An End To All Things

Shankly Gates

The Guardian ran a series recently where people did things for the first time. So Julie Bindel, a woman who both metaphorically and literally is a wearer of comfortable shoes, wore uncomfortable shoes for the first time. And Oliver Burkeman, an adult male born in Liverpool, went to a football match for the first time.

Even writing it now having read the article and his reasons, it seems extraordinary that a grown man from Liverpool has never been to a football match. A generation is growing up for whom the prohibitive cost of match tickets has made Anfield a place more alien than a castle in the clouds at the top of a beanstalk, but anyone I knew in Liverpool over the age of 25 remembers a time when the cost of access to the ground was no more than the price of a few beans. Even if you moved out of Liverpool at a young age, you’d come back at some point to see ‘rellys’ and they’d bring you to the match, right? That’s how it worked for Mrs d – she even went to the Pit before she went to Anfield, it was such a cheap day out (no change there then, ho ho). Mr Burkeman slipped through the cracks for reasons he gives in his account, so you’d better go and read it first, but y’all hurry back now, missing you already . . .

It was his friend, Adam, who came to mind during the evening when Inter became the latest club to be mown down by the machine that is Fernando Torres. Oliver Burkeman was caught up in the excitement of two top quality football teams (relatively speaking) going at it hammer and tongs in front of 40,000+ deranged fans. Having once been caught up in the excitement of a match between two relatively rubbish teams in the League of Ireland, teams who I cared not a jot about before that evening, it’s easy to see how that could happen. But when the dust settled, his heart rate returned to normal. By contrast, Adam was still wired to the moon.

Most telling was Adam’s insistence that if someone could guarantee that Liverpool would win every game 6-0, “that would be great”. Such a scenario would be anathema to the concept of competition, which people like Mr Burkeman think is at the heart of sport. It may have been when Old Etonians played Corinthians, but professional sport is tribalism, and members of the tribe like nothing more than to grind their enemies under the collective heel. Close wins are the stuff of legend, but the operative word is ‘wins’. The thrill of the chase doesn’t cut it any more, if it ever did.

The psychological trauma that motivated Adam’s desire for an end to competition was made clear by the match against Inter last Tuesday night. Any objective observer would tell you that Liverpool were in little danger. 2-0 up from the first leg and with Torres lurking with menacing intent on the edge of their penalty area limiting their ability to press forward, it wasn’t until early in the second half when Skrtel gifted the ball to Ibrahimovic that Inter truly threatened Liverpool’s goal. With the aforementioned Torres lingering like the ghost of Banquo, the aforementioned neutral observer would have been confident that Liverpool would conjure a goal on the break. So there was little to worry about.

(What a thrill Torres’ goal was when it arrived. Much like Michael Owen’s second goal in the 2001 FA Cup final, there was an exquisite moment between realising with the certainty of a seer that it was going to be a goal and the ball actually hitting the back of the net. Back then, it was because the camera angle showed you the path the ball would take in off the far post. This time, it was because you just knew he was going to do something spectacular and he didn’t let us down with an outrageous pivot and strike. Mean, moody and magnificent. Well, one out of three is more than adequate)

Little to worry about then, so why was I shaking like a blancmange in an earthquake? The thought that if we were to secure the ultimate prize we’d have to go through this five more times was enough to render me a complete wreck, and that’s before you factor in the possibility of away goals, extra time, penalty shoot outs and – Mother of Jesus come between us and all harm – the Mancs. We don’t even have the security of qualification for next year’s competition being a sure thing, although why putting us through this wringer year after year is meant to be a positive is anyone’s guess.

Someday the torment is going to prove too much. It has to, even if the tipping point turns out to be the moment before I keel over from a heart attack. Until that moment when I come to my senses, I’ll lurch from one trauma to the next, all the while treating the moments of beauty like Silas Marner treated his coins, polishing them and treating them like children, subjugating my entire being to savouring the next one . . .