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Everything’s the Best Bonus: Revisiting Barcelona with a Buddy

AJ and Mark Kastner circle back around to catch up on everything that’s changed between the last time they wrote each other and now. Spoiler alert: they’re really happy.

Liverpool v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg
This is friendship.
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It’s been about a week since Liverpool played at the Camp Nou. A result which lead to a lot of ennui. At least around these parts. Then, I reached out to fellow scribe Mark Kastner for solace. After this small, inconsequential match that happened on Tuesday, though, we felt it was appropriate to come back around and check in. Cause what type of friends only moan about the bad times? Not us, that’s for sure.

Mark!! I wanted to start this e-mail with like three solid paragraphs of askdjfsdkf;kdsjfadlskjfasdklasdfdf;kj and maybe some fireworks emojis and scream emojis and red heart emojis and lots and lots of exclamation points. But then I ran this by the bosses at TLO towers and they told me that I needed to include actual words. So, here I am stuck trying to put to words feelings that easily evade them.

I mean, where do I start? Entering the match we were already so forlorn. Not only because the first leg was so awful and terrible, but because we’d been hit by the injury bug at a time when we simply couldn’t afford it. Roberto Firmino. Mohamed Salah. And even The Admiral Naby Keita. Like, sweet, sweet Navy Keith just finally gets his sea legs and all of a sudden he’s lost for what looks like a long-term recovery?

Words like cursed began to not only float around, but seemed to gain corporeal form and substance. Like shadows of boogeymen - or boogeyteams - had suddenly sprung up everywhere. We were in need of hope even at a time when we knew we’d probably received in terms of the quality of football played to this point, more blessings in the form of this season than a fan could reasonably hope for.

But we are fans and fans want more and we wanted trophies. So, last week felt like a lament.

Which makes Tuesdays result so much more than just a joyous uproar. We’d climbed a mountain by slaying a giant, Mark. What do you do to pay tribute to that? What words can you even deem appropriate? Should we walk into Noel and Zach and Steph’s digital office and demand to use emojis and nonsensical phrases? AND WHAT DO I EVEN DO WITH MY HANDS I CAN’T REMEMBER WHAT I NORMALLY DO WITH MY HANDS!

I thought I knew what speechless felt like after the victory over Newcastle last weekend. I thought I knew what speechless felt like, again, after Vincent Kompany’s thunderbastard on Monday night.

I don’t know anything anymore. I’ve basically been walking around since the 4th goal went in on Tuesday night asking everyone, “How are we supposed to live now?” And, I haven’t really found an acceptable answer. I am a changed man.

This team has taught me a new meaning to hope that I never knew existed. How can you doubt them now?

Hope and doubt and faith and questions. I don’t know where to begin except to say that, yes, this experience leaves me feeling a bit changed.

Not that there wasn’t belief before. Just that the hope that existed was a fan’s hope, a fool’s hope. The kind of hope that can only exist out of someone who obsessively checks on the minutiae of their favorite team. It is a hope that felt unmoored in the way that any lofty dream may feel like.

But I think the difference now, having gone through this, is that I finally understand the way the old heads in LFC fandom talk about hope. Meaning that LFC’s hope is rooted in a history of doing this time and time again. Being a Child of the Hodgepocalypse™ meant that I was really far removed from the glory days and couldn’t quite muster the same belief and expectation in the club as others.

I’m ok with not veering into space that makes me seem like an entitled glory hunter - a thing that is inevitable in the fanbase of uber successful clubs like the Lakers. But in Liverpool’s case, the lack of trophies has allowed for the fanbase to be a lot more mellow than others. And the belief they have in a club doing the impossible rooted in this thing that is mystical yet very, very real.

So, I guess, I’m just glad to finally be fully initiated into that wing of the fandom. That I can now fully understand and appreciate the fullness of hope that longtime Liverpool fans hold. That I can now see the power that Anfield well and truly holds.

I think it’s really important for this generation of fans to have their own memories. I remember Istanbul, but I was in middle school. It’s very hard to live off your dad, older brother, or even your friend’s memories. Up until this point, we’ve only really had the Dortmund game in Klopp’s first year, but that being the Europa league kind of dampens it a bit.

This team, as in this current roster with this current manager in this current season has finally given us something to hang our hope on. We will always have “The Barcelona Game,” as Jonathan Liew puts it. We can look at these players and this manager and remember what it was like when our backs were against the wall and we didn’t hav a chance. No matter what, we will always have this memory. And if it’s not for the memories, why are we football fans?

That’s exactly right, Mark. Exactly right. Can’t wait to ring in the end of the season and to watch our guys in the last push to bring a major trophy back to Anfield. These are great times and, honestly, I just want to bask in it. Bring on the end, lads. Thanks for the memories!

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