In 1974, at least 100,000 Liverpool supporters stood in sincere silence as Bill Shankly spoke from the steps of St. George’s hall. In Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool fans may have found an orator who can help them find their own voice.
“Since I came here to Liverpool, and to Anfield, I have drummed it in to my players time and again that they are priviledged to play for you… and if they didn’t believe me then, they believe me now.”
– At least 100,000 Liverpool supporters stood in sincere silence as Bill Shankly spoke from the steps of St. George’s hall
A scarcity of miracles have parched our throats. It has made us less sure of ourselves when we sing songs of defiance. This 0-5 win vs Porto had been nine years in the making.
Grown men teared up by the end of the night. They’d tell you it was the pissing wind that got something in their eye. They would be lying. It was February 14th and these were men falling in love again.
Liverpool fans, admittedly, suffer from philosophy – romantics imprisoned in self-reflection. They have been resigned to an unceasing comparison with their glorious past, undermining their present progress. They have been, for the longest time, giants standing slouched under glass ceilings.
Towards the end of Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee was lost in a maze of mirrors. It was an epiphany from the past that made him break the mirrors to find his nemesis and a way out.
For the longest time, Liverpool have been their own worst enemy. This win at the Estádio Do Dragão (Stadium of the Dragon) could be Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp’s epiphany.
Prepare for Operation Anfield Exercise
I remember the anguish in Anfield. I remember the quiet murmurs of hopefulness in the Sandon, and the pubs around it. I remember the doldrum days. Real Madrid snuffing us out unceremoniously in the group stages feels like yesterday.
To Real, it must not have seemed like a proper revenge for the 4-0 defeat their superegos were inflicted with in 2009. They were so good in 2014, and we, so poor. The quality was mismatched. Even their usually sensationalist mouthpiece, Marca, knew it. It was yet another false dawn.
But, when Liverpool played Manchester City in the quarter-finals of the Champions League on the 4th of April, 2018, we had a glimpse of the golden sky we sing so often about.
The next day, the entirety of Europe stood and exchanged exclamations and fire emojis on social media, group chats, chai stalls, near office water coolers and coffee machines everywhere.
On the night, I sat there agape during the first half, utterly mesmerised. In the second half, who knows how many Gods were invoked around the world – fans in Melbourne, Mumbai, Manila staying up, willing the ball to not go over the line.
An invisible electricity pulsed through the air around the stadium, as Anfield shook itself out of sleep again with smoke, fire crackers, hearty cacophony and organised chaos – like the ritualistic processions mentioned in the epic Ramayana that woke up Kumbhkaran, one the biggest of the sleeping giants in world mythology.
The display at Anfield was a first-hand lesson in mythology and legacy.
“It was a sorry wilderness. One pitch looked as if a couple of bombs had been dropped. The Germans were over here, were they?”
– Bill Shankly, on the state of Melwood when he arrived in 1959
Football’s first orator
Manager Bill Shankly built the idea of Liverpool FC brick by literal brick. The fortitude of his voice still reverberates in the mind of those who have heard him in the flesh or on Youtube clips. What you saw in front of you was a culmination of that voice and that vision.
His bronze statue outside Anfield standing wide-armed would have walked in briskly, sat among the fans in the Kop End and clapped, if it could. And it wouldn’t have surprised the locals in the slightest if it did happen – such was the scope of the spectacle on show. His, Bob Paisley‘s, Ronnie Moran’s, Joe Fagan’s and countless others’ spirits were invoked on this night.
There is a longer than usual delay here before the kickoff with fireworks and flares going off all around Anfield! This place is going absolutely barmy! It’s one of those nights where you’ll struggle to hear yourself think.
– Darren Fletcher, Commentator
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City were spooked by the premonitions. There were plenty of clues as to what was going to happen.
The Match, The Sermon
Even before the whistle blew, the chants of “Liver-pool, Liver-pool, Liver-pool” were drowning out the Champions League theme song, making the foundation shake and knees wobble.
They were chanting as if to say to the runaway league leaders, ‘Behold the power of our belief. We don’t care who you are. We’ll make this the hardest ninety minutes of your professional lives. And for our team, the most religious ninety-minutes of theirs.” Even the cups of tea sitting in the commentary box were trembling. What chance did Ilkay Gundogan have?
Mo Salah changed lanes on dribbles as a viper slinks sideways on a slanting Sub-Saharan dune. He left sand in Laporte’s eyes.
Roberto Firmino forgot to score but looked increasingly like a busy mountain troll exacting toll on those who would dare dally on the ball. Or like a handsome-r Carlos Tevez.
Sadio Mane’s heels clicked again. He found his touch, his verve turning like the beat of djembe drums in a feast for friends which played like family – for one another.
Chamberlain restored respectability to the idiom of the bull in a China shop, and made watching Arsenal fans sigh.
Like great Liverpool teams of old, it had a Scotsman in Andrew Robertson. He charged on like a myrmidon, shields up, hunched over, spears out – his intention to win was unscrupulous, his instructions incorruptible, his bouts soul stirring.
On the opposite flank, the unflinching nineteen-year-old Trent Alexander Arnold walked on hot coals for ninety-minutes and deposited Manchester City’s prancing winger, Leroy Sane on the other side. He may captain Liverpool one day.
In midfield, blue-collared skipper, Jordan Henderson clocked in another honest shift. Beside him, square-jawed James Milner channelling his inner Gary McAllister, chalked up his 7th assist in Europe.
In defence, a tottering Dejan Lovren redeemed his pride. Karius looked the part. Van Dijk stood up with all the good manners of a moat door clamped shut.
Everyone in the red of Liverpool turned up for the occasion.
I felt Anfield’s power.
– Jose Mourinho, after Chelsea’s semi-final loss at Anfield, 2005
Jurgen Klopp’s Lesson in Legacy
‘We don’t live in the past’, the City fans chanted 8 minutes into the match. Ironically for them, this match has gone down in history, and their team have been made an example of – of those who understate the magic of a European night in Anfield.
How many, over the years, have sung their hearts out and throats hoarse singing in defiance, in solidarity, in mourning and sometimes even in the sheer and utter joy of summoning miracles? This night was a tribute and a testament to all of those who came before, all those who occupied those seats in the past.
Operation Anfield Exercise was finally underway. On the touchline, a livid, loud, red-faced Jurgen Klopp barked his messages into an invisible microphone – the crowd behind him resonated his messages of righteous rigour and duty. The auditory effect stunned and stirred.
If, by any chance, you still haven’t received the message – look for it closely in the patterns his men weave on the pitch. The triangles in attacks and the rectangles in defence. Look for the message in the movement. See shapes collapse and expand like membranes of an organism – a creature breathed into life by the sound billowing down from the steps of the Kenny Dalglish Stand, the Kop End, Centenary Stand and the Anfield Road End, demanding purity of faith. A symbiosis.
The Anfield faithful may have found what they have been looking for – a conductor for their choir, a preacher who practices; an orator who can help them find their own voice. Like Bill Shankly did.
Irrespective of what happens in Manchester a week from now, it’s important to remember that Jurgen Klopp is making his people happy.