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A lesson in gratitude – 2 years on from Anfield’s last pre-pandemic match

Two years ago on March 11, 2020, Anfield hosted a capacity crowd for what would, unbeknownst to all, be the last time in 528 days as the pandemic turned the world upside down.

When Liverpool welcomed Atletico Madrid to Merseyside it was under an ever-growing cloud of COVID-19, but yet the show went on.

More than 53,000 took their place across each of the four stands, me being one of those, despite the concerns that would grind football and the world to a halt in a matter of days.

It was to be the last professional game played in front of a full crowd in England before lockdown, a time when social distancing, face masks and vaccines did not consume conversations.

In hindsight, the Champions League tie ought to have never been given the green light but as we’ve seen in the last couple of years, decisions are not always made with human compassion and well-being in mind.

The atmosphere on that night was one that had the unknown dangling overhead, and a bizarre capitulation after one of Liverpool’s more impressive performances of the season quickly forgotten in light of our new reality.

From that last whistle at Anfield to signal Atletico Madrid’s victory to the first at the next match, at Goodison Park, was 102 days.

There was then an entire season over 253 days that was played predominantly behind closed doors, our game deprived of the vibrancy we know and love.

It was football but without its heart, soulless and while it brought some semblance of normalcy to our lives the game, and Liverpool, were undisputedly a shadow of its former self.

I was 24 when the pandemic hit, I’m now 27 and it has certainly been a lesson in appreciation, for everything football is in my life and everything away from it too.

Jurgen Klopp was right when he repeatedly said the game is “the most important of the least important things.”

It’s one that has not been lost in my eye since Anfield was capable of opening the gates to a sea of red and a wall of noise, one I’ve been fortunate to be part of five times since.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 15, 2021:Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates at full time after the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 1 game between Liverpool FC and AC Milan at Anfield. (Pic by Paul Currie/Propaganda)

Ian St John hit the nail on the head when he uttered: “There’s no noise like the Anfield noise.”

It feels different now to be at Anfield, to be in and amongst thousands of people – like you’ve never left but that everything has changed all in the same breath.

It’s hard to take going to the game for granted anymore, nor to watch Liverpool do the business on the pitch — I’m eager to overlook the recent Inter defeat here!

You see different faces each and every time, ones taking Anfield in for the very first time and others for the thousandth; each with their own story of Liverpool’s role in their individual lives.

And two years ago it may have taken on a completely different meaning to what it does now.

Liverpool fans with scarves sing Allez Allez Allez (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Football is not just a game of chasing and kicking a bag of air, but a form of escapism, of community and of mutual love and appreciation that can have you wildly celebrating and embracing a person you’ve never even met and not think twice about it.

Those long car journeys home can still have you grumbling after one roadwork after another — not sure I want to see a cone ever again — but I wouldn’t change it after going so long without, nor the need to defrost in your car once you leave the ground!

It’s all the little moments that make up the experience of going to the match, all of which have been magnified in light of what would start to unfold two years ago.

A total of 730 days on from that chilly night at Anfield and the pandemic is still here, but those butterflies from going to the game are back and we’re watching Liverpool in vivid colour, in 4K Ultra HD as Klopp’s men chase history.

Don’t take it for granted. These are the days, Reds.

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