In 2014, I went to bed crying because Steven Gerrard slipped, we drew 3-3 with Crystal Palace and lost the Premier League title. Now, four years later, in a matter of days, we are playing Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Talk about a twist of events. Talk about a resurrection. What a journey it’s been. What a journey.
Football superstitions are fundamentally absurd. They somehow manage to convince you that the outcome of a football match, usually played thousands and thousands of miles away, hinges entirely on what you, insignificant little you, are doing on any given day; whether you have put on the right pair of socks; whether you have eaten breakfast at exactly seven in the morning; whether you are watching the match with a particular shirt on. Ever since I watched the Crystal Palace match in its entirety in 2014, I’ve somehow convinced myself that it was because of me that we lost. It’s because I, who was usually working when we played on weekends, was watching a Liverpool match live for the first time in years. We didn’t lose because Luis Saurez picked the ball out of the net at 3-0 and said we go again or because we went too gung-ho without any defensive strategy. No, we lost because I decided to sit down, rein in my nerves and watch the match the whole way through. Like I said: fundamentally absurd.
I am ashamed to say that the defence mechanism I adopted after the 13/14 heartbreak was not to expect anything out of football. I reckoned the more you hope for something, the more painful it is, so it is better not to hope at all. I genuinely approached every game like we’re going to lose, because if we were to actually lose, I wouldn’t be disappointed, and if we were to win, it’d just be a nice surprise. I stopped watching matches from beginning till end; I physically couldn’t cope with the nerves or the constant resurfacing of what I’ve termed my ‘Crystal Palace trauma’. When our fortunes started to improve, I also convinced myself that we’re doing so well because I wasn’t watching. That somehow if I switched on the television and watched entire matches we would start capitulating and be plunged back into the Roy Hodgson dark ages. Yes. Like I said: fundamentally absurd.
This Champions League campaign, however, has made me regret everything I’ve done ever since the moment Suarez sank down to his knees sobbing at Selhurst Park. The manager said the first the day he came in that we must turn from “doubters to believers” and he, somehow, against all the odds, have made us do just that. I look at this manager, at these fans in the stands, at these lads in red on the pitch and I’m mad at myself for having, time and time again, denied myself the joy of fully loving them. The messes, the stumbles, the exhilarating triumphs – I should have been there for every moment, every minute and every second. What’s the point of loving football, of loving this club, if I didn’t risk my heart? What’s the point of any of it?
Enjoying things is brilliant. It truly is. And when you have a team like this – that has scored a total of 134 goals this season, that boasts the best player in the world, that has a nineteen year-old Scouser playing right back – it is a crime not to enjoy things. The pace. The pride. The togetherness. These Reds make me want to embrace again the possibility of going to bed crying because we’ve come so close to something so great and have it slip away from us at the very last moment. They make me want to risk experiencing heartbreak again for the second, the third, the fourth time.
Make no mistake: we can easily lose this final. Real Madrid are a damn good football team. But I want us to beat them so badly, I can almost taste the victory. I hope for us to beat them. I dream for us to beat them. These bastards in white. These bastards with their arrogance, their politics, their privilege, their media not giving us a chance in hell of coming out of this alive. I dream of us not only beating them but humbling them. Of showing the world our time is not and has never been over. I dream of Jordan Henderson standing on a podium and hoisting that cup into the air while streamers rain down from the sky.
Football is fundamentally absurd. And I suppose that makes me and us and them fundamentally absurd for loving it so. The least we can do is not be miserable while being absurd. Finally, after four years, I’m glad to say I’m done with being miserable. Being in a constant state of fear is no way to live. This team, this manager and these fans have shown me that life and football are both too short and too beautifully fleeting for that.
Up the Champions League-winning Reds.