In an extract from his new book ‘Diamonds in the Mud’, author Brian Reade reflects on the surreal events of Liverpool’s title win in 2020, when Jurgen Klopp urged carpe diem…
Everything about the occasion seemed surreal. The sun was still out on a muggy July evening, the pubs around the ground that should have been so rammed half their customers were carousing on pavements had their doors locked and the stadium was silent except for the eerie echoes of warm-up instructions being barked at the players.
That night the sign above the entrance to the pitch should have read This Isn’t Anfield.
The fastest-ever winners of the English league title, in terms of games, had endured the longest ever wait to pick up their trophy. And when they did, their home was virtually deserted.
But this was 2020. When Covid struck and football stopped at a point when Jurgen Klopp’s relentless team was almost able to reach out and put polish on the silverware that had most eluded them. They were 25 points clear with nine games to go when their fans plunged into purgatory as calls were made to scrap the season and void all results, just as England had done in 1939 when war was declared on Hitler.
And this after the most painful of waits for an English league title that felt like it had stretched as far back as that war.
Thirty years in which a regular habit had become a serial curse. When there had been so many near-misses, so many anti-climaxes, so many rival fans telling Kopites their sense of entitlement was embarrassing. Because no big club goes three decades without a league title, especially when minnows like Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City have etched their name on the trophy.
But in some ways, July 22, 2020 was the most familiar of nights. Anfield Road was lined with crowds festooned in red-and-white, flags were out, anthems were roared and there were even cheers when news spread that the enemy, Manchester United, were losing at home to West Ham.
And then the bus came into sight bearing a Liverpool squad who had just obliterated all domestic opposition to regain a status that used to be bestowed on them with unprecedented regularity.
The 21st-century version of rattles – plumes of red smoke rising from flares – lit up the L4 sky as the bus cut through a crimson summer mist to enter the bowels of the old citadel, Anfield.
Inside, it was business as usual for a Liverpool title coronation. Five goals were put past a London side (Chelsea) in a crushing exhibition of superiority, just as in 1964 when Arsenal were thrashed to end the previous longest title drought of 17 years.
And the celebrations may have belonged to a more modern, pyrotechnically choreographed age, but there was no doubting the sense of ecstasy that connected the players and manager to supporters who gathered outside the ground or huddled around TV screens in every corner of the world.
The eloquent Jurgen Klopp had issued a carpe diem call to his players. A decree to seize the day, embrace the fruits of their hard work and imagine that the stadium was packed to the rafters.
He and the squad took to a makeshift stage on the Kop looking like a shower of matchday tourists who had wandered in from the museum: scarfs around wrists, reverse baseball hats and flashing phones, their faces beaming as they looked down at the green brilliance of the Anfield pitch under floodlights.
The man chosen to hand over the medals and the trophy was Kenny Dalglish. Chosen because he was the club’s most celebrated player and the manager who was last in charge when Liverpool were crowned English champions in 1990. An umbilical link to a glorious past.
Outside Anfield, as the delirious crowds thickened against police advice, fireworks soared and the vast repertoire of songs was plundered. One in particular: “We’ve conquered all of Europe, we’re never gonna stop. From Paris down to Turkey, we’ve won the f****ng’ lot. Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly, the fields of Anfield Road, we are loyal supporters and we come from Liverpool…Allez, Allez, Allez.”
Those wise old sages, Paisley and Shankly, who built, then expanded, Liverpool until it became a dynasty that conquered the bloody world were looking on in bronze.
As fans clambered on to the statues of the two simple, working-class men who made it all possible, you couldn’t help but think how chuffed they would have been had they lived to see this day.