The life of a sports fan is a truly strange one, our emotional investment rooted so deeply in the playing of a child’s game. Sometimes, that rooting interest crosses oceans. Why do we care so much?
There is no single satisfactory answer to the question. It’s one I’ve been kicking around my head for years. Notably, whenever Liverpool are doing something not great and I’m angrily cursing myself for being awake at an ungodly hour on America’s west coast to watch this team do that not great something.
I think, though, that the past two seasons in particular have helped in that there haven’t been many moments where I find myself asking that version of the question. Now, it’s mostly, why am I crying tears of joy? Why am I so emotional over the crowd signing You’ll Never Walk Alone? Why do I care so much?
I’ve mentioned it often, but I officially hitched my wagons to Liverpool FC beginning the summer of 2010. The World Cup had just finished and I’d decided to follow Fernando Torres back to Merseyside. It was a bit of a lark.
It ended up being a wholeass mess.
This fateful event led me to become a Child of the Hodgepocalypse as, in short order, I saw the beloved Rafa Benitez replaced by ex-Fulham gaffer Roy Hodgson. That first half season saw a Liverpool club in free-fall on the pitch and under threat of administration off it. If this were a Dickens novel the epigraph might’ve been, “It was literally the shittiest of times.”
The feeling around the club and even on the earliest iterations of TLO was that things were bad. I would read the words of past scribes here like Trev and Ed both above the fold and in the comments and recall the refrain that Liverpool were better than this. I’d only ever rooted for American sports franchises from Los Angeles, so I knew a thing or two about fallen giants. Ride it out, I thought. Ride it out and it’ll get better.
But false dawns and stalled improvements were the real story of pre-Klopp Liverpool, and even when we did have that brief dalliance in the sun - ah, 2013-2014 Season, my sweet summer child - the fall back to earth was swift and dramatic. Joy was at a premium. Hobbies are supposed to bring joy. So why did I care so much?
When you’ve seen dynastic teams crumble and then return, it becomes easier to be a bit patient. A different type of expectation for a historically great franchise. That a place at the top of the heap is, maybe, a bit inevitable.
I arrived in America already familiar with the Showtime Lakers and in time to catch their last title. I then saw it all fall apart. And while I will forever have love for that in-between period - shout out to Eddie Jones and Nick the Quick - it wasn’t too long, in the grand scheme of things, until the three-peat Lakers showed up.
I’ve now watched the ebb and flow of success for that franchise twice, with the current moment being an ebb. Over time I tried to distance myself from the wing of fandom that would push for immediate success at the cost of longterm stability. That lesson was borne out of surviving the Hodgepocalypse.
Not because the fandom was necessarily at fault for the mismanagement of the H&G Era. But because those failed stewards nearly ran the club into the ground in search of their own immediate success. And with it, nearly took decades of history into second flight.
It would have been a bit unprecedented if sports fans hadn’t already seen similar stories: the New York Knicks in America and Leeds in England. Great franchises with loads of history suddenly relegated to the scrap heap.
Inevitability was may be not the truth of where we were.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool ushered in the first extended run for Children of the Hodgepocalypse to dance in the sun. Prone to sun burns and a bit squinty at all of the bright light, we nevertheless danced because you celebrate the triumphs and success. Because we know how far we’ve come. Because we know how close we were to being another fallen giant, stuck permanently in the pages of history, no longer able to write new chapters of our own.
And that’s perhaps what helped to salve the disappointment at the reality of going another season without getting that ignoble statistic off of our record. That we would have to delay for at least one more year our return to the title winners podium. To drink from that cup of glory.
That disappointment is, of course, real. You do not invest the time in following a club as ardently as we have only to brush off this moment. But the thing about this group of guys is that it feels like we’ve got time. With Mohamed Salah. With Alexander Oxlade-Chamberlain. With Robert Firmino. With Sadio Mane. With Virgil Van Dijk. With The Admiral Naby Keita. We have time.
That lack of desperation, then, is what defines this moment for me. Because despair is the killer of joy. And the only thing we’ve more of than time is utter, unbridled joy at this team now and at what is yet to come.