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It all started when my brother and I chanced upon a football match on television and decided to each pick a team and support. It was the 1996/1997 season. The match we were watching was the North West Derby.
My brother picked Manchester United. I picked Liverpool.
I simply liked the sound of its name.
The first Liverpool player that caught my attention was the Czech midfielder Patrik Berger. The way his luscious brown locks swayed as he surged down the left flank was strangely mesmerising. The way he thumped those shots at goal left me slightly breathless. I admired him so much I even had a poster of him wrapped around my textbook. Such was the extent of my idolisation that I had to ask myself if I was interested in men.
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I also admired Steve McManaman, who never failed to amaze with his sublime dribbling skills. Whenever I played football at the void deck below my block, I would imagine being him. My friends used to scold me for attempting to dribble too much.
Pass the ball, they said. But I didn’t care.
So, they tossed me in defence. Tackle harder, they said.
I did. I imagined myself as Jamie Carragher. I ended up fracturing my friend’s ankle.
One might think that a connection forged under such frivolous circumstances would not last. But it did. I’ve been a Liverpool fan for a quarter of a century.
Throughout these 25 years, I’ve often been teased about supporting a club that doesn’t win anything. My reply was always self-deprecating. “Yeah, we really suck, don’t we?” I would say.
But not once have I considered shifting my allegiance.
Admittedly, I did try supporting another club from a different league. During my childhood days, Serie A teams like AC Milan, Inter Milan and Parma were popular among the kids in my neighbourhood. But none of them captivated me as much as Liverpool.
To be fair, the ‘Spice Boys’ like Robbie Fowler, Jamie Redknapp, Jason McAteer and McManaman played good football under Roy Evans. But it wasn’t good enough to win them much silverware.
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Subsequent managers like Gerard Houllier, Rafael Benítez and Brendan Rodgers all came close to winning the league. But those second-place finishes were not enough. For a club with such a storied past, anything less than being league champions was simply beneath expectations.
I think the word “underwhelming” quite aptly sums up my experience as a Liverpool fan for the past 25 years.
Ironically, this word can also be used to describe the way Liverpool have won their first league title in 30 years.
I was never in doubt that this day would come. But I have always imagined that the title race would go right down to the wire. That I would, after the title-winning match, fall to my knees with my head buried in both palms, tears leaking through the crevices between my fingers.
This was not to be.
Liverpool have been runaway champions. Most of us knew that they were likely to win the title since late last year.
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Liverpool did not even have to kick a ball to win the title. Chelsea, the same team that caused us to lose the title in the 2013/2014 season (no, thou shall not blame Steven Gerrard), turned out to be the final nail in the coffin of Manchester City’s title aspirations.
So, no, I did not get to expunge all those emotions that have been pent up for more than two decades. Again, my expectations were not met.
But one thing I’ve learned since becoming a Liverpool fan is that expectations are just, well, expectations. Failing to meet them comes with little or no consequence.
Just like how a mother will always love her child regardless of the atrocities he or she has committed, a Liverpool fan – or at least a true, blue one – will never renounce his or her allegiance no matter what happens.
This obviously won’t be the case for many fans now. In the span of a year, Liverpool have been crowned champions of England, Europe and the world.
Someone recently asked me, “So what now? You guys have won everything.”
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What now? We go again. We try to build a dynasty.
But even if we fail to dominate the league for the years to come, even if we take another 30 years to win the next title, even if all these great expectations we have go unfulfilled, a Liverpool fan’s love for the club will never change.
That’s why we’re often dubbed as the most passionate fans in the world.
It’s not difficult to be this passionate. You see, Liverpool are not just a football club.
It’s a philosophy; a way of life.
‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is more than an anthem. It’s a source of hope, of inspiration. There is no denying that the rambunctious Liverpool fans bellowing this anthem in Istanbul played a role in that legendary Champions League comeback.
We sing it when we win. We sing it when we lose. We sing it knowing all that matters is that we - the fans and the players and the gaffer and everyone else at the club - are one.
Indeed, we are Liverpool.
Indeed, this means more.