I was 19 for that last title win in 1990, a few months from 20, so you could almost draw some symmetry with those numbers, if you wanted to be trite about it. On that April 28, I was about a week away from graduating from the University of Michigan, but I was so eager to be out of school at that point that I had nothing on my mind but beating QPR and finally ending what had been the chase of Aston Villa, before finally charging past them in April, and eventually winning our 10th title in 15 years by 9 points. I’d gone down to a place called O’Halloran’s in Royal Oak that had the BBC, which meant they usually had Match of the Week on. We beat QPR that day, 2-1, with both Rushie and Barnesy scoring, as had become common at that point. They were kind of the Salah and Firmino of that era. Barnes kept the whole machine running and Rush just scored and scored and scored, having returned from a year at Juventus, which he decided wasn’t for him. We’d been knocked out of the FA Cup a couple weeks earlier and we still weren’t allowed in Europe because of Heysel. Of course, hanging over this whole season had been the spectre of Hillsborough, but this was still business as usual. It was an awful lot like being a Michigan fan. You just expected Liverpool to contend for the league title and, more often than not, win it. The only regular competition for the past few years had been the guys across Stanley Park, but we’d gotten the better of them most of the time, too. We were still Liverpool; the one shining beacon in the city still trying to dig its way out from under the burden of Thatcherism. I was an SWP member, Shankly’s values having guided my life almost before I knew what professional soccer was. This was my club, body and soul. As with that game, my plans outside of football and political activity weren’t really defined. I just expected Liverpool to keep carrying on as Liverpool; one of the few constants in my life…
And then the 90s happened. And the 00s. And you kind of wonder where it all went awry. The club often seemed to lack direction and certainly paled in comparison to the ambition and success of our greatest rivals, 45 minutes down the road. It’s funny how deeply embedded certain perceptions become. I grew up with Liverpool as the masters of English football, so the idea that Manchester United would become this… thing struck me as a foreign concept for the longest time. We had 18 top division titles to their 7 when the Premier League started and I looked at ManU fans in the States as bandwagoning plastics. We just came within 1 of their total, thirty years later, and my first instinct is still to think of most ManU fans as plastic, but that’s because I’m old and I don’t want footprints on my lawn.
So, I sat here this afternoon, listening to Arlo White basically do a countdown to the end of the Chelsea-Man City game and Liverpool’s assumption of the title that used to be routinely ours. He was doing that countdown because it had been thirty years. And as I sat listening to him gush more about our club than the teams on the field, Glenfiddich 15 in my hand (and then Redbreast 12… and then Laphroaig Quarter Cask… and then Sexton… (if there’s anything that goes well with football, it’s whiskey)) and tears in my eyes, I tried to remember what I was thinking in April of 1990, when the biggest concerns were when we could get back to Europe, what to do for the still grieving families of Hillsborough, and- oh, yeah! – what the hell to do with my life. Almost certainly the idea that it would take this long to win another English title was nowhere in the vicinity of my brain. Despite John Aldridge leaving, this was still pretty much the same group that had just won the title. Again. Seems like we could just gear up and keep rolling next year, right? But here we are, thirty years later, with perhaps the best squad ever assembled under the club’s banner, having won Europe again, with the families of the 96 finally having gotten some closure… and my life still hasn’t amounted to much. Eh. Three out of four…
Of course, this has been a foregone conclusion for months now and I’ve thought a few times about what my reaction would be when we were finally over the line. I’d like to think it would’ve been different if we’d had to beat City to finish it on Thursday, since we could’ve settled it on the pitch against our nearest competition and there would’ve been that immediate satisfaction: We won the title right here… despite having really had it won for weeks while the season was running and months since the pandemic interruption. When they were in extra time of the game today, I didn’t really have a reaction. Someone else was going to “win” it for us and I was kind of numb to that reality. Or perhaps I was just trying to be numb to the impact it was going to have, after thirty years of waiting and at least a half-dozen near misses, as we watched it slip through our fingers in the lingering weeks of those seasons.
But when that final whistle blew, I felt that impact. Here it was. This is what I’d been waiting- hoping- yearning for over three decades. This was the confirmation that Liverpool was back as one of the models of the game and not just on the pitch. This was the idea that Shankly’s values- my values, our values -are the ones that society benefits from; that the image put forth by LFC is an inspiration for people to follow. This is the idea that had our manager thanking Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness and Steven Gerrard for what they’d done for the club in the past and thanking the supporters for what they mean to the club in the present. This is what “you’ll never walk alone” means; the endurance, the belief, the temerity to continue on until success finally comes, but not forgetting anyone that helps you get there, because you all worked together. That’s one thing that we’ll always have to think about, in that 96 people- our people -weren’t around to see that 18th title and aren’t here to see the 19th, either. We don’t forget them and we don’t forget anyone who comes along to help with, participate in, and enjoy the success that comes from working together. It’s about more than just playing great football. That’s why Klopp wanted to come to this club above all others. This is who we are. And now everyone can see that again.
[…] commentators and sources over the years. One of them that I still use quite regularly is “There it is.” It’s basically just a way to affirm and/or resign oneself to a situation. When I say […]