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Red or blue, football — it’s part of our Culture in Liverpool

I know my job means that I should only really write about music and its importance to the city but the truth is my passion for Liverpool Football Club began even before I got into music. So please indulge me as we approach a special moment in our glorious history. (Also on a much more petty note I really enjoy annoying Evertonians and especially those in the Culture Liverpool Team) *side note from Culture Liverpool here — yes, thank you Kevin! ahem!)

At the beginning of March the only things that could possibly stop Liverpool claiming our first title in 30 years were 1) the end of the world or 2) and, even less likely, if football stopped. We’d had an amazing season, playing sensational football, and were only two wins away from claiming our first title in 30 years. And then the unthinkable happened — football stopped! To be honest the world ending would have been easier to take

I, like every other Liverpool fan, was devastated. We’d waited so long and we were so close. What made it even worse was that we had been so close the previous year only to be denied at the last. This just couldn’t be happening could it?

I was distraught and bemoaning the unfairness of it all. That was until I heard the words of that great German philosopher, Jurgen Klopp. Jurgen, as ever, had a perfect grasp of the situation. To paraphrase our beloved leader he said that in a choice between football and the wider health and well-being of society then really it was no contest. As always he was providing us with the inspirational leadership we needed when we were so down and went on to urge everyone to look after themselves and to take care of the vulnerable people around them.

Just this weekend he held a further captivating press conference where he reiterated this view: “I was not worried for one second the Government would cost us the title because I was worried, and am still worried, about people dying.”

Of course as someone in my 50s I’ve seen Liverpool win titles before but this one will be special because we have waited so long for it. Even Leicester have won it since we last triumphed!

The first time I was actually at the ground to see Liverpool win the league was when I was 12. It was in 1976 when I bunked off school with my mate Joey Mahoney to go to Molyneux to see us beat Wolves and win the old first division, while also consigning Wolves to relegation. It was a real adventure for two young lads, a brilliant night and, despite getting bricks thrown at us by Wolves fans and the detentions we got for missing school, it was well worth it. (For some bizarre reason the teachers didn’t seem to understand my excuse: ‘like it was really important for me and Joey to be there Sir’).

After that I was there for plenty of title wins right up until our last one on 1989/90 and like many Liverpool supporters I expected this run of success to continue. There was absolutely no reason to think that it wouldn’t.

At times over these 30 years I’ve despaired that we would ever got back to the top. The Ferguson years at Man United were particularly hard to endure. A great Scottish manager, a team that played flowing football, and a huge improved stadium that ensured they stayed miles ahead of us commercially. There were Arsenal’s Invincibles who you couldn’t help but admire, followed by Chelsea who you definitely didn’t. They were a club with a secretive, multi-millionaire owner who closely resembled a Bond villain, a smug self styled ‘Special One’ manager who quickly became a figure of hate, and an even worse Captain in John Terry. Then add in their clueless new monied fans who had just discovered football and had to be given plastic flags by the club in a hopeless attempt to generate some atmosphere at their ground. Man City then surged to the forefront. We remembered them when they were hopeless so it was hard to dislike them as much as their neighbours or Chelsea, but with their huge financial clout and brand new stadium they looked like they could dominate for many years to come.

After we failed to win the League last year, despite losing only one game, I began to doubt that we would ever get back to the top. Obviously the Champions League victory was great compensation and the semi-final victory over Barcelona on that magical night at Anfield is just about my favourite night ever. But a year on I still can’t quite believe that such consistently brilliant performances didn’t actually land us the title. I remember how devastated I felt after the last game of the season. Even though at one point during that afternoon City were losing you just knew they would get the win they needed. It was just one last little bit of teasing torture by those evil football gods. But really once Vincent Kompany had scored with that thunderbolt against Leicester earlier that week deep down we all knew it was over. (What made it even worse was that we all knew that ninety nine times out of one hundred Kompany would have blazed that over the bar).

I did an interview with local radio immediately after the last league game. I tried to be upbeat: we had the world’s best manager, an amazing relatively young squad, and owners we could trust to do their very best for the club. But inside I was heartbroken. It felt even worse than our previous near miss in 2014 when Brendan Roger’s team blew it in the home stretch. Personally I think that the collective implosion at Crystal Palace was a bigger factor in our failure than the infamous Gerrard slip. That was a team with Gerrard, Sterling, Sturridge and Suarez all at their very best and still we couldn’t get over the line.

Rafa had taken us close to the title once but it is my belief that his innate caution cost us as he was too happy settling for draws when a couple more wins would have got us the title. Gerrard Houllier took us into second place one season too, but from memory I don’t think we ever really believed we were going to do it that year.

So here we are 30 years on. The world has changed a lot in those three decades and football itself is unrecognisable from what it was back then. The Hillsborough disaster the season before meant that stadiums had quickly begun to change and become all seaters. This, together with the creation of the Premier League (1992/3) and increasing influence of Sky meant that going to the match underwent a fundamental change. Some of the changes were undoubtedly positive: safer stadiums, less violence in and around grounds and crowds that were much more diverse than in my match going youth. But there were plenty of negatives too: the simple game we had grown up loving transformed into a much less likeable big business. Ticket prices rocketed to the point where for most working families a trip to the match became a once a season treat rather than a regular event. Kick off times were dictated by broadcasters and corporate hospitality became a big thing as the game quickly succumbed to a corporate gentrification and the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’.

Liverpool, despite the odd triumph in cups and occasional near miss in the League spent a large part of these 30 years slowly falling behind the likes of Man U and Chelsea. Memories of that glorious night in Istanbul and exciting Cup Final wins in Cardiff sustained us through many a dark day. The lowest point came early in 2007 with the decision to sell to two American clowns called Hicks and Gillett. It was a decision that almost destroyed our mighty club and was only rectified when current owners Fenway Sports Group took over late in 2010.

Liverpool’s owners are thankfully much better than most and recognise the importance of maintaining the local fan base and keeping us on side. They did a great job of resolving the stadium issue with the decision to stay at our spiritual home of Anfield but significantly increase capacity by building a magnificent new stand. More importantly they brought in Klopp and have backed him in the transfer market. They even brought in locally born Liverpool fan Peter Moore as their CEO and he is definitely a safe pair of hands. (I met Peter when he was in his previous role at a US based games company. We were meant to talk business stuff but we ended up spending an hour talking about LFC which didn’t please my manager at the time. So I was made up when he came in to lead the club).

The reality is that LFC are now undoubtedly one of the biggest clubs in the world, a massive worldwide brand and a huge commercial concern. That’s not to say that is a bad thing at all as their economic and global marketing value to the city is huge. But sometimes as someone who lives in L4 and walks to the ground from my house I feel like I’m a bit of a throwback to simpler times when football was a game and a passion rather than big business.

To get back to our impending title victory I think that all decent football fans, and even most Evertonians, believe it is only right that we now have the opportunity to claim the title. Even “bitter blue” Joe Anderson honourably came out to say that if the season had to be called off Liverpool should be awarded the title, such was our superiority and the huge points gap between us and the rest.

At some point over the next week we will claim what’s rightfully ours to the delight of millions of Liverpool fans all over the world. Of course some of the gloss will be taken off the glory by the fact that we can’t be at the ground (or even the pub) to celebrate it. We had all made plans around what we were going to do on the night we claimed the title but that will have to be put on hold for now, as will the well-deserved victory parade which I think would have been even bigger than last year’s Champions League celebration.

But let’s not get too down. We should remember and celebrate the often breath taking football we have been able to watch and the wonderful sense of purpose and togetherness that Klopp has brought to the club. Let’s rejoice in how lucky we are to be able to watch players of the of calibre of Virgil van Dijk, Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Andy Robbo every week, even if we can’t actually witness them first hand at the time we would most like to. We should celebrate the magnificence of Trent Alexander–Arnold, for my money our best player this season. A local lad who is not just a brilliant player but one who has shown he is intelligent, socially aware and not afraid to speak out on important issues. Fans love to see local players doing well and Klopp and his backroom team recognise this and seem intent on giving the best of these a chance. Curtis Jones is another who you know will make his mark and is already a Kop hero for that screamer he scored at Anfield to knock Everton out of the FA Cup. (And I’m really not sorry Everton fans for bringing that up!)

So while the title victory may not seem quite so sweet I’m going to ask myself the simple question “What would Jurgen do?” I think the answer would be: have a celebratory large drink, shout, wave your fist in the air, stand up to sing a solo version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and do a victory lap around the living room. Then after a little cry (because I’m sure the emotion will just be too much) I’ll probably join my neighbour Billy and other reds in our street in a safe, socially distanced post match analysis/drink.

Thank you Jurgen

PS If you really want a music link then 1990 was also a good year in the charts for Liverpool with The La’s finally having a hit with There She Goes, and The Farm making their breakthrough with Groovy Train and All Together Now. I wouldn’t bet against young Jamie Webster having chart success this year based not just on the strength of his songs but his close association with the Mighty Reds.

Kev McManus, Head of UNESCO City of Music, Culture Liverpool

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