Exciting Times To Be A Red – Drink It In

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The date is Tuesday, 1st May, 1990. Liverpool have beaten Arthur Cox’s Derby County 1-0 at Anfield. Having already wrapped up the league title a week prior following a 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers, the Anfield faithful were preparing to witness Steve McMahon lift the trophy up in the air – for the nineteenth time.

Such was the bar that Kenny Dalglish’s relentless Reds set throughout their heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, winning First Division Championships were no longer greeted with the raucous cheer and unadulterated euphoria that they might have done years before – courtesy of the regular occurrence that it had become. With our blue neighbours down the park beginning to regress following Howard Kendall’s departure, a sustained trophy laden era under Kenny Dalglish appeared inevitable.

But shockwaves would hit the entire city, namely the red half when in February 1991, Liverpool had announced that manager Kenny Dalglish had resigned in the aftermath of a thrilling 4-4 draw in the FA Cup against Everton. Of course, no Liverpudlian contested the Scot’s reasoning for his departure – having cited the stress of the Hillsborough disaster and his inability in making footballing-related decisions as a contributing factor.

Yet, not even the most pessimistic or down-hearted supporter would be aware that three decades of barren Premier League seasons would follow. And certainly, not on any dead body, would they have been led to believe that those lot down the East Lancs Road would surpass Liverpool’s haul of 18 league titles within the space of 21 years.

There have been years of tantalisingly close misses, what ifs – the Macheda winner against Aston Villa in 2009 which proved a flashpoint in the title race, Steven Gerrard’s cruel slip against rivals Chelsea at Anfield which gave Manchester City the upper hand for the rest of the season and the superb haul of 97 points of last season; needless to say, wasn’t enough to clinch a first league title in 29 years for the Reds.

Since manager Jurgen Klopp’s arrival in October 2015, in his first press conference he infamously stated that the club must turn “doubters into believers”.  On the face of it, for non Liverpool supporters anyway, it might have seemed a fanciful claim – after an inauspicious league campaign in his first seven months in charge, which saw the Merseysiders finish 8th in the league table; their joint lowest finish in the Premier League.

Yet there was clear evidence of the first step being taken towards becoming believers. The Reds reached two cup finals that season, albeit they were to fall short in both the League Cup and the Europa League, the thought of Klopp’s predecessor Rodgers achieving that whilst beating the likes of Dortmund, Manchester United en-route would’ve seemed unthinkable.

As a banner reads on the Kop pre-match, “Unity is strength”. And Klopp believed in exactly that from the get-go, and got his point across regarding the importance of the 12th man, and sticking together until the bitter end. Following a 2-1 defeat against Crystal Palace in Klopp’s second home game in charge, many supporters departed the ground before the final whistle – and the German responded in defiant fashion, urging the fans to get behind the team for the full 90 minutes, akin to the culture that he had experienced in his days at Dortmund.

In the aftermath of a 2-2 draw against West Brom the following month, in which Divock Origi scored a last gasp equaliser, Klopp then preceded to salute the Anfield crowd with all of the players and staff. What followed was derision from rival supporters, alongside predictable confusion from Liverpool supporters. Many had misinterpreted it as a “celebration” of securing a point against  a lowly, uninspiring mid-table side. It was far from it, instead the message which the manager wished to convey was that anything can be achieved if the fans, staff and players stick together. And how right he was.

Fast forward little over four years later, and absolutely nobody is smirking at Liverpool’s expense anymore. Klopp has finally fulfilled the plan that he set out to achieve back at his first press conference at Melwood. It finally has all come together, and it makes sense.

Prior to the Champions League triumph in Madrid, Liverpool had gained the unfortunate tag of being ‘nearly men’ under the stewardship of Klopp. Unfortunately, getting 97 points and still getting pipped to the title only substantiated such suspicions. And when Liverpool were trailing Barcelona 3-0 in the first leg of the Champions League – it looked to be the seventh year in which the Reds would go trophyless. Whilst rivals Manchester City were well on their way to a domestic treble, Liverpool’s season would be synonymous for promising so much and ultimately delivering no success at the end of it.

But following the conclusion of the stunning second leg comeback against the Catalans, nobody had any reservations about this team being consigned to the history books along with the frustrations under Benitez and Rodgers. The 6th European Cup in Madrid reaffirmed the consensus that the club were creating its own history, no longer were the supporters dining on past glories. More importantly, it set the platform for this sensational campaign to unfold.

I have been fortunate to witness many of the glory days as a Liverpool supporter, and fondly recall all of the household names and cup finals that we triumphed in. Following our 5-0 win over Nottingham Forest towards the backend of the 1987-88 campaign, I departed Anfield that night convinced that we may never see a team quite as fluent, masterful and complete in a long time. From many supporters’ point of view, that season produced one of the finest Liverpool teams to win the Championship – they were impeccably drilled from back to front. The 1983/84 team does certainly come a close second.

Yet, since the 2018-19 campaign, Liverpool’s brilliance has been normalised to the extent that seldom did anyone bat an eye when the Reds regularly won matches, when not at their best. Such were the rigid mental foundations that Klopp had instilled in the team since the Champions League final defeat in Kiev in 2018, it had become largely expected that the team would find a way to win – even when in second gear, as evidenced by victories against the likes of Sheffield United, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Wolves among others. ‘Winning ugly’ had always been a trait which had been cited as something that was missing which Liverpool teams in the past lacked in order to win the Holy Grail; but now this Liverpool team possesses that in abundance.

As well as the ability, the importance and the understanding of each player on the pitch, off the pitch the emotional connection between each and every single one is special. You don’t win league games on paper – Sheffield United’s story this season has proven exactly that, as have the likes of Burnley over the last few years.

But this isn’t just a group of employers who have won two of the biggest trophies on offer in world football, everybody down to the staff and the entire roster is made to be included in one, tight-knit family. Alongside the various bromances between members of the squad, the captain Jordan Henderson once again proved how influential he is off the pitch – ensuring that everyone was involved throughout Wednesday’s title lift.

It’s this sort of connection that you might not have necessarily witnessed in other title winning teams of the past; but it’s something that has made the trophies arriving to Anfield this season (of which there are plenty) even more special, not to mention so likeable.

But there definitely nothing lucky about winning 27 games out of 28 this season for Liverpool, nor was there any fortune involved in being the team to win the league the earliest, and going three whole league seasons unbeaten at Anfield. And 196 points over the space of two seasons speaks volumes about not only the relentlessness of this machine, but also the wonders that the recruitment team worked in the summer of 2018.

For all of the cringe and dreadful ‘LiVARpool’ banter, the downplaying of the side’s achievements over the last 12 months and the circumstances in which it was won, it cannot deflect from what an imperious side we have been fortunate to witness from the beginning; and all of those who made it happen.

We may be told that we are careful what to wish for – and teams around us will get stronger, undeniably. But with Jurgen Klopp at the reign, there’s no other man who should be trusted to continue to build a dynasty at the club and continue the trophy-laden campaigns.

The glory of Liverpool has well and truly been rewritten and reborn. And you should all drink it in, however long this may last.

Here’s to more of the same in 2020/21.

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