THAT. The Lads. They are The Lads. Getting to be The Lads.
It’s something that happens to a football team, something that happens to any decent enterprise, ignore the gendered language or anything else you like, you’ve knocked round here long enough and you know, I know you know, you know I mean the very moment you become the thing, the core thing. The idea of being alive because Christ almighty you could be dead and this thing has become ours, has become technicolour.
Liverpool FC became The Lads tonight in front of our very eyes. What a crew they were. The whole 14 of them. A stark reminder of what a football team is, mostly 14 people screaming at each other and working for each other and loving each other for 90 minutes, refusing to countenance opposition, wanting to resist everything. Playing actually well is overrated as long as refusing the idea of not winning is central. That refusal has to be a group refusal and my man of the match is that refusal. My man of the match is the dressing room.
The opener is a belter. It is worked on, a goal from the training ground. What does that tell you about the training ground and what they are working on? Headers from an acute angle are not conventional fayre and yet we are where we are. The ball swung in for Mo Salah as he expected and as a goal it is unstoppable.
As is the freekick. Absolutely unstoppable. There is nowhere the goalkeeper can stand and back himself. The ball nestles irresistible. The quality and the class of Philippe Coutinho clear for all to see. But what I loved tonight was his desire to battle. To show. To get yardage.
Joel Matip allows Jamie Vardy to steal a cheap one, Shinji Okazaki actively fouls the Liverpool ‘keeper and from there The Reds are under the cosh. What matters from that point is how well Liverpool lock down the other side of half time. Let’s be clear — it is a bad goal to concede and a worse penalty. Let’s be clear, the game never looks properly under control but by God do Liverpool fight.
It’s quite a performance in the context of existing on a tightrope, knowing there is no safety net. It’s not something which can be easily written off and explained away. Leicester City is an aggressive, difficult ground when their blood is up. They’ve been champions and loads of those players remain on the pitch. They let you away with nothing but Liverpool resisted. They refused. They didn’t take no for an answer and instead took all three points.
The eventual winner comes from the captain, a footballer in the midst of his best 90 minutes of the campaign and a 90 minutes that felt win or bust, that felt like a statement of intent, that looked like that of a man who was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it any more. He wins it, slips it forward and just goes.
Daniel Sturridge has come on and found more time than any footballer on the pitch, has just become the best footballer on the pitch by a million, billion miles and he feeds it back. Henderson’s deep breath was the essence of the Klopp call for chaos and energy followed by calm and he just finds the way home. For me. For you. For Liverpool. But for himself, for what he needed. He needed that and we all did. His campaign hasn’t been what he would want to date; his performance tonight was practically perfect but ultimately entirely serious.
It was that of Liverpool. Entirely serious. What heroes, what magnificent men, what more can we ever ask than to be that heroic and strong and seeing it home? We’ll see clean sheets but seasons are burned in crucibles like the King Power. Liverpool are set up now, set up to kick on and do the business. Nothing can go wrong now.
This thing of ours. Everything can go wrong, absolutely everything. But nothing can escape what a joy it is to be alive after a win and performance like that, for all its strengths and weaknesses. The point of a rollercoaster is that it is a ride, that it is highs and lows but ultimately victorious and glorious.
This thing of ours, this idea of a gang of lads we can love. This thing of ours, screaming at each other and at a referee. This thing of ours, at its very, very best it wears its heart on its sleeve. You want studied analysis? You want the calm walkaround a game? This thing of ours defies it, especially on nights like tonight. Let others do that. Let them be graybearded. Just know this — I want to be on a dancefloor, in a huddle, on the streets with them and you. I want to be on Jordan Henderson’s night out.
Liverpool make it a joy to be alive when they are like this. Our lads, The Lads; they demand we live. It isn’t complicated.