So that’s how it ends, not with a bang but with a City whimper. Over recent months I’ve read all manner of denouements and fanciful fairytales of how best to win the League, but what matters is that it’s done, writes
THEN RETURN TO NORMAL
You’ll get what you’re given. Back in the day Liverpool would win it almost by default, and once by not even playing. I appreciate the supreme irony of Chelsea, the cockney wrecking ball of 2014, coming to our aid this time around. We didn’t really need your help, but thanks all the same.
Not sure Steven Gerrard will be of like mind, but still. It would be melodramatic to speak of scars healing. In these gruesome, gruelling times, it’s healthier to remind yourselves that it’s just football. I’m glad I got to witness it, when one chance encounter with an infected stranger could have been fatal. Small mercies.
Hard to even remember how we felt back in August; early results were promising and the fact we weren’t debilitated in the least by the early injury to Alisson gave us hope that last season’s league cruelty was a temporary setback.
We’ve been damn lucky, though. This is an exceptional first team, obviously, but Jurgen Klopp was able to rely totally upon Van Dijk, two exciting full backs and a front trio that’s been inseparable for three years. Seriously, how many football clubs get to choose their core team without any dilution or absenteeism?
Are we really 20 points better than City? Of course not, but here we are anyway. It isn’t going to diminish anyone’s celebration by saying so.
Things fall into place, and when Danny Ings missed an absolute sitter in game two, Sheffield United’s goalkeeper suddenly acquired a gaping hole where his stomach usually is. When Milner converted a dubious penalty in the last minute against Leicester – that aura of invincibility grew.
That bravura has increased over three years, augmenting a refusal to give in however hopeless a situation seemed. City were wilting almost from the start, and Guardiola looked like he was cracking up at Anfield. That brought back memories of Rafa back in 2009, and the outside world’s morbid relish. More so-called scars healing.
Even the Champions League, and a Qatar vacation to become “world champions”, couldn’t put us off. By the time Salah was racing through on United’s goal, in the kind of last gasp flourish they’d inflicted on us during their supremacy, people were talking about “when” not “if”.
That produced nerves, and the occasional stuttering performance. Getting over the line meant everything now, leaving the marks for artistic impression to the ice skaters and the (now perpetual) grumblers of other clubs. What did we care?
For months we’ve had to listen to people trying to jinx it all. I’ve done it plenty of times myself over the years. If you’re right you’re right, and if you’re wrong, you’re ecstatic. Oldest trick in the book.
Even when football came out of lockdown, it was still going on. Oh sure, said City, we’ll line up in a guard of honour at the Etihad for you. Oh, they’ve had it sown up for months, said Roy Hodgson, a day before he brought Palace to Anfield. We see you…
Coronavirus took everything to a whole new level. 30 years of mockery had rendered Liverpool fans almost hysterical, susceptible to any claim or counterclaim. “Null and void” became the new Gerrard slip, pointless and mean – yet who knew what football’s hierarchy was capable of? All we could do was wait, and hope.
Would we have been less bantersome and provocative if situations were reversed? We claimed so, but with little conviction. If you’d stood on the Kop in 1992, singing ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ as we prolonged United’s torture, you’re profoundly cheeky to make such a claim.
We got repaid for that spite in spades, our new drought timed imperfectly with the other lot’s dominion. After the trophy oasis of the 1970s and 1980s, it felt as though someone up there didn’t like us after all.
In those 30 years of hurt, just how many saw a genuine title challenge anyway? Six? Seven, at a push. Like in The Third Policeman, the nightmare was recurring.
Abject failure, new manager, improvement, decent team, great team in fact, ooh so close, knocked backwards by major disappointment, manager sacked. Wake up, go through the whole thing again.
Why has Klopp been different? The main difference was keeping the same team that got him so close in the first place. It was a no-brainer to look at a team winning 97 points and then change nothing, but that hadn’t been the case before.
Evans bounced out Collymore, thinking Fowler and the emergent Owen would do far better and changed his whole formation. Houllier went with accepted wisdom and strengthened from a position of strength, until he discovered Diouf, Diao and Cheyrou brought new meaning to the word ‘strength’.
Rafa sought to replace Alonso, a departure he’d played a part in, but failed dismally. Poor Brendan lost Suarez and Sturridge – 50 league goals! – and chose to replace them with Balotelli.
Klopp and the club had slaved over improved contracts for his main stars, the forwards. Van Dijk and Alisson hadn’t been here long enough to get itchy feet yet. So, while fans grumbled about cheap owners who didn’t know you have to keep spending just to remain at par, the manager got on with it.
The European Cup helped hugely. Why leave, your ambitions can be satisfied here. 31 games and 86 points later, maybe these people know a bit more about it than we do?
It still won’t stop the complaining, obviously. You only have to look at the Timo Werner reaction to see that. If there were doubters, check out that fourth goal against Palace. Can the Fab 3 keep it going? Can Klopp really offer a place to a 50-million man like Werner, knowing most of his time could be spent on the bench? Squad strength and rotation is not merely a matter of hoovering up all the talent, surely?
When the tidal wave of mockery followed Gerrard’s slip, I swore on social media that when/if Liverpool did win it again, I would be completely obnoxious about it. Those words, verbatim.
Now the moment has arrived, of course I can’t be bothered. It’s petty, demeaning. My mum says “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing” – but she’s not a football fan, obviously.
The high road is easier to take when you’re as far ahead of everyone else as we are, so take it. Enjoy it, none of this “needless to say I had the last laugh” drivel. A bitter man rots from within.
Football is cyclical, there will (hopefully) be a new season soon, and the hysterical nonsense begins again.
For now, plan your parties and celebrations, savour just being a football fan for once and watch everyone else knock themselves out, trying to win things or stave off relegation or get into Europe.
We’ve waited 30 years to chill, so why pass up the opportunity? The chaos will begin again soon enough, but for us it just won’t be as desperate as before. Those days are over.
We can focus on the win against Palace rather than City’s failure to beat Chelsea, when we were at our very best and provided a timely reminder of how we got to be so far ahead in the first place. A tepid, desperate finish might have scratched away a little of the gloss and created a temporary despondency for our chances next year.
All the taunts and bickering we’ve had to face over the years were a back-handed compliment in many ways. Other people found it funny that we had to wait so long but they also thought it was unusual, out of character. That says much about what men like Shankly and Paisley built here, and what Klopp wants to bring back. If he does, great; if he doesn’t, we’ve seen great football and a few trophies. Many would kill for that.
Does that sound like complacency? Guilty as charged. As more people die in England, victims of a callous indifferent government, to get the blood boiling and the veins in your temple popping over a football team is unbelievably idiotic. That just me, or does anyone else think that?
I’m reminded of the way United’s long drought ended in 1993, also thanks to another team’s failure while they had a day off. I remember exactly where I was too, visiting my aunt in Norfolk. We drove to Cromer, walking by the sea, got back to the car and the dreaded news awaited me on the radio. Our last title had been three years before. None of us thought we’d go through what United had. I’ve thought back to 1990 a lot too; how accepted, normal and frankly underwhelming it all was.
That was a mistake that will not be made this summer, nor ever again.