ARE you in love?
It’s a silly question really. I already know that you’re in love because you’re reading this. You’ve clicked on an article written by someone, somewhere just to get another little taste of something. Another little piece of the buildup. Another few minutes thinking about The Reds instead of doing whatever it is you should be doing right now.
I know you’re in love. The really crazy thing, though, is that you’re not in love with another human. You’re in love with a thing. A football club. A collection of memories and colours and smells and sounds that do something to you that nothing else does.
No other event or experience does to you what this ridiculous thing does.
I remember my sister being asked whether she loved her own wedding more than the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul which had taken place just a few days before. Her answer still makes me smile to this day.
“They’re different aren’t they, you can’t really compare them.”
In short, her answer was “no, Istanbul was well better.”
I was at both of those events and, while I loved my sister’s wedding and all the fun and love that was involved, at no point was I jumping up and down like a raving lunatic, being catapulted through the air, hugging and kissing random people who started the event several feet away from me, yet somehow being propelled together in a split second of euphoria.
I love that word. How often are you euphoric these days? It might depend on your age. I watch little kids who look euphoric at the site of a puddle that they’re about to jump in, or a new football that they’re about to kick for the first time. But, as we get older, the world starts to wear us down. We have bills to pay. We have jobs to go to, most of the time through necessity not desire. The prospects of us feeling euphoric in our day-to-day lives seem to diminish by the year. Sometimes by the month. We have to battle to find moments of happiness in among the day-to-day dreariness of adult life.
But then we have this. This mad, beautiful, illogical, glorious thing that we share. A cathedral we visit to join in the one religion we all have in common. To sing hymns of praise to gods old and new. To witness the birth of a new hero and to reminisce about the heroes of the past. It takes us away. It makes our blood pump faster through our veins and our pupils dilate. It makes us shout and scream in ways we might never dream of outside of the sanctity of Anfield. It makes the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end as we walk up the stairs and see the crowd and the green pitch open up before us. It makes us feel like little kids again, remembering the first time we set foot on holy ground and fell in love. Love at first sight does exist. I’ve witnessed it in thousands of others and experienced it for myself. There was no doubt. The moment you saw it you knew. The moment you experienced the exhilaration of your first goal, it was all over.
And here we are again. On the brink of another glorious night. We all seem to be ageing together inside the ground in a way that hasn’t happened in the past. Gone are the days when the young blood would fill the terraced Kop in place of the supporters who had given their all to the cause and were now semi-retiring to the comfort of the other stands. Gone are the thousands of teenagers and young adults picking the atmosphere up on their backs and urging the older generations to join them for an uplifting anthem. The argument about how we fix that problem is for another day though. We are where we are for tonight. We can all remember great European nights. It wasn’t that long ago that the Borussia Dortmund players found themselves in the middle of an Anfield whirlwind, looking at each other with knowing looks, suddenly remembering images they’d seen on TV screens over the years when they hadn’t understood how a superior team on paper had been demolished by these lads in red.
But once they were in the middle of it they knew. They could feel it. They could sense it from the stands and they could see it in the eyes of their opposition. They were going to lose, and it was just a matter of how it was going to happen.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have witnessed first hand the power of Anfield on a European night. I still laugh now when opposition fans mock our “famous atmosphere” at 12.30pm on a Saturday against Bournemouth, because I’ve seen it and they haven’t. Let them come and stand among us on one of these nights then ask about the atmosphere.
I was at Juventus and Chelsea in 2005, at Chelsea again in 2007 and I witnessed Dortmund in 2016. I was there for all those in between that only get mentioned in the footnotes because they were just really good atmospheres. Other clubs would talk about Barcelona in 2001 as though it was the greatest atmosphere of all time, but we know better. We know our own capabilities. We’re Steven Gerrard, knowing that an eight out of 10 performance might do for some players, but when you’ve seen what a 10 on the scale looks and feels like, it’s hard to settle for anything less.
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) August 23, 2017
That’s the thing about love. Once you’ve experienced the highs it’s hard to accept anything less. It’s not easy, but it’s not meant to be. There are certain things in life that are self regulating to protect the very essence of their being. Very few people have six packs instead of beer guts because getting a six pack is really difficult. The level of difficulty it takes to attain ensures that it remains special. The same goes for true love. We all want it, and we’re led to believe by Hollywood movie producers that it’s as easy as a flash of a smile or a glint of an eye, but we know that’s not true. We know that true love is walking through the storms together, holding hands and picking each other up when we’re on our knees and ready to give up. Real love is built on strength and determination. A willingness to never be defeated. An acknowledgement that it can’t all be joy and happiness because, if it was, it would become mundane and we’d never experience the euphoria we crave so badly.
If we want the highs, we have to take the lows. We have to accept that not every pass will be completed. Not every shot will be on target. Not every game will be won. If you’re heading to Anfield tonight or watching the match on TV in the UK or in some far-flung destination, ask yourself what you expect of our boys. Do you expect them to be perfect? None of us are, so it’s an unrealistic expectation and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. So what, instead, if we just ask this of them: to give us everything they’ve got. To run and run until they’ve got nothing left. To drive Hoffenheim into the ground through sheer force of will. Adding a touch of flair on top when we’ve crushed their resolve and destroyed their hopes.
And what will we ask of ourselves? What, instead of complaining about every misplaced pass, we focus on the ones that hit the target, and we encourage our lads when one goes astray because we know they didn’t do it on purpose? What about if we put into the game what we expect of them, screaming and cheering and singing to push them forward. Encouraging them to never give in.
We’re all in love, and sometimes we don’t treat the people and things we love in the way that we should. We take for granted the amazing things they do and we expect more and more until they’ve got nothing left to give.
So, let’s do this together. Let’s give our husbands, wives, kids, mums, dads, grandparents, sisters, dogs and cats a big hug. Let’s hold them close, then look them in the eyes and tell them we’re going into battle and we’ll return victorious. We’re going to give everything we’ve got to these joyous Redmen. We’re going to remember what it was like to be that kid watching those glorious red kits for the first time, we’re going to feel the blood pumping through our veins and the hairs standing up on the back of our necks. We’re going to make sure that we do whatever we can to get these Reds into Europe. We’re going to make sure that we push them forward at all times, never giving in to a selfish desire to want more than they can give.
We’re going to get them to the group stages, then we’re going to crush whoever has the misfortune of being put in our way.
This is our trophy and it’s been gone too long.
Let’s get it back.
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