JURGEN Klopp was widely praised, rightly so, for nailing the situation around the Coronavirus and football when it was announced that the Premier League was postponed.
“I’ve said before that football always seems the most important of the least important things, he said in a message to supporters. “Today, football and football matches really aren’t important at all.”
That remains the case. As the numbers of deaths rise, schools close, supermarket shelves empty and panic grips the nation, talking about football can feel a tad tasteless – a bit meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Yet talk about it we must. Because it was, is, and always will be, an escape from reality, a hole to bolt down, a place where we are free of society’s woes, or even our own.
In that place, before the necessary shutdown of sport, the Reds of here and now were fingertips away from the grip of the Premier League trophy. Three decades of disappointment was about to be washed away with the biggest party Liverpool had ever known, a celebration of a brilliant side that has lifted our lives over and over again. And now it’s all off. Until when nobody knows. It’s nobody’s fault. It just is.
"People with knowledge should talk about it."
Jurgen Klopp was not happy after a reporter asked about coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/Gb5htFfhlD
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 4, 2020
Plenty are keen to paint a picture of the Scousers scorned, of the season scrapped, of everything Klopp and his cohort had been striving for over the last seven months and even further back deleted from the records. Binning the banter and the trash talk for a moment, where would that leave us?
There’s lots of cold, hard talk about cold, hard issues. About contracts and compensation, rules, and regulations, about TV deals and kit sponsorships. Tournaments. Schedules. Subscriptions. Think about the lawyers, think about the courts. Oh Lord, the lawsuits.
But what about the romance? What about the thing that hooked us all in the first place? The kid with the muddy knees kicking a ball on the field and dreaming of glory for his hometown didn’t care about laws or logistics. It was about hoping and praying Liverpool could be the best. It was about big cups wrapped up in red.
Liverpool have been the best. All season long. They deserve the big cup wrapped in red. And that story, and others like it across the leagues, should be allowed to play out. For the good of us all.
The Coronavirus crisis can help with clarity. It demands perspective. It promotes a step back. So much of what we place value in matters little. Not when life is on the line. But zoom back into football with some of that clarity in tow.
No opinion on all this is truly objective. Everyone has skin in the game. But ripping up this league campaign – and the hopes and dreams of so many in football (not just Liverpool) – would surely leave a sour taste for so many after coming this far. A taste it might be hard to ever shift.
PL statement: "We are united in our commitment to finding ways of resuming the 2019/20 football season and ensuring all domestic and European club league and cup matches are played as soon as it is safe and possible to do so."
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) March 19, 2020
We’re not talking about a knockout competition here, a random outcome that could hinge on a one-off football match. No, we’re talking about 29 games played and just nine to go. August to March. Seventy six per cent of a season done. A 25-point lead for Liverpool. A whisker away.
Think of the die-hards and the sacrifices they have made, some for a lifetime. The price of football is such that for many fans it’s what they live for. “A certain style of life,” as one banner at Liverpool matches reads.
To live that life, other opportunities have been passed up to pursue the passion. Those that wave that away haven’t lived and loved it. For so many now, the league is the obsession; the be all and end all, the Holy Grail, top of the bucket list – a craving, a yearning, the itch never scratched.
Now it’s right there. Insignificant in the very immediate of a panic-inducing pandemic, yes, but very significant for the wider lives of many though nevertheless. It’s right there because of the wit, wisdom and work of Klopp, his coaches, his players, and the support staff that make up the club.
It’s there too because of the unrelenting support they have received from fans that have invested time, money, emotion and life. It’s there because of how all that has come together in a perfect storm that has blown away the opposition. Imagine having to pretend we didn’t live that reality. Where would it leave us the fans? Where would it leave them the players? Surely no one wants that.
Pre-pandemic there was a laughable idea sold by sheep-headed supporters of other teams that Liverpool would be lifting a ‘tainted title’ because of a perceived bias in VAR decisions. While that was nonsense, it touches on the issue of integrity and fairness that holds up any competition.
Europe is set to come together in a powerful rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone in a gesture of solidarity over the coronavirus pandemic.
Radio stations across the continent will play the iconic Liverpool FC anthem to show unity and lift spirits. ❤️
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) March 19, 2020
If the rug was pulled away on a season three-quarters done, how tainted would any future football be? Before Coronavirus kicked in, Liverpool looked primed to not only win the Premier League, but to compete for top honours in the ever after. And this, remember, was a side that had already recovered from the huge knocks of reaching the Champions League final and losing. And winning 97 points only to be pipped for the Premier League title.
From those lows came the highs of a sixth European Cup, a World Club Cup and an imperious lead at the top of the Premier League. After 29 games, Liverpool have 82 points. Manchester City have 57. The title was inevitable.
Take that last one away now though, and how many more times can this team – this club – mentally go to the well? It would go down as the biggest kick to the balls in football history. Some supporters would undoubtedly walk away. And if Liverpool’s mojo went missing as a consequence, how would the next winner of the league feel about it? Would it be tainted then?
The same applies to any side that stayed up via the back door. What would that do to the finely-tuned mental state of those footballers? Would they feel like frauds? Comfort can be taken from the direction of travel. Away from the unknown, common sense appears to be prevailing and the will of the Premier League and football generally appears to be to resume when possible and pick up where we left off.
Very different from the idea Karren Brady was championing a few short days ago. Just having football back would help. Just talking about a reality where it’s back helps now. It means, like the kid with the muddy knees, we can dream again. Of what it will be like. So close. Taken away. Then it was back.
That sun-filled future vision will be helping to keep a lot of people sane right now amid surreal times. And that’s why football is important. Even when it isn’t.