Football has always been my life. I can still remember my first match like it was yesterday. I was 7 years old when I came on as an early substitute for Bromborough Boys Football Club. As you can imagine, the game was frantic but in the midst of the madness, the ball fell to me at the back post and instead of panicking when faced with the chance of scoring my first ever goal, somehow, I managed to stay calm and slide the ball past the keeper into the back of the net. I remember turning to look for my family when I suddenly saw my Mum, Sister & Brother jumping up and down like I’d scored the winner in the World Cup Final. To me, it felt like I had. The looks on their faces as I ran towards them has stayed with me to this very day. That was it…….I was hooked.
From that moment football was my escape. It was all I ever thought about and all I wanted to do. I spent my days counting down the minutes until my next training session or match. Whilst football has given me some of my best friends and memories, as I grew older and the standard that I played at got higher, so did the level of expectation and pressure to deliver for my coaches, teammates and the clubs supporters. Looking back now, I often played whilst carrying injuries as I didn’t want to let those down around me, meaning I couldn’t play with the same freedom and enjoyment that I did when I was young. When my last chance of a professional contract fell through at the late age of 25, I decided to walk away from the game. I was done. The fire went out. For the next few years I can honestly say I didn’t miss it at all. Of course I missed the dressing room, my teammates, but the football, no chance. That ship had long sailed.
Now free from the commitments of playing, I watched a lot more football but I could see trends developing in recent years that was turning me off the game. Social media had given a voice to hysterical fans that liked overreact at the smallest of details. The type of fans that take pleasure in finding the negative and try to suck the fun out of supporting your club. I loved Liverpool Football club but at times, being a fan felt like hard work. With every passing week, footballers would throw themselves to the floor at the slightest touch, the tackling that I grew up on, and loved, was fast becoming a thing of the past. Plus, the rise of money in the game meant players have become robotic, PR friendly machines that rarely show emotion. The game has lost many of it’s real characters and as a result, the gap between fans and pampered players, never felt greater.
My frustration with the direction that the game was going started to change when Liverpool Football Club made one of their most important decisions in recent years by hiring, Jurgen Klopp. Jurgen Klopp is manager who specilises in using the power of emotion to create a strong bond between him, his players and their supporters, having used the same tactic to great effect in his time at, Mainz 05 & Borrussia Dortmund. When he joined Liverpool he not only faced the challenge of inheriting a limited squad but also the huge burden of expectation that often suffocated Liverpool fans and players alike, which has held the club back years.
In one of this first interviews as Liverpool manager, he asked the fans to change from “doubters to believers” and promised to have a major title in the trophy cabinet within the next 4 years. From that moment on Klopp set about changing the mindset of the fan base to remove the undercurrent of negativity and frustration that lingered from years of falling just short of major honours.
It was no easy task and it often left him open to ridicule from journalists and opposition fans. One instance that’s particularly pertinent was when Klopp asked his Liverpool players to bow in front of the Kop after Liverpool came from behind to draw at home to West Bromwich Albion in 2015. This was not Liverpool celebrating a draw to a lesser side as was perceived from other fans, this was Klopp’s way of building a bond between player and fan. Thanking them for sticking by the players in their time of need, which ultimately went on to have a huge helping hand in them getting a late equaliser. Klopp knew that if he could find a way to muster the full support of Anfield, then this team, and fanbase, could go on to achieve special things together.
With the combination of smart, data-based recruitment and free flowing, attack minded, emotional football, I really started to believe that this Liverpool team was building into one that could win major trophy’s. Having just missed out on the League Cup and Europa League, Liverpool offloaded players that didn’t fit within Klopp’s model whilst bringing in the likes of Alisson Becker, Virgil Van Dijk, Fabinho and Mohamed Salah. Technically elite players, mentality strong and exactly the type of players Liverpool had been missing for years, characters. These were players you easily trust and get behind. Each of them had total confidence in themselves and their ability. They will all take the ball comfortably in any scenario and never quite know when they are beaten.
With the club now operating in such a unified way and having players that understand what it means to represent the club and the city, Liverpool have captured the hearts of the fanbase including myself. I was now consuming non-stop Liverpool content. I wanted the next game to come as soon as the previous one had finished. I wanted to talk to anyone that would listen about the club, the manager and the new songs that the fans were singing. As a result of Klopp and his squad, not only was I now as passionate about football as I ever had been, my 7 year old son was now sharing all of these moments with me and becoming more obsessed with football every week. Seeing him fall in love with the club and his new heroes, Mo Salah and Van Dijk made me start to look at the game in a whole new way. The love that I’d lost had returned in spades, so much so, I decided to dust the auld boots off for the first time in 7 years and began playing football again with my son, of course there to watch every game.
I’ve always been a big believer in football narratives and as the season drew to a close, I felt the experiences of losing the Champions League final and the Premier League title race in the manner they did had to be for a reason, it had to all be for something. So when Liverpool, backed with the full power of an emotionally charged Anfield, managed to overturn the near impossible 0-3 deficit to Barcelona in the semi final, I knew this was the team’s moment. Klopp had again been the driving force in creating an emotional charge between fans and players that was just too much for Barcelona to handle. His final words to his players before they left the dressing room that night – “it is impossible, but because it’s you, we have a chance” How right he was.
On the day of the Champions League final my son was just as excited as I was. He made a list of all the things he wanted to do that day, which ended with us going the pub together to watch the match. When we got there, I had to bargain with the bouncer on the door to let him in but we were soon at the front of the big screen. The scene was set. People often talk about where they were when they watched historic finals but for me, being able to watch Liverpool win the Champions League, arm in arm with my son, is easily the best moment I’ve experienced as a Liverpool fan.
When Jurgen Klopp came to Liverpool, not only did he manage to turn the red half of the city from doubters to believers, he was also the catalyst for me falling back in love with the game. His team and their style of play captured the imagination of my son, making him want to play football every second of the day. His growing love for the game made me want to play again and I’ve now got the fire back that I’d lost 7 years ago. I just wish Klopp had come in sooner!
My connection with Liverpool club, the city where I’m from, and players that represent us has never been stronger and the best thing is, it’s only the beginning…..