JÜRGEN Klopp has his legend, his place in Kop mythology. Whatever happens over the next few weeks, be it gallant failure in the Premier League title race and Champions League final in Madrid, Liverpool have their moment, a comeback that outstrips Saint-Etienne (1976-77) and Istanbul (2004-05).
Just how much this drama was carved out of a keep ‘em awake firework display, Barca capitulating for the fear of God or maybe in anticipation of a repeat of April 2018, is anyone’s guess, but ultimately, Liverpool won because they deserved to. An astonishing evening in keeping with the club’s European heritage – somebody, somewhere has won a lot of money on Liverpool 4 Barcelona 0.
Liverpool were once feared at Anfield, but that sense of invincibility has been mislaid in the 29 years since they were last champions. It has returned in the past 12 months, possibly starting with the dismantling of “best ever” title winners Manchester City. The noise factor of Anfield is deafening, the passion unmatched and the intimidation well choreographed. Liverpool is a place to avoid if you want an easy 90 minutes. Their time is coming again, one senses.
Barca were surprisingly poor, make no mistake, their faces pale and their brows furrowed. They did not fancy the challenge and they looked slower, uncertain and constantly made foolish mistakes. Firstly, this was because Barca, despite the presence of Lionel Messi and a La Liga title under their belt, are not the Barca of old. Secondly, Liverpool were snapping at their heels, quicker off the mark, canny and focused. Somehow, with that early goal, you just had the feeling that it was “game on” as Barca were looking increasingly uncomfortable.
Liverpool may be a global club in that they have “fans” all over the world, but the essence of victory, the alchemy, is a heady mix of local sentiment, defiance, “them and us” and, inevitably, “You’ll never walk alone”. Fans from Norway, Sweden and Germany may have been in the Anfield stands, but no matter how international the club purports to be, it is representative of the “Scouse nation”, a club that reflects its city, its people and its culture. That’s what has made Anfield and the streets around it so hostile. Only Newcastle United has anything like the same dynamic. You might ask how does a heavy metal fan from Bergen identify with the scally from Toxteth?
This is why Liverpool, for all their success and appeal, are relatively unappreciated outside their own comfort zone. It is not because Liverpool FC is an unpleasant club, or their players bad role models (ok, there may have been one or two), but ultimately, because Liverpool is a symbol of a city. “We are not English, we are Scouse,” may be a tongue-in-cheek banner, but it does demonstrate to a certain degree that Liverpool sees itself as an island. They are not alone in that (Yorkshire has long been the home of independent mindsets), but it is terribly convenient for the rest of the UK to perceive otherwise.
But this siege mentality, which was cultivated in the 1970s and 1980s when the city declined dramatically and epitomised inner-city decay, partnered the most fruitful era in Liverpool Football Club’s history, a period that they have struggled to live up to for almost 30 years.
Klopp himself said a lot of people will be happy to see Liverpool fail to win the league, and this is largely because of the club’s overwhelming dominance of the mid-to-late 70s and 1980s. This glittering decade and a half bred a sense of entitlement and a certain arrogance. This is why the neutral and passionate opponent revels in Liverpool’s under-achievement and since 1985, goes on the offensive when anything negative emerges from the club or its fans. There’s also a hint of jealousy which few would admit to but it is the same everywhere you go in football. People resent the success of others, particularly when it happens often. While Millwall’s fans sing, “No-one likes us, we don’t care”, they mean it, but you get the feeling that Liverpool fans do actually care that nobody likes them. They want respect because of their achievements, but so many fans begrudge any success on Merseyside. Furthermore, the mocking of Liverpool, if that is the right word, is an expression of Britain’s very tired North-South divide and the last drops of the class structure.
Liverpool’s victory over Barcelona should be heartily applauded. It was exhilarating, spectacular, a triumph over adversity, and the final, decisive goal was just plain clever and an example of a young player thinking on his wits. And the post-match scenes? It felt like, 30 years after Hillsborough, the club truly “believes” again. In Manchester, London and even over the other side of Stanley Park, people may well be sitting, wringing their hands and fidgeting awkwardly. Liverpool have been creeping forward in the past few years, they need a trophy to provide that bit of gilding that will announce their arrival and provide the eminently likeable Klopp with the silverware he craves.