Perhaps Newcastle at home will always be a special fixture for me. It was my first, and so far only, pilgrimage to Anfield.
Then, as in today, it was an early kickoff. Despite it being far from ideal, I needed to see the Reds in action—and at Anfield—before my life changed in a drastic way. Of course, in September 2019, none of us knew how much our lives would be changing over the next year-and-a-half. A global pandemic was not at the forefront of my mind, but rather my focus was on my wife’s pregnancy and the baby that would be arriving before we knew it.
With the pregnancy progressing—5 months and counting at that point—our options were limited. So, Newcastle. At Anfield. On an early Saturday afternoon. A bigger opponent, or a better kickoff time, or a famous European night would have to wait.
Although Liverpool started the season a perfect four wins out of four, it was still only good enough for a two-point lead at the top of the table over Manchester City. The working assumption at the time was that this was going to be yet another knock-down, drag-out fight with City for the league, having just lost the title by a single point the year before.
It wasn’t a great start by the Reds. Indeed, the visitors struck first, courtesy of a shock strike from Jetro Willems. It took a while for Liverpool to gain a foothold, but—as was always the case last season—they did. Sadio Mané equalized in the 28th minute. And then when Roberto Firmino came on for an injured Divock Origi in the 37th minute, things really started to click. Mané scored a second goal just 3 minutes later, feasting on the scraps of a delicious Firmino through ball. And then Bobby created that assist for Mohamed Salah in the second half. The Reds trotted out with a relatively straight forward 3-1 win.
Manchester City, conversely, had the late kickoff against league cannon fodder Norwich City. Only, Norwich had other ideas on the day. As we walked through the streets of Liverpool that evening, we heard cheers erupting from inside the various pubs. Something special was happening.
Norwich, who have since been relegated and promoted, held on for the 3-2 win, giving Liverpool a 5-point cushion after 5 matches played. It was as good of an indication as any that this would be a special season.
Needless to say, I miss traveling. I miss packed, partisan stadiums and bars. I miss the hiss of a crowd against an opponent or a referee. And I miss the jubilation from a moment of magic leading up to a goal. I miss it all.
Liverpool’s winning ways persisted for months. As in, the best start from any club in the top 5 leagues in Europe. Ever. They won 26 of their “opening” 27 matches.
And things were going well for me at home. My wife’s delivery in the opening days of 2020 went as smooth as these things can possibly go, and our daughter was healthy and happy. Both of my parents were able to travel internationally to visit their granddaughter, which obviously didn’t seem like that big of a deal at the time.
We, as Liverpool supporters, were soon in countdown mode, waiting for the day when we could lift that elusive Premier League trophy.
Yet, while the vast majority of us were concerned about anything other than the novel corona virus, that would soon change. In a matter of weeks this emerging pandemic went from an afterthought or mild concern in the evening news, to the top, most important story, everywhere.
People were getting sick. People were dying. Soon, the words “lockdown,” “COVID,” “social distancing,” “masks,” “flattening the curve,” among others, were on our collective consciousness, and in our collective vocabularies.
Despite important football things going on—losing a knock out tie in the Champions League, and being en route to the first Premier League title in 30 years would both surely count—it was no longer the most important thing. With apologies to Shankly, it turns out that football was not more important than life and death.
The so-called leaders, political, football, and otherwise, had a chance to use this moment to affect positive change in the world. We had a chance to look around, have a breather, and create a more just and equitable world. It was obvious to anyone with two braincells to rub together that we would all lose someone or something in this pandemic. And it was equally obvious that only collective action—locally, nationally, and internationally—would help us get through this pandemic.
Instead, the pandemic only exacerbated the massive inequalities the world over.
The rich got richer (and massively so), and the poor got poorer. The wealthy sat back and collected unimaginable wealth, while the most vulnerable had to work for minimum wage and little-to-no protection to get by.
Football was merely a microcosm of this. As teams from the lower divisions took on debt or folded altogether, the richest clubs horded their wealth and pressured everyone else to cede power and control to them. As in football as in life, greed knows no bounds. It is never enough.
The (thankfully short-lived) European Super League was just a natural progression of how endless greed will eventually destroy the things we love the most.
Moreover, instead of creating a unifying experience, it only created more fear, racism, nationalism, and xenophobia.
But if football is a microcosm, then maybe we can take some heart in the unity seen among fans this week. We saw fans of all stripes, from the biggest super clubs, to the relative minnows from lower leagues, coming out against this blatant money and power grab. We saw quick and collective action. We saw unity where it previously did not exist.
Football fans decided “enough is enough,” and showed who really has the power. Fans stood up, collectively, against some of the richest and most powerful men, not just in football, but in the world. They stood up and stopped the billionaire owners, men who typically know no constraints to their wealth and power.
Just imagine what we could all do, if we on the same page, in actual democracies.
Yes, the world has changed in the last year-and-a-half. Largely, that change has been for the worse.
My daughter is now nearly 16-months-old. She’s walking, talking, and even cheering for the Reds.
I hate the world we’re leaving for her.
My only hope is that we can start reacting with the same outrage, quick and collective action, and steadfast commitment to change that we saw in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the European Super League.
The world is at stake. Let’s fight for it.