I have been a Liverpool fan since the days when the only way you could catch them on Indian television was through glimpses of highlights during Gillette World Sport Special. But, back then, it was more of a curiosity to be able to follow their fortunes. That is until a black coaxial wire, about half an inch in diameter, redefined everything.
The Premier League arrived in India, via cable television, and being a football club fan went from a dalliance with occasional updates to a committed relationship. Regular games, a barrage of analysis (mild by today’s hyper-social, uber -obsessive standards), and a constant background presence amplified every turn in fortune.
It was theatre created for television, of course, the very thing that led to the creation of the Premier League, and subsequently to the millstone of a stat that every Reds fan had to carry around their neck – Liverpool have never won the Premier League.
Until now. Jurgen Klopp and Co are England’s champions and how.
Breaking the curse
It did not happen right away, of course, but as I watched Arsene Wenger transform Arsenal, Manchester United achieve something incredible under Sir Alex Ferguson, and Chelsea upend models and tactics in the Roman Abramovich era — both footballing and business — and I had outgrown my teen years, I began to wonder – are Liverpool cursed?
Then the treble season happened (in 2001 when Liverpool won UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup), and it became easier to imagine that catching up with those big three and a return to the top of the league wasn’t far behind. Liverpool had re-entered the conversation in European football as the century turned, and naturally, as a fan, one dreamt they’d start dominating both European and domestic fronts as they once did in the 1970s and 1980s.
But that’s the thing about developing a fixation. It gnaws at every bit of your being for every moment that you are not able to reach it. As the years rolled on, Liverpool fans (and I am sure the players and staff too, even though they’d probably never publicly admit to it) were forced to channel their inner Ahabs, in futile pursuit of the Moby Dick that was the Premier League trophy. The outstanding runs in Europe in both 2005 and in 2007 were great, of course, but the White Whale that was the league title still mocked us.
A stellar advantage in the 2008-’09 season was wasted, and then when it appeared we had destiny in our hands yet again in 2014, it cruelly slipped away, with the universe giving us a literal slip to also enjoy for good measure. Heck, even the best season in club history (in 2018-’19) was not good enough and Klopp’s men fell short by a solitary point to Pep Guardiola’s city.
Liverpool’s foundering in what seemed home stretches of a title race felt like a curse in the same league as the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox.
Even when Liverpool had the biggest ever lead in an English top flight season, there was still that apprehension that something may upset the applecart. Right on cue, a literal plague landed just as the club seemed primed to finally break the voodoo. I think The Secret and its allied philosophies are all bunkum, but even the rationalist in me has sometimes directed blame on myself for not believing enough, for allowing myself to become both stoic and cynical at turns, when it came to the matter of taking a Liverpool title charge credibly.
Perhaps it was a coping mechanism born out of deep sporting trauma; denying even the possibility, no matter how inevitable it looked (like it did this season). Often I’d find myself day dreaming about what it would feel like when Liverpool finally broke their Premier League duck, but then I would stop myself and even censure my mind for venturing into heretical territory.
It is befitting that this moment, this collective yearning that has multiplied with every passing barren season, should be realised under a manager like Jurgen Klopp. His approach from the get go has been one about focusing on the process and the outcome, and not thinking too far ahead. That is not to say he did not have a strategic plan, just that he had the ability to process the randomness that, for long, we fervent fans had been happy to label unfairness.
It’s as if that realisation itself is what has freed us from our collective Groundhog Day doom loop of waking up, seeing Liverpool not win the league and go back to sleep.
Now that we are finally at the promised land, I can finally let my imagination wander, free of the fear of dreaming of a feeling it was doomed, like a star-crossed lover, to eventually tragically and painfully lose. It is free to be in the present, unburdened by the trauma of the past, unencumbered by its anxiousness about the future.
The real prize is the pathos we processed along the way.