son trying to become conjoined, I’ve spent all day looking for Helen.
It’s 2013-14 all over again again — the expectation of glory.
I’ve scoured the concourse, searched the stands, but she’s nowhere to be seen.
As each minute passes I can sense the opportunity fading and I start to face the real possibility of walking away with nothing.
And that’s exactly what I do. The final whistle blows and I head down the steps of the Smethwick End — alone in a crowd, my own thoughts for company.
Like 2013-14, I start to reconcile the reality before me — that the glory was in the journey and the hope it provided. I was right then and I’m right now. The last few months thinking about her, trying to grasp something that was out of reach, was it’s own reward.
So as I walk out of a football ground for the last time, these are the thoughts that comfort me and produce a tear in the eye.
Ahead of me, always ahead of me, she’s waiting.
5) The Romance
I don’t even need a second glance, or the cliche of rubbing my eyes in disbelief.
I know it’s her.
This is now the ending, the actual victory that I craved all along. Fuck the journey, the hope — I’m done with being rational.
I put my headphones on, press play, and walk towards her.
“Here comes Johnny singing oldies and goldies
Be-bop-a-lula baby what I say.”
I waited all this time to see her and now I’m this close.
“Here comes Johnny singing I got a woman
Down in the tunnels, trying to make it pay.”
I’m here. It’s the end of the film and we look at each other. We know. We smile in victory and walk off together. The credits roll and acknowledge all the people that have taken part — Neil Atkinson, John Gibbons, Andy Heaton, Gareth Roberts, Rob Guttman, Paul Senior, Mike Nevin, Mike Girling, Phil Blundell, Kate Forrester, Sam Brocklehurst and more. Friends for life, people that I’ll never forget.
I met them all in the last seven years, I’m writing this for them — because of them.
“He do the song about the sweet lovin’ woman
He do the song about the knife
He do the walk, he do the walk of life.”
The acknowledgements end, the music fades, and the two us are left alone.
And reader, there’s no punchline this time, no gratuitous laugh to undercut the moment.
The end has been perfectly realised, she’s beside me right now.
Oh, and her real name’s Clare.