I sometimes feel cursed as a sports fan. I immigrated to the US in 1988, so my first memory of sports in Los Angeles is being pulled out of bed to watch Kirk Gibson pull out one of the most iconic home runs in baseball history. And, if we go back a bit further, to when I was in Manila, I was aware of and watched the Showtime Lakers on tape delay. My standards of sports watching and viewing were forged in all-time, historic performances. That’s a standard that’s bound to to cause all comers since to wilt before it.
I came to Liverpool in much different circumstances. I found a renewed vigor in my long love of soccer finally dovetailing with increased coverage in American sports media. And coming out of the 2010 World Cup in which we saw a couple of cardiac kids performances from the US Men’s National Team and that saw my back-up squad, Spain, with my idol, Fernando Torres, finally hoist the world’s most coveted sporting prize, I knew I could not contain my obsession to just those whirlwind 5 weeks. I needed more.
It was that search for more that lead me to Liverpool Football Club. Following Fernando Torres was easy. And with the Premier League broadcasts in the states being easier than ever to get, I finally had the access to help foster my obsession. I hadn’t thought, though, what life in the wilderness of fandom was like. It had been some time since I’d really lived it. I had no earthly idea, then, what I was going to myself through.
That whirlwind start to sports fandom in America was tempered pretty quickly: the Dodgers remained decent looks for playoff appearances for a time but have yet to have won a championship since the 1988 World Series. The Lakers have fared much better, but there was that very fallow - if still much beloved - era in the 90’s that saw the likes of Magic Johnson and James Worthy be replaced by Nick Van Exel and Cedric Ceballos. It was more like No Time on the court.
So, in a way, I should have been prepared for what awaited me as I decided to root for a club who’d decided to jettison their successful and beloved coach in favor for Roy Hodgson. I was not studied in the history of the club at the time, and so I was confused at the apoplectic responses among more longterm fans than myself at this hire. And as the transfers rolled in and the dropped points accumulated, I wasn’t sure what was happening here.
Because I’d also spent time rooting for those No Time Lakers only to see them eventually return to the top of the heap. And that sense of expectant talk sounded like the entitled bluster I often heard from Lakers fans. We deserved better because we’d always seen better. Good football on offer was a birthright for fans of Liverpool like beautiful basketball was an inevitability for Lakers fans.
What I hadn’t quite sussed out, though, was just how bad we actually were. Because I had no concept of the halcyon days. Because I knew very little of what good football looked like. And because I did not know that, I could not then point out just how decrepit and dire things were in that moment.
I would, however, learn pretty quickly.
In many ways, being a Child of the Hodgepodge is like being Bane: “Oh, you think losing is your ally? I was adopted by the Hodgepodge. I was born in it, molded by it.”
And because all I’d known was that brutally poor experience, I knew very little of what it was like to see a functioning football club flying on all cylinders. I lived through and processed a club nearly at the brink of administration. I saw a club lose its talisman - the one I’d followed - a few short months after one its best midfielders refused to suit up for the club. I saw a club in chaos.
I was, in a sense, molded entirely by that dark period. It being the norm for me - the genesis - of my Liverpool fandom. Christian Poulsen being Liverpool quality wasn’t cause for cocking my head askance because he simply was by virtue of being on the team.
And, yes, I was around for 2013-2014, but even that proved to be a false dawn. Small steps forward over the past 8 years. And yet it’s only been now that I could understand that the long timers weren’t cranks clinging to a distant past. It’s only now that I’ve been able to get a peek at what a glorious Liverpool side can be. And it’s so bright, I need sunglasses.
A resurgent giant is a thing to behold. When I celebrated the Lakers winning their first title since the Showtime era, I was a junior in high school. I’d basically lived the entirety of my formative years without a truly competitive sports team. The two local (American) football teams left Los Angeles. I remember driving around my neighborhood in one of my friend’s cars - he’d just gotten his driver’s license that summer - honking our horns and yelling “Lakers!” at everyone we encountered. I’d never experienced that delirious experience of reaching the mountaintop.
We’re not quite there yet with this squad, but the recent trajectory hints that Liverpool’s time in the wilderness - a time in which it could not reasonably be expected to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big names in the sport - is over. That this Liverpool is, at the moment, as close a facsimile to the past iterations of it that expect to boss every opponent and win things en masse.
Watching the matches the past two weeks and observing the way this team went about its summer business, I felt an odd security in the way I looked at the rest of the league. Manchester City are our clearest rivals, but I feel confident in our last few matchups against them that we can at least hope for points out of that match. Beyond that, I fear no one.
And that’s a feeling I’ve not had in a while: expectation. It’s early days and no one here is arguing that we ought to be favorites for any trophy. But we are, at the very least, talked about in the same breath as the class of the league. That the climb to the top is closer than the gap between us and everyone else. That we’re a special team here and abroad. A destination, not a temporary stop.
I understand, more each week, what you longtime fans mean. That this is what it’s like to root for an ascendant Liverpool side. That this is the Liverpool, you mean: an Anfield in full throat, banners waving, and the Red Men buzzing about the pitch like clinical swashbucklers. This is what it’s like to be a Red.