Yesterday, Liverpool FC lost a big game, the FA Cup final, to Another Team. I watched it in a pub in Sevilla that had far too few fans in red and far too many fans of that other team. It wasn’t a good loss, either; LFC played well during the last 30 minutes but that wasn’t enough to save the results of the dire first 60. Then, as I was leaving for home, the stormclouds came and I walked home in the rain like every sad person cliché.
Today, I have a bit more positive view of the game, on a personal level. Look, I’m not going to act like it wasn’t heartbreaking. I’m not going to say “everything happens for a reason” when the thing that happened was John Terry raising a trophy instead of Steven Gerrard. I’m gutted for the team; even if it wasn’t their best game they certainly deserved it more than That Other Team, and I’m certainly sad for my fellow fans. But, and maybe I’m finding something here that isn’t actually there, I felt like watching this game, watching Liverpool lose this big match, listening to the other fans cheering in the pub, I was more of a “real fan*” than I had been before.
I’ve always loved soccer—I played it for ten years as a kid, and it’s the only sport I can stand to watch on television. I have fond memories of going to a Women’s World Cup game when I was younger, and seeing a couple of MLS and indoor league games over the years, and less fond memories of being on a lake during the final of the most recent World Cup and therefore having my sister’s text updates on the game rendered completely useless, forcing me to hunt frantically for service as soon as we were back on land so I could see if my favourite team won (spoiler alert: it did).
But I’d never really followed a team until the beginning of last season. If you’d asked me to pick before that, I would probably still have said I support Liverpool, they always seemed like the obvious choice, but I never paid any attention to their stats or their players or anything else that is second nature to most football fans. Last year, beginning toward the end of the season but really picking up steam when I was studying in London (yay for being in the same time zone as the games!). I watched as many games as I could, learned about the team and its history, and I still felt like I was a fake, a bandwagon fan (although the last two seasons have hardly been LFC’s best, so I’m not sure that’s really a bandwagon to be jumped on) for being so new.
It didn’t help that, for the most part, the “big games” I watched after becoming a fan (that first game against Some Other Team after losing Some Idiot** to them, the Carling Cup final this year) were games we mostly won. The pub I went to yesterday to watch the match was the same one I was at for the Carling Cup final, and although I was extremely excited that LFC won, I almost felt like I was stealing some of the excitement away from people who “deserved” it more.
But yesterday after the game, I thought about it and I decided everyone has to start somewhere. Sure, there are people who are Liverpool fans from birth (or fans of anything, really) but just being a newer fan doesn’t mean being less of one. It’s something I always say in other cases, and now I’m going to apply it to me. Going through the heartbreak of your favourite team losing a big match by playing a bad game and supporting them anyway is a sign to me that you (or in this case, I) am with them through the lows as well as the highs (although to be honest, maybe supporting them through this season should have been enough). If I kept the mindset that I couldn’t be a “real fan” because others had been fans longer than me, I’d never be a fan at all, and I don’t think that’s the case.
So when Liverpool beats That Team in its next Premier League game (because yeah, lucky, the next game is against them too) I’ll feel just as happy as the person who’s loved the team for twenty years, and the one who’s only followed them for a week. Remember this.
* I actually hate the idea of “real fans” or “fake fans” (including “bandwagon fans”), and don’t like to label people as such, generally.
** Nothing to do with LFC, just a really great moment.
P.s. Here’s a picture of me at Anfield last year! I’ve yet to see Liverpool play live, but I’m looking forward to watching them against Spurs in Baltimore this summer.