DURING the football season itself — when Liverpool FC are my first, last and always — I have zero interest in international football.
It is only a needless distraction from the main event. An interloper in a perfectly sufficient festival of red-rooted football. Then, I’m in complete harmony with the Roy Hodgson haters, anti-nationalists, brass band loathers and the broad spirit of the “We’re not English, we are Scouse’ sentiment.
The England team, Wembley, the FA, the “should Rooney still get a game question”’, the “we need a winter break because it hurts the national side” merchants — all of these things just need to fuck off out of my life. I despise every essence of an England team, and in turn all international football.
When the bell rings to mark the end of term, mid-May, something changes in me. It re-dawns that the cycle of my life, my weekly routine, has come to an end. The season, for all its ebbs and flows, triumphs and disappointments, has a grounding predictability to it. That I will have a Liverpool FC game to anticipate every three to seven days is a racing certainty. There’s always something that matters on the near horizon.
Every Liverpool game, for me, is a treat. They all matter, to some degree or other. I pity those that don’t have this greatest love of all in their lives. I’ve got mates who have never got into football — who like going to see bands more — and I just know they aren’t having as much fun as I am.
I know plenty of people who like watching a bit of football, but it isn’t their everything. They worry me even more. Being able just to pick the game up, and then put it down because something else has your attention. That’s no way to live. It’s no way to love.
The season has a rhythm that is timelessly perfect. The realisation that it must all come to an end each May is always tough to take. It’s not something that smacks you between the eyes, but instead it creeps up over a two-week period. It’s usually the time it takes for the subconscious to twig that there’s been no Liverpool FC now for over a week and it isn’t coming back any day soon.
I’ve always noticed with loss that although the pain of the realisation of the loss is immediate on a very straightforward level, that there is a secondary and (I think) more important phase, a product of the passage of time. I think I could derive a mathematical equation for it. Pain of loss is relative to the duration of time between interactions you had with the object of the loss.
You could add to the equation, cumulative value of all the encounters put together, regardless of their frequency. I’ll work on a short hand for it.
So. If a treasured uncle dies who you had been seeing your whole life on a three-times-a-year basis, although you will instantly be devastated at news of his passing you will not be able to fully absorb and feel the fullest extent of the pain of that loss until you have been through a full “cycle” without that person in your life.
It will take around a third of a year to pass for your body and mind to start to really know the loss. For you to really ache for that person.
My point is that the true grief of loss has a delayed reaction. A more profound emotion than the instinctive initial one.
And so, the Liverpool FC-based football season has now been out of my life for nearly four weeks and I’m climbing walls. I’m itching all over.
There is a void, a chasm under the sea of depression that has subsumed me the size of the Mariana trench. And I will make it my mission to fill that fucking void right in. So help me, God.
Watching players I’ve cheered on, and lived every day with, and kicked every ball with, for nine long, never dull months, go off — many of them together — to seek alternative glories in an alternative universe called “international football” will suffice as my methadone. It gets me through until I get my hands on the real stuff again.
I’m going to make a statement now and then I’m going to stand back and bask in imagination of its resonance and shock value:
If you’re not interested in summer international football tournaments (and mainly the ones involving England) then you don’t love Liverpool Football Club enough.
Yeah. Take that. Walk around that for a bit.
Ok. So that seems harsh, yeah? Palpably untrue, even? Well, here’s why I’m right, and you’re wrong. If you live for your Liverpool FC, then how can you just accept the tap being switched off in May every year? How can you just park the Reds for three months? Out of sight out of mind. How can you just switch back on the caring about what happens to your club — just because the fixture computer says you’re allowed to — in mid-August?
I’m going to extend this kind of straw man-like position a bit further. You people. You people who don’t see that watching Liverpool heroes keeping the red flag flying high on far foreign lands in summer tournaments as an extension of your red-love are, more or less, the same sneerers who look down their noses at us summer transfer rumour junkies.
You people who don’t view players being transferred to Liverpool as akin to Christmas presents. What are you made of?
But England, you say. England. All that nonsense with St George’s flags. All those fans from half-arsed clubs for whom the England team seems to be the most important team of all. All that sensing that these people genuinely feel a superiority simply because they were born under a monarch’s flag. They/it are so Establishment. So riddled with arcane right-wing values. No joy in their hearts, just ugly certainty, and slavish allegiance.
For Liverpool people there’s the added suspicion that the England team are really just some weird supra-London club. They play their home games in London. The support feels very London. Their ‘owners’, the FA, are based in London. They are clearly beloved of a “London-based” media. The flag, the colours, the kit, are of a nation thats power base, thats figurehead, is all based in London. Queen, King, church, state, England Football team. One for all and all for one.
Liverpool players play for the England team. Often these are the very best Liverpool players. Often, there are quite a few of them. It’s not a nationalistic statement to want to see your club aggrandised by the proxy of their international representatives. Which of you Reds wasn’t a little bit tickled and proud to hear that our mighty club will have the most players on show at the forthcoming Euros?
What Liverpool fan wouldn’t jump from their seat as Hendo or Milner bent one round the corner for the arriving Danny Sturridge to volley home at the back stick ? England 2 Germany 0 — European Championship semi-final. Scorers: Lallana, Milner (pen). Man of the match: Adam Lallana.
You telling me your wouldn’t swell with pride at that? Are you that petty that all you’d be able to see was Roy Hodgson’s beaming crinkled countenance?
I remember long hot summers without my beloved Liverpool FC being resuscitated by watching an 18-year-old Liverpool youth team player stun the world (Michael Owen v Argentina in 98), by knowing that a Liverpool core was at the centre of so much that was good in Bobby Robson’s Italia 90 semi-final reaching England side (Barnes and Beardsley), by cheering on a Scouse wing wizard as he tore the Dutch a new one in Euro 96 (McManaman v Holland).
I wanted those England teams to go on. And on. I wanted to see our heroes go all the way. I wanted to see them decorated and to return home elevated from local heroes to giants of the world stage.
I mainly just wanted an excuse to get out the house in boring Liverpool FC-free endless summers. But still, once you have your motivation, however shallow or transient, everything’s possible.
And you know what? Wanting the country you live in to do well in a sport you love isn’t the worst crime, either. It’s funny how we get a bit misty eyed about other countries’ sporting nationalisms but wince at our own.
Seeing seas of yellow clad Brazilians fannying about with maracas or blue-emblazoned Frenchmen shedding one as they belt out La Marseillaise seems quietly worthy of our appreciation but put a a white face-painted Brit with a red cross on his face on the TV screen and we’re reaching for the remote. We can get romantic about plenty of other nationalisms but find our own a hard thing to face up to.
It is a mad hypocritical thing to try and get politically po-faced about England and international competition. Football isn’t real life. Football wallows in unbridled shameless tribalism. We are fascistic in the love of our clubs. We think we’re the best, with the best culture, the best people with the most noble history. We think we’re better than all of them. We wish only failure and misery upon their kind. We are the worst people. Thank God we can largely confine this ridiculous and dangerous mindset to the confines of a make-believe world.
I’ve made you think a bit haven’t bit haven’t I?
Don’t worry about me though. I don’t really love England. I supported Scotland in major competitions as a kid (Kenny Dalglish and all that).
Trust me, too, the minute there’s a Liverpool friendly in sight (July 8 – Tranmere Rovers away) the international footy can get to fuck. Once the Reds are back, they’re back. Blighty can do one. You can stick your Nelson and your Churchill and your Bobby bloody Charlton. There’s a season to be had. A real one. A Liverpool one.
But until then, I’ll be unfolding my Euro fixtures wall chart and contemplating who England (and maybe Poland if we sign that lad) might get in the quarter finals. I’ll be planning my Euro-watching boozers of choice and getting right behind those red lads wearing other shirts in other towns.