“I don’t know where I’m going but I know where I’ve been.”
It’s 6am on Monday and I’m leaving Kiev after a couple of days spent in the Ukrainian capital. A lovely city, the weather’s been glorious, but boy it’s been emotional, and as I head home I’m wondering how exactly I should be feeling. Devastated? Angry? Upset? Numb? Thankful? Appreciative?
The truth is I feel all those emotions. My mind is a fuzz of conflict, my body heavy with the tiredness you only feel at the end of a journey that did not go as you hoped. As you dreamed.
Liverpool lost. And it hurts. It hurts bad. I kept telling myself in the build-up to Saturday’s final to accept defeat was a real possibility against a Real Madrid side who have redefined winning over and over again, a bunch of footballers who know how to get the job done when it really matters. Our lot on the other hand – callow, inexperienced, not used to this sort of thing. Christ, I’d been to more European finals than all of them put together. So brace yourself Sachin, it could end badly. But even after it did, it still hurt. There were no tears but I was broken.
I’m sick of seeing us lose finals. It’s four in a row now and three in Europe – Athens, Basel and Kiev. We’re Liverpool, we’re meant to win these games. But now it’s become a habit to come to these occasions full of hope, full of ambition, and leave with nothing.
I’m lucky – I was in Istanbul and have seen the glory. But there is a generation of Reds growing up who haven’t and must fear they never will. I saw a mate outside the stadium after the game on Saturday night. He’s 19, goes home and away, and he was in bits. Where’s his story for the grandkids? Will he ever get one?
And older fans are feeling it too. Another mate Anil, who’s barely missed a game in three decades, was silent with hurt as we strode back into town after Saturday’s final, and when he did finally speak it was to say: “That’s it. I don’t think I’ll ever see us win another European Cup final again.” It was a gut punch of a statement, but also revealing of a wider sentiment. Like me, Anil’s seen us win one European Cup final and been to another two, and that’s ultimately a modest amount compared to some real veteran Reds.
So here’s the thing, the thing I’m clinching onto in this flat on Monday morning in Ukraine – I bloody love being a Liverpool supporter.
This club consistently delivers for its followers. Epic European runs, football from the gods, players to adore and remember fondly long after they’ve left. Over and over again. It never stops, it never ends, and even if Anil is right, that those of us of a certain age will never see a sixth European Cup, we should be thankful for what we have seen, and because of what we have seen believe that for at least one generation to come, there will be another European final to remember for the right reasons. After all, who in their wildest thoughts believed we’d end up in Kiev? And had we faced anyone except Real Madrid, those gnarly, brilliant bastards of the Champions League era, it could have been a night to savour after all.
On a personal level, I truly reconnected with the experience of being a Red during this last season. In terms of going to games, 2017-18 has been among my most productive and, 2004-05 aside, most enjoyable campaign ever. Over 30 games, home and away, loads of goals, loads of wins and, best of all, loads of laughs.
I’ve travelled up and down the country and across Europe with the same group of lads. Lads I’ve gone to games with previously but who in 2017-18 I really forged a link with. Different ages, different backgrounds, but all of us loving the ride, one that started in August and kept rolling until May.
And no more so than in Europe. All those incredible nights at Anfield and for me personally, three ace trips away – Moscow, where it all started, a relevatively low-key affair but a hugely enjoyable one too, followed by Porto, where it rained water as well as goals, followed by Rome. Oh, Rome. What a trip that was. A train from Naples, the bus ride to the Stadio Olimpico and a game where we lost but still won. Travelling Reds in wonderful voice and our players and managers showing they truly appreciate what it means to be part of this club.
And so to Kiev, where 90-plus minutes of football aside it was also ace. Flying in via Warsaw, hit by the heat and friendly welcome, hooking up with the rest of the boys and taking it all in. Beers and singing in Shevchenko Park, pre-match dinner in a local pasta place and then the walk to the ground. “Allez, Allez, Allez” and all of that. We turned this place Red, we made it our own. We ruled until we could rule no more. Fuck off Sergio Ramos, you horrible git.
So yes, I’m devastated. Angry, upset and numb. But I’m also thankful and appreciative because I know I’ve seen things and experienced things supporters of other clubs never have and never will. And they can roll their eyes at this sentiment – as they often do – but it’s true. Liverpool fans’ lowest moments are the unrealised fantasies of most other football followers and we shouldn’t forget that. We shouldn’t forget that the result is the end point of a journey that, as was the case in 2017-18, can be marvellous and joyous, inside and outside the ground. Kiev hurts but, bloody hell, the road here was paved with gold. I loved every second.
And so it comes back to that banner in Shevchenko Park, the one quoted at the top of this piece: I don’t know where I’m going but I know where I’ve been. The future is uncertain, and is sure to include at least one or two more dark moments, but the past – what has come and what has been – enriches the soul as well as the mind.
My dad made me a Liverpool supporter and it’s the best thing he’s ever done. Cheers old man. Up the Reds.