With the twins draped in red, John Fogarty goes all Jack Nicholson in confessing that Jurgen Klopp makes him want to be a better man. Is this as good as it gets?
My 10-year-old self won’t allow me to remember much of Alan Hansen lifting the Division 1 trophy on April 28, 1990. It ushers me instead to 20 days earlier when another Alan — bloody Pardew — killed off the dreams of the double, me disconsolate at the foot of my stairs, unable to watch the dying minutes of extra-time.
My memory isn’t playing tricks; the FA Cup meant something. The vividness of that semi-final also had something to do with watching on TV in real time the horror that preceded the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough 12 months earlier but it prevails.
How that Liverpool side, great as they were but clearly tortured, ever went on to win the FA Cup just over a month later never mind come within seconds of completing the double still mystifies.
Witnessing something as affecting as that Saturday afternoon in Sheffield endures. The human side of a dominating sports club was never so cruelly shown. How could you follow any other after that?
The Irish connection buttressed the affair. The place, the scattering of Irish surnames in and around the city and the team. Ronnie Whelan, Steve Staunton, and Ray Houghton were there 30 years ago. John Aldridge had left earlier in the season, but he was my man. Oirish he might have been but like my father, he had a ’tache and just as I held Donie O’Connell and Kieran Duff, that made him golden.
As sentimental as his appointment was, I still wonder what might Roy Evans have achieved had he preceded Graeme Souness as manager instead of having to pick up the pieces. Any ill-feeling towards Gerard Houllier for ‘backstabbing’ Evans evaporated when he fell sick. The cups before that helped too, of course.
After him, Rafa Benitez promised and delivered. He had me at hello and lost me when he waved goodbye to Xabi Alonso. Fans aren’t always right but that decision screamed silliness.
Hope kills but it compromises too. What supporter isn’t, says you, but I convinced myself for the first month at least that Roy Hodgson would turn out to be the right fit. I was adamant Kenny Dalglish going back was the right thing to do. Ditto his defence of Luis Suarez in the wake of the racist allegation made by Patrice Evra. I was outraged when Brendan Rodgers felt he was too good to be interviewed for the position.
As close as Rodgers came to ending the famine, as impressive as those 11 straight wins were in 2014, it was almost ethereal. Up to then, my Liverpool fairytales were limited to singular games — Cardiff 2001 and ’06, Istanbul ’05 and against Olympiakos in ’04, when I was in the old Centenary Stand. Magical as they were, they never extended to anything more and when Leicester City claimed a remarkable Premier League in 2016 it seemed they had stolen Liverpool’s fairy dust.
Only when Jurgen Klopp arrived did hope begin to feel like expectation again. The charisma provided him with a lengthy and, as it turned out, necessary honeymoon even if I was adamant up to last season that he had made a mistake sticking with Jordan Henderson as captain.
Some of his early minor successes weren’t even wins. When he led the players to salute The Kop after they had salvaged a 2-2 draw with West Brom in December 2015, he was ridiculed. A month later, he broke his glasses in celebration as Liverpool beat Norwich City 5-4 in a game of utter lunacy and seemingly little consequence.
Liverpool ended up eighth that season — their joint-worst in the top flight since 1990 — but Klopp recognised the squad had to be reseeded with belief and personnel.
And even as those European final defeats to Sevilla and Real Madrid in 2016 and ’18 lent to the idea Klopp was an unlucky general in cup competitions, fans didn’t mind so long as progress was tangible.
A second successive fourth-placed finish in 2018 was acceptable in light of the Champions League final appearance.
Last season, it took an incredible Manchester City team, and, I maintain, an iffy goal-line decision as well as an even dodgier foul by Vincent Kompany, to deny a 30-win Liverpool.
The slow train was no longer chugging and another — if not the most — magical European night in Anfield was thrown in for good measure.
Beating Dortmund in 2016 was special; beating Barcelona was heavenly.
Followers of Liverpool don’t lack righteousness but it’s difficult not to be right now led by a manager who so often hit the right note, who thinks as a human first and a manager second.
Like him berating supporters for wanting to touch his hand before the Atletico Madrid game back in March as the coronavirus pandemic was at its pinnacle in the UK.
The lockdown only suspended what was the inevitable. The manager was worried when null and void were mentioned. I couldn’t allow myself the slightest thought it would ever be cancelled. I didn’t. What was another three months on top of 30 years only compound interest?
And still none of those notions were ever articulated beyond a Liverpool WhatsApp group or two for fear of being a hostage to fortune. You wouldn’t dare with something so precious.
As it became clear the season would resume, it has been difficult not to glean some pleasure from how the prospect of Liverpool’s success hung over opposing fans who had hoped in their heart of hearts it would not happen.
With masterful subversion, Klopp demanded an asterisk for his team — “this is really special,” he explained. Klopp is a knight, full of chivalry, but deadly competitive.
Unlike that run of 2014 this was a league season you could believe in: Anfield the fortress it was last season, the number of late wins a massive endorsement of the team’s mentality.
Klopp makes us better people. No longer does Souness the Liverpool manager besmirch my regard for him as the Liverpool player (his eulogy to Michael Robertson in April was a thing of beauty).
I have even come around to the idea that Michael Thomas, in joining the club in 1991, was in some way paying back a debt for his previous misdemeanour.
Since becoming a father to twins, they’ve been assured they will never walk alone, but it will be a kinship not without disappointment. A fellow Liverpool-supporting friend has often spoke of the guilt having passed the passion onto his offspring.
As my brother, who has handed on the same heirloom to his own son, has often said, texted and WhatsApped: “Liverpool Football Club, they break your heart.”
And they will again. But for every Alan Pardew, there is an Alan Hansen.