It was hard to gauge just what Sunday was meant to be at Anfield in terms of reactions to the impending departure of Jurgen Klopp, as there was a little bit of everything.
Whatever the emotions were, it mostly bubbled under the surface rather than boiling over, both for those of us in the stands and the self-declared ‘old man’ himself on the touchline.
There was no weeping and wailing from the supporters, and there was no overtly emotional displays from the soon to be ex-Liverpool manager, although he would later confess to having to work diligently at keeping a lid on his feelings.
Forever the consummate socialist and team man, we know he disapproves of renditions of ‘I’m so glad that Jurgen is a Red’ when a game is in process, but there it was during the early exchanges against Norwich, and there it was again towards the end, just a little louder and a bit more prolonged.
Conscious not to let sentimentality run amok, Klopp took to the pitch after the 5-2 victory over David Wagner’s side to shake hands with as many people as possible, to put his arm around a shoulder or two, and to give polite and considered applause to all four sides of the stadium when taking a circular, but not expanded route back towards the tunnel.
I’d class it as an acknowledgement saunter rather than anything that resembled a lap of honour.
How should we feel?
Emotional but at a vague loss of how to react, apart from those supporters that traditionally make a dart for the exits from 88 minutes onward, everyone else stayed at the final whistle, unsure whether it was OK to head home or if there would be some Klopp fist pumps to respond to.
The boss chose to downplay the moment, maybe not trusting his own feelings to remain intact, let alone ours.
For their part, the players seemed to brush it all off as business as usual.
Back in the car after the game, when Virgil van Dijk popped up in a BBC Radio Merseyside post-match interview, he was asked how it all felt in regards to the day.
His response was that it was nothing out of the norm before the penny dropped that his inquisitor meant the concept of his manager departing the club, rather than events involving kicking a ball around for 90 minutes or so.
Calm as you like, our captain then opted for a few “well obvs” throw away lines, followed by a broader theme that all-but spoke of “you do realise Klopp’s still going to be around for another three and a half months yet?”
Rather than there not being a dry eye in the house, it was more a case of there not being a soul who wasn’t loosely off-balance in the house.
Do we celebrate, do we mourn, do we serenade, do we ignore all of the above and just get on with the matter at hand and meet our side of the deal in trying to help Liverpool into the next round of the FA Cup?
In the stands, we did a little of each element in bite-sized servings. Support was there, but it wasn’t vocal enough for Norwich‘s followers to enquire if Anfield was a library or not from their own songbook, and the afternoon was bookended by the breaking of rules in booming out ‘I’m so glad’.
Jurgen will always be one of us
Even outside the ground beforehand there seemed to be an air of confusion in what we were all meant to be doing and talking about.
As I parked up, I was pleasantly surprised to look to my left to see familiar faces stumbling out of another car, faces I hadn’t seen since the 2022 FA Cup final, faces I shared an iconic trip to Istanbul with almost 20 years ago.
Rather than chatting about how they’ve been in the 20 months since I last saw Gary and Elvis, we ploughed straight into Klopp talk, with family enquiries a near afterthought. It was uplifting to see them, and promises of a pre-match pint were exchanged for some time soon.
Make the most of these scenes of Klopp in front of the Kop ?? pic.twitter.com/1GAuxROEwW
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) January 28, 2024
At the Hillsborough memorial I caught up with a wonderful new friend, Anne, and her marvellous Greek, yet Vienna-based mate, Tasos, who was attending Anfield for his very first time, a man who was even able to show me how to use my phone properly. All initial chat gravitated to Klopp. It was uplifting to see them.
Within the ground, at half-time I bumped into a spectacular gentleman we know as Wally the Hat. He gained this moniker due to being called Walter and being spotted at football grounds up and down the country in a distinctive hat.
We conversed for 10 minutes about Klopp, presumably leaving his good lady wife Karen wondering where he’d disappeared to. It was uplifting to see him.
This trio of lovely meetings in and around the game was a timely reminder of the reasons I love football so much. Managers, players, seasons, form, they are all fleeting aesthetics, whereas the core collective of support remains the bedrock.
It was here before we arrived, and it will be here after we’re gone. In this respect, we shouldn’t begrudge Klopp his will to leave, nor his desire to deflect attention away from him as an individual to the collective of his team instead.
The herd will do as it will though, and timing is everything in football. And within this Klopp’s timing of announcing he’s going to be off at the end of the season has left him with a double dose of reverence and supporter contemplation to deal with.
On Wednesday night, for the Chelsea game, there will be a lot of supporters who weren’t in attendance on Sunday, and they’ll need to indulge in their own desires to pay homage.
Apart from emotions and all that, the game itself was embraced warmly.
It had plenty to distract from thoughts of impending footballing managerial loss, inclusive of five goals for, some comedy near misses, one of the two we conceded being pretty magnificent, impressive performances from experienced and inexperienced alike, some key returning players getting minutes, and a place in the next round obtained.
In many respects, Sunday marked the first game of the rest of our lives, as now Klopp has committed to an exit strategy then things will never quite be the same again.
Our relationship with him will change day upon day, week upon week, month upon month, game upon game, and hopefully trophy upon trophy until we reluctantly wave him goodbye.
When Klopp does vacate the manager’s office, the collective will still be here though, something of which he will forever be a part.
Up the Reds.