My Liverpool Story by Venkat Ramamurthy
Love, loyalty, and passion for anything in life does not need to have a simple or easy origin story. It can be circuitous, complex, interrupted, and re-discovered as well. Or it can have all contradicting reasons possible.
My devotion to Liverpool FC – The Redmen, The Merseyside Kings, European Royalty, The Greatest club in England and the World – was born out of a love for football and a need for something consistent in a life of travel and change.
I have lived in 3 countries and multiple cities in my life. I was born in India back in 1977, grew up on the island of Bahrain until graduating from high school, returned to India to attend college, and then moved to the United States for higher education and my eventual fate as a married man and working stiff.
Bahrain (like the rest of the countries in the Arabian Gulf) has a unique mix of cultural influences due to the local Arabs, and the Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, and British who came there to make a more lucrative living. Most Indians living in the Gulf, contrary to popular belief, grew up playing and watching football. Due to the geography of my upbringing, I too gravitated to football before cricket. English First Division football and Serie A football programs were weekly events in the evening for us, and football was what PE time in school was mostly about (besides Basketball). There is a whole fan base out there of Indian guys out there in their 40s who swear by football and its reasonable to think that they might be supporters of either Liverpool, AC Milan, Juventus, or Nottingham Forest.
A Liverpool team in full flow with John Barnes, Ian Rush, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge, Steve Nicol, and Steve McMahon was a sight to behold and they were a frightening experience for any defenders and goalkeeper on the continent. My only way to describe them in the attack would be Guardiola’s Barcelona with more chasing down the ball, stronger passes, lung-bursting running, and shots at goal that would rip a goalie’s head off. Think about it, if you are trying to visualize, as pinball being played on the football pitch. They attacked the opposition with a relentlessness and cruelty of a pack of wolves chasing down a helpless and tired deer. The players carried an aura about them that can be found only in the greatest teams in sports like the Boston Celtics, New Zealand Rugby team or the Montreal Canadiens. They were a team, a club, a society, a family, a machine, an army, and a nation. The Mighty Redmen of Merseyside were a force and I was totally in awe of them growing up.
My favorite Red was and always will be John Barnes. This has to do with my admiration for players who rise up in the game even though they do not hail from a traditional power base of the game like Europe, South America or the Central and North African nations. I always had an affinity for players like Barnes because it was probably harder for them to get noticed, but they still found a way to rise to the top and brought their unique style to the game. In addition, he found a way to balance his post-playing career in England, while staying true to his Jamaican roots. That is also the reason I had a special love for Reds like Israel’s Ronny Rosenthal, Zimbabwe’s eccentric Bruce Grobelaar, and Australia’s Craig Johnston.
As the 80s gave way to the 90s, I must admit that my passion for Liverpool had its peaks and valleys. A lot of us had to evacuate Bahrain and return to India for a short period of time because of the Gulf War. This led to changes from the comfort of routine and established friendships, and for a kid in high school, the constant struggle with studies and life, in general, made me focus on things besides football and Liverpool. I felt some excitement when Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman burst on to the scene and was excited by the sheer pace of this new style of football being played in the English Premier League. But then graduation finally happened, followed by moving to India for college and it was a major change in lifestyle personally. I had to fight to adjust to my huge, noisy, chaotic country, and local sports interest and viewing in the late 90s was restricted to cricket, cricket, and MORE CRICKET! The only respites from cricket were World Cup football every 4 years, and the NBA playoffs that I used to wake up to watch at 6:00 in the morning. You were considered weird if you loved or watched any sport other than cricket in those days. This is also the reason I find it hilarious and heartwarming when I see kids in India argue passionately about Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, or that club that shall not be named.
After graduating from college in India, I came to the United States in 2000 to Rochester, NY to do my Masters degree. As a student sharing an apartment with 3 others, I took interest in the Redmen again as a way to bond with other international students on campus. The Owen-Heskey-Gerrard era Reds were wildly inconsistent but I loved our treble-winning season and that legendary FA Cup final win over Arsenal. Michael Owen could do no wrong in those days, even though the way he left the club and his constant gushing over the club that shall not be named really annoy me today.
In 2003, I landed a job in Houston, TX and proceeded to live there until 2018, and this time period has been my strongest phase of Liverpool fandom since I was a schoolboy. I went through the euphoria of Istanbul in 2005. That Milan team had a who’s who of football in their lineup and Carlo Ancelotti had formed them into a magnificent squad that could beat others in a variety of ways. The way we fought back and that second half with our boys coming back to take the game into penalties and then clinching it was willpower at it’s best. So much grit, pride, and fearlessness were exhibited by Stevie, Carra, Xabigol, Smicer, and the rest that night. I still come across a lot of supporters who credit that night as the reason they adopted the Reds as their team. My bond with the club had been revived and the boys brought me a great job during a very lonely time in a city where the only people I knew where my colleagues at work. My dingy little apartment was livened up by the Anfield crowd on TV, and by my cheers for goals scored. I eventually found my way to the local supporters’ group in 2013 and many of the Houston Reds are still the best friends I have. I made it a point to visit the local Liverpool bars at several cities I visited like Seattle, Dallas, Austin, and Philadelphia.
The lows of the 2nd place finish under Rafa and Brendan and the lean years when we were not good enough to even qualify for Champions or Europa league also came and went. Even from those seasons of slim pickings, I found the positives in players like Kuyt, Shelvey, and the Welsh Pirlo who gave it their all for us instead of putting in transfer requests to greener pastures.
Every struggling club has their watershed moment when the trajectory changes for better or for worse. Our watershed moment for the worse was the year Graeme Souness took over as manager in 1991. Now came our watershed moment for the better with the announcement of Jurgen Norbert Klopp as manager of the Reds. I knew it would be a process, but I loved this man’s personality and what he did as manager of Borussia Dortmund. He was a remarkably inspired choice after we suffered through Rafa’s moodiness, Hodgson’s ineptitude, and Brendan’s inexperience. Kloppo knew how to work with the media, how to keep the fans on his side, and how to make the owners feel secure and informed about the state of the club and his leadership. He developed players who he thought would fit his system, he kept players who he believed in and he never wavered from a core set of principles despite managing a giant club that was impatient to be crowned as Champions of England again. I still remember hearing the announcement while I was in Cancun for a wedding. There happened to be quite a few English vacationers who were Liverpool fans at this resort. I even met one at the pool wearing a white Gerrard jersey and another at the bar with a Liverbird tattoo. We were everywhere and I am so glad I was able to revel in the Klopp hiring with fellow LFC tragics.
Liverpool ruling Europe and England again was never inevitable or destined. There were many days when I wondered if the club would ever get back to winning ways again. Our defense was diabolical, our goalies made the most horrific errors in the most crucial games, and our strikers would shoot anywhere except in goal. We also had this uncanny ability to bring the best out of otherwise horrible teams and every goalkeeper would mysteriously become Lev Yashin when faced with our attackers. I can’t remember the number of times I would scream at the TV in frustration and my dogs would just run and hide out of fear. But I appreciate our current success way more only because I went through those seasons of my loyalty being tested. I have never walked alone as an American Scouser.