Mark Madden: Supporting Liverpool part of something bigger, magical
It’s a place unlike any other. It has personality. It has a vibe. It’s inanimate, yet somehow lives and breathes. It’s populated by ghosts, but they’re friendly spirits. They’ve seen it all, and they want you to see it, too. From the Kop, preferably.
Anything can happen at Anfield.
This past Tuesday, it did.
The leading scorer was concussed, unable to contribute beyond wearing a shirt that said “Never give up.” (Frankie say relax. But that’s impossible trailing Barcelona, 3-0.) The buzzsaw forward sat with a muscle injury. (Lower body or upper body? European football is as secretive as the NHL.) One of the replacements has a knack for late-game heroics, but quantity was needed, not drama.
In the end, Divock Origi provided both.
We are Liverpool FC: This means more.
It was the magic and majesty associated with a Mario comeback, or Roethlisberger to Holmes, or Mazeroski in the bottom of the ninth.
Championships aren’t guaranteed. Heartbreak is another specialty.
The Premier League wraps up Sunday. Liverpool trail Manchester City by a point. If City beats 17th-place Brighton & Hove Albion, Liverpool finish second. If Liverpool simultaneously top seventh-place Wolverhampton, Liverpool will have lost once in 38 Premier League games, will have the third-highest point total in league history and will be runner-up nonetheless. Liverpool hasn’t won the top flight since 1990.
No complaint. You play each team once, home and away. No playoff. It’s the fairest possible method of determining a champion.
Liverpool is having an all-time great season but could finish empty-handed.
But the miracles have piled up: Down 3-nil to AC Milan in 2005.
Down 4-2 to Borussia Dortmund in ‘16.
Tuesday’s rally against Barcelona. A front line of two-thirds substitutes against three of the world’s best: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho (the last two ex-Liverpool).
It seemed a mismatch. As it turned out, it was.
It happened again Wednesday, by the way, as Tottenham Hotspur matched Liverpool’s heroics by rallying from 3-nil down at Ajax to win 3-3 on away goals to set up an all-England Champions League final at Madrid on June 1. (No point explaining all the mechanics. If you don’t know them already, you’ve long ago stopped reading.)
There was more action in those two semifinal games than in most NFL weeks. But to each their own.
In July, Liverpool plays three preseason games in America. But those games truly are “friendlies,” don’t necessarily feature stars or even starters and come nowhere close to capturing the pomp of Anfield though American fans give it their best.
Fenway Sports Group owns the Boston Red Sox. When FSG added Liverpool to its portfolio in 2010, it properly sized up Anfield as English football’s Fenway Park and decided to modernize, not replace.
Smart move. Anfield’s buzz is nontransferable. You can build the nicest sports stadium in the world but significant things have to happen there. (See PNC Park.)
I’ve supported Liverpool for more than 30 years, though that support only became rabid in the late ’90s when games became more readily available on U.S. television. The Penguins are my other similar attachment, but that relationship is somewhat distorted by me covering the Penguins and working with them.
No strings attached with Liverpool. I don’t debate Mo Salah’s play on my radio program. (He’s pretty good.)
Liverpool means everything to me. Words often fail. I cried uncontrollably after the comeback to beat Barcelona. I know I didn’t weep alone.
I’ve been to Anfield several times but not since 2011. It’s not an easy trip, and I’m getting older.
I probably should go to Madrid but probably won’t. I’ll settle for the exhibition at Notre Dame on July 19.
Supporting Liverpool is an experience I truly value. You’re part of something bigger. The connection is fervent, even across an ocean. It’s worldwide. It feels like family, even as an outsider visiting Anfield. The belief is real. More ardent, even, than the bond between the Steelers and their faithful. You rise and fall but never fall too far.
Not even trailing Barcelona by three.