One of my favorite stories is one about builders. It goes that a person was walking when they encountered three builders working on a project. They asked the first builder what they were building and the builder shrugged, eyes cast in concentration on the task in front of them, and said, “I’m just working.”
The person moved on to the second builder and asked the same question. They paused for a moment, looked at the item in front of them, and said, “I’m building a wall.”
The person approached the final builder and that one, gripped with excitement, rushed to meet the traveler. Arms extended at the whole project, they didn’t wait for the question to gush that they were building a magnificent cathedral. “Won’t it be amazing,” they exclaimed?
I think a lot about that story because it reminds me about how we can sometimes be so engrossed in the daily task of building, that we lose sight of what it is that’s guiding our work. That we sometimes forget just how far we’ve come. And, even if know all of that, we forget exactly how many hands were needed to get it just right.
The current Liverpool project is nearly 10 years in the making. Come this November - thereabouts - FSG will celebrate enter their 9th year of owning the club. At the time, LFC were under threat of administration, one of their biggest stars sat out pre-season in order to orchestrate a move away, and the club looked to be falling apart.
The coming winter wasn’t going to be that much of an improvement, with the addition of Luis Suarez essentially negated by the departure of Fernando Torres. It was a dire time and the ensuing years watching the likes of Joe Cole, Stewart Downing, and Charlie Adam don the famous Red Shirt would be enough to excuse anyone who ended up keeping their eyes down, trying to work their way out of this mess.
Watching the title run of 2013-2014, even with the stalled returns in the two seasons to follow, filled us with hope. We could see some of the improvements: the foundation existed at least, right? We were afraid, maybe, that the wall might collapse and we didn’t exactly shore up some of the beams, but it was standing. The work meant something.
I feel like it wasn’t until we took home Number 6 that I remembered exactly what we were building, though. A club rooted in the identity and history of the teams that preceded it and the people who give it a home on Merseyside. A cathedral of football.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of wanting to Win All of the Things. Especially after such a long fallow period in terms of success. And being a supporter of clubs in other sports with deep legacies (Lakers, Dodgers) who’ve also seen their peaks and valleys, I have always tried to resist becoming the annoying segment of fans who believe success for their club is a birthright. I didn’t want to support a club that was simply a machine. I wanted one that meant something to the community, who reflected the people who supported them.
The Dodgers and Lakers have deep ties to Los Angeles and their impact on the community can’t be understated. It’s really hard to express in words what this town is like when the Lakers have a championship-caliber team. Things are different. Sadly, I’m too young to fully remember what it was like for the Dodgers to bring that kind of joy to LA, but I remember Nomo-mania and if it’s anything like that, a Dodgers World Series would well and truly be the party to ensure no more parties in LA.
But both teams also have legacies that aren’t exactly picturesque. Some that stand entirely opposed to the community itself. When the Dodgers decided to build their iconic stadium in Chavez Ravine, a neighborhood perched on a hill that overlooks Downtown, they forcibly displaced residents to do so. The residents were mostly Mexican and Mexican-Americans. It is an act that I had a hard time reconciling with the hard-nosed Dodgers teams I followed in the 90s. Teams that weren’t that great but always scraped for each run. More gritty than the Hollywood moniker often ascribed to LA-based teams.
Sidebar: the narratives around LA sports are clearly written by people who aren’t from here or aren’t even here when they do. So much of LA living is rooted in manual work and I know I loved the workmanlike iterations of my teams a lot because they reflected my own neighborhood. No one was gonna come rushing to tiny, down-on-their-luck Hawthorne to scout a kid who was 5-foot-nothing. None of our dreams felt handed down to us. But we knew how to work and we knew we’d one day make it if only cause we saw ourselves in some of those teams.
I wonder now if a young Russell Westbrook remembers Nick Van Exel or Eddie Jones and drew inspiration from them. Or if a young Gyasi Zardes thought to himself that a scrappy ballplayer like Brett Butler could clearly make a living just by wanting it more and doing the small things with care and enthusiasm.
I think about that because it’s that tie that makes supporting Liverpool so rewarding. The Cathedral that Klopp and Company are building isn’t merely one that is aesthetically and obviously beautiful due to the size and scope of its success, it’s that it’s rooted in the things that make Liverpool so wonderful: solidarity, care for the hardwork, putting the team ahead of individual honors. These are values that you can’t buy. These are the values of a community.
I came into work this morning and found out that I had a package delivered. I was expecting something - a small gift - from a friend who said they wanted to do something nice. A TLO-er who’d already gifted me with kindness in ways that I couldn’t repay.
It was a new kit. Firmino on the back. I’m touched, even now, as I type this, at the kindness that is possible in the tenuous links we can forge as human beings. It fills me with hope that the Cathedral we hope to be building for the world, one in which everyone feels safe and no one ever walks alone, is truly possible.
And I think that’s ultimately the greatest gift in this grand Liverpool project: that we know we are all in this together. We don’t have to carry the toughest moments alone. Because if we all just lift a little, then none of us has to ever work that hard.
Shankly Socialism to Klopp’s Tenacious Compassion, I think this Liverpool thing will never leave me. And as we stand on the dawn, a real one this time, of us finally achieving the things that make this team great, I pray that we always keep sight of what it is we’ve been building.