Frank Lampard is incensed. His eyebrows are furrowing and his voice is dipping lower in pitch with every sentence. Speaking to Sky at the post-match interview, he tries his best to suppress his emotions but fails. To his right, he can see the Liverpool staff and players walking around the Anfield pitch in t-shirts with Champions 19-20 emblazoned in gold. The stadium speakers are playing ‘You Will Never Walk Alone’ on repeat.
For a proud football man, from a proud football family, watching a rival club lift the Premier League trophy must feel sickening. The sensation only worsens when the electronic scoreboard in the stands shows a scoreline of 5-3. You could hedge a safe bet that Frank Lampard wasn’t on the wrong side of a five-goal-scoreline too many times. During the match, he had a loud, vocal tiff with the Liverpool bench about a free-kick which cost Chelsea a goal. You would’ve forgiven him for hastily saying “yeah, well played–congratulations” and just jogging away to the confines of the away locker room.
But during that short interview, in the middle of talking about how his team were in the game longer than the scorecard might show, he says something that should be played over and over again to fans, pundits, and ex-players who have had to watch a rival team succeed. “Yeah, they’re excellent, Jurgen and his staff and players. That’s where we want to get to, one day.” It is genuine, generous praise when you admit that your rival team has set the standards you aspire to. Something that says a lot about Frank Lampard, and something that Liverpool Football Club deserve every bit of.
There is a tendency, among everyone, to patronise a new success story with tags of inadequacy. Speculations begin, on prominent mediums, about how they might vanish into nothingness as quickly as they grew into champions. It is, as if, they are not quite worthy of this success. Ever since Liverpool lost to Watford in the league and Atletico Madrid in the Champions’ League, the dialogue around this club has veered from how good they are to how they aren’t quite the Invincibles, Treble Winners, or Centurions. Hell, they are not even as good as Blackburn’s Batch of ’95.
Liverpool’s journey to this success, whichever way you look at it, is one of inspiration. That they won the league after 30 years almost fades away in the face of how they won it, the kind of systems they built to enable it, the consistency and ruthlessness they brought to the pitch.
To quote the indomitable Rohit Brijnath – “This is a wondrous sports story from any angle because it comprises so many of the things we cherish in sport – patience, faith, endurance, romance, revival. This is 25-year-olds waiting till they were grandfathers for their club to win the title again.”
Think of the way Liverpool scouted Naby Keita for four years, the uncertainty that has accompanied him at Liverpool so far, and then think of his goal against Chelsea. Think of Jurgen Klopp’s first season, Liverpool’s table position, and the kind of mountain he’s had to climb to turn that team into one which went on a run of one loss in 70 Premier League games. It’s a victory for football, a sign of new doors opening, that such persistence can pay off.
Think of Andrew Robertson and Georginio Wijnaldum, plucked from lower-division teams and told that they were going to be vital cogs of a team that would leave everyone astounded. Think of James Milner, 34 years of age and still winning bleep tests on the training ground. Do childhood-dream stories come more endearing than that of Trent Alexander-Arnold? Liverpool’s success is filled with this stuff. We just need to look without squinting.
While pride and nostalgia have their place in fandom and rivalry, it doesn’t hurt to, for a brief moment, ditch the joyless cloak of rival-banter and imbibe the spirit of the guard of honour. When a team wins, clap them on to the pitch. Don’t tell them how your team in 1938 won with a bigger margin or how your 2004 outfit never lost a game. It doesn’t matter because it has been long enough since 1938 or 2004 for those achievements to be considered anything more than plaques in your team’s museum.
In 2020, Liverpool get to wear that red and gold t-shirt with ‘Champions’ written on it. And that, really, is all that matters.