Malachy Clerkin: what's not to love about Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool?

Tipping Point: Irish people making out they hate the other club always feels like a pose

Liverpool's 29-year wait for a league title will continue after they had to settle for runners-up spot behind Manchester City despite Sunday's 2-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on the final day of the Premier League season. Video: Reuters

 

 Long before the fourth goal went in the other night with the Barcelona defence and myself all momentarily looking elsewhere, the realisation had already set in. I, who had grown up a Manchester United fan, who had learned to love football through the lens of Norman Whiteside, Mark Hughes and Kevin Moran, who could still, off the top of the head, give you a bar of Come On You Reds by Status Quo, I, that person, can’t get enough of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team.

(Altogether now . . .
Schmeichel, Parker, Pallister/
Irwin, Bruce, Sharpe and Ince/
Hughes, McClair, Keane and Cantona/
Robson, Kanchelskis and Giggs.
Haven’t heard that song in 25 years. Didn’t have to Google the lyrics. Not sure whether that’s something to be proud of or not.)

Anyway, Liverpool. And this Liverpool, especially. What’s not to love? I realised last week that I’m more into them than I was into any of the late-Fergie era United teams. Nothing can or will surpass the treble winners from 20 years ago in my affections, or even anything from the Cantona years. But given the choice between this Liverpool team and the 2008 United team that beat Chelsea in the Champions League final? No contest. Hook Klopp and the lads straight into my veins.

Now, I was never one of those United fans who despised the other crowd with every bone in my body. Years ago, I went to an FA Cup game with a United-supporting friend. He was – and is – a true believer. Paid-up member of the supporters’ club, gets over for a few games a season, knows who to watch out for in the youth team, all that carry-on. Fervent in his antipathy towards Liverpool. Untrusting in my inability to muster same.

If you’re a United fan and you remain defiantly unmoved by what happened at Anfield last Tuesday, then it’s hard to know what to tell you 

United were playing Villa in this cup game and we were down behind the goal when early in the second half, the eternally underfed-looking figure of Czech forward Milan Baros started warming up on the sideline. He came on for Juan Pablo Angel and took up his spot in the box as Villa had a corner down below us. Predictably, the home crowd let him have it, abusing him from a height because he had been a Liverpool player in a former life.

After my mate wiped the froth from about his lips, he turned to me with a sort of lawyerly, no-further-questions-Your-Honour look. “Now do you see?” he said. And before I had a chance to say no, that makes no sense, there are better things to be at in life that screaming F**king Scouse C**t at a washed-up, not-all-that-hectic-anyway footballer who can’t get a game for Aston Villa, the corner came in and the match was on again.

As it happened, Baros went on to score an equaliser, after which I got the dirtiest look imaginable from the seat beside me. Somewhere in my friend’s mind was a genuine and honestly-held belief that I hadn’t done my bit when Baros came on and now look what happened. It might have been a long ferry ride home only for the day was saved by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scoring the winner off the bench in the 90th minute.

Thing is, it always feels like a pose. Especially in Irish people. If you grew up in Liverpool or Manchester, or if you’ve moved to either of them, then obviously it’s a natural thing. Your daily rhythms are played out in a particular context even without football. Two cities complicated by history and geography before anyone so much as laces a boot.

But if you’re an Irish fan of either team, then it’s an accidental choice you made, most likely when you were five or six-years-old. You could just as easily have picked the other crowd, depending on who your friends were into, who scored a particular goal at a particular time, who your dad liked, whatever. The one thing that had no bearing over your decision was a dislike of another team.

Belonging

Sport is about rivalries, of course it is. But if you’re not from either city and you’ve ever found yourself seriously calling someone a Scouser or a Manc as a term of abuse, you’d want to have a word with yourself. Using “we” when referring to your team is altogether more forgivable because sport is about belonging, too. But when identifying as “we” curdles into the belligerent hatred of a far-off “them”, then it’s really just an affectation. Most of us stop playing soldiers long before we hit adolescence.

More to the point, if you’re a United fan and you remain defiantly unmoved by what happened at Anfield last Tuesday, then it’s hard to know what to tell you. Sport is about being shocked and amazed, it’s about everybody thinking they know one thing when the only group of people who know the other thing are the tiny band of players who have the ability to make it so. It’s in every fan’s gift to dismiss it. But those who do are the ones missing out.

Wherever you were yesterday, whatever you were doing, the news that Brighton had gone ahead against Manchester City was surely delicious. Whether you wanted Liverpool to win the league or not, the merest hint of another outlandish day after the drama of midweek was irresistible.

That City righted themselves so quickly and hammered in the equaliser was probably appropriate. Sport is prosaic far more often than it takes your breath away. City are champions, the best team won the league. That’s as it should be.

But go back to last Tuesday night at Anfield and Klopp is talking to his team before going out 3-0 down to Lionel Messi. “This is impossible,” he apparently said. “Except you guys are you.”

Seriously. How could you not have a little time in your life for that kind of thing?

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