Those who follow Liverpool are hardly a monolithic block. How could they be, with the global nature of modern football fandom? For better or worse, in a world where it's at times easier to watch the match live if you live in Singapore or Sydney than it is if you live anywhere in England, one can hardly expect that all who spend a foolish amount of time obsessing over a football club will have passed some rigorous standardised test to judge their fitness. That's even assuming that in the days when one could only realistically follow a club not only in their own city but, more often than not, from their own community, that everybody wearing certain colours would think exactly, dogmatically, the same way. And that, of course, would be a foolish assumption.
There may be a tendency amongst followers of a club to share certain beliefs, perhaps in Liverpool's case beliefs befitting a club coming from a city that has never elected a Conservative member of parliament, that has faced down a history as the butt of jokes for their smug southern neighbours, and that has a strong connection to the blue collar dock workers whose industry carried the city—not to mention a corresponding collective loathing of Margaret Thatcher. There may be a tendency, but even still it would only be a tendency.
Globally, one of the most prominent American fans of the club is, rather bizarrely, television personality and former right-wing Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, a man who would probably choke to death on the phrase "Shankly socialism" for all that it was never meant to deliver a political message. And some would quickly point out that in a world where most of the club's starting eleven makes more in a week than many of the club's followers do in a year while the club signs on to lead the marketing campaign for Honda Motorcycles in Thailand, talk of them somehow representing those working class, left-leaning roots becomes difficult at best.
Some of those who follow Liverpool may even profess some level of affection for other clubs, clubs such as Real Madrid whose histories and core support generally speak to a very different world-view. Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to tomorrow's Champions League final and one of the few things that is non-negotiable if one wants to consider themselves any kind of fan, follower, or supporter of Liverpool: Manchester United. It also brings us around to Martin Samuel, one of the most committed and bitter Little Englanders in the press. While Henry Winter, one of the key media architects of the installation of Roy Hodgson at Liverpool last summer, was busy turning up bile by glowingly comparing Alex Ferguson to Sir Bob Paisley, fellow founding member of the Everything wrong with football coverage in the English media club Samuel was having a go at Liverpool fans in the Daily Mail for not throwing their support behind United.
"This isn’t progress," he called out with the crux of his argument, "and don’t let anyone kid you that the new tribalism is what football has always been about. It never used to be that way. It is only the new fans, or the middle-class warriors, who know nothing else."
Back in the day, he suggests, fans of an English club would have done the proper thing and gotten behind another English club. He even points to Ferguson himself, a Rangers player who cheered when Celtic became the first British club to win the European Cup1, as the virtuous pinnacle the modern fan has fallen short of:
"I was in Hong Kong with the Scotland team when Celtic won but I know that, from my part of Glasgow, everyone was behind them, even the Rangers fans," [Ferguson] said. "Maybe there was the odd one who was against, but you are always going to get that. Basically, we all thought it was an amazing achievement for Jock Stein to build that team of players, all from within 20 miles of the Glasgow area."
Nearly half a century on, it is a different story. Last week Ferguson was bemoaning the fact that many English football supporters will be cheering for Barcelona on Saturday.
"It’s a different story these days," he said. "We live in a country of tribalism."
And you can almost feel Samuel nodding along sympathetically to it all, such is his distress at the situation—and such is his almost slavishly worshipping approach to everything that is Alex Ferguson, Defender of the Faith.
Of course, if one looks back a couple of years, it becomes almost laughably obvious just what a load of self-congratulatory, conveniently blinkered swill it is being dished out by both Samuel and Ferguson:
Sir Alex Ferguson has taunted Liverpool ahead of their Champions League final against Milan, claiming there is "no way" they can win, and promising to toast their failure with a bottle of wine he was given by coach Carlo Ancelotti...
"I told Carlo at the end of our semi-final that there is no way he can now not win this competition," said Ferguson. "Carlo gave me a magnificent bottle of wine. But I immediately told him there is no point in giving such a wonderful gift if he then fails in the final. In fact, I told him I would only drink his wine once I see him lifting the Champions Cup."
When Ferguson now laments the lack of support from rival fans when his club goes up against continental competition, it is a matter of convenience for a man who for all his faults at least always knows exactly where his loyalties lie and makes no excuses for it. Certainly he knew where his loyalties lay when he openly cheered against Liverpool in 2007. For Samuel and his ilk, on the other hand, it's a rather pathetic cherry picking of so-called facts as he cries out for the days when the sun never set on the British Empire and the occasional Scot, Welsh, or Irishman was about as foreign as it got in English football. Either way, though, there's absolutely no excuse for a Liverpool fan to look towards Saturday hoping for anything but a ritualised slaughter of Manchester United on the Wembley turf. No matter what Martin Samuel might say, and no matter what English television coverage might blare incessantly in the hours leading up to the match, hoping for United's inglorious demise is the only reasonable course of action.
There may be reasons for some not to actively hope for Barcelona's victory, from other sympathies to the at times insufferable smugness of some of the bandwagon fans who have hitched themselves to the Catalan tiki-taka machine in recent years. There may be reasons to shut off the television, to head out for a beer or to see a movie and to generally pretend the whole thing just doesn't exist. But there's no excuse for hoping in any way, shape, or form for United to succeed. You never cheer for your rival, and those who suggest otherwise are simply clueless or disingenuous.
1And never mind that Samuel's nationalistic talk of all England all the time temporarily morphs into the larger construct that is Britain in order to include Scottish side Celtic when it suits his argument.
* Note: I originally referred to the 2005 CL final instead of the 2007 edition, which as Anurag kindly pointed out in the comments was kind of not right.