“If the title has to be won, at least let it be won by a team whose fans won’t enjoy it” – Liverpool is too much of a good-news story for neutral football fans
The last time Liverpool won the league, George HW Bush was President, the internet hadn’t been invented and mobile phones were the size of small asteroids.
The communist bloc was still intact, televised football in England was limited to a single, free-to-air match per week and Kylian Mbappe was still eight years away from being a viable foetus.
Despite this 28-year-itch, Liverpool’s support remains absolutely bomb-proof and while their claim to have 580 million fans worldwide almost certainly comes from the Institute of Fictional Statistics For Gullible Journalists, they remain enduringly popular with people who would struggle to locate Anfield with a sat nav.
Liverpool fans are not famed for their restraint. Books were written about their 2013-14 season, including the titles “Poetry In Motion” and “Make Us Dream”, titles which imply a happier ending than the reality of Demba Ba handing the title to Manchester City while Steven Gerrard stumbled like a tasered cow heading for the abattoir.
To understand why Chelsea (and Manchester United) fans celebrated this moment with such transcendental ecstasy, a crash course in the mentality of the hardcore English football fan is needed.
Better English people than me enjoy football. They love the game, no matter who’s playing and if an English club is playing in Europe, they support them.
Within ten seconds of this waft of Andros Townsend’s left foot on Saturday, a pulse of excitement spread across social-media. Within 60 seconds of the ball hitting the net the news had filtered through to the terrace of the lower-league match, I was attending, where most of the 2,000 people present were checking their phones every five minutes because it was preferable to watching the irredeemably turgid match unfolding in front of them.
(The exception was a seven-year-old boy who reacted to the home team going 3-0 down, by loudly demanding the manager be sacked.)
The excitement seemed contagious. “Ooooh, City are losing!”
I looked around, desperately scanning for a kindred spirit, someone who understood the implications of Liverpool being five points clear. Someone over 35, who could remember what it was like when the UK only had four television channels and three of them were showing the Anfield Rap.
I wanted to scream: “Don’t you people understand how serious this is? These people write books about coming second! What do you think they’re going to be like if they actually win it?”
I didn’t of course. I know it isn’t rational. I might be physically exhausted by the sight of Jurgen Klopp, but he’s a man of humour and humanity who I’d install as Great Britain’s Prime Minister tomorrow. That way he might be able to solve a national crisis, instead of creating one by winning the league for Liverpool.
The English philosopher Jeremy Bentham claimed that the moral basis for all laws should be the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people. The tribal fan operates on the exact reverse of this principle.
If the title has to be won, at least let it be won by a team whose fans won’t enjoy it. Whose achievements one can belittle as the product of a rich man’s vanity project. Anything is better than the hell of having to smile and offer credit to the rival.
In the words of Gore Vidal: “It is not enough for me to succeed. Others must fail.”