THE notion of loyalty gets a lot of airtime in football. Loyal fans. The loyal servant. The disloyal want-away. The loyalty of the board. The lack of loyalty towards a manager. We’ll support you evermore. You’ll never walk alone. You’re one of our own.
Support. Backing. Allegiance. Keeping the faith.
All these things the football people, the talking heads, the scribes, they tell us about from when we are football children. About how loyalty is the glue that holds the football concept together. That without this fidelity it is nothing .
Liverpool FC, if it’s as much an ideal as a football club then it is loyalty incarnate. Even today via the media platforms that facilitate the whetting of the most casual football watching appetites it would be hard not to be aware of what the club stands for.
Our crowd. Our history. Our legends. Our faith. We are not unique but we are surely rare. Exceedingly rare at the top end of the sport, at any rate.
We expect our heroes to buy into all of this. We assume they do. And when it is so often eventually revealed that they can’t, that they won’t, we take it hard. Harder than most.
I found our crowing about the news of Romelu Lukaku’s apparent disloyalty towards Everton a bit distasteful. There are kids that are hurting right now. Grown men and women too. And although these aren’t our footballing kin we must surely pause to reflect that there but for the grace of God go we. We’ve walked in their shoes often enough.
Of course we welcome Everton failure. It is right and proper that we do. We wish them all that they would wish upon us. But although we revel in our differences and divisions, we also know we share more DNA than not.
When Luis Suarez revealed an ugly hand in the summer of 2013, we had to dig deep. We had to work hard to find a way to deal with his cruelty. The player had betrayed our loyalty. Our adoration and tribute. But we knew — in our deepest souls — that it only hurt because he was so damn good. We had to face our truth which was that our commitment to the man was only marginally less flimsy than his to our cause.
Ultimately the club stood firm, the player stayed, paid penance, and rehabilitated his reputation with goals. Barrel loads of them. Each goal a brick towards the rebuilding of the edifice of our loyalty.
In the part year from September 2013 to May 2014, we couldn’t get enough. We danced with him, we sang for him and at the end we wept tears with him. In his wretchedness and in his disappointment at the team’s pulling up short at Crystal Palace in that season’s penultimate game, we were finally as one with him. Like lovers, who had found and lost, and found each other again only to be defeated by the reality that fate must, in the end, tear us apart.
So we set Luis free. As the Ajax fans had before us.
Manchester City used to be a club famed for the loyalty of its fans. As a kid/teen I used to watch their teams yo-yoing between the leagues and wonder how they did it. I wondered how those fans kept themselves so motivated. Sure us Reds liked to tell ourselves that few loved and were more loyal to their team than us to ours, but in truth we were rarely tested. The Liverpool FC concept, the folklore that surrounds the fans, and their special levels of commitment was rooted in a culture of success. Three decades of the stuff.
Man City were a big club in the ‘60s and ‘70s but by the 1980s they were becoming something of a farce. Good players deserted, managers came and went and the board were always after being sacked. The only constant was the fans. Come rain, shine, relegation and false dawns they came to Maine Road in their thousands.
The numbers that would fill that stadium even in the second division were almost unprecedented.
Now City are a very different club. A take-over, followed by investment on a scale that would regenerate many third world countries has taken Manchester City to heights their forbears would never have dreamed of. If ever a body of football fans earned and deserved that crazy break it was the City fans I grew up admiring from a distance.
The modern body of City support seems like only a distant relation of previous incarnations, though. They can’t or won’t fill their current stadium. They are hardly the most vociferous football choir. It is as if it is all too much for some. Like a lottery winner who can’t quite come to terms with the riches. The kids can, though. They’re having a whale of a time.
Maybe it is the type of player the club decided to bring in. Exhibition-level artists of the game. The best in their fields and on any fields. Maybe it was obvious that this level of performer could only ever be an honoured guest rather than evolve into a beloved son.
The modern guardians of Manchester City rebuilt the club on a principle that if you throw enough money at the situation eventually this persistence will be its own reward. If a player thinks he’s too good to play for Manchester City then pay him so much money that he loses all sense of his own free will.
This is no longer necessarily the case because the project has fulfilled its own prophecy. Manchester City are not merely a modest club granted the resources of a big club, they are now the sporting behemoth their owners always wished for them to be. Now players come to City to win trophies, to perform on the grandest stages, and to play with the best players in the game.
Somewhere though, in the swiftness of the metamorphosis of Manchester City, something did get a bit lost. It feels — and it is admittedly from afar — as though the ties that once bound a supporter group so tightly to the concept of a football club are that bit looser.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe now is not the time to judge. Success can breed complacency.
Come teatime on Sunday the City squad will know a bit more about its relationship with the fans. They are returning to their home turf as beaten and somewhat humiliated warriors after the debacle of Monaco. They will be nervous in front of their people. I am 99 per cent only concerned by how Liverpool perform and that we prevail, but I’ll confess to a passing interest in just how the City fans react to their men. A test for both lies ahead.
A battle royale between Reds and Blues then. Giants of the M62 corridor. Few better sights. Two sides well matched and a contest that is hard to call.
Go get ‘em, Reds. Know this much at least — you won’t be running or walking alone. Nor will you ever be.
The ready Reds: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Can, Lallana, Wijnaldum; Mane, Coutinho, Firmino.
Kick-Off: 4.30pm live on Sky Sports 1
Last Match: Liverpool 1 Manchester City 0
Referee: Michael Oliver
Odds: Manchester City 1-1, Draw 14-5, Liverpool 3-1