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A Decade of Liverpool Football Club: The Slip

Liverpool were on the verge of breaking their title drought. Then, they suffered a moment of enduring heartbreak.

SOCCER : Barclays Premier League - Liverpool v Chelsea Photo by Matthew Ashton/AMA/AMA/Corbis via Getty Images

Sometimes, when my brain decides it wants to have some fun at my expense, it replays moments from the previous day that I wish I could have back. The emotions involved with these images course through my head: regret, sadness, sometimes a bit of anger, most often pointed back at myself. But the one that weighs heaviest when I replay my regrets is embarrassment. Shame.

These mental replays sometimes ends up causing me to flinch, to wince as though it was all happening again, the embarrassment so strong that it reaches out from the past to grab me by the ankle and trip me up. Again. I am nothing if not brought to my knees by shame.

In my time as a fan of Liverpool Football Club, though, while things haven’t always worked out—while things, until recently, have perhaps usually not worked out—there haven’t been too many such moments for the club or its players. There haven’t been too many moments that make me truly wince when I think back on them. Ones that make me wish we could somehow go back and have the chance to do it over again.

The Slip, though. As a fan, that one still hollows out my center if I focus back on it.

To be sure, there were moments from around that time, the time of Brendan Rodgers and Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez—especially Luis Suarez—that also bother me when I think back on them, albeit in a different way. The team getting together and deciding they should all wear shirts to defend a certain Uruguayan’s spot of racism is, well, one of the worst looks any big club has adopted in recent years, even if mishandling such incidents remains depressingly common.

But that’s a different kind of regret, and one that certainly doesn’t linger within the minds of not just Liverpool fans but pretty much every fan of every club in England. The Slip still has power today, still lingers, is still sung about by rival supporters. The Slip somehow still seems to matter, almost as much as it did back when it happened. There are a few things that I think explain why:

  • The visual of club legend Steven Gerrard’s awkward sprawl as he fell just painfully short in this moment is seared into our memories.
  • Because we were so tantalizingly close to finally getting over that whole Premier League Title Drought.
  • Because we finally had built a squad that, for all intents and purposes, we felt was ready to compete.

It was all a bit early to think we were properly back, perhaps, a mere three or so years after nearly going into administration and getting a new set of owners who at times appeared to still be trying to figure out the game. But nevertheless, during that title challenge, it felt real. Liverpool were close to getting back to the mountaintop that season and then, when we got there—when we got within sight of the summit—we couldn’t make it those final few feet to seal the deal. And then it all fell apart again. All the hope and belief and talk of Liverpool maybe, just maybe, being back again. All that slipped away.

The thing about being so absolutely thrown by The Slip is how quickly we got to a point where were could even feel like we deserved to feel disappointment. Because that wasn’t where it had felt like Liverpool could be in the years before. It wasn’t even where it had felt Liverpool could be at the start of the season.

The fans and club had only recently suffered through Roy Hodgson. Suffered though Joe Cole and Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky. And then we’d suffered through the early windows under FSG—which, lest it be forgotten, did at least yield us future skipper Jordan Henderson. In general, though, all our seasons before then this decade had been, for the fans, variations on suffering.

Things turned for us in 2013-2014, though. They maybe began to turn a little earlier, even, and we shouldn’t forget that Liverpool fandom were primed for some renewal of success and improvement in quality of play starting the January 2013 transfer window. That transfer window brought us Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, two players who may have been afterthoughts at their previous clubs but whose youth and promise remained clearly tantalizing.

The question when the duo arrived was whether Brendan Rodgers, who’d ascribed to a 4-3-3 system at Swansea, could figure out a way to appease Sturridge, who fancied himself a striker and was available on the cheap because he did not want to play on the wing at Chelsea. And of course, Liverpool already had a striker in Luis Suarez. Meanwhile, there was the enigma of Coutinho, who had arrived at Inter Milan one of Brazil’s brightest young stars and then only seemed to regress the longer he was there.

What we saw almost from the off that January was a Rodgers who was at least willing to try to fit his two new talents into the squad alongside Suarez, his biggest existing talent albeit at times also the club’s biggest headache. In fact, it worked like gangbusters. Liverpool’s new duo up top, backed by Philippe Coutinho just behind, looked an entirely different side. With them in the mix, Liverpool were no longer a group that aspired to mere competency, they were quality.

And when the side’s attacking form carried over into the 2013-2014 season, despite another Suarez suspension, what once felt like a side building towards a title challenge suddenly became a side in the midst of a title challenge.

The mechanics of what happened have been talked about so I’ll spare everyone here that trauma. The Slip happened. Liverpool did not win the title, and it hurt like hell—even if in retrospect the fact they got as close as they did thanks to a 15-3-1 record in the second half of the season was something to be proud of.

In the end, though, we don’t any of us much remember all of the wins. We remember the moment that provided the blemish in that record; the moment that lost Liverpool the title and ensured that Steven Gerrard, the club stalwart, would end his career in Red without that long sought after Premier League Title.

It might still bring a visceral reaction, The Slip, when I remember it. But the truth is that now, finally, it’s perhaps started to recede. I’ve started to think back on it a little less and to instead try to focus on the positives of those middle years of the Brendan Rodgers era. Because they existed, too. Were just as important as any slip to my life as a Liverpool fan.

For all the hurt of the lost title, there are other wonderful highlights: Sturridge pipping United early in the season, Coutinho’s thunder strike against City, the numerous huddles of a Liverpool club in full stride. Even some of Suarez’ magic with the ball at his feet. When he wasn’t busy doing something else nefarious.

I’d never seen Liverpool that sort of football before and, I’ll confess, when it ended I never thought I’d see it again.

Bigger even than all that, though, is that when I remember The Slip now, it’s begun to feel as though maybe, after so many of them in this decade and even in the Premier League era, maybe The Slip was a final False Dawn.

We’d seen them after each new transfer window. We hoped Liverpool were back when King Kenny breathed life back into the club. We thought Liverpool were back in that 2013-2014 run. We’d thought Liverpool were back in 2008-09 and plenty of times before then.

In the end they weren’t. In the end, The Slip happened and it hurt—as did the following season. We couldn’t know at the time that 18 months on from it we’d sign Jurgen Klopp. We couldn’t know, of course, that nearly 18 months on from that, Jurgen would be bringing us to new glories. We couldn’t know because it was all so agonizing and gut-wrenching at the time.

But maybe we should have. After all, they always say things are darkest before the dawn, and on the pitch at least there was no darker moment for Liverpool this decade than The Slip.

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