I am a Liverpool fan. A Liverpool fan in exile. I have been a Liverpool fan all my life and grew up in Ireland before moving to the US in 2004. A lot of people in Ireland have direct connections with the city, and my family was no different. My aunt grew up and raised her family on Merseyside, and as with other families in the city, half would be red and the other half blue. This tradition continues today with me being a red fanatic and one of my brothers being an ardent blue. Here is my story of being a red!
What is it like being a lifelong red? Oh, what memories from my youth…I can remember back to my youngest days and my Dad bringing me to his aunt’s shop to buy a celebratory soft drink after beating Roma on penalties in 84. I can remember Dalglish scoring the winner against Chelsea to claim the league in 86, and Ian Rush breaking the photographer’s camera when scoring the third in that year’s cup final. I can still feel the tears streaming down my cheeks when we lost to Wimbledon in the 88 cup final. The pain and wrong that endured for years after Hillsborough. All these years the final game of the 1989 season against Arsenal still feels raw. On 90 minutes, even for someone so young, the excitement and nerves were too much so I had to get out of the house to kick the ball against the wall for a few minutes. I returned expecting to see celebrations, only to see the devastation and the tears flowing once again. We won the league in 1990, but for me, the first cracks in our incredible team came in that season’s cup semi-final loss to Crystal Palace.
Then There was the 90’s
The 1990s would be our barren years but would also be the time when my support went up a level. My first jersey was a 1984 European cup replica shirt, that Santa brought around 1985. He also brought my next jersey a 1991-1992 Adidas Candy Special, with what I called the Batman arrows coming from the top of the jersey. After this time, I started to make a little money and I could now afford to buy my own Liverpool jersey every season. The Souness years were a struggle, but every summer I would kick off the season in the belief that this year would be our year. Even when we had poor teams and squads, I somehow managed to convince myself, and on the eve of the season, anything was possible. The Roy Evans years provided some great moments and he brought us so close. My first game at Anfield was against Man Utd in March 1995. Evans has always come in for a lot of criticism and the team was labeled the Spice Boys. If they had been winning, the name would have been embraced, but a lack of success created the burden. A team with Fowler and McManaman, McAteer and Redknapp, Barnes and Collymore, produced amazing goals and amazing moments. They filled me with hopes and dreams and belief, but those dreams would fade come March and we never made it over the line.
Gerard Houllier arrived and slowly set about his work. He brought us the treble and it was a great time to be a red. The belief was there. The glory days were back. We were definitely going to win the league in 2002-2003. The year before we had finished 2nd and before that third. That summer we were in negotiations supposedly with Damien Duff, Lee Bowyer, and another top star. Ultimately, we would end up signing Diouf, Diao, and Cheyrou and those signings would ultimately trigger the beginning of the end for Houllier.
Incomes Rafa and We Are Back!
Rafael Benitez arrived in the Fall of 2004 and it would coincide with my move to the US in September 2004. Rafa would turn into a true Liverpool legend. My girlfriend at the time was living in Florida, and one of the conditions of moving out to Florida was to get the soccer channel. She did not disappoint, and we got engaged with the words “Stick with me and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone” the following March. I spent the night of the Istanbul final back home visiting my parents before our wedding, and even today I sit back and smile at the thought of that night. We got married in Florida at the peak of summer, and while there was no football over the summer, the reds were very much present. Rafa was just after winning us the Champions League and secured a wedding invite from us. I wore one of our white away jersey’s under my suit, and we danced to “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. A couple of years into Rafa’s reign and it looked like he would be the one to bring us to the promised land of the title. I was so confident that when we adopted a kitten, we named him Rafa. Needless to say, our Rafa is still with us 15 years later, Rafael Benitez is job hunting back on Merseyside. Rafa gave us some great days and truly made us a European powerhouse. He brought back the European mystique and we were feared throughout Europe. Unfortunately, the selling of Alonso and not being provided the necessary resources from new American owners Hicks and Gillett would set us on another path of decline. We always got so close and then seemed to fade away.
The post-Rafa period saw Roy Hodgson come in, who was followed by the return of Kenny Dalglish. Sadly Kenny would be let go after reaching two cup finals, winning one. It was the league title that mattered, our bread and butter. Brendan Rogers brought us closer to the title in 2013-2014 than any other person since Dalglish in 1990. Everything seemed possible as Suarez, Sturridge, Gerard, and Sterling ripped teams apart. The stars seemed to be aligning. It was 25 years since the Hillsborough disaster. The fight for justice was at its peak. With three games to go, we only needed 7 points to guarantee the title. The club and the fans were complete as one. And then it happened. The slip. I can still feel the pain. I will always feel that pain. This is the one that got away. It would have been our miracle season as we came from nowhere and set the premiership alight, but it was not to be.
The Normal One Arrives
And then it happened. I can still remember Jurgen Klopp arriving, sharing with us that he would be the “Normal One”. His booming laugh and his infectious smile seemed to charm all of the world’s media. Yet it is hard to believe that in his early days he received so much criticism. This was most evident after the home draw with West Brom and the celebrations in front of the Kop. In time we would see cup finals, Champions League finals, and the return of those great Anfield nights. The people of Liverpool and fans all around the world know that we have something special. Jurgen Klopp is truly one of our own. He delivered the title after 30 long years, and while two seasons have since passed, I still look back at that season and smile. I look back to the season before and the night against Barcelona. The reality is that while Jürgen Klopp is on the touchline, he really is just like all of us. He kicks every ball, makes every tackle, and celebrates every goal like one of the fans in the grounds.
Who knows what the season ahead will bring? What I do know is that as the season approaches, I am convinced once again that this year will be our year.