All this made of the church for me something entirely different from the rest of the town: an edifice occupying, so to speak, a four-dimensional space – the name of the fourth being Time – extending through the centuries its ancient nave, which, bay after bay, chapel after chapel, seemed to stretch across and conquer not merely a few yards of soil, but each successive epoch from which it emerged triumphant…
Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, is a work I frequently linger over when attempting to process jumbled, semi-coherent thought, and in the weeks since Liverpool clinched their place in the Champions League final it has provided respite from the steadily-rising, nerve-jangling tension that threatens sleep each night.
Perhaps more than any other game, football is a game of memory, of fleeting images, of moments in time. A thing of the present yet ineffably bound to the past. Those memories, shared, bind us together, creating planes of existence on which we fans commune. The stories of past Famous European Nights at Anfield have been passed from generation to generation, and there is no new Red who does not receive those psalms, isn’t told of the lessons of various heartbreaks and triumphs, either from older supporters or through grainy video footage.
Whether you watched One Night In Istanbul or experienced that or other past finals live is immaterial now, here on the cusp of another, and an argument can be made that it is the retold memories of past finals more than the actual experience of them that now has been marshalled to spur this team on to another. Liverpool supporters have long suffered accusations of living in the past, but as images of banners new and old and the sounds of singing fans circle the globe alongside interviews with club legends, it is hard to argue that our collective memory isn’t one of the defining characteristics that make Liverpool a special club.
We are, when we love, an abnormal state, capable of giving at once to the most apparently simple accident; an accident which may at any moment occur, a seriousness which in itself it would not entail. What makes us so happy is the presence in our hearts of an unstable element which we contrive perpetually to maintain and of which we cease almost to be aware so long as it is not displaced.
Love has long been cast as a disease of sorts; a madness. An affliction that renders personal agency impossible. We all have stories about the lengths we have gone to to support this club. Some rise at obscene hours to watch mundane fixtures; others invest in season tickets and making Ulysses-esque treks to see the team in the flesh. We find our ways to disappear from family events to watch matches on dodgy streams or are moved to donate to causes we’re only connected to by fandom.
But that love is what etches and burnishes memory, and the mere act of writing this is no different than the proverbial bite of Proust’s madeleine: eleven years ago I was driving well over the speed limit, trying to make it to a hotel in time for the kickoff of Liverpool’s last Champions League final. Pulled over by the police, I didn’t make it, and a more measured approach the rest of the drive meant I missed an Inzaghi handball goal credited to Andrea Pirlo. But I won’t ever forget the feeling of frustration when I reached the hotel I hadn’t yet checked in to, of wanting to leap across the reception desk and grab a key, any key, to any room so I could at least be watching when the second half began.
Thirteen years ago, as Liverpool kicked off in Istanbul, I was newly-employed but at least in possession of a VCR loaned to me by a generous co-worker who had taken pity on my situation. Still, I was incapable of resisting the urge to follow the game via live text update. It was, by any measure, an undeniably shit way to experience Istanbul, yet I wouldn’t trade the five-minute-choked-scream-fist-pumping-crying celebration at the final whistle for anything. These memories, as imperfect as my experiences of those games might have been, are still clearer than most for me, and Saturday will be no different.
The near constant strains of Allez Allez Allez in the back of the mind, the intermittent and alternating adrenaline spikes, the nausea, and the elation. It’s as though the final whistle in Rome had the power of turning fans into the cliché of lovesick teenagers. This tournament run has been the stuff of legend, and for many of us older hands, watching fans experience for the first time a successful Champions League campaign and new Reds being minted on a weekly basis just may have been the best part of it, at least alongside seeking out every other fan seen in public to talk about Jürgen’s mad Reds. In the past month alone this excitement has made me new friends and acquaintances everywhere from local Atlanta United matches to the grocery store. No matter the result on Saturday, this campaign is now a shared story I cannot wait to revisit with others in the decades to come.
But sometimes illumination comes to our rescue at the very moment when all seems lost; we have knocked at every door and they open on nothing until, at last, we stumble unconsciously against the only one through which we can enter the kingdom we have sought in vain a hundred years – and it opens.
We’ve talked before about the way that Jürgen’s professed belief that creating memories that bond people together in a manner that lifts everyone is the animating purpose of the football club. But after a decade in the wilderness, after having been cast from the then-Sisyphean task of reclaiming our past into an abyss of Roy Hodgson and near-administration, it’s not impossible to understand why some have over the past three seasons worried Klopp would in the end bring no more than a false hope for the club – promise but not, in the end, success.
It has grown increasingly difficult, though, as this Champions League campaign has progressed, for even the most jaded, cautious, or cynical of Liverpool fans to hold on to their fear and doubt. About Klopp and about the club’s future both. Not in the face of so many indelible moments from this bulldozer of a Champions League run: the emergence of a future captain; Maribor; Spartak; Porto; City; Roma; and of course, a new hymn to it all.
And now, a Champions League final and knowing that, whatever happens, next season we will again be in the competition. If you squint at it, it can just about seem the start of a new epoch for the club, under Klopp. Liverpool’s holy trinity of players, manager, and supporters finally appears reunited after too many years spent tearing itself apart, whether through player defections, managerial ineptitude, or infighting among the fans. Some on the outside may have mocked Klopp back when, soon after he arrived at the club, he ordered the players to salute the fans after a draw with lowly West Brom, but that was the moment when everyone should have taken notice.
If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less, but to dream more, to dream all the time.
“You only need three who can play the damn thing,” Shankly noted, and if you can be inclined to forgive the maudlin, it is worth considering these Reds as the highest expression of the collective ethos first espoused by Shankly’s Liverpool. Klopp’s front three are the stuff of dreams: led by Roberto Firmino Barbosa de Oliveira, our fluid, hyrdra-headed attack is a once-in-a-generation melding of mesmeric attacking talent. Perhaps the most pure I have ever witnessed. That it is predicated on a willingness to run, run, and then run some more renders it art.
Heed Proust’s words, Reds: savor every moment of this, and dream. It will be over to soon and become memory. A memory that will be used, perhaps, to fuel the next run, the next challenge, and, some day, the next generation of fans, a story that you tell of that time Jürgen Norbert Klopp’s Reds went to Kiev to take on Real Madrid. T-32 hours. We’re nearly there.