It has been abundantly clear over the past six months that football has not been the same. But with fans now finally back at Anfield, Liverpool have regained their soul.
For 270 days, Anfield fell silent. Lifeless and without its soul. The fans.
After nearly nine months, football finally returned. I’m as clear as I can be when I say football has only now returned, because what we’ve seen over the last six months hasn’t been football.
Football is a game that is turned into an art by those involved externally. The fans make the game what it is. The game we love has been made by those standing in the freezing cold concrete terraces.
Even if it was only a shadow of what we’ve been accustomed to during ‘normal’ times, after nine months of hell for so many people, to see the smiles on the faces of fans and players alike, the return of spectators gave football that bit of authenticity that had been absent since the game went behind closed doors in March.
For many, the return of fans meant the return to normal wasn’t far away, or as far away as we all feared weeks and months ago.
I wasn’t one of the supporters lucky enough to attend Anfield on Sunday evening, but my word, I felt like I was one of the luckiest people in the world just to have the privilege of watching my football team play to fans again, even if it was just on the telly.
For the first time in a very long time, I found football watchable again.
Even if there were only 2,000 fans in the majority of the stadiums, it’s been the simple things we all took for granted over the years that we all missed most, just being able to hear real crowd noise and none of that abominable goal music!
I can’t imagine how exciting it must have been for the players, because I know many fans who have lost interest in watching behind-closed-doors football, and I don’t blame them at all.
There’s no attraction to watching 20ish lads knock a ball around in a ghost town of a stadium. That isn’t what ‘going to the match’ is about.
At times, I found myself looking at football as a chore rather than the emotional release it once was.
At times it became very bleak, as the hope started to diminish for match-going fans, as many were left in the dark as to when they’d be able to return to some form of normality.
Let’s be clear, we’ve still got a long way to go before Anfield and many other grounds start to reach capacities in the upwards of 50,000 fans like it once did, but this weekend was a fantastic start.
For the many thousands who gather in masses at Anfield during normal circumstances, football is their release, their social life, time to catch up with family and friends.
Football is a place where strangers become friends. The guy who used to chew your ear off every other week over the manager’s subs – you now know his name, he’s now your friend.
The game brings people of all different classes, backgrounds and ethnicities together. I think you’d struggle to find something that can unite so many people in one place, all rooting for the same cause.
As the champions of England received their belated coronation, as they headed out for their warmup to a roaring reception, Jurgen Klopp’s face said it all.
It told a story of frustration, a story of loneliness during a time that should’ve been the greatest period in the club’s recent history, as they clinched the first league title since 1990.
It told a story of never giving up, no matter how tough the storm is, it can always be weathered and, as the song goes, at the end of a storm there is a golden sky. There is a light at the end of the storm, normality is on the horizon and it’s not far away.
Over the last nine months nobody has given up, from the NHS frontline staff to the local foodbanks, to key workers, the country came together during its most disastrous time in recent history. It’s a lesson we can all live by.
The toughest part for all of us is nearly over, this weekend marked the scaling of the mountain, soon enough life will return to some form of normality.
We will celebrate in football grounds up and down the country once again, we will share a half-time pint and cold, undercooked pie.
But for the meantime this is the start. It won’t be long until Klopp is running towards a full Kop in the glorious spring, celebrating his side clinching three points once again.
Until that time is upon us, stay safe.