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Bringing the Noise: On the Ideological Underpinnings of Liverpool Football Club

Or, why Raphael Honigstein biography of Jürgen Klopp is a must read.

Liverpool v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

I am a sick man…I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I think my liver is diseased. Then again, I don’t know a thing about my illness; I’m not even sure what even hurts.

When things are Very Bad, Dostoevky’s lament, Notes From Underground, provides solace. Misunderstood by early 20th century existentialists as justification for existentialism, the novella is a soaring elucidation of the split between head and heart: that gap between existence guided by feeling vs. that guided by learned self-interest. See, e.g., “I did this cruel thing deliberately, it was not from my heart, but from my stupid head. This cruelty of mine was so artificial, cerebral, intentionally invented, bookish, that I couldn’t stand it myself.”

Football, that simplest and most beautiful of games thanks to its melding of pure expression and cold calculation – where the high priests thereof have risen from the favelas, streets, slums, and most underserved corners of the planet – has for the past thirty odd years slowly been constricted by the bean counters, the oligarchs, the banks, the slave traders, the colonialists.

They pollute the game with their corporate palaver, while auctioning that most fertile soil of dreams, the World Cup, to openly tyrannical and racist regimes, or allowing once great clubs to be hijacked and gutted by unfit owners. They pollute the game by awarding sponsorship deals to brazenly corrupt state-sponsored entities and corporations, failing to address systemic racism, sexism, and homophobia, and failing to simply provide some modicum of protection to young footballers that will only be chewed up and spit out by the academies entrusted with their education. Still, we watch, but it at times it seems with an increasing existential ennui.

Liverpool fans, radicalized by the what-have-you-done-for-me of narrative-driven pundits, the fringe websites and twitter accounts peddling bullshit, the incessant hot takes shit out by the 24 hour news cycle, and agents seeking increased transfer fees or club wages, find themselves torn between the old and the new, by the frustration of 27 title-less years and the hope of a clear plan – a plan which asks something like complete trust in Jürgen Klopp’s ability to reproduce what he proved at Mainz as player-manager and then again Borussia Dortmund.

While acknowledging that there are, perhaps, criticisms to be made of Klopp’s reign, particularly from those that are wary of his stubbornness, even this unapologetic atheist would posit that to descry Klopp’s stubbornness is to reject that leap of faith required to make things better. Instead, I would suggest we all heed Dostoevsky’s warning, for he, too, was an ideologue in a cynical time, one who faced a firing squad and spent time in a prison camp for participating in Chernyshevsky’s go-to-the-people movement, born of a perhaps naïve belief that if you preach truth to power, the people will rise up and challenge those who insist on maintaining a vise-like grip on the levers thereof. And in Klopp, we finally have a manager that to his core believes in the notion of the club belonging to the people and united by ideology. Which brings us around, at last, to Mr. Honigstein’s book and what it manages to capture perfectly.

When from the darkness of delusion
I saved your fallen soul,
With ardent words of conviction,
And, full of profound torment,
Wringing your hands, you cursed,
The vice that had ensnared you...

The shackles of memory are strong in our supporters, something one can feel at the ground during every turgid performance against a lower table side, but I would suggest we cast those aside and embrace the joy of the journey. In support thereof, here are some of the highlights from Honigstein’s Bring the Noise, which is a trenchant, thorough, and illuminating portrait framed by interviews with Klopp’s family, colleagues, and competitors over the years presented in a non-linear manner in such a way that one can see each project (Mainz, Dortmund, and now Liverpool) proceeding along a similar pattern:

We are the vanguard of the regular guys in the pub. They want us to run and fight. Our entry ticket is well-defined, week after week: passion, willingness to fun, will.

Bring the Noise, at 165-166, q’ting Matthias Sammer, former Bayern Sporting Director, Dortmund player, Dortmund Manager, and Klopp influence.

Staying up in 2004-05 was a football fairy-tale. People in Mainz had almost become used to miracles; the extraordinary had become routine. [Martin Quast, a tv reporter], recalls Bayern fans standing outside the ground with open mouths, staring at Klopp, partying with supporters in the club’s stadium pub, the Haasekessel, after the final whistle. Hold on, isn’t that your coach, the visiting supporters wondered. They went up to him to take some photos. He was always there, drinking with the twenty-five fans who had seen him score four goals at Erfurt. He didn’t want to change. That was him. And that was Mainz.

Bring the Noise, q’ting Quast, at 172.

Most things I learned in life I learned because somebody gave me the right advice in the right moment, without me asking. I was a lucky guy. I met some nice people in the beginning: teachers, coaches. And of course my parents and all that stuff. I think that’s what life should be: that you make your own experiences and whether they’re good or bad you share them – so somebody else can avoid the same mistakes. That’s how I think football should be.

Jürgen Klopp, The Sunday Times, Bring the Noise, at 244.

Klopp told the FSG executives that football was ‘more than a system,’ that it was ‘also, rain, tackles flying in, the noise in the stadium’. Most of all, he said, the Anfield crowd has to be ‘activated’ by the style of performance, to spur on the team and vice versa in a self-amplifying cycle of exuberance.

Bring the Noise, at 29.

Everyday life inside the SAT1 [sports channel reporting] container compound was not quite as stirring. As the youngest member of the editorial team, Klopp’s main task consisted of procuring a regular supply of cola-bottle sweets from the nearby wholesale store. ‘He was happy to do that, but he said that we should make it a game. Everything was a competition with Kloppo,’ says Quast, one of the sports editors at the desk. We sat there and threw cola-bottles into each other’s mouths from three, four metres, best of ten. The loser had to buy everyone else a beer.

Bring the Noise, at 241.

In the first year, it was rather normal football, with a pinch of Klopp tactics. In the second year, it got spicier. In the third year: boom! We reached a whole new level, because all twenty-five players now truly got it. Training felt like war. The starting eleven playing vs. subs. By the middle of the week, you sort of knew the line-ups. You can’t imagine how difficult these games were. You were used to having a bit of space and air to breathe but that was gone. Everyone attacked the ball, everyone defended. Everyone pressed. These games were as hard as the real ones, perhaps even harder.

Bring the Noise, q’ting Neven Subotić, at 194.

He said things like ‘I’m looking forward to this game with every fibre of my body’ and it was so believable that one second later, you felt the same…We learned to be completely in the game.”

Bring the Noise, q’ting Sven Bender, at 192.

Ahead of the campaign, Klopp asked his player to put their name to a promise, containing seven rules. BVB players agreed to: unconditional dedication , passionate devotion, a determination to win, independent of the scoreline, a readiness to support everybody, a readiness to accept help, a readiness to put their quality wholly at the service of the team, a readiness to take on individual responsibility.

Bring the Noise, at pp. 190-191, internal citations and quotes omitted.

It might sound stupid but when things go like clockwork, you’re happy to run,’ says Bender. ‘You don’t even feel it any more. We were so united in our purpose, so clear, eager to help each other. We knew exactly what the coach wanted us to do, and it was actually fun to play that way, almost addictive…We had this confidence, we felt that we would play everybody off the park. When we didn’t, we simply said, okay, lesson learned, we’ll smash them next time. The first two years were like that. And in the third year, we did smash everybody.’

Bring the Noise, at p. 191.

After two full seasons, Klopp’s [hunting football] was becoming second nature, a collective ritual, accepted and practiced without hesitation… ‘We kept the core of the team, most of us, very young,’ says Subotic. ‘We didn’t get in players who were already at the height of their powers and perhaps on their way down again. Our guys hadn’t fulfilled their potential yet; they wanted to do anything to get there. That was hugely important, as was the fact that we had people who had completely bought into the system.’

Bring the Noise, at p. 190.

It was crystal clear that Klopp and his wife Ulla, who’d come with him, were 100 percent committed to Borussia. They wanted to know everything about the club and its people. He told us how excited he was to get going, and that we had a huge role to play as the twelfth or thirteenth man, and that we had to develop this feeling of ‘we.’

Bring the Noise, q’ting Josef Schneck, at p. 76.

I want to get the feeling that [a new signing] can only imagine playing for one club right now...If you don’t have that feeling, if you think you have to talk to others first, leave it. If you haven’t caught fire after I told you about the club, you shouldn’t come here.

Bring the Noise, q’ting Klopp, at p. 168.

I’d say our mission is to make our own tiny piece of land a little more beautiful…[Life is] about leaving better places behind. About not taking yourself too seriously. About giving your all. About loving and being loved.

Jürgen Klopp, q’ting in Westdeutsche Zeitung and Stern, Bring the Noise, at 297.

Consciousness, for example, is infinitely higher than two times two. Of course, after two times two, there’s nothing left, not merely nothing to do, but nothing to learn. Then the only thing possible will be to plug up your five senses and plug into contemplation. Well, even if you reach the same result with consciousness, that is, having nothing left to do, at least you’ll be able to flog yourself from time to time, and that will liven things up a bit.

In this increasingly rational time, slave to the gods of market efficiency, Football remains a funny game, “based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass[;] it is terribly simple.” At least according to Bill Shankly. And he isn’t wrong, which is why Pele, the greatest-ever player, is famous for learning to play with a ball made of socks in a Brazilian favela.

But what gives this simple game meaning outside of moments of objective athletic beauty is the visceral expression of eleven individuals working towards a common goal - on behalf of myriad supporters the globe over - individual brilliance given the chance for maximum expression by the tireless coordinated work of the team. There is beauty in the simple, elegant movements of the very best expressionists to touch a ball, sure, but there is sublimity in the coalescence of the will of the supporters with that of the team, pushing players past themselves a la Istanbul - or Dortmund. There is a case that Garrincha was the most technically beautiful footballer to ever grace the pitch, but in that too is seen necessity for the individual brilliance to forever be subsumed by, folded into, and claimed by the collective.

And that is how it should be, for there are few, if any, things that bring out the beauty of existence as starkly as committing oneself to the happiness of all, a thing our manager well understands. A thing Shankly well understood. A thing Paisley well understood. A thing Dalglish well understood.

Why bother with fandom bereft of ideology? It may after all mean nothing; we are, after all, hurtling through the void of space on a tiny rock infinitesimally small when set against the mass of our surroundings. But, perhaps, just maybe, Klopp offers a tiny slice of what is good and right about that small existence of ours that we should better try to embrace.

As we navigate this current hellish landscape, take a step back, look to the glory days, and remember that Liverpool, at its best, was a bastion of the collective movement, dedicated to the betterment of everyone, explicitly entrenched against the callous powers who insisted on a unbelievably calloused “managed decline” of a once-grand city down on its luck.

Remember that Klopp wants nothing more than to bring through a youngster like Trent AlexanderpArnold rather than purchase a stop-gap replacement only to turn around and sell that stop-gap a year on. Remember that he believes that his players are humans, not robots, which is why Salah and Mane are allowed attend the African football awards mid-season, and why every employee at Dortmund, “even the guardsmen,” would have Klopp back in a second, per Honigstein. Others can have their mercenary footballers, managers, and a galactico-centric worldview. Give me Klopp’s self-deprecating, explicit dedication to the everyman.

Folks will bandy about the LFC family bullshit, pretending to give a damn about player X or player Y, all the while slaughtering same as if said player is some robotic iteration of a lab-created footballer when something goes awry. It’s a product of our oversaturated, pathetically reductive mass-culture. If you have an interest in LFC, read Honigstein’s book (along with this) and remember Mo Salah’s goal against Spurs, or the Dortmund win, or Gary Mac against the Ev, or Gerrard against West Ham, or Neil Mellor’s lovely cushioned header, or Kenny against Chelsea, or any other myriad memories of beauty and feeling where the Reds created a moment in time so perfect that to see it live seared an indelible image into one’s consciousness. Buy in, Reds: the fortress is being rebuilt.

My motivation [as a coach] is to collect that kind of [memory], for people to tell and retell it. That’s what this club is about. Its most important pillar is made up from the stories it has written since its foundation. That’s also the reason why I love experiencing this time here so much: it gives us the chance to write such storiesYou win and you lose, but you’re with people you like. You’re at home, you belong. That’s what we all want. Ten million people want to belong here.

Bring the Noise, at 214, q’ting Jürgen. Norbert. Klopp.

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