A first defeat for Jurgen Klopp proves that he is human. And his rage against the early-leaving hoards of Liverpool ‘fans’ shows he’s just like the sane amongst us: both angry and perplexed by his fans leaving the game before the final whistle with his side still chasing a late equalising goal.
It’s a thoroughly modern phenomenon that sees fans all over the country leave their seats before the final whistle. But, unless you have a better excuse than ‘beating the traffic’ for leaving before the end of a game your team could still nick a point from, you can hardly lay claim to caring deeply about your team.
But at Liverpool, it’s affecting the team. It’s not the actual fans, properly-called, who present a problem for their side beyond what they see on the pitch week-in and week-out. But it’s still fair to say that the atmosphere around Anfield isn’t what it used to be.
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Anfield used to be a ground where men were separated from boys. Where Liverpool would use the fever-pitch atmosphere created by their adoring fans to intimidate opposition teams. Only the teams who were particularly confident in their ability to come into the fiery cauldron and play their own game were the ones who could come out alive.
Back in 1972-73, Manchester City were one of the best teams in the country – another team who have sadly lost their noisy support. Legendary figure Malcolm Allison had gathered his players on the old Maine Road pitch early in 1973 to hear the FA Cup fourth round draw being made over the radio. City were drawn against Liverpool away. The players’ heads sank upon hearing the news that they’d have to travel to such a difficult place so early in the competition.
Then Malcolm Allison got up and grinned from ear to ear, working himself up into excitement. The players were astonished. Allison told them how they were lucky to get to play at such an incredible ground with all the atmosphere and the fervent fans, it was one of the great grounds of world football, he told them. City managed a 0-0 draw and beat Liverpool at Maine Road in the replay. They were up for it and revelled in the occasion.
Only teams like that could get something from Anfield back in the day. Grounds like that are few and far between these days. Grounds where, if you don’t rise to the occasion, you get lost and soundly thrashed amidst a deafening crowd baying for blood.
And even in recent times that ardent fervour has been enough to carry them through. Just think of the atmosphere during the European nights when Steven Gerrard blasted Liverpool all the way through to a Champions League trophy in 2005, and in particular the last minute goal against Olympiakos.
Klopp had one of those grounds at Dortmund for years. The Yellow Wall of noise greeted his players onto the pitch at the Westfalenstadion, just like red wall used to bellow out You’ll Never Walk Alone from the Kop.
Anfield is still a tough place to go, but you no longer need to be a top team to go there and believe you can take points. It is now just a nice old ground with a bit of nostalgia for times gone by. The supporters either softened by years of a domestic Mancunian dominance that now looks to London for rivalry, or simply tourists ticking another Liverpool game at Anfield off their bucket list, with their half and half scarves around their necks.
It’s not the fault of Liverpool fans. It’s the same everywhere these days, apart from a very select few. But Liverpool used to be one of the few. And that’s enough to irk Klopp. He feels that he and his team deserve that as a bare minimum of support. And it’s hard to argue with him.
He demands intensity of his players on the pitch, but he demands intensity off the fans too. Is it too much to ask to stay until the end of the game in support of your team? If you pay all that money just to leave before the end of the game, then the question is, is your team worth less to you than a ten minute head start on the journey home?