THAT was quite the month, wasn’t it? The semblance of hope dashed seemingly before our eyes and telling ourselves things we’ve repeated to ourselves many times before. *Insert league winners name* were just too good, weren’t they? We just didn’t have enough in the squad to get over the line. Didn’t want to win them shitty cups anyway. Maybe next year, eh? We’re not that far off etc. etc.
All of that can currently fuck off.
I reckon January 2017 is up there with the worst I’ve felt as a Red. I was all in; Liverpool FC 2016-17 was the ultimate buy-in for me. I had angled all my solar alignments to fit my cocksure, self-perpetuated narrative that this was going to be the year we won it, if not something. No Europe, no-one being able to live with us until the turn of the year, the football, the football, all of the football. I reckon that was the best football I’ve seen from any Liverpool team in those months. Up those vertically risk-averse liberated Reds. Mona Nemmer’s smoothies for my men, we ride at dawn.
And then it happened, and all that we were left with as individuals was to pick ourselves up yet again from this almighty slump the Reds found themselves in. Trying to somehow process the realisation of the past month while endlessly circling aimlessly around a projection of our very own Brendan Rodgers kitchen at 4am.
Shock: “There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected: The expected for which one has refused to prepare” – Mary Renault
Lower Kemlyn: row three, seat 212, my solitary confinement for the last 10 days. I feel at times like I have witnessed the world crumble around me from this viewpoint. It would’ve been more aptly fitting to set up the American Oval Office in the centre circle and let us witness the prevailing global shit-storm from our seats to accompany what we’ve seen from Liverpool in that time.
I stayed in my seat after Wolves, staring aimlessly at the cut up Anfield grass in front of me, wondering how it can be possible for a pitch to look like it has an infinite inclined gradient to anyone in red when only weeks ago they looked like lads who were gliding on an ice-rink and those opposing them were wearing Everton-inspired Lonsdales, trying anything in vein to catch us.
Every memory is converged into one over this period, so many questions, so many things we could have done to stop this happening. Hindsight, the strongest ally of criticism, the portal for all our told you sos. Fernando Llorente; just play Joel Matip and stick him on his toes to win his headers. Nathan Redmond; someone leave one on him first 20 and go from there. Wolves; for fuck’s sake someone just take some kind of responsibility.
Denial: “Hope is the denial of reality” – Margaret Weis
Quite how all this happened seemingly so quickly is what I’m struggling with most, but then again the truth is it was probably lost before this. Sunderland, Bournemouth, Burnley, all collective anomalies that have proved the common denominator and cost us, along with the bar set, get over it or get off, a simply complex challenge.
I have been thinking a lot about Manchester City at home in the last few days. Not just the game, but the day in general. New Year’s Eve at home, the Reds winning that game. In my head, going to Sunderland two days later and flat track bullying them. A Daniel Sturridge brace in the first 30 and that one’s done. I’d never been so sure of anything, a simpler time.
When we went 1-0 up against City, we were never losing that game. I stood on The Kop and saw a gang of lads who could win a game in any way possible and more importantly, they wanted it as much as I’ve seen any side, I wrote a piece after it stating how this side were equipped to go all the way. I have no shame in that piece, the sense of axiom I felt looking at that side after City told me I was right and I felt right, I just didn’t expect it to be taken away from me quite this quickly. It’s too hard to give up, it all feels too much of nothing; it pales into talk of fourth place attainment. I’m currently in too infantile a mentality to grant this into my psyche.
Anger: “We are homesick most for the places we have never known.” – Carson McCullers
It’s that feeling that lingers most. Not knowing what it feels like to finish top of English football’s 92 clubs over a league season, and being the kings of our own castle, that makes it seem all the more unattainable in future. Whenever we seemingly get close there is a likeness to feeling locked in an empty room at the end of it. We get to a point every year where we talk of it and talk it up — and rightly so, we’re Liverpool Football Club and to exist for anything else is futile. But Christ it looks hard, the hardest thing in the world.
In some ways, it’s easier when we are a million miles away from it, when we don’t have to face some indestructible force of football relativity, be it Manchester United, City or Chelsea as in years gone by. There is no way they are this good in the years we’re not in and around it, the bar set higher than ever before, all it feels in spite of us. If not now, when?
The angriest feeling about it is that looking at the game last night, Chelsea are not on some clearly superior plethora to Liverpool. In my opinion, we are a better side than them when playing them, but they are able to amass points at a canter while we make all too familiar mistakes. If not now, when?
Bargaining: “The ontological fantasy of expecting a light at the end of the tunnel” – Det. Rust Cohle
There are those of us who will still believe, until it’s mathematically impossible, that we can claw it back. Ten points remains the gap with a shed load of points to be won and lost still. In every way, it now feels out of our hands. But we’re getting back to full strength. These lads will remember what it’s like to win games of footy again. Surely a team can’t win a league with Victor Moses in it?
I think a huge degree of skulduggery has to occur and this league has to go back to the fluctuating apportionment of points in games between the top six and those below, as we saw last season, to give us any meagre outside chance. Maybe Liverpool can look to previous points tallies that have been clawed back as inspiration that it’s not yet it, surely this isn’t it, surely this can’t be it? Surely there’s a way back in still?
Depression: “Feels like I’m holding you down, but you won’t leave me alone. And you’re holding me now, but I’m so far away from you” – Samuel Herring
All of this resonates deeply with any ‘80s child who has endured a life of proselytism as a Liverpool fan. We’ve had and seen a lot better than most, but lately those great nights we’ve seen in our adolescence and increasing wisdom are paling into insignificance by the presence of that increasingly overbearing Premier League white whale that lurks in the algae-ridden waters of the choppy River Mersey. A place we have found ourselves swimming in since we were in arm-bands, with league and FA Cup successes the only life jacket available to save us being past under inflated. The functioning buoy in the form of the Champions League win in 2005 is looking worn and dated. I’m getting pulled down again under the surface, this whale is underneath me, always in sight, dragging me down with the undertow. One feeble breaststroke forwards, five heavy ripples of the inevitable and cold tide backwards.
The manager needs to realise this as well, this burden of ‘nearly men’ that we carry. We can’t be a mundane stream of Dortmund noise, nor would we want to be, but especially not when we get the feeling that we can see what’s coming, and that inevitable sense of impending despondency becomes our neutral grey reality yet again. No barrel of laughs that, Jürgen.
Only one remedy, but it feels terminal at present. He has seen us at our reactive best and our sense of collectively disjointed match-going worst in the past month. Our objectives and aspirations at massively skewed ends of the scale with each click of the turnstile. Pouring your heart into every second, with every single moment an aspiration for fulfilment, willing to die for the cause.
Enjoying the ‘Anfield experience’ and watching everything before you unfold through the pixels on your smartphone, not once contributing to the socialism the person next to you believes the club stands for. A sense of abide with me needs to bare fruition on both sides going forward, a better understanding of each other.
Testing: “We go again” – Steven Gerrard
We have all had our conspiracies as to why it has gone wrong; I can only base opinion on what it is I’ve seen while never underestimating just how hard the manager’s job is. I’m not one who thinks Sadio Mane’s absence is the core route of our woes. However, I think the manager had an inherent belief, rightly or wrongly, that both Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi could come in relatively fresh and pick us up the points and goals we would miss from our Senegalese forward.
The fact it has gone so pear-shaped means that the manager has had to front up a large portion of the flack, it’s nature of the beast. More importantly, he will have learnt so much about players in his squad from this, who can really be relied on, whose legs are gone, and who just plainly and simply doesn’t fancy it when needed most.
No-one is exempt, there isn’t one player in this period who can say they’ve not suffered with confidence, or stopped running into 10 yards of space, or took a touch too many unnecessarily. There was a marked improvement against Chelsea, the urgency and closing of spaces back, creating mini-pitches within the pitch, to overload and break lines. It was far from perfect, but it looked more like our Liverpool again. Just show us a bit more snide and anger, coupled with the ability to take a yellow bastard card on the halfway line when Leroy Fer is ambling through our midfield like a hot knife through butter without objection. Just that please, the boys.
I honestly think there is a strong chance that this month may be seen as watershed in the manager’s time at Liverpool in years to come. He is still learning about his boys, about this league. He knew German football inside out and it still took him time to crack it with Dortmund. Maybe we need to accept the signs, long-term, are unquestionably encouraging and the achievement of our objective is going to be slightly more elongated than we’re all currently willing to accept.
For what it’s worth, I think we will purr from February onwards. Ultimately though, I’m not in any fit state to process with such gay abandon after such a difficult month.
Acceptance: “Don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cause every little thing, is gonna be alright” – Bob Marley.
Of this I have no doubt. But given the month we’ve had, and given the concoction of emotions I’m feeling today, he can currently fuck off an all.