Madrid – One Year On

I really wasn’t sure what to write this week. With America, quite literally in places, burning with the injustice of George Floyd’s murder by Derek Chauvin, I wondered if I should write something about the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Ultimately, though, I decided against it if for no other reason than I’d be knowingly doing so from a position of white privilege and didn’t want to get the tone wrong. Equally I considered writing a piece about the ‘othering’ of football supporters, and Liverpool fans in particular, that has been brought about by the suggestion that some of our games should be played away from Anfield when matches resume later this month. I may still write that piece, depending on the decisions actually taken by the Premier League and the police authorities over the next few days. Sufficed to say, it won’t be a nuanced piece looking at both sides of the argument, instead being a venting of my frustration at the whole thing.

But then I logged onto Twitter this morning, saw all of the tweets about this time last year and realised that the story to tell on this bright, sunny Monday was one of joy and celebration. Weirdly, the actual day wasn’t a particularly brilliant one for me and was instead wrapped in frustration. I’d bought tickets for my dad, my friend Andy and I to watch the European Cup final at the Shankly Hotel. They had dedicated the hotel to the experience, with the upstairs area that was normally set aside for weddings boasting big screens all over the place. They’d reserved some seats for us right in front of one of the big screens, so we got there an hour before kick-off, got some drinks and settled in. The place was rammed and no sooner had the match kicked off than the projectors began to overheat, cutting out repeatedly. This lasted for the entire ninety minutes, marring what was supposed to be one of the best days of my adult life.

Winning Is A Shared Experience

Whilst I remain furious with the Shankly Hotel for not thinking ahead that the projectors would overheat on a warm day in Liverpool and with hundreds of people inside a closed space, I still generally look back on the evening as one of joy. This weekend my dad turns seventy and, whether I like it or not, I’m having to accept that he won’t be around forever. In the years after he’s shuffled off this mortal coil, there will be moments that I’ll look back on with a sense of undiluted joy. Standing arm in arm with him and Andy and watching Jordan Henderson hoist the European Cup above his head will unquestionably be one of them. I didn’t actually appreciate the ‘Hendo Shuffle’ at the time, given that the projector cut out for the umpteenth time as he picked the trophy up and walked towards the waiting squad, but I appreciate it all the more now. We did get to see the lift, though, and the entire place erupted with him.

It still boggles my mind that I’ve been able to watch Liverpool win the Champions League twice as an adult, having written about Istanbul last week. Most football supporters never get to see their club do something so momentous but I’ve seen the Reds in four finals since I turned twenty-one. I didn’t get to celebrate Istanbul with my dad, instead chatting to him about it on the phone. I made damn sure that wasn’t going to be the case last year, however, and it’s a memory I’ll have forever. Whether at its best or its worst, football is a shared experience. You want to console yourself and others when you watch your team lose and there’s nothing better than celebrating the wins with someone you love. That’s what I got to do last year, soaking up the party in the centre of Liverpool with my dad and one of my best mates, popping along for a celebratory drink with another mate afterwards. You’ll Never Walk Alone, indeed.

The Start Of Something

There are many differences between the two European Cups I’ve watched Liverpool win over the past decade and a half. In 2005 not even the most optimistic of Reds could suggest that Rafa Benitez’s team was the best in Europe. In fact, there’s an argument that the team that lost to AC Milan two years later was better than the one that beat them in such an improbably fashion. Conversely, only the most swivel-eyed of opposition supporter would be willing to try to suggest that Liverpool weren’t the best side on the continent when they defeated Tottenham Hotspur in the final last year. The win for Rafa’s men felt like it might be the start of a return to the top, but under Jürgen Klopp is was confirmation that we were already there. Real Madrid showed us the year before that you need to be willing to do anything to win, with the defeat spurring us on to come back even stronger during the 2018-2019 season.

The day after the final I travelled over to Liverpool with my wife Rachel to watch the parade. The atmosphere was absolutely bouncing and there’s no doubt that the Liverpool side deserved every ounce of support that was on the streets to greet it that day. Hundreds of thousands of people decked out in red and white, waving flags, banners and scarves as the bus went past. It’s a shame that they won’t get to experience it again this year when the league title is finally sewn up, but I think it will give them the drive to try to win it again next year. If Kiev taught us anything, it’s that these players respond well to adversity and missing out on the title last season before winning it at a canter this time around surely proves that. There are loads of other things I could say about the final, but there’s no need. We’ve all got our own thoughts about it, our own memories. For me, it will always be about watching the Reds win with the people that matter the most.

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