Current Sports News: Even the most fervent of die-hard Liverpool fans don’t wax lyrical about the 1989-90 season. Sure, Liverpool were crowned champions of England, but that happened so often in those days it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
Indeed, at the end of a campaign that saw the team comfortably win the old First Division (the precursor to the Premier League), the feeling was something of an anticlimax. Supporters, spoiled by a decade of unparalleled glory, expressed disappointment that the team hadn’t been able to complete the league/FA Cup double.
Furthermore, there was a sense that the recapture of the title merely put right the loss of it the previous season, when Arsenal snatched away the trophy in dramatic fashion on the final day of a campaign marred by the tragedy of the Hillsborough disaster, where 96 lives were lost.
“There wasn’t a grand celebration or an eruption of civic joy,” remembers lifelong fan and Liverpool resident Michael Derry. “If we’d known how long we would have to wait, we might have celebrated more.”
Back then it was unthinkable that Liverpool, 18-time champions of England, would go even a couple of years without adding to that number. But, with the combination of changing generations, an influx of television money emboldening new challengers, Liverpool’s 1980s stars declining, and the rise of Manchester United, a blip became a downturn, and then manifested into three decades of disappointment.
On Thursday, that empty streak finally came to an end. Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over second-placed Manchester City meant Liverpool could not be caught and would finally be champions again.
“It has been a long time for the fans,” head coach Jurgen Klopp said. “I knew it means the world to them – it means the world to me.
“What I love is when you have a successful football club in your city it gives the whole city a lift. I am really happy for our people.”
Of course, winning the title was always going to be a formality – as long as the season was completed. Going into the shutdown necessitated by the coronavirus, Liverpool led by an extraordinary 25 points, a lead that was truthfully insurmountable, but not mathematically so.
Spearheaded by the tactical brilliance of Klopp, the team used the electrifying talents of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane for its attacking impetus, and the defensive majesty of Virgil Van Dijk for its steel, and the captaincy of English stalwart Jordan Henderson to keep things ticking smoothly.
This time will be celebration, within the boundaries of what is allowed due to COVID. It has been a long time. The team has never lost its cult following, but anyone in their mid-30s or younger who supports Liverpool doesn’t know what this feeling is like. They’ve had to see Manchester United dominate, Manchester City emerge, and sit through the disappointments like 2014, when club icon Steven Gerrard slipped in a critical game and the championship was lost.
A year later, Klopp arrived.
“For all the extravagance of their play and their statistics, this is a success that has been built on almost half a decade of unrelenting toil,” Andy Dunn wrote in the Daily Mirror.
Once the fears of the season being scrapped altogether were set aside, it is perhaps appropriate that Liverpool won it like this, having overcome some unforeseen disruption.
When they won the Champions League in 2004, for the most meaningful triumph since the 1980s, it was on the back of an extraordinary fightback from 3-0 against AC Milan. They were crowned as Europe’s top club again last year, beating Tottenham in the final, but still couldn’t get over the domestic hurdle as Manchester City put together a remarkable season.
“Nothing else feels real at the moment,” Derry, the long-term supporter, said. “But, after everything, this feels real somehow.”
While every sport struggles with a return to something approaching normalcy, soccer has a lot of good news coming from it right now. The return of Europe’s top leagues have generally gone well and provided a much-needed psychological lift in those countries. In the United States, the National Women’s Soccer League returns this week, with Major League Soccer soon to follow.
For American followers, the group of U.S. internationals plying their trade in Europe are flying – it was Christian Pulisic’s expert goal for Chelsea that helped Liverpool seal the title. And how about highlights with the Sydney Opera House serving as the screen, a move taken in celebration of Australia and New Zealand winning hosting rights to the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
As storylines go, though, it is impossible to top Liverpool’s history, emotion and how much it means to those who hold their fortunes dear. It was a long wait, not just over the past three months, but much further back than that. It’s over now, and this time, they’re ready to enjoy it.