There is a unique magic that can be extracted from the ordinary bones of a soccer match. I remember one such moment in high school. Our team was the worst in the league: we were the newest team in the league, only having fielded a team for two seasons to that point, for one, and we were a math and science magnet school made up of students from underserved areas of Los Angeles playing in a league comprised of rich prep schools, to boot. The best record any of the two other iterations of our teams had managed was a single point in the first year of its existence.
The unexpected, though, is what often makes a legend and given that we were up against a prep school whose student parking lot elicited full-on gasps from us as we drove past cars none of us dreamt we’d ever be within shouting distance of in our lives, this was absolutely the definition of a scenario in which little was expected from us.
But the result - a draw, a revelatory and hard-fought draw - wasn’t the only thing that elevated this match into the pantheon of my personal collection of stories. The first is something more mundane: I actually played in this match. Not much, but significant enough minutes to say that I contributed to earning the result. Second, and perhaps more unexpected than even my inclusion in this match, was the fact that we got a light dusting of snow while we played.
The bus ride home was surreal. It was the best ever result against a strong side that we had ever got. It happened on their ground and with the weird occurrence of snow. We would never forget that match.
Liverpool’s season to this point isn’t quite the same type or quality of unexpected as a struggling high school squad notching a draw. It isn’t the same type of unexpected as a bench player with two left feet and chronic asthma finding his way onto the pitch for this momentous result. It is isn’t the same type of unexpected as snow falling in the foothills of Los Angeles.
But there is something a bit unexpected about it. Because even with a squad as talented as one that boasts Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Virgil Van Dijk, and Alisson Becker, or one that has the great Jurgen Klopp at the helm, it’s hard to fathom a team making back-to-back Champions League Finals. It’s especially hard to imagine that reality when you aren’t one of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, or Real Madrid.
Liverpool are here, though. With a chance to add to a trophy to their collection and to write another entry into their storied history. And while many might say it is unexpected for them to make a repeat appearance just one year on, no one can suggest that they didn’t earn it.
Liverpool’s presence in this tilt is an earned gift. The affirmation of the belief that success often requires both the luck to be presented with a given opportunity and hard work to actually make that opportunity count.
The graft this side has shown repeatedly, both in the Champions League and in the Premier League, is a prime example of putting in the work. When this side has dropped points, it was, of course, disappointing. But rarely can one say that the lads mailed in a performance.
Unexpected but earned.
I’ve made much over the past year and a half of being a Child of the Hodgepocalypse. And I think having survived that experience as a fan is maybe the single biggest thing, to this point at least, in my time as a fan that’s colored the way I interact with this team.
The thing about coming into the fandom and committing to fall for a Liverpool team that was falling apart makes it incredibly easy, bordering on rapturous, to appreciate when things are anything but that. Which made it easy to fall for the false dawns and the small moments when we the sun peeked out from behind the storm clouds that felt like they hung over this team.
So the added layer of surprise in all of this is that we’re even here at all. Because we’d seen moments of hope only to be reminded that we weren’t quite the Giant in Football that our history would have suggested. Because we’d seen prized players lured away to richer clubs, more recently successful clubs, or clubs that were both. Because we’d endured such a close brush with true disaster that it just always made sense that this project might take more time.
But here we are, a week away from this club potentially wrapping its figurative fingers around a title that would all but cement Liverpool as fully back among Europe’s elite. If one were inclined to a particular practice of faith, one might make a ham-fisted connection between Liverpool’s unlikely resurrection and this being the Christian liturgical season of Easter. Luckily, you have a scribe not given to such poor decision-making manning the booth today but I wanted to leave you with the image of that potential train wreck.
The point of it all, though, is this: Liverpool reaching this point is a bit unexpected. But it is also entirely earned, with a season’s worth of results to point to as evidence. All that’s left, then, is to take advantage of this moment, put in the necessary graft on Saturday, and see if we might find ourselves atop the heap.