Once upon a time, when Latest News was wont to mug for the camera in a previous incarnation as a jobbing thespian, an opportunity arose to share some screen-time with the stars of a comedy film being made in Dublin. It was little more than a bit-part, a chance to improvise a comedic line or two with a genuine legend of Hollywood.
There were three of us tasked with walking up to said icon and offering a reaction to his recent blunder. The effect of such an illustrious and expectant audience was remarkable. The first of us walked into the shot, froze and mumbled weakly, the second was only slightly less intimidated and unimpressive. The third, your scribbler, barrelled on, shouted something, elicited an oddly uproarious laugh and received a nod of approval afterwards from The Star and the director.
The scene was subsequently left on the cutting-room floor.
The point of the anecdote is to elucidate the power held over a performer by those watching. We are all familiar with the reputation of the Anfield atmosphere. When the old ground is filled with savvy and enthusiastic fans, there are few places in world sport to match it. Alas, for many and varied reasons, those occasions are few and far between and quite often the anxiety from the stands seeps onto the pitch as all of Anfield is gripped in a kind of paralysis, expecting gloom rather than glory.
Of course, the simplest remedy to the problem is for the players to fight past the nerves and torpor and put in the kind of scintillating displays that characterised much of the early part of Jürgen Klopp’s first full campaign. With the squad beginning to return to full strength again, there is a suspicion, based on the performance against Chelsea on Tuesday, that Anfield may have more lively nights ahead over the second half of the season. One of the club’s key performers thus far has been Adam Lallana and the Cryuff-turn fancier is very clear on the power of the Liverpool crowd.
“It’s not just cliché, fans really can make a difference,” he told the official website. “The supporters can impact a game probably more than they can imagine, honestly. When the crowd are singing, they’re up and in that good mood, you really do feel it out there on the pitch. It lifts you personally, us as a team and does make a difference. The manager is right, we wouldn’t have beaten Dortmund without the fans. I remember coming out for the second half and I think the first ball we played into the channel, Divock was running after it and the fans… the noise that came out of the Kop was incredible. It made us all think ‘if we get a goal here, just one goal, then it’s on’. That just sums up what the fans can do when you need them.
Like so many who come to the club with reputations already established, Lallana had one of those dreaded periods of transition when he first arrived and was not necessarily a fan-favourite immediately.
“I remember my first game at Anfield against Aston Villa,” he continued. “I was a substitute and I was on the sideline warming up and feeling a little bit like a stranger. I remember it like it was yesterday, to be honest. At that time, I obviously didn’t have any relationship with the fans because I’d never played in front of them before, the same with my teammates, and then just the fact of being on a different home pitch. It was something I had to adapt to and get used to. Now? I’ve never felt more at home than I do right now.”
Needless to say, Lallana’s manager is all-too-aware of the crucial role played by the Anfield faithful. Indeed, he risked the wrath of some of them by being critical of the in-game reactions rolling down from the stands. Klopp, however, is no fool and is also very genuine in his appreciation of the club’s support.
“It’s a fantastic club that is able to create an atmosphere like this,” he opined. “Not a lot of places can do this. When we made the equaliser, it was like when we played here against Dortmund. That was really good. You could actually feel the relief. But we need to learn to keep our nerves; it’s not everything world-class when we win a game 3-0 or 4-0, but not everything is bad when we lose, even when we lose three games.
“And the reasons… we couldn’t play the strongest side all the time. ‘But we should have more players’ – yes, maybe, but you cannot know [about] injuries before, and things like this. That’s really important. We [can] all together use the time. We stuck together, for sure. I see the people still say ‘Hello’ when I pass them! Let’s keep the nerves, let’s use our common experience in this small period and then go for everything. We will see where it leads us.”
The closer it leads Liverpool to the top of the table, the better the fans, and the players they obsess over, will like it. Klopp will not be escaping with just a polite ‘hello’ either. He’ll be breaking out the hugs.