Més Que Un Column

Throughout sport, you’re always told to try and be the best. Whether that’s the best in the league, the best of the rest, staying up, or in the case of the French League, finishing second after a bunch of lads from Paris who are cheating.

You’re never really told “let’s just go for third this year lads”, provided first and second aren’t unrealistic. In general, everyone follows S Club 7’s advice in reaching for the stars. Even if you’re Neil Warnock faced with managing Cardiff City, and the metaphorical stars happen to be nineteenth position and certain relegation, you still go for it. Why wouldn’t you?

As supporters, we’re taught the same. We always want our sides to become bigger, better, stronger and ultimately more successful, both on and off the pitch. What football fan would take a double if you could have a treble, or even a treble when you could claim a quadruple?

But for the ‘bigger’ clubs, there does seem to be a limit on this. A point where too much success actually numbs that success in question. Either that, or maybe I was just dropped as a child. Wouldn’t rule it out if I were you.

You’ll hear countless Liverpool fans oppose the idea that Manchester United are the bigger club of the two North-Western giants, and you’ll hear even more scoff at the idea of the Mancs being ‘the biggest club in the world’, as so many of the Old Trafford faithful believe.

I’m not like that. Somewhat perversely, I’m often slightly relieved when I hear someone claim that ‘them lot’ down the road are “bigger” than us.

Maybe it’s because I’m not from Liverpool and I’m just afraid of being considered a glory hunter if the Reds ever achieved a Ferguson-esque era of dominance.

I hope it’s that, because defending Mourinho so much over the last few months is starting to have me worried about my allegiances. Finding out that I actually love Manchester United would be like finding out that I’m adopted. Again, I wouldn’t rule it out (mainly the United thing, but maybe the adoption too).

I think above all though, it’s the fear of the numbness I mentioned earlier. By definition, someone has to be the best. But being the best and having a Bayern Munich or a Juventus-style dominance over your competitors surely must rob you of so much of what makes being a football supporter so special.

Firstly, there is, of course, the boredom factor. I’m starting to experience it for the first in my life. Even though I’m very much ‘Yer Da’ in many ways, I’m far too young to have seen the glory days of Dalglish, Barnes and Hansen. I can only just about remember Djibril Cisse spending about 80% of his Liverpool career offside.

Liverpool’s gradual progression towards being a serious football team over the last three years has meant more and more teams coming to Anfield looking not to get humiliated, rather than come looking for a draw, or maybe looking to knick a win.

Last month, we played Southampton at home. Every man, woman and child who passed through the turnstiles before kick-off could tell you what was going to happen, and it did. Liverpool strode to a 3-0 lead by half-time, and that’s how it ended.

Sure, it’s the footballing equivalent of a first-world problem. I accept that. But it was nowhere near as enjoyable as when Southampton came on the opening day in 2014/15 and we needed a late Daniel Sturridge goal to win 2-1.

Imagine being a Bayern Munich supporter in recent years. You turn up to 90% of home matches knowing the outcome in advance, only waiting on whether the scoreline will finish as a 5-1 or a 4-0. Even Dortmund, who are meant to be fairly good (it’s anyone’s guess though in fairness, who actually watches the foreign footy?), got beat by the Bavarians 6-0 last year.

As a fan, and even as a player, you wait for two games a season. Those games being the two legs of the Champions League semi-final.

Imagine that. Imagine having such a monopoly over your league and being so much better than every team you play that your season can be deemed unsuccessful even if you win the league and cup double. How grim. How lifeless. How pointless.

Yes, it’s winning every week. But in the same way that food can’t be enjoyed unless you go a while without some (can someone tell that to Allardyce?), winning is lifeless and emotionless unless you lose once in a while.

The Galacticos’ victory in Kiev last May was the pinnacle of a group of supporters being spoilt rotten, and not enjoying it anywhere near as much as they should due to their team’s brilliance. I’m sure the Real Madrid fans had a good day out in war-torn Ukraine. But the euphoria of a European Cup Final win surely only lasted till the next morning, unlike a Roma or a Liverpool, who’d only just be getting around to wrapping up the celebrations about now.

Now they pay for it further, as endless success has developed high expectations from the board, and to a lesser extent, the fans. Eight matches in and fourth in the league, yet Julen Lopetegui’s replacement is already being lined up according to several news outlets. He’ll almost certainly face the same fate that Rafa Benitez suffered three years ago before the end of this season. It’s just what Madrid do.

You can shove your projects or sentimental values up your arse. It’s win or bust. It’s nice to see the club try and lose a few games though, they’ve got the fans in mind.

Throughout sport, you’re always told to try and be the best. That’s fine. But when you get there, remember the shitty days of years gone by. Winning three European Cups on the bounce isn’t to be sniffed at, and they’re much more enjoyable if you’re the underdog.

It’s alright though. It can’t be long before everyone else stops being tricked by the illusion and realises that Liverpool are actually a bit crap this season.

All the best lads and ladies.