It’s Thursday night. Liverpool won’t play until Sunday evening, and beyond the requisite hand-wringing about the team’s result in Napoli, there’s not much reporting of substance to be done about the Reds.
Thus, by now, your Twitter or equivalent social media feed will be overrun with the most recent non-news: Loris Karius, professional footballer, made a football mistake. He made some four months ago too, you may remember. There will be videos, perhaps edited with comedic music, and no doubt accompanied by scathing comments, some funny, some mocking, and some rancidly hateful.
There’s a soft rule in comedy — one that is played fast and loose with by bad comics — that one should never punch down. Reserve your scorn and your jokes for those above you on the food chain, and leave those less fortunate alone. As such, one could be forgiven for thinking that a millionaire athlete who looks genetically designed to make any man, woman, or dog blush with a mere smile would be fair game, forever and always.
Alas, for all our continued efforts to reduce players wearing our colours to mere assets, to be traded like goods and services, they are not. They are people. The club’s current manager understands this, obviously understands this, perhaps more than he understands anything else, and we love him for it. We praise his man management and his big hugs and his ability to see these players as human beings, in victory or defeat.
At Liverpool, we sing the song You’ll Never Walk Alone. We do it all the time. In the stadium before every game, in the pubs, at our weddings, at our funerals. We tattoo it on our bodies. We sign our social media posts with its acronym, YNWA. Typically, it’s not considered an empty gesture, and we do these things with some measure of pride. We hold it up as a selling point when offering the club as a destination — pull on this shirt, lad, and you will never walk alone for the rest of your life.
Some will disagree, and some will not have put much thought into, it but it is the opinion of this writer that your credo should carry actual meaning, and not just when it’s convenient for it to do so. Therefore, when self-proclaimed Liverpool supporters, people for whom ostensibly the club anthem holds a certain weight, join in the gleeful bashing of a man who has — despite his considerable blessings — suffered through the worst six months of his career, and possibly of his life, the red mist descends.
This is not someone who drove drunk, or punched a DJ, or beat a teammate with a golf club, or was accused of racial abuse, or danced mockingly at a memorial, but a player who quietly contributed to the club’s ascent to the grandest of stages, and who, despite doing his very best — and with the not-insignificant assistance of an elbow to the head and a concussion — was found lacking. He did not hide from the blame or look to share it, but accepted every bit of it, likely to his own detriment.
Karius’ misfortune is not funny, or at least it shouldn’t be, if you sing You’ll Never Walk Alone with any conviction. The club is likely better off, football-wise, with expensive Alisson than with £4m signing Karius, and Alisson, their new £70M man, may find more of a home within the squad than his German predecessor ever did. He plays the guitar and has great glutes. But if you look into your heart as Loris Karius hurts and find derision in place of sympathy, you’re wearing the wrong colours, and you can’t sit with us.