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The Plight of the Modern Liverpool Supporter

Winning the Champions League has been a brand new experience for a new generation of Liverpool fans. What now?

Fans Watch UEFA Champions League Final In Liverpool Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Did people think that after spending 14 years bragging about Istanbul that Liverpool supporters the world over would let up about winning the club’s sixth European Cup after 14 measly days? If you believed that you’re more deluded than Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son in a 1v1 with Virgil Van Dijk thinking he had even the slightest chance in a footrace.

Those who have experienced moments like Liverpool supporters did on June 1st will never grow tired of that feeling that welled up in ever Red chest at the final whistle. We watched with hearts full as Jordan Henderson did a little drumroll dance before lifting the Champions League trophy with a triumphant scream and then later collapsing into Jürgen Klopp’s embrace as he sobbed with relief. As the longest-tenured player in the squad, long pilloried and belittled in the court of public opinion as being symptomatic of the downfall of a once great club, it was arguably Henderson alone who was capable of expressing an emotion only a certain generation of Reds supporters could relate to.

That generational divide within the Liverpool fanbase has grown increasingly apparent to me in recent years. One might think of the modern Red nation as being composed of three distinct generations: those who experienced firsthand the heady glory days of the ‘70s and the ‘80s, who bore witness to Shankly and Rush, to Digger and the King. A time when trophies were routine, dominance was expected.

The cohort of Red supporters that followed were of the ‘90s and the naughts, a period defined by an increasingly agonizing wait for a league title and that peaked with the Rafa Benitez era of Gerrard, Torres and Istanbul. A relatively diminished force but one easy to love. These were sides that gave fans the joy of the occasional plucky success even as they watched longingly from afar as a combination of Sir Alex Ferguson and Roman Abramovich took turns standing atop the perch that was ours by birthright.

However, it is the third generation of Liverpool fans that is arguably the most curious of all: the post-Rafa supporters. It’s difficult to explain what drew us to a club run by the likes of Hicks & Gillett, managed by Roy freaking Hodgson and fielding the likes of Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam. The turgid play, the mediocrity, the horror. This is a generation of fans who have not been accustomed to winning (and no the Carling Cup doesn’t count), who expected failure and who found ways to derive satisfaction from seeing their team play “positive football” where trophies were lacking.

I include myself in this particular cadre of lunatics. My Liverpool allegiance came about, oddly enough by way of, Manchester United—or more accurately a United supporter. Moving to the US from London as a child and growing up without cable TV meant that soccer came behind the NBA and the NFL in my childhood affections as a result of simple lack of exposure. My chosen teams in those sports ranged from perennial laughingstocks like the New York Jets to professional silver medalists such as the Jason Kidd-era New Jersey Nets.

We ARE the Butt Fumble

A few teenage years spent back in the UK, including 2005, revived a casual interest in the sport with Liverpool and the irresistible Steven Gerrard being the obvious ship to latch onto.

However, it wasn’t until university, when my best friend’s United fan brother would mercilessly hassle me for my ignorance of the history, the anthem and knowledge of both the game and the club that I claimed to follow that I reached a turning point in my fandom and developed love through his persecution. I memorized the lyrics to You’ll Never Walk Alone, read up on football tactics and history, and illegally streamed every single game. Superficial as it may sound, falling for Liverpool FC was like realizing that that one friend you never seriously considered that way had suddenly one day transformed from ugly duckling to swan. Your soulmate waiting patiently under your nose the whole time.

But then came a makeover worthy of America’s Next Top Model in the form of one Jürgen Norbert Klopp. The capture of the best defender in the world, Virgil Van Dijk soon followed, as did a raft of even more silver medals. But also increasingly came that sense of belief, a hope against hope, and shockingly even a sense of growing inevitability. Holy shit, are we witnessing the start of a dynasty?

Which is why when that final whistle blew in Madrid a fortnight ago, and I had collapsed down on the couch after fist-pumping across the room (thankfully managing to resist the urge to kick a hole through a pizza shop dry wall the way I did after Xherdan Shaqiri’s second goal in the 3-1 win over United last year), to finally succumb to the summer cold I had been holding at bay, it was that moment of self-reflection that was revealing.

Winning this thing with the big ears—winning anything really—was a new experience for a member of the greenest generation of Liverpool supporter. What was I feeling? Relief? Elation? Joy of course, but what else? What lay beneath that?

Nothing, I realized. There was nothing there.

Even in the midst of the high of the moment, as the confetti rained down and the thousands of traveling Kopites rocked the Wanda Metropolitano, the thought creeped into my mind, and I suspect, into that of more than one Red. Great, we won it. What’s next?

Of course there would be time to bask and the banter to be had at the expense of others:

What place were United in this year again?

However, more than a few of us were already itching for the players to rest up as efficiently and quickly as possible to get the next campaign started because of course, think of all the things this side can accomplish in 2019-20!

Is this what it felt like to have been a Red in the ’70 and ‘80s? This hunger for more: more success, more and better players, more records, more celebrations. It feels...insatiable. The great serial trophy winner, Bill Shankly himself is once quoted in the midst of an unprecedented era of success at the club to have said of his goals as a manager:

“I want to build a team that’s invincible, so that they have to send a team from bloody Mars to beat us.”

This is no Istanbul, a lucky one off; nor is it 2013-14, a false dawn we all knew was years ahead of schedule. Liverpool FC are arguably the best team in club world football at the moment. We have the scalps to prove it and scarily are only going to get better. We’ve forced a re-write of Allez! Allez! Allez! song and are poised, Fowler willing, to embark upon a period of sustained success with the charismatic Klopp leading the charge. For us Third Generation Liverpool fans, we’ve had our first taste of winning and have realized it isn’t enough.

We want more.

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