When the late, great Bill Shankly first rocked up to Anfield in October 1959, it could be argued that the ground resembled Dagobah. The iconic Scotsman immediately set about transforming the club and captured the imagination of everyone involved. His charismatic persona inspired and transcended beyond those on the pitch and into the stands at Anfield. The fans became followers, Liverpool became a religion and Bill Shankly was at the head of it all; he was Yoda, offering wisdom and guidance as Anfield set about a metamorphosis from Degobah to Jedi Temple.
Whilst other clubs had been successful, what made Anfield unique was the connection between the fans and the players and in particular, the manager. Whether it be Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley or Kenny Dalglish, the relationship was a special one during the most illustrious years of our history; but even right up to recent times, Rafa Benitez shared a similar connection: the force was still strong.
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Worryingly though, in the latter days of Rafa’s tenure there was a disturbance in the force, in the words of Yoda “the shroud of the Dark Side has fallen”.
Whilst some would put Roy Hodgson in the Emperor’s cloak, in truth, he was just Darth Maul: he made his mark and certainly did damage, but his time on screen was a limited one. Gillet and Hicks were the real Sith Lords and the pair of pyramid salesman almost eradicated the Force from under their cloaks, but rather than fire electricity from their hands, it was debts and the threat of liquidation. As the cowboys were run out of town, or thrown down a pit in the Death Star if you prefer, Kenny Dalglish was soon called upon to try and restore balance to the Force.
Fast forward to the white-knuckle ride that was the Luis Suarez inspired 2013/14 title challenge under Brendan Rodgers and the Force seemed strong again. The excitement was back at Anfield and the atmosphere was one of fervour as fans lined the streets to welcome the arrival of the team bus as the season drew to a climax. Sadly, the happiness was short lived and within a year, the Force was split once more. It can be said Brendan Rodgers saw himself as a Yoda figure, offering his own pearls of wisdom, but I’m more reminded of Obi-Wan Kenobi tell Anakin Skywalker after their duel on Mustafar: “it was said you would bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness”.
The Force was at a low ebb, but then out of the darkness came a new hope for the Force, but Jürgen Klopp is more Han Solo than Luke Skywalker; he’s cool, the unconventional good-guy. But the fact he is a Jedi Master when it comes to his understanding of the Force, perhaps Mace Windu is a fair comparison. Arguing over which comparison is right is immaterial, the point is that Klopp had a footballing pedigree of not only winning, but also having a fantastic relationship with supporters. If you ever doubted the depth of said relationship, go and watch Borussia Dortmund’s last home game under Klopp, despite it being at the end of a disappointing season by the standards he’d established.
Going all the way back to Bill Shankly, he didn’t set about uniting the club and the fan base for his own personal ego and it certainly wasn’t just by chance, it was strategic and it was for the benefit of the team and all associated with the club. By creating that unity so vociferously, it creates an intensity that can help our team and intimidate the opponents. If a match is not going as planned, that added roar of support can spur a team on to resurgence or even glory. In essence, that is the Force and the importance of its strength.
This brings me nicely to the West Brom game, where certain media outlets labelled Klopp and his team acknowledging the fans in the Kop after the match as a celebration; that’s a description that particularly irks me. Those ignorantly mislabelling the gesture need to watch what happens after virtually every Bundesliga game, where acknowledging fans is a common occurrence and celebration is often much more exuberant than mutual applause. It’s not quite a ceremony and medal presented by Princess Leia, but the difference is there. The bond between the players and fans is closer in the Bundesliga that it is in the Premier League; that brings a level of humility with it, rather than the level of untouchability that has too often existing for some.
So, if Klopp and the players linking arms in front of the Kop to acknowledge the fans is to become a regular gig, then great. The way I see it, the better that relationship becomes, the stronger the Force and it is Liverpool Football Club that benefits, so may the force be with us all.