I have been a Liverpool fan for almost two decades now. And while I have articulated elsewhere what it means to be a fan of a club and how, through mostly random factors, I got tied to Liverpool, my actual fan experience has been shaped by what I have seen the club do and what I have discovered about its history and legacy over the years. If you are a new fan, it can sometimes be overwhelming and confusing; the entrenched and accumulated knowledge and wisdom of more ‘senior’ fans may seem complex inducingly superior. But that shouldn’t deter anyone from getting with the program at their favorite club.
Just like one gets into a TV show, it is possible to ‘get into’ a club’s narrative. And just like there are gateway episodes that fans will suggest for you to get the real essence of a show, there are gateway moments that you experience about your favorite club that make you, to borrow from Meatloaf’s I Would Do Anything For Love, “take a vow and seal a pact”. What follows is a personal narrative of 8 matches that define my relationship with Liverpool, some which I watched as a fan as they unfolded, and some that I have lived vicariously through second hand accounts or their fallout but have taught me something equally critical about the club, its culture and what it stands for.
Watching football and living the triumphs and the disasters your favorite team faces are not an escape from life for a fan, they define and inform the living experience for them. Which is why, tucked among these 8 you will find not just wins, but also heartbreaking results and some hard moments. Because if there were no valleys to contrast it with, you wouldn’t realise the significance of the mountain.
Episode I: Night of Destiny
Liverpool 3 Olympiakos 1, Anfield, 8 Dec 2004
Everything I know and love about Liverpool was packed into this one game. It was the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, a competition that Liverpool lorded over in the 80s so magnificently that they would earn the honorific ‘European Royalty’. European football nights at Anfield were always intense and special but in this one, the Reds needed every ounce of egging on they could get because it was a must win game. Lose or draw and they would be eliminated. They had to beat the Greek side Olympiakos and by a margin of at least a couple of goals.
The halftime score read Liverpool 0 Olympiakos 1. The home team, though, stirred on by the 42,000 or so faithful at Anfield, launched a fight back scoring almost immediately after the second half began. But as the time ticked away and the match entered into the last 10 minutes, it looked like the European dream was about to go up in smoke for that season. Then Neil Mellor scraped a goal and with Liverpool leading 2-1 and hope ignited again. The Reds still needed a goal otherwise they would bow out because of an inferior head to head record against Olympiakos despite having the same number of points as the Greek team.
With just 3 odd minutes left on the clock, and Anfield collectively holding their breath, biting their nails and saying their prayers, all somehow at the same time, up stepped a young Steven Gerrard and thumped an unstoppable 30 yarder off a soft header that had fallen his way.
The goal is to be seen to be believed, the reaction too, including Andy Gray’s immortal line of commentary – “Ooohhhhh ya beeaaauuuuttyyyyy! What a hit son! What. A. Hit.”
I get goosebumps watching reruns of this just like I did that night watching this live. This was all of Liverpool’s magic captured in one moment. The unwillingness to ever give up and the will to make something happen no matter how arduous the odds, a hallmark of the city and its people and by extension something the supporters of the club identify with, was embodied in Gerrard’s never say die efforts that night despite him being not completely fit. The raw passion of the crowd that egged the team on believing. The Anfield crowd and again by extension Liverpool fans don’t need a reminder from Journey and their answer to Al Michael’s ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ is always yes, because how can you not when you saw this unfold before your very eyes.
The goal, its audacious nature and its preternatural scorer would all combine to inject new life into the European campaign for Liverpool who would go on to lift the trophy in an extraordinary final at Istanbul (that’s whole another story). Gerrard himself would say at his farewell press conference some 10 years later that this goal was seminal for the team – “If you’re talking about one individual goal that was so important for the team and the club, that helped us progress to that incredible night in Istanbul, it’d have to be Olympiakos.”
The match, the goal and that night impacted me personally because until then while I had seen Liverpool win on many occasions, never had I felt closer to the fortunes and the destiny of the team. The clipping of the tense moments leading up to Gerrard’s goal and the explosion of emotions immediately following it is still my go to motivation video. At times, when I am feeling the weariness of the world sitting heavy, I watch it and just remind myself of the belief.
Never had I experienced the exhilaration of believing that somehow I was a part of what happened and I was a part of what made it happen. The match that made me realise – schmaltz alert – that I actually LOVED this team.