In Mauritius, children start choosing their favourite football team at around the age of nine. The choice is simple really: Manchester United or Liverpool FC. Sure, there are some odd ones who would have chosen Arsenal, Leeds or Newcastle..but they were always a minority. And perhaps now, Chelsea has entered the equation-due to their recent successful history.
So, in due time, I also was confronted with that choice. In fact, at that age, friends were more concerned by the team you were supporting than your name. Well, my family had no football-connection whatsoever…my father, whatever he says, is not particularly fond of football.
My friends were mostly Manchester United fans by now( I later learnt that they won the ‘unique’ treble that year). So , as the overweight, slightly arrogant, glory-hunting kid that I was, I chose Manchester United.
And for the next whole year, I enjoyed the superiority of being a Manchester United fan, along with the ability to taunt other fans(particularly Arsenal ones-I did not know the anti-connection with Liverpool FC, just yet). It was nice to be able to boast that ‘my’ team was the best in, let alone Europe, in the world. However, I was still not a football fan.
And then, it happened. Stunningly abrupt. I saw Anfield. I don’t remember which game it was- though I am pretty sure it was in 2000. What changed in that instant? I am not sure. It was just the atmosphere, I suppose. Or was it the chorus of ‘You’ll never walk alone?’ (Although, of course, I thought it was a lot of screaming at the time). I still don’t really know. But something clicked then and after a few mesmerising seconds, I jumped from my reverie just in time to hear the announcer say ( with an obvious biased relish): “THIS is Anfield, the home of Liverpool Football Club…”. I watched the match and suddenly, I was no more a Manchester United fan.
Thankfully, I did not receive much stick when I announced that I was ‘changing’ teams- the one who did was those joining United from smaller ( or as we termed them ‘lesser’) teams. And the love story began- I started to learn about the history of Liverpool, the recent history of the club( I did not learn about the legacy of Shankly, Fagan or Paisley yet-this would come at a much later stage), its players( Michael Owen was a kind of God in my eyes), and perhaps more importantly I started to love football itself.
Being born in 1989, I missed many things- the glory of the 70’s and 80’s and the hurt of the 90’s. I never actually saw McManaman in a Liverpool shirt! But I did witness the rebirth of the 2000’s. A lot of fans from other clubs liked(in the pre-Benitez era) to chant ‘You are famous no more ‘ Really? The last time I checked we did the treble in 2001…and then I knew. I can accept stick from Manchester United fans- after all they have the most glorious recent history.
But I can’t stand stick from the likes of West Brom or so on. But why would such fans be aggressive towards Liverpool? Simple. Because people hate winners. And nowadays-Liverpool FC is very much a winning team. Of course, there was the setback of the late years of Houiller. He was a great man and manager, and changed the face of Liverpool- even attending a match just days after heart surgery. He was even supporting Liverpool with all his might during the 2005 Champions League Final. He re-instilled the Liverpool spirit but got undone by keeping faith in too many mediocre players- I would not cite names, just nicknames like ‘The next Zidane’. There came a point where he had to go.
Then came the revolution in the form of Rafael Benitez. And we all know what happened. He won the Champions League and FA cup in his first two seasons, and moulded Liverpool from a side struggling for a 4th place , to a team almost on par with Chelsea and Manchester United. People will say that Liverpool finished 4th last season, but the gap between 4th and 5th is now at its hugest. And people seem to underestimate what Benitez did.
Remember: Morinho had inherited a world-class side, while Manchester United and Arsenal were already under reconstruction. Liverpool had a huge lateness to catch up with. But that is the past. Since Benitez arrival, a lot has been said against him- particularly by Manchester fans. And I know why- I have seen it too- this man is very much alike to Ferguson- the same tactical astuteness coupled with the same ruthlessness. And they are afraid of it.
Liverpool FC means a lot to me- very much like a member of the family. It impedes a lot on my mood , and I sincerely think that if this club did not exist, I would be somehow incomplete. And it does hurt when native fans tell me I am just a glory-hunting fan. I mean I even love to hate Everton now! When will I fall out of love with Liverpool FC? Well, the problem is that I never actually fell in love with it- I GREW in love with this amazing club..slowly, the relationship growing everyday. I just hope I will visit Anfield one day- after all, it all began there. And being in Preston, Anfield is just a few hours away.
The club is currently on a 19- years English title drought. Is this their, or rather, our year? Well, I certainly hope so- at least this seems the most exciting football season I’ve ever seen . And, it would be fantastic for Liverpool to win its first Premier League Crown in my first year in England( as an undergraduate in Preston), its 19th league title after a 19-year-wait while I am myself 19. It does not get more romantic than that…You’ll never walk alone…
Written by Appanah Rowin.
This article is a submission for the Soccerlens 2008 Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here. The competition is sponsored by Subside Sports (premier online store for football shirts) and Icons (official signed football jerseys).