Only Football Can Do This

Five days since Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson hoisted the European Cup above his head and I’m not sure that I’ve recovered. I mean that in both a physical and emotional sense, such is the extent to which I was invested in the journey to the final in Madrid. I’m quite sure many of you feel the same way. If you’re anything like me then you’ve doubtless spent the waking hours since watching every video of the parade there is to watch, punching the air as Divock Origi’s strike hits the back of the net and smiling from ear to ear at the sight of Hendo on the plane with his feet up on the trophy. It’s a time for revelling in the joy unconfined that comes with such a moment, such a perfect encapsulation to a season that absolutely deserved to end in glory. I wrote on Monday about what it means to the supporters and what things look like for the club from here, so I’m going to try not to repeat myself. The only thing I’m concerned about is that ninety-seven points and a Champions League win might allow some to think we don’t need to improve the squad.

I’ll write about that in more detail in the coming weeks, looking at the squad as a whole and trying to figure out where we need to strengthen and what dead wood we could do with getting rid of. With that in mind, the only thing I’ll mention now is that football clubs are like sharks: if they stay still then they die. In some ways, Tottenham Hotspur are the exception that prove the rule. They made no signings of note last summer and yet still made the final of the European Cup. Might they have had more of a chance of winning it if they’d added some fresh blood to the squad? We’ll never know, but it’s certainly true that the legs absolutely fell off them in the Premier League. Many were slightly worried about them during the season but I never was, feeling that they’d drop away as the campaign progressed and that’s pretty much what happened. For proof that you need to improve, not stagnate after coming close in the league but missing out, you only need to look at what’s happened to Liverpool in the past. That’s for another time, though, as right now I want to talk about how only football can make you feel like this.

Other Sports Lack The Connection

One of the chief reasons why football pulls at the emotions more than most other sports is the fact that there’s an emotional connection people feel with their clubs that other sports simply can’t replicate. I’m a fan of golf, tennis and a bit of cricket, but none of those sports have you hooked in quite the same way. You might want Andy Murray to win Wimbledon because he’s British, or hope that Tiger Woods wins a Major because of his past, but you don’t eat, sleep and drink whilst thinking about them doing it. Cricket has the Ashes, which is a moment when English and Australian cricket fans have a true rival to fixate over, but when the event reaches its conclusion you don’t see cricket lovers lining the streets and setting off flares to celebrate what happened. Nor do most cricket lovers spend the days and weeks that follow it re-watching a glorious catch or imagining themselves on the wicket, hitting a six to the boundary.

Rugby is a sport that I’ve never understood, but perhaps it is one that allows its supporters to get as invested emotionally as football does because of the link to the clubs themselves. Even so, you’ll be unlikely to find rugby fans making friends with others when on holiday or in the pub because they both support Saracens, yet that’s the sort of thing that routinely happens between football supporters. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with people based on nothing more than our mutual love of the Reds. I once had a brilliant chat with a guy on a flight from Brunei to Kuala Lumpur who I was sat next to and who noticed the Liverpool crest as the screensaver on my mobile. That’s the sort of thing that we do, isn’t it? Screensavers of our favourite players; ringtones of club anthems or songs sung by supporters; ‘lucky’ t-shirts that we wore when something good happened. Football makes us feel like kids again and we love it for it.

Football Is About Shared Experiences

Subscribers to The Anfield Wrap might well have heard my ‘season review’ that wasn’t a season review earlier in the week. If you haven’t, I’ll just say that I didn’t really talk about the football and instead talked about how football can be an escape from the realities of life, that it’s something to turn to when times are tough and to hang your hat on when you feel lost. I talked about the moment in the BT Sport highlights when the camera cut to a woman kissing her wrist and pointing to the sky as though she was communicating with someone no longer with her. From a personal point of view, I spoke about standing with my dad to watch Liverpool win their sixth European Cup and how I’ll always have that moment, no matter what comes next in life. It’s those shared experiences that football offers us in a way that other sports simply don’t.

Obviously as a football supporter I accept that I’m biased. Maybe I’ll get messages from people who love football and rugby and tennis and cricket telling me that I’m wrong and that there are plenty of moments of connection between them and their loved ones from matches in bygone years. I don’t think that’s the case, though. Football offers a visceral connection for those that love it in a way that those that don’t will never understand. We’ve all had someone say to us that it’s ‘only a game’ and we simultaneously know that it’s both true and yet absolutely not the case. As I stood on the parade route on Sunday I knew that it was ludicrous that I was stood in the middle of a road in central Liverpool to watch a load of people I’d never met hold a trophy I’d never touched, but I also knew that there was no place else I’d rather be. Only football can do that.

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