HOW many emotions can you go through while watching the game?
If I can chart my own during the Swansea game they would chronologically run as follows; excitement (the Reds were playing) followed by a slight concern, a sense of unluckiness, boredom, more boredom, a stupefying boredom, a sense that my brain would atrophy, confusion, fury, absolute spittle-flying anger, relief, joy, a deep all-consuming love of Roberto Firmino, confusion once more, panic, despair, and, finally, acceptance. Not a good afternoon.
We all treat defeats in different ways. Some like to speed drink and seek out other Reds to pore over the corpse while others sit in silence and try to remind themselves that it’s just one game in 50 or so, and it’s ridiculous to let it ruin their weekend. I’m in the latter camp and can tell you that trying to put a rational slant on something as stupid as that game is impossible. If there’s any solace to be dredged from those miserable hours it’s that other Reds — both your mates and those around the world — are hurting too or, at the very least, pissed off.
That’s where I was for a few hours on Saturday. Eventually I put it behind me and tried to get on with the weekend. Then I read fan comments on various social media and another emotion took over.
Disappointment. Head slumping disappointment.
We all do and say silly things when our blood is up – or down for that matter. I’ve done it enough for myself and have been banned from a few internet fora in my time as a consequence. Liverpool lose and all you want to do is tear the world apart because of the sheer injustice of it all. We’ve lost three league games this season and the first two still live in my bones, eating away at my marrow, to this day. That’s unavoidable. We all want perfection after all.
No, this is something different and, I’m afraid, it’s a song I’ve sang many times before.
It was the tweets and posts saying ‘we were never going to win the league anyway’ and that ‘a shot at top four was always the target’.
I’ve just shouted at my laptop as I typed that last sentence.
To those who hold that view I’d like to ask the following questions and, before you start, I’m not calling you a bad person or any less of a fan or any of that bollocks if you just so happen to disagree with me. We’re all grown-ups here.
What do you want from this team? What do you want them to do?
I didn’t know till yesterday that many are happy with fourth place, given that last season’s league ended with Liverpool in eighth. Progress and all that.
I know what I want. In fact, I’m lucky because my ambitions are limited to one thing only. I want the league title.
I love the cup competitions and there’s something glorious about watching Liverpool in Europe, but they’re an addenda to the main item on the agenda. I want what Shankly called our bread and butter.
I have no wish to be the fourth best team in the league. That’s like getting to a semi-final and giving your place away as that’s about as far as you’d expect to go. What’s the point in that?
Oh, I know the arguments. Fourth is the journey, not the destination. We get fourth place and attract better players due to Champions League football and then, and only then, we take the league by storm. Right?
What? Better players like Philippe Coutinho? Joel Matip? Erm…
But there are other reasons for this wish. I’m impatient.
Actually, scratch that. I’m the opposite. I’m patient.
I’ve been patient far too long and, as we only seem to summon up a title challenging side every six-seven years, I don’t want to see one pass with such low ambitions. This side is good enough to win THIS league. Maybe not next year’s – definitely last year’s – but this one. Yes, Chelsea are good, but they will meet Swanseas of their own at some point. The Manchester clubs can’t work out if they’re any good or not and the other two panic when they fly too close to the sun. So why not? Why not now?
Jürgen feels the same way too. Oh, I know he’s deliberately not using the word but look at him standing on the turf after the game on Saturday. He’s staring into nothing, trying to work out what’s just happened. That was not the look of a man who thinks he can lose the odd game as top four sides can afford the odd freak game or bad performance or both. His whole demeanour spoke of ‘fuck it.’ A quiet fury at an opportunity missed.
There’s something else too. I hesitate to say what it is so I’ll add a caveat first.
The greatest expression of support you can show your club is to be in the ground with them when they play. The Premiership isn’t cheap and the hours spent getting there and back as well as enduring ridiculous kick-off times (Manchester City) deserves praise. Obviously, not everyone can get to a game and it doesn’t make anyone a lesser fan if they can’t get in — I want to be clear on that – but it’s my own personal rule that I don’t criticise the crowd if I myself am not part of it. They made the effort to be at the game and I didn’t.
But come on.
Leaving in injury time when the game is at 2-3? Being so quiet in the first half that we could hear Jordan Henderson bollocking the linesmen? The Twelfth Man? Really? An absolute myth.
When the manager slated the crowd last season I was in two minds about it. My first thought was that he doesn’t spend from an already rapidly decreasing wage packet to travel around the country to see the lads play so he can sod off, but on the other hand any visitor to the ground lately will see that he has a point. There can’t be many quieter grounds in the country, never mind the division, and it’s time we stopped kidding ourselves.
But couple this with ‘I knew we wouldn’t win the league’ and it makes me wonder just how much we really want the Holy Grail. That’s where the disappointment came over me in 10-foot waves.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not blaming the Swansea loss on the fans – I’ve got Klopp and every player bar Firmino for that in my own furious and screaming psyche – but I wonder if we have the fight for this. For all the #lfcfamily and self-congratulation that goes with being a Liverpool fan these days, it means nothing if you’re not prepared to buy in when we have a genuine title challenging side on our hands. It’s one thing whistling and looking away embarrassed when Roy Hodgson thought his side was good enough, but not this one.
We might not have another side like this for years. Don’t give up on them. Don’t let them play to silence. Don’t leave them to it when they need you most. Be angry, sure. Be throaty in your invective when the moment arises (‘Shoot, Phil! Don’t fucking square it when you’re through.’ ‘For fuck’s sake, will one of you pricks take that prick down? Don’t let him run through you or he’ll…FOR FUCK’S SAKE!’) but don’t leave them to it. Don’t let them, not to be trite about it, walk alone.
I’m not giving up and I don’t want to support a team that would do the same.
How can we celebrate glory when the limit of our ambition is not to win the thing? Isn’t it right that we have high demands? Don’t we want to shoot for the moon rather than just be happy to be involved in the mission? What do we want?
I know what I want. I want the sentence ‘I never really thought we could win it’ to be expunged from the Liverpool language. I also don’t want 27 years to become 28 and even if it means us having to win every single game for us to take the title, that’s what I expect Liverpool to be aiming for. That’s all.