I remember the moment I’d fallen in love with this sport. It was a February, in 2001, and my high school soccer team was locked in a tight match with opponents from a boarding school. This was a unique experience because my team were comprised of inner city kids like me. We were cast into the California’s Prep League because our school size was so small and this was the only league we could be . Most of us were bussed to school, so driving up on our team bus through the student parking lot filled with Audi’s, BMW’s, and, I think, a McLaren F1 was quite the moment.
Anyway, the thing about this game wasn’t just the location - a space that, economically speaking, most of my teammates and I could only dream of - or that our team, known as the league’s doormat, was actually holding its own, it’s that, at some point during the match, it began to snow. Now, of course, being that we lived in Los Angeles - closer to the coast and much lower in elevation - none of us was quite prepped for it. In fact, while waiting for the ball to be brought back into play, I had a teammate toss me a cable-knit sweater (it was my boy band phase) to slip on under my jersey.
We earned that draw and I remember the ride home feeling buoyant and hopeful; the combination of a relatively successful outing and the unique experience of playing in the snow holding our collective imagination. It was on that magical day I knew that soccer - football - had absolutely stolen my heart.
Watching the snow come down while the Reds dispatched Watford on the weekend thrust me right back into that space. Salah, King of Egypt, wearing a crown of snowflakes. A sleeveless Henderson, marauding the midfield like the King of the North. The Kop in full voice as Anfield was blanketed in this substance typically absent from LA weather phenomena, I felt the slight twinge of longing that we would have to wait two more weeks before the next match.
And isn’t that how it always goes? The International Break - never feeling like it comes at an opportune time - becomes an irritating interruption in the best of times. In the worst of times, it becomes a time whereby fans obsess over the failings in the previous run of results. The anxiety of fandom always fanned by the extra oxygen afforded the extra breathing room from the Break.
International football is special and the gateway by which many fans come to club fandom. But the breaks - five per season - are both too numerous and, sadly, often bring with it the added anxiety of increased odds that the best players at your club might become injured. Liverpool currently have internationals representing Egypt, Brazil, Senegal, Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, Belgium, Spain and England. And many of the players - including the famed attacking trio of Firmino, Mané, and Salah - are among the discussion of first choice players for their national team. Mané and Salah, in particular, are often first on the team sheet for their respective national teams.
Which is why the international break is so tricky for fans of clubs with the size and stature of Liverpool Football Club: the club’s standing demands players of the quality to be named to national teams. The club is then often on pins and needles during the international break as fans and management alike hang onto hope that the injury bug avoids all players sporting the Liverbird underneath their national kits. It is a problem made worse by Liverpool’s desire to succeed.
Ultimately, though, fans have no choice but to weather the storm. By hooky headline hosted your favorite Liverpool blog, or in the crook of the arm of your best friend as you sing the virtues of Roberto Firmino’s off-the-ball movement, we will make it through this brief step away from the iconic moments and beautiful football. We’ll make it through because, of course, we always do. But that doesn’t mean we can’t long for the return to those epic nights as our boys in Red fly up and down the pitch. After all, the LA foothills always long for the return of the snow, and as I learned on that magical afternoon 17 years ago, they usually end up getting it.