WITH his team drawing 0-0 against the bottom of the table side with 60 minutes of the match gone, Roy Hodgson’s captain drills a pass into The Kop and a 55-year-old bloke in the Paddock groans “oh for Christ’s sake, Poulsen” at a volume loud enough for Roy to hear with his little owl-like ears on the side of his owl-like head.
It’s one too many groans for the experienced manager to deal with. He loses his mind, turns to the Paddock and screams at the miserable old get sitting on row four “STAY FUCKING POSITIVE, WILL YOU!!” before going off his head at the entire stand, eyes bulging, fists shaking and saliva frothing from his mouth.
“STAY FUCKING POSITIVE! STAY FUCKING POSITIVE!”
Can you imagine it? I’m laughing to myself at the picture in my mind of old Roy doing that, even as I write it. It’d be like that footage of him banging his head against the dugout multiplied by a billion. Something tells me that the crowd might not have reacted to Hodgy in the same way it reacted to Klopp frothing at the mouth on Saturday afternoon.
I’m lucky enough to sit near the front of the upper tier of the new Main Stand now, so I have a great vantage point whenever Jürgen goes off on one, but his outburst on Saturday was something we’ve not seen before to the same extent. As I mentioned in the free podcast on Sunday, it was interesting to have such a good view of our much-loved manager bollocking the crowd this weekend, after writing last week about the psychological tricks he’s been doing on us all since walking into the club last year.
The crowd on Saturday was fairly poor, with the usual moans and groans emanating from the stands when we’re struggling to break down a defensive team like Sunderland, but it was by no means an especially negative or frustrated atmosphere, and certainly not worse than it was last season when Jürgen first started making noises about the crowd not being at the level its legend promised before his arrival, so it was interesting that he picked that game to make this point.
As much as we all love Jürgen now, he’s savvy enough to know that he just wouldn’t have been able to do the same thing at the same stage last season, and what we’ve seen from Klopp in his crowd management is a gradual build up to his explosion on Saturday. He started with some comments about the Yellow Wall being pretty special when asked whether The Kop was likely to generate the best atmosphere he’s ever heard, then moved on to quietly criticising those leaving the game early before explicitly asking us to generate more noise at the match, focussing on how much the team needs us and how much we can contribute to a result.
Saturday was something else entirely, though. In all the years I’ve been going to the match, I can’t imagine another Liverpool manager getting away with what happened at the weekend. Maybe Kenny, but then I can’t ever see him criticising the crowd so openly. I’m too young to know what Shankly was like on the touchline other than the few snippets I’ve seen from old recordings, but would he even have pulled that off the way Klopp did? Let’s not understate this, our manager became so frustrated with our home crowd (which still carries legendary status around the world, often without much justification it has to be said) that he kicked off on the people sitting behind him for getting annoyed with the players then, mid-kick-off, decided to extend his fury to the rest of the Main Stand. Rather than the crowd getting on his back, the vast majority decided he was right, switched on the positivity and cranked up the noise. It did that despite Joel Matip taking advantage of his boss’s back being turned to knock one out for a corner. (I like to think Matip did that on purpose because he’s a proper wind-up merchant, winking at Dejan Lovren as he jogged back into position.)
We all witnessed what happened next, which was the crowd seemingly helping the players to the win we all so desperately wanted. Whether Divock Origi would have scored that goal without Klopp’s intervention and the support of the crowd is something we’ll never know, but I agree with others who think that Klopp often has one eye on the bigger picture with anything he says or does. Whether or not his actions changed the course of that game, he was making it clear to the home crowd, from the position of power he has earned over the past year or so, that getting on the players’ backs during times of frustration doesn’t help anyone. His hugely animated demonstration indelibly imprinting on our brains the message he was sending out.
There are conflicting views about how much professional footballers are influenced by crowds, with some saying that the best are too focused to even notice it while others saying that crowds can be hugely influential both on the psychology of the players and, maybe just as importantly, the match officials.
What is beyond doubt is that Jürgen Klopp believes in the power of the crowd. He said so himself after the game: “I believe in atmosphere…I believe it’s a big, big part of the game, a big part of the joy”, going on to say that it’s as much as “10, 15 per cent”. I often remember Rafa Benitez talking about small details, and those at the top of most sports talk of the same things, with Klopp being no different.
“The decisions are made in the small moments, in the detail, and atmosphere is more than a detail but it makes everything easier”.
Remember the nets being changed back from red to white because it’s easier for the players to see the goal in their peripheral vision if the nets are white? If Jürgen and his team are looking after details as small as the colour of the nets, they’d be remiss to ignore the potential power of a newly increased capacity Anfield.
I found it interesting that in one of his post-match interviews talking about the game, he said that “it’s easier for the boys when they don’t feel…[like they] play against…15 players of Sunderland in the 18-yard box plus the crowd, so it was very important I think that the crowd came back.”
What’s interesting about that quote is what he doesn’t say, which is what it’s like for the boys when they feel like they are playing against the crowd as well as David Moyes’ double decker bus. By implication, of course, he’s saying that it’s more difficult. He knows that his players can’t come out after the game and say that the crowd made it harder for them to win, but a manager with his experience obviously knows that to be true. If we’re talking about small details, which we are, doesn’t it make perfect sense that Emre Can (who is only 22 despite his tank-like stature) is more likely to be able to thread a calm pass through 15 Sunderland players if he feels relaxed and confident in front of his own supporters, as opposed to knowing that if he dares to misplace that pass he’ll have 50,000 people berating him and groaning so loud that Hodgson might still be able to hear them. How do you think you would perform in a task under pressure if you had 50 people screaming at you, calling you a variety of imaginative insults and moaning loudly whenever you made a mistake? Do you think you would perform better or worse if, instead of cry-arsing constantly, that same crowd showed you support and encouraged you to get better after a mistake rather than lambasting you, filling you with positivity rather than dread?
The funny thing about Klopp’s performance and the crowd’s reaction at the weekend was when he said afterwards “We all…need to do a job….I have to do a job and the crowd need to do a job…but I’m sure they know, that’s what they want…”.
This is the bit I’m not sure I agree with. I’m not sure he understands quite what the crowd is like these days, not just at Anfield but elsewhere. I think, long ago, we reached the point at which an Anfield crowd thinks it has a job to do when it comes to the game. That’s why I’m usually careful to distinguish between “fans” and “supporters”, because most people who attend Anfield and other Premier League grounds I would very firmly put in the “fan” category now. Supporters understand the meaning of the word and know that they have a job to do, just like Jürgen says, but I’m afraid that there are many who walk (and sit) amongst us who are far beyond thinking that their job is to support a bunch of overpaid, under-performing, prima donna footballers who earn more in a week than they do in a year (their words, not mine). These fans forgot long ago that the atmosphere at the match is “a big part of the joy”.
I’ve suggested on these pages in the past that perhaps it’s time for those fans to start watching matches from the comfort of their own homes rather than paying £45 for a ticket to sit in the cold, seemingly just to enable them to moan about the price of that ticket and all of the professional footballers that they’ve paid to see. I’m not sure there’s any other pastime in which people would do that, which makes it all a bit mad. I can’t imagine, for example, these same old fellas paying to go to the cinema in full knowledge before they get there that George Clooney has been paid $20million to do his job, only to sit throughout the movie moaning about how crap George is and how in the olden days the actors were paid in wood chippings and used to hitch-hike to the studios in Hollywood from their terraced house on Breck Road. Those same fellas just wouldn’t go to the cinema and would watch an old movie for free on Channel 5 instead, or wait until George’s movie made its way onto Film Four in eight years so that they can critique his acting ability from the comfort of their own home (with the subtitles on because the rest of the family are talking).
I’ve been thinking lately that Jürgen is like our collective dad, but after the weekend I’m changing that to him being our collective cool uncle (not to be confused with Uncle Knob Head). We all look up to him and want to impress him, but we’re also not embarrassed when he loses his shit and starts screaming at miserable people who have bizarrely paid to go to a football match just to shout abuse at young men. It’s his ability to chastise us whilst being loved that enables him to send out messages that others simply wouldn’t be able to do.
As I was leaving the ground on Saturday, I paused at the top of the exit to clap Jürgen and the last of the players from the pitch. A supporter who looked to be in his fifties was standing next to me joining in the applause and, as I turned to leave, said “I fucking love Klopp” with a big beaming grin on his face.
If Jürgen can get the old fellas in Anfield to experience the joy of being a football supporter again, winning the league will be a piece of piss.