At about the 62nd minute of the recent Liverpool-Sunderland match at Anfield, an animated (and arguably agitated) Jurgen Klopp turned to the Liverpool faithful in the stands and seemingly chided them for not the lackluster support, and yet rallied them to get behind the players as they hounded and attached the fortified Sunderland banks of defenders in search of the yet elusive breakthrough goal.
By some accounts, it was Klopp’s astuteness about the need to have the Anfield crowd more involved that helped propel the players to eventually find the opening goal in the 75th minute. Since Klopp’s arrival at Liverpool, there’ve been a number of occasions where he’s openly brought attention to the need for the home field advantage at Anfield to count, which of course seems directly linked to and correlated to the fans in the stands actually engendering the kind of atmosphere that in fact creates the ‘home field’ advantage.
The episode seemed prominent enough that following the match, both teams’ manager had something to say about the relevance of the fans in the stands and the potential impact they may have had in propelling the Reds to a much deserved but yet hard earned win. Of course, we’d never know how things would have turned out had Klopp not turned himself into the chief cheerleader and woken the crowd from its seeming drone that was periodically punctured by the arousal of a near miss in front of the Sunderland goalmouth.
It’s a taken for granted fact that crowd support can and does improve a team’s chances of winning. Fans, players and managers (not to mention even a host of sport psychologists). There’s a body of academic research to suggest what we’ve all suspected (if not known): that a “social facilitation” affect exits in football. Simply put, it translates into creating an advantage for the home team, especially when a large home crowd is in attendance. This “facilitation” affect (and thus the home field advantage) is arguably neutralized in the absence of a robust (and engaged) audience. Yes, all of this seems so much like “common sense.” And yet, as so many have time and again pointed out, it’s the rare occasion indeed when one finds the home crowd at Anfield rocking from the first whistle till the final one. On the contrary, the sentiment is that large cross-sections of the crowd at Anfield can turn into passive observers; to be sure, tensed, unnerved and even feeling spooked, all perturbed waiting for that moment of relief – a goal from the home team – so as to be able to exhale freely!
And therein lies the conundrum: the very crowd that is the source of the home field advantage and an enabler of the team instead becomes arrested and even functionally paralyzed to create a ‘facilitation’ affect. Like a mass of seasoned doubters, the faithful yet again seemed to gradually slip into a state of resignation as they watched their team this time labour to break down Sunderland. Where then, one may ask, was the Anfield advantage?
The most recent episode during the Sunderland match underscores a reality: Klopp seems to be the ‘social facilitator’ trying to make the home field scenario work in favour of the home team. He has the aura, chrisma and skill to manage the players on the field and an astute awareness about keeping the crowd from drifting off into becoming inconsequential bystanders. But must his role also be to orchestrate the home support? Surely, we the fans can be counted on to assume some agency and reclaim that capacity to make that old cliché ‘fortress Anfield’ actually mean something.
With each passing month, it appears as if the players on the squad are adapting to Klopp’s brand of football. Even if the style of play and footballing philosophy that he’s espousing is still in its embryonic state, the signs of a new dawn on the footballing front are there. Ever since Klopp became a part of the Liverpool story, we’ve been reminded time an again about what a perfect match he seems to be for the club.
It seems apparent, however, that Klopp’s brand of football includes (perhaps even necessitates?) an openly clamorous Anfield.