On Never Walking Alone

Just over two months ago, a few days before I moved to Ireland, I was sitting in the living room of my parents’ home watching Manchester City play Chelsea. There were no fans in the stadium, hadn’t been since the Premier League had restarted after a long, coronavirus-induced break. Stakes were fairly high for each team. A win for Chelsea would boost their Champions League qualification hopes, while a win for City would keep them in the title race for one more week. Chelsea’s young American Christian Pulisic opened the scoring, then City’s Kevin De Bruyne equalised. In the second half, a handball saw Fernandinho sent off and Willian step up to the penalty spot to bury a second goal for Chelsea. Twenty minutes later, the game was over… and suddenly Liverpool were champions.

If you know me, you might think my relaying of this detail is overly subdued. I don’t write about them much here (only a few times over the last decade) but I have a deep and enduring love for this team from Merseyside. I’ve seen them win the Champions League, the the League Cup, and more, but being not-quite-thirty-yet their famous thirty year title drought has meant that I’d never gotten to see a captain of LFC raise the Premier League trophy. We came so close in 2013/14 only for our hopes to be crushed at the end. Still, in the words of our legend Steven Gerrard, we go again.

The start of this season immediately felt special. We were fresh off a Champions League win after having lost in the final the year before, and it seemed like everything was going our way. It was months before we dropped points at all and 29 matches before we lost a game. We had finally solved all of our defensive problems—the white-knuckled set pieces were a thing of the past—and our offense had strength to rival our best lineups ever. Most of all, we had leadership and heart from our Captain, Jordan Henderson. While I, like most LFC supporters, are sad that Stevie G never got to lift the trophy, Henderson grew into a more-than-worthy replacement.

It got to the point that we as fans went from “There’s no way I’m even considering that we could win the title, I don’t want to jinx it,” to “Here’s how I want us to win it.” Personally, I was hoping City would stave us off just long enough for me to finish traveling, get back to the USA, and take the train up into NYC to watch my team win the league with a group of amazing Liverpool-supporting female friends with whom I had shared so many joys and so many more heartbreaks through the years.

Obviously, covid put paid to that and for a while, we weren’t sure whether the Prem would be coming back at all. But despite plenty of noise from the “null and void” crowd (folks pretending they cared about the safety of the players or the optics of playing sport during a pandemic when they almost universally were just rival fans who didn’t want to see Liverpool win), “Project Restart” followed the lead of the Bundesliga and came up with a relatively safe way for the league to finish out the season (if you want to know more about the logistics of this I highly recommend this excellent podcast from journalist Melissa Reddy on the Football Ramble).

That’s not why my reaction to our win was subdued though; despite the break, my enthusiasm had not been dampened. It was just unexpected. By this point in the season, it was clear that we would win the league. There was no way this team could possibly, even with their best (worst?) efforts, throw it away. But City are strong as well, and even though they had faltered more than us, I was sure that they would win the match against Chelsea and take the title race to the next week, forcing us to beat them in the following game to secure our win. When the referee blew the final whistle, it barely even registered to me that it was over.

It wasn’t until the post-match analysis show abandoned any discussion of the game we had just seen and devoted several hours to interviewing an increasingly drunk team of Liverpool players who had gathered at a hotel to watch the match together—Jordan Henderson crying, Andy Robertson singing, Virgin van Dijk cheering, Jurgen Klopp praising his team, former player-turned-pundit Jamie Carragher popping up with a massive bottle of champagne—that it really sank in and the elation grew.

No, that’s not quite right. It wasn’t until I was having a celebratory drink with my fellow Red father, calling my Manchester United-supporting partner to gloat, and, most of all, messaging with my LFC friends on twitter, that it really sank in. I joked with my friends that “the real Premier League was the friends we made along the way,” but it really feels true. I don’t think I would have half the passion and love for this team that I do were it not for the folks, almost all women, I share so many Liverpool-related memories with.

Whereas trips to the bar to watch a match would frequently lead to some guy quizzing me on the offside rule or asking whether I was just here because my boyfriend likes the sport (except at my beloved Iron Abbey in Horsham, PA, which has a crowd of the most welcoming and enthusiastic folks you could ever meet of all ages, nationalities, and genders), watching games with my female friends was a special experience—even when we were struggling to pick out which player the pixelated shape on our illegal stream was meant to be and then realising that, unfortunately, it was Stewart Downing.

The first time I went to a match at Anfield, I had a seat on the Kop, and there was a moment before the match, when everyone was waving flags and scarves, that the supporters passed several massive banners over the section. There was a moment, when the fabric was directly over top of you, that all you could see was red and gold and white and all you could feel was the air moving as thousands of hands passed it along, and all you could hear was voices rising unified in song. That’s what having this group of friends who shares this passion with me feels like.

Although there was nothing to play for anymore, a few of my friends and I hopped onto a zoom call to watch the Liverpool v City match together (we lost 4-0 because clearly our team was still hungover from all the post-win partying). Hopefully one day we can be together yelling at Liverpool on the television (or better yet, inside Anfield) again. Although the 2019/20 season only just finished with the Champions League final a few days ago, the next season is already about to begin—Liverpool take on Arsenal in the Community Shield tomorrow. I don’t know what this season will bring, but I’m glad to be able to share it with friends. We never walk alone.

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