At the start of the season, I predicted, like most, that Liverpool was still in their rebuilding period. We would finish 6th, maybe 5th if Tottenham really screwed up. I wasn’t being pessimistic, just realistic. The top 4 spot that would bring Champions League football back to Anfield was a dream for next season, and that was okay. If you’d told me then that I’d be sitting here now, sad that we didn’t win the league… well, sure, supporters of every team down to the ones that get relegated are sad that their teams didn’t win the league. But if you’d told me how close we came, I’d have never believed you. As I write this, I’ll admit I’m a bit teary-eyed that City (the team I predicted to win at the start of the season, mind) came out on top, but we’re in second. We’re back in the Champions League. We’re so far ahead of United you have to scroll down the league table to find them. I’m nothing if not very, very proud. It’s been a wild ride, and here are a few of the most memorable moments:
Liverpool 1 – 0 Stoke, 17 August 2013
The day before I left for Ireland, I got up at half-six on a Saturday morning and went to the pub with my father (dragging along my still-half-asleep mother and sister). There we were joined by about fifty other people, mostly my father’s age, mostly men, but some women, some young people, and nearly all wearing red. We said hello to the bartender, got our pints—yes, at seven in the morning—and sat down to watch the football. Liverpool v Stoke, at Anfield, the opening match of the 2013/14 season. Things got off to a good start, with Daniel Sturridge (more on him later) scoring a few minutes before halftime. It looked like we were on track for a win and the atmosphere in the Iron Abbey was upbeat. Then, in the 88th minute, when all we had to do was sit back and defend, Daniel Agger, my second favourite Dane after Hamlet, handled the ball in the box and the referee called for a penalty.
Here it is, I thought. Business as usual. Stoke will equalise and we’ll be on track for a season just like the ones we’ve had for the past few years; the ones that made me dread waking up on those early weekend mornings, hungover and watching Liverpool lose to Aston Villa. And then, and then. Simon Mignolet, our new keeper (whom I immediately liked even though I’ve always been a big fan of Pepe Reina), saved the penalty, and saved the win for Liverpool. At that moment I knew—I think we all knew—that this season was going to be something special.
Liverpool 1 – 0 Manchester United, 1 September 2013
I’m not going to lie: I kept my expectations low for this one. Sure David Moyes’ Anfield record wasn’t good, and sure Manchester United were without Fergie at the helm, but it’s still Manchester United. And then Daniel Sturridge—a player about whom I was cautiously optimistic when we signed but who quickly became one of my favourites on the team for his skills and his dedication and even his stupid dance—celebrated his 24th birthday by scoring yet another goal and helping Liverpool win their third match in a row, three 1-0 winners by Sturridge. And against Manchester United, no less.
Arsenal 2 – 0 Liverpool, 2 November 2013
I watched this match in a pub in Temple Bar with my mom. I found out the next day that the pub next to the one we were in was the meeting place of the Arsenal Supporters Club of Dublin, so I suppose I could’ve made a worse choice of location. And this pub had some great live music which made my mom happy. The match, not so happy. It was at this point in the season that everyone thought Arsenal would be front-runners for the league, and with the way they were playing and the fact that they had signed Ozil on the last day of the transfer window (I love Real Madrid as well, so this was heartbreaking) it wasn’t too strange a thought. Their decisive victory over Liverpool only seemed to punctuate that.
Liverpool 3 – 1 Cardiff City, 21 December 2013
In the grand scheme of the season, this wasn’t a major match. However, it was a highlight for me as it was the first time I saw a match at Anfield. I had visited before, three years ago when I was studying abroad in London, and I had seen Liverpool before, two years ago when they played Spurs in Baltimore in the most miserable, humid weather I have ever had the misfortune to be outside during, but when I decided I would be in Ireland for the year, just a 45 minute flight from Dublin to Liverpool, I knew I had to go to a match at Anfield. So in July, when the tickets went on sale at 8am Liverpool time, I was awake at 4am EST and managed to get a seat in the Kop.
Despite the Cardiff fans’ accusations that “Anfield’s a library” (the response: “SHHHH”) the Kop was in full song, especially when Suarez scored two goals. Sterling scored one (assisted by Suarez), and while obviously it was too much to ask for a clean sheet (defence? what defence?) when the match ended at 3-1 we went top of the league for Christmas. It was an incredible experience to go to Anfield, and one I hope to repeat.
Liverpool 5 – 1 Arsenal, 8 February 2014
Revenge! Sure, they knocked us out of the FA Cup a few days later, but who cares when we had the most exciting twenty minutes of football at the start of this match, and scored four goals to boot? Martin Skrtel, who has scored more Premier League goals this season than certain 50 million pound Chelsea transfers headed two in and Sterling and Sturridge had also found net before the first half was even half finished. Sterling scored again in the second half and even though we didn’t keep a clean sheet (because this is Liverpool we’re talking about), it was a clear sign that despite being top of the league Arsenal weren’t the would-be champions, and we were on the up.
Manchester United 0 – 3 Liverpool, 16 March 2014
If the 1-0 win at Anfield felt good, this one was like a weird but incredible dream. Three penalties given to Liverpool? At Old Trafford? And even though Stevie missed one (and therefore sadly missed out on his hattrick) Suarez still scored another goal to win three-nil (a clean sheet even?!). Despite the 5 whole minutes of added time, it seemed like SAF’s reign was well and truly over. Per usual, Vidic was sent off, and moreover we were treated to the glorious sight of Stevie G kissing the camera.
I could never have predicted the course that Manchester United’s season would take. Sure, I expected them to struggle a bit, but for a team that won the league handily the season before, I would expect “struggle” to mean dropping down to second or third. I’m still sickened that they managed to sign Juan Mata, my favourite non-Liverpool player in the Premier League (just above Jesus Navas and Mesut Ozil), but overall I couldn’t be more pleased with how their season has turned out.
Liverpool 3 – 2 Manchester City, 13 April 2014
Even though we won this match, I’m finding it the most difficult to write about. In part that’s because it was so stressful to watch. I was sitting in Kellys freaking out as we went two up and then City went level and oh god when Coutinho put us ahead again but there were still 15 minutes or so before the end of the match… yeah, stressful. But it’s not the match itself that I’m having trouble putting into words; it’s the way it felt.
If the motto of the season has been “Make Us Dream,” then this match embodies that. I tried never to let myself get too optimistic, but if anything could make me believe it was beating the title favourites and this season’s biggest rivals in a thrilling game. We went two up, then conceded twice in five minutes. Just as we began to fear that hope was lost, Coutinho, whose finishing has left something to be desired all season, sent in a rocket of a goal to put us ahead again and, despite Henderson’s last-minute sending off (which I think hit us hard in the next few games), when the whistle blew it was high spirits all around.
Liverpool Legends 1 – 1 International Legends, 21 April 2014
When Liverpool announced that, in memory of the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, there would be a charity match between two teams of former Liverpool players with the proceeds going to the Hillsborough foundation and the Liverpool foundation, I bought a ticket on a whim, figuring that if I could make it then I’d donated to a good cause anyway. As it turned out, the match coincided close enough to my trip to London to visit my friend Emily that a bus ticket later I managed to be at Anfield.
The pre-match exhibition of academy and local young players, featuring coaching by the Liverpool Ladies team, the U18/21s, and the first team was so much fun to watch; Raheem Sterling was working with the group nearest me and he entertained by letting the kids get close to the ball before pulling off a trick and stealing it away. The game itself featured an incredible group of players: Didi Hamann, Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Luis Garcia, Michael Owen (who was heartily booed and equally heartily cheered), Jan Molby, Ian Rush, and a special 10-second appearance by the “local legends” team manager Kenny Dalglish. It made the six hour bus ride to London (after being awake for 30+ hours straight) more than worth it.
Liverpool 0 – 2 Chelsea, 27 April 2014 & Liverpool 3 – 3 Crystal Palace, 5 May 2014
Of course, in the rosy afterglow of beating City, we had to come crashing, well, slipping, back down to earth. Even a few of the most diehard supporters of other teams I know told me they felt some sympathy for Steven Gerrard when he fell and allowed Ba to beat Mignolet one-on-one to score Chelsea’s first goal just before the half. Nobody deserves the Premier League title more, and nobody deserves less to have had something like that happen. It was devastating.
Things only got worse the following week when Liverpool, after going up three goals, lost the lead in under 10 minutes, Crystal Palace scoring the equaliser and effectively destroying Liverpool’s chance at the title in the 88th minute. These are fresh wounds so I won’t rehash them too thoroughly but one thing I will say is this: after the summer when Suarez was so desperate to leave this team, seeing him cry at the end of the match showed the passion he has for football and, I’m starting to believe once more, for Liverpool. And seeing Steven Gerrard comfort him despite his own obvious sadness just re-emphasises the fact that he really is Captain Fantastic.
Liverpool 2 – 1 Newcastle, 11 May 2014
Our general strategy this season seemed to be something along the lines of “We don’t need to worry about defending as long as we can score a shitload of goals.” For the most part, it has served us pretty well, with even our so-called defenders getting in on the act. Martin Skrtel has scored more goals than many other teams’ forwards and strikers… unfortunately, he has also scored more own goals, and one of them came today. When some twenty minutes later at the Ethiad Manchester City put one in at the Ethiad, it cemented the fact that our title dreams had slipped (ugh) away. But we are Liverpool, and two identical, beautiful free kicks by Gerrard, put in by our Daniels (Agger and Sturridge), saw us back in front.
In the end, it wasn’t enough to win us the league (congrats, City, and thanks for not being Chelsea anyway), and that’s pretty devastating, but we have a lot to be proud of. And next season, we go again.
So that’s that. Looking forward to a million summer transfer rumours, being jealous of everyone back in the States going to preseason matches (the team is playing a friendly in Dublin later this week but alas I will be in Galway hard at work on my thesis), Champions League football, and everything else about the season to come (although in the meantime I’m ridiculously excited about the World Cup).
Finally, I want to make special mention of a group of women who mean the world to me: Greta, Tori, Erika, Teresa, Maria, Cady, Sara, Nuzhat, and probably a few more I’m forgetting. Anyone who says girls don’t know/love football is more full of shit than a José Mourinho press conference, and you ladies have been the most fun, emotional, silly smart, dedicated people to watch these matches with from around the world. Also to a certain few Manchester United supporters who put up with a lot of abuse from me (even the one who put a thing of toilet roll on Kenny Ducklish*’s head—you know who you are), I appreciate that you can take it as well as I’m sure you’ve been dishing it out in seasons past. Much love and, of course, YNWA.