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Liverpool 22-23: Finding Joy in a Disappointing Season

Sometimes we need a reminder that, even when things aren’t going well, we should look for and hold onto those special little moments that make football such a beautiful game.

Leicester City v Liverpool FC - Premier League Photo by Daniel Chesterton/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

There is no sugar-coating it; Liverpool Football Club’s 2022-23 season was bitterly disappointing by virtually every imaginable metric. After coming agonizingly close to a treble or even a quadruple in 21-22, expectations for this season were sky-high. One needs only look at The Liverpool Offside masthead’s preseason predictions (I beg you to not actually go look at them) to see that we were almost universally confident this would be a successful follow-up to what was nearly the most successful club season an English side has ever put together. What we got instead was anything but.

From the first whistle things just looked off. It was clear the short offseason did nobody any favors. With the possible exception of newcomer Darwin Núñez, everyone looked just as mentally and physically drained as they had when the final whistle blew in Paris back in June. The Reds were conceding first almost every time out. Injuries started piling up. Fabinho looked a shadow of his former self. Virgil van Dijk looked human. The side didn’t have the energy to defend from the front, and opposing teams took full advantage as they fired balls over the top for strikers and wingers to run onto with worrying levels of success.

There was some hope going into the World Cup break. While things hadn’t gone well and the Premier League title was effectively out of reach, there was still plenty of football to be played, and the season was salvageable. Liverpool earned a place in the knockout round of the Champions League, and they were still in touching distance of the top four. Most of us believed the time off would give most of the squad the break they needed to put it all together and have a strong second half. Unfortunately, it didn’t go that way.

While there were some strings of positive results, the performances were as bad, or worse, than before the break. The Mentality Monsters looked broken. So many times, they went down early and never recovered, or they just couldn’t get the breakthrough goal and they seemed to accept their fate. In past seasons you always felt like they’d find a way to pull a game out until the final whistle denied it. This year, as soon as things went wrong, hope seemed to vanish more often than not.

It was hard to watch.

But the beautiful thing about football is that there were still moments that made you forget what a disappointing, frustrating season you were witnessing, even if just for a few minutes. Moments that reminded you of how special this manager and group of players are. Moments that kept you coming back for more.

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark

Jumping out to a shocking 2-0 lead inside a quarter of an hour against Real Madrid at Anfield was the most alive the iconic ground had felt in months. Even though the match quickly turned sour, the excitement and euphoria you could hear and feel, even watching on TV, for those first few minutes was intoxicating.

I was walking out of an Ajax match when the wheels fell off for Manchester United at Anfield in March. I managed to get the match pulled up on my phone just in time to see Mohamed Salah make it 4-0. I watched and laughed on the train as the Reds scored three more times and completely annihilated their biggest rivals. It was a result that we’ll talk about until we’re old and grey, and we’ll barely remember it happened at the tail end of a season in which we finished a disappointing fifth.

Liverpool FC v Manchester United - Premier League
There’s something that the Kop wants you to know. Best in the world is Bobby Firmino.
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

I’ll never forget hearing the away end at the King Power Stadium start-up Si Señor in the second half and sing it almost non-stop for half an hour to honor a departing hero who wasn’t even on the pitch, and I’ll certainly never forget seeing the love and appreciation on Roberto Firmino’s tearful face as he thanked those traveling fans after the final whistle.

For half a decade before this season, Liverpool mostly made us forget what it was like to have to lean on these brief moments of joy because they spoiled us with so many of them that it became the new norm. But in a season like this one, when things aren’t going well, when watching matches gets so frustrating you question why you continue to put yourself through this, you remember how important those moments are, and you remember to cherish them.

Or at least you should.

At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

I’ll admit, right up until I heard the traveling Kop start serenading Bobby in Leicester, I had lost that appreciation for those special moments. After a couple of years of the weirdness of football in the time of COVID, followed by a season in which Liverpool played every possible match but missed out on the two trophies we wanted the most, and then a disappointing season made worse by a weird schedule thanks to unnecessary pomp and circumstance for a dead monarch and a sportswashing World Cup, I was burnt out.

The Reds still had a chance to make something of this season when play resumed after the World Cup, but I didn’t care all that much. I was just ready for it to end. By the time we were pummeling United, I was watching most matches out of a sense of obligation rather than because it was something I actually wanted to do. Of course, I enjoyed watching the last half hour on that train and I reveled in it for the rest of the night, but by the following morning, I was already dreading tuning in to what ended up being a disappointing loss to Bournemouth six days later.

I was spoiled by the abundance of special moments Klopp’s Reds had given us in previous years. I had forgotten how important it was to savor them when they weren’t so abundant.

Hearing Si Señor in Leicester and seeing what it meant to Firmino, a man racing to recover from an injury in time to make at least one final appearance for the supporters who adored him so much… it all came rushing back to me.

It’s so easy to get caught up in expectations that you forget you’re still allowed to take joy from things when the expectations aren’t met. This season fucking sucked for so many reasons, but you do yourself and the team you’re dedicating so much of your precious time to an enormous disservice by not appreciating and remembering those moments of joy.

I’m so incredibly thankful that the Liverpool supporters who made the trip to the King Power gave Bobby that moment because I don’t know that I would have enjoyed and appreciated my first trip to Anfield the following week as much as I did if not for the wake-up call that moment provided.

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
For your dreams be tossed and blown

When Gabe (Cruyff Turns Anonymous) first proposed a trip to Liverpool for their final home game of 2023, I had lofty dreams of seeing the Reds clinch a Premier League title during my first visit to a stadium I’ve been dying to see for more than a decade. As the plan materialized and the trip got closer, it became clearer and clearer that the on-field display wasn’t going to be anything like I had dreamed it would be.

Sure, the Reds made a late run and it was possible we’d see them give themselves a chance to sneak into the top four on the final day, but I was disappointed knowing I might not even see a strong performance, let alone a meaningful result. Don’t get me wrong, I was very excited to finally watch a match in person and be a part of that famous Anfield atmosphere, but I couldn’t shake the disappointment that it wasn’t going to be the experience I desperately wanted.

But something about seeing Bobby struggle to keep it together as he tearfully thanked the away fans at Leicester snapped me out of it. Bobby’s final season hadn’t gone to plan. He scored some important goals, but the man who made Klopp’s entire system work for so many years found it hard to get on the field thanks to injuries and competition for places. It wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t the swan song a player like Firmino wanted or deserved.

None of that mattered to those fans. They weren’t thinking about the disappointment of this season. They were remembering all those special little moments the charismatic Brazilian had given them over the years. All that mattered to them as they sang was that they loved Bobby Firmino and they were going to make damn sure he knew just how much they loved him.

So, why should I let a disappointing season sour my trip to Liverpool? Why should it matter that I might not see a famous result or even a good performance? I was going to Anfield for the first time, and I needed to make damn sure I made the most of it no matter what happened on the field. Of course, I wanted to see a win, but I wasn’t going to let the performance or the result stop me from enjoying that moment.

I’ll never forget the awe I felt as soon as we pulled up to Anfield or the deep sorrow I felt when we stood next to the Hillsborough flame. I’ll never forget the goosebumps I got singing You’ll Never Walk Alone with 50,000 other Reds. I’ll never forget the bittersweet feeling of singing Bobby’s song as he came on for his final home appearance or the elation when he scored in front of the Kop. I’ll never forget that I shared those moments with two awesome people from this incredible community while wearing a Firmino kit generously sent to me by another.

Liverpool FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
Our number nine. Give him the ball and he’ll score every time.
Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

What’s funny is, as special as that day was to me even though the match itself was yet another incredibly frustrating draw, it was the women’s match the following day that really hammered home how important it is to enjoy and appreciate being a supporter of this remarkable football club at every given opportunity.

We were fortunate to score spots on the supporter’s coach heading to Birmingham for the LFC Women’s match with Aston Villa, and it was such a fun, wholesome experience. Quite a few children were taking the coach to the match with their families, and it was truly a joy to see how excited they were. They spent the last 30 minutes of the drive singing, and they had songs for every single player on the women’s team, even those who had only been signed in January.

The league table didn’t matter to those kids. How well or how poorly their beloved LFC Women played probably didn’t matter to them either. They were going to watch a team that they adored and that was all that mattered. They were living in that moment and making the absolute most of it. On the coach ride back to Liverpool I couldn’t stop thinking about how we can all learn a lot from seeing the pure excitement and joy those kids, unburdened by the weight of expectations, displayed.

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

By the time I touched back down in Amsterdam that Monday evening, I had an entirely new appreciation for how important it is to soak in, enjoy, and hold on to those special moments football gives us because you just don’t know when the next one will come. When you start focusing too much on expectations and results, it’s so easy to forget that those moments are what makes this game worth watching.

We all want to see trophies, but this season has made it very clear that way too many Liverpool supporters are so silverware obsessed they’ve forgotten that there’s still joy to be found in watching football no matter how poorly things are going. Yes, it’s okay to expect and wish for better players, better results, and better days, but don’t let that define your experience.

Watch because you know that no matter how bleak things may look, there is always that chance that you’ll see one of those special moments that will stick with you long after the anger and disappointment that came before and after are forgotten. Look for those moments and cherish them. They’re what make all of the time, money, and energy you invest in this infuriating, incredible, disappointing, beautiful game worth it.

Liverpool FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
Si Señor. Pass the ball to Bobby and he will score.
Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

You’ll Never Walk Alone

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