For all fans, seeing the team they support perform live is quite the act of faith. It's an earnest, if emotionally fraught, time of connection and identification that can be almost spiritual. In these fractious and violent times, one is wary of religion-based metaphors, but the constancy many show to their club is a devout fidelity like no other in their lives. If, like this Irishman, you are not lucky enough to regularly number amongst the 45, 522 souls inside Anfield, then you will, no doubt, have developed your own unique habitude around watching the game. This is a decidedly individual rite and, depending on your approach to such things, can often be enhanced by or mired in ritual and superstition.
One evening last season, as your scribbler stood before his television screen in the seconds before kick-off, the absurdity of these rituals led to a delayed epiphany, a moment of Damascene conversion which has greatly added to the enjoyment since gleaned from matches. As I surveyed the room, I was reasonably content -- the remote controls were laid out in descending size, I was wearing my lucky hoody, the volume was set at 90 (the last time we won the league) and all was well as YNWA shook the walls.
Into this unnerving scene of early-stage delirium, walked my beloved daughter. This was progress, her fleeting appearance. I had previously been convinced that her presence was bad luck and suggested, via a process of passive aggressive sighing and tutting, that she leave me to my own devices during the match. She had readily agreed, no doubt equal parts bewildered and terrified by this atypical hysteria in her old man. As I say, however, the stringency of this had eased over the years and as she grabbed her iPad from the couch, she fixed me with a look that betrayed her pity and amusement at the frazzled husk of superstitious tension her father had become.
At the time it rattled me momentarily but dammit, there was a league to win and a Mourinho to beat, so I banished it from my mind and returned to my ritualistic pacing. I wasn't allowed to sit, you see. Sitting was also bad luck. After the final whistle against Chelsea, I was more haunted by my daughter's expression and by feelings of intense self-recrimination than the dawning realisation that the Premier League dream was slipping (I'm not even sorry for that one). The absolute state of you, Downey, you utter twonk. Like YOU have anything to do with the outcome of the bloody match! You need to confine this superstition malarkey to a flaming skip. So, I did.
Last night, freed from the strictures of nonsensical protocols and lying like a louche Roman hedonist on my comfy couch, I enjoyed proceedings at a comfortable volume in the clothes I'd worn to work. And Liverpool won. The ritualistic ceremony of the occasion may have been greatly reduced but the guttural howl of utter glee that came from me as Mario Balotelli struck the winner was as intense a moment as any this Redman has experienced in the last few seasons.
The current incarnation of Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool is, oddly, more enjoyable to watch than the almost-all-conquering side of last year because, after a spectacularly inept beginning to the campaign by players and management, the recent upturn in competency and form, along with the attendant rekindling of hope, feels like a delightful bonus -- a bonus built around exciting young talent like Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, Jordon Ibe and Raheem Sterling. The most pleasing impact of all from last night's victory was the fact that so many of the new faces featured so prominently.
One of those, Adam Lallana, has had to deal with more derisive comments than most. The likable England man, whose talent has never been rationally questioned, has struggled with injury since his arrival and it was especially gratifying that the dramatic winner came from a delightful link-up between Ibe and himself, with Lallana putting the ball on a a plate for Balotelli. The Italian, who has engendered endless debate since his move from AC Milan, reacted in a typically unemotional fashion but Jordan Henderson, Mamadou Sakho and Colin Pascoe were all at pains to point out how happy he would be behind the scenes, with the Frenchman pointedly calling his similarly coiffed teammate "a very good man." Lallana, who will no doubt be very satisfied with his own impact, also praised the enigmatic Italian.
"I'm pleased for Mario and that goal will be great for him, " insisted the fashionably bearded schemer. "He needs to keep working hard. If he does that and keeps putting the effort in then the goals will come. We've got a great squad and we're gaining momentum. We were missing Raheem tonight but Lazar came in and got his goal. You look at the likes of Lazar and Emre (Can), a lot of the new players are settling in well and we're seeing that out on the field. People were questioning the new signings at the beginning of the season but not for one minute was I questioning them. It was always going to take a little bit of time as they're young players. Now they've settled in we're starting to see the rewards."
On Saturday, utterly unencumbered by the dead weight of superstitious anxiety, this fan will watch his team take on Crystal Palace in the FA Cup. According to Lallana, "it's a massive game. We got taught a lesson by Palace earlier in the season." One can easily agree with the Liverpool number 20 when he goes on to say that "we owe them one." For if last year's title dreams began to die at Anfield against Chelsea, they were clinically executed by the subsequent draw at Crystal Palace. So, bin your lucky scarves, lie back and enjoy this team as it builds momentum and form and if they lose, it's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault.