Writing is a weird craft to do for someone like me. It’s not so much that I’m an extrovert - I suffer from what one might call “do they think I’m a goblin-its” in social situations and tend to be a bit on the quiet side until I feel comfortable. It usually means that I need some people to help break the ice with me. Once I’m comfortable, in a thing that likely won’t surprise anyone who’s ever read these too-long-by-half screeds, I tend to not stop.
But the thing about writing is that as much of a joyous exercise it can be to knit together the right words to express a thought, it is a terribly, terribly lonely bit. And in that quiet space between drafting and then hitting publish, all of those same anxieties that force me to clam up at parties or public space, tease themselves out and have a bit of a throw down in the recesses of my head.
I think the thing I appreciate most about being here at TLO is that while the writers aren’t always in each other’s life on a daily basis, we do connect with each other as friends in ways that go beyond this site. I am, in a way, embarking on this endeavor with a team. And when I’m not alone, I’m a little less afraid.
I thought often about the construct of teams and what that meant as my eyes welled with pride and tears on Tuesday. I was at work, with the match on my phone, doing my best not to lose my absolute mind as our guys put together one of the greatest comebacks the sport has ever seen. And all that was trailing through my mind was how we’d accomplished the impossible with a group of guy that many might consider our B-team.
I know what it’s like to be part of that B-team. I’m not a very big or athletically competent person - my childhood nickname is a Tagalog-English portmanteau of sorts that pays homage to my legendary clumsiness. So, I know how other teams must have licked their chops to know that Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino would be unable to set foot on the Anfield grass.
I also know that it must have stung, at least a little, for the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge to know that the opposition exhaled a little bit or chuckled a little bit or puffed their chests out a little bit at the knowledge that they might be the ones tasked with filling the void left by the superstars. That you are the yeoman crafter tasked with finishing Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel when the latter had fallen sick.
So the absolute burst of joy and pride and relief that emerged at the ending of that match, one in which Origi grabbed a brace and the winner, Shaq notched an assist, and Studge came on late as well. James Milner spent time at left back when Andrew Robertson came off with an injury. Georginio Wijnaldum was called into duty off of the bench and grabbed a brace.
And every single one of the team members - including those on the bench - celebrated the final two goals with the scorers in the Kop end. It was a team effort from start to finish. An effort emblematic of the team first ethos that runs through Anfield. One that has a deep link to Shankly’s socialism and throughout the Liverpool community. It was less heralded players raising their hands to pick their brothers up and I loved it.
I must confess something: I almost don’t want this season to end. Which is weird because the past three seasons have been the one period in the time of my fandom wherein looking forward provided very real and true joy because the present was so good. We were set up to challenge for any and all things.
But the thing that sets this season apart for me is how this particular group of Reds finally seems to fully wear the stamp of Jurgen Klopp. They are all deeply lovable and largely unproblematic.
And that’s a thing I care deeply about. This past Tuesday also reminded us of the less savory aspects of recent LFC history in the name of Luis Suarez. A person whose antics can only be described as racist, regardless of what context-less Wikipedia entries one might want to assert about the use of certain words in South America, rendering meaningless the deep history of colorism and racial hierarchies delivered to the region by European colonizers. Worse, it renders voiceless the experiences of marginalized peoples within those communities who, likely, would also object to such language depending and given their own lived experiences. I do not need to know the contents of a person’s character intimately to know that a racist act is, well, racist.
Thankfully and lovingly this group is, to this point, absent that type of personality. We no longer have to contend with the internal conflict of backing players who are, at least publicly, unsavory. There is a deep ethic of doing the work that stands outside oneself; an ethic that cares beyond one’s own individual motivations.
It feels like what I imagine fans during the Shankly Era must have felt. It feels like what I imagine the community at large lives in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods. It feels what I imagine Liverpool is supposed to be.
Liverpool now have two finals, of sorts. Two more matches that will help determine how history will mark this season.
I qualify this because the first match, on Sunday against Wolves, is a final in that a victory is most certainly necessary. But Liverpool still need a helping hand from Brighton to secure spoils on the league side of things.
The final we do know is still three weeks away, with nerves and the build up and the tension all far-off.
What we do know, though, is that this moment is perfect. This team is perfect. And for the first time in a long while, I feel my sporting love for this squad is perfect.