I love TLO for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it's a microcosm of our global support base. We have regular commenters on this site from every continent spare Antarctica. (I'm looking at you penguins! Lacking wi-fi and opposable thumbs are no excuses not to join the discussion!) I've had the good fortune to travel and live in a wide variety of places, but everywhere I've been, Liverpool gets there first (usually beating me by decades).
When I pull that distinctive red kit over my shoulders, I never walk alone wherever my feet take me in the world. I've received high-fives and hugs from strangers in Munich, home of some very different reds. My shirt has earned me compliments while walking the National Mall in Washington D.C. I've seen countless Liverpool kits for sale in shady back-alley streets throughout Asia. I'm sure each and every one was 100% authentic.
When I put on a Liverpool kit for a pick-up game in Korea, I would neither play nor walk alone. And more often than not, a fellow player would approach me, "Ah! Liverpool! Steven Gerrard! Very good!" This was their reaction regardless of whether my kit had Gerrard's name and number printed across the back.
When I sat down to a Christmas lunch in rural Denmark, I heard my girlfriend's uncle and cousin arguing vociferously over whether Liverpool or Arsenal are better. I didn't understand a lot, but I did understand when the Arsenal supporter called Anfield an "antique stadium," to which her uncle, the Liverpool supporter, replied in English, "IT'S CALLED HISTORY!"
The Reds have a surprisingly strong following in Denmark and other Nordic countries. I've met countless Danes who support them, and most of their games are on TV, with commentary from Jan Mølby (naturally). On a recent window-shopping excursion in Denmark, I saw Liverpool's newest kit prominently displayed next to the likes of Bayern and Barcelona. Not bad company. The Manchester teams were nowhere to be found.
About the last place on the planet I expected to see a Liverpool kit was in a small village in northern India. I frequently wore my 2010-11 LFC away kit around India, because at 40+ degrees Celsius (104+ F to my non-metric friends), wearing something white, lightweight, and breathable was very important. Also, I love Liverpool. And yet, here was a boy, around 15, wearing the exact same 2010-2011 away kit as I. And his even had Premier League patches. Sadly, India is no place for white clothing, and one of my favorite kits of recent years was irreparably damaged on that trip. It was a small price to pay for an incredible experience.
All of this is to say that as bad as things seem for the club, there are things that no up-start, oil-billionaire funded club can achieve. As was pointed out earlier, we have tradition and history, and the supporters can hold onto that fact worldwide. And it's not an easy fandom, particularly in recent years, but being a fan isn't about supporting a winner. It's about supporting a team, through thick and thin. In Munich, I was part of a small group of Liverpool supporters who regularly met up at Ned Kelly's Australian Pub. After losing one of our countless early-season matches this year, the leader of our little local support group said to me between drags on his cigarette, "I wouldn't support Liverpool if I couldn't deal with them losing."
We may revel in past successes, and we may never shut up about that One Night In IstanbulTM but in its own way, the story of struggling together binds us as fans. I'm not saying we wouldn't be overcome with joy at seeing that Premier League trophy finally lifted by some future (or current!) captain. As a club, Liverpool are defined by their successes. As supporters, we're defined by our global community.
In short, "You'll Never Walk Alone" is more than a song or a motto, but it's a way of life for Liverpool supporters. It means that you can walk into a pub in innumerable corners of the world, and immediately be greeted by your newest, best friends...for 90 minutes, anyway.
Coming up next week: I meet with the Dallas Chapter of the Texas Liverpool FC Supporters, the second oldest supporters group in the U.S.