I couldn’t get up for the 2:30am Champions League semifinal between Barcelona and Chelsea last night.
Not that I didn’t want to, but after getting out of work at 10pm, I couldn’t muster the physical stamina to wake up in the middle of the night to watch a clash between neutrals.
I’ve just watched the match highlights.
Before I continue, let me just preface this by saying that, if Chelsea do go on and win the Champions League, thereby securing Champions League football for next season irrespective of where they finish in the Premier League, I will fully retract everything I’ve said about Fernando Torres making a bad decision to leave Liverpool.
Because let’s face it – finishing as champions of the (footballing) world’s most difficult competition, getting another shot at it next season, and a major pay raise: how is that in any way a bad decision?
It’s not nice being on the receiving end of a “I told you so,” but sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say that you got it wrong.
Now. As I was saying, I just watched the match highlights.
The first thing I noticed was the Champions League anthem playing in the background as the camera did its customary panning of the players from both teams and throughout the pre-match handshake.
I grew up on that anthem.
There was a time when I’d first gotten into Liverpool, when Liverpool, during the early 2000s, weren’t a fixture in the upper echelons of European football, just as Liverpool aren’t now.
But I grew up, as a fan, watching Liverpool in the Champions League.
During all my years abroad in Boston, Champions League action featuring Liverpool in September and February weekday afternoons on ESPN2 was a staple. I proudly strutted my Liverpool jerseys around campus and wore my heart on my sleeve. I left class early and ran back to the dorms to turn on the TV, door open, and crank up the sound.
When Liverpool scored – and boy, did Liverpool score – I ran up and down the hallways, and my hallmates all came to check out the tiny TV screen out of curiosity. I didn’t have to persuade them to stay; they stayed for the rest of the game out of their own accord.
I remember the days when I was proud, so proud to be a Liverpool fan.
Call it glory-hunting if you will – and I will gladly admit that, yes, I do like supporting a team that wins. One that, if it’s not winning, is showing enough resolve and consistency year on year to earn the chance of competing for the top prize in its profession. Is that such a big fault?
For overseas fans like us, who sadly don’t have a strong local club (or league, for that matter) to follow, it’s not any romantic sentiment of a local club for the community, not any family values in the stands, not any domestic and continental domination before our time – though, having grown into Liverpool’s club culture over the years, I have to say that I have gained a massive appreciation for the unique Kop culture. (But it had to start somewhere.)
No – it’s the idea that I’m rooting for an institution that believes in its right to compete at the highest level. That strives to match its opposition, no matter how financially, technically or physically superior. That, in the words of Clive Tyldesley in the aftermath of the 2005 Champions League final, “have been the most wonderful underdogs.”
And for a time, for that period when I became a fanatic, when I fell in love with Liverpool Red, when I exhibited such extreme emotions that I rarely muster, the Champions League became synonymous with my team.
That is of course failing to mention the rich financial windfalls that come with Champions League placings and performances. In both the short and long run, the extra income does wonders in terms of player recruitment amongst other things – but in a reflection of the emotions and the passions that the beautiful game brings about, those come in a distant second.
Sure, Liverpool this season have won a first piece of domestic silverware in six years, and might secure a domestic Cup Double with an FA Cup win over a considerably improved Chelsea side – but Liverpool, even in this season of wretched league results, have always proved to be wonderful underdogs, capable of cranking out a performance when they most need to.
The real challenge is to be able to maintain that consistency and high level of performance in an ever-competitive Premier League – to finish in those much-coveted Champions League spots.
It’s no surprise that Liverpool fans still hold up five fingers when it matters most.
Because once you maintain your game at that level, you earn the right to compete with the very best. And then, only when you get to compete with the very best in the world, your ability to come up with the most extraordinary triumphs become a prized asset, the reason why people become so attached with an institution boasting a never-say-die attitude.
So my overwhelming thought when I watched Torres skip around the keeper like his old days in Liverpool red wasn’t about his decision to leave Liverpool.
It was – and stayed with – that Champions League anthem.
If it was Liverpool standing there with that anthem roaring in the background – preferably barely audible beneath the stirring renditions of You’ll Never Walk Alone – you bet your backside I’d be tuned in at any time of the day to witness the occasion.
Because it’d mean that Liverpool will have returned to the Liverpool I know best.