The city of Liverpool is famously split in two. Red or blue. Anfield or Goodison Park. Liverpool or Everton. The two halves get along until derby day, when hostilities froth over like an exuberant pint, momentarily quenching an insatiable thirst for local supremacy.
The Scouse accent you hear on the streets is unique, the banter renowned and relentless. In between that banter, though, one of Europe’s most diverse cities is a kaleidoscope of culture, music and religion. Residents coexist with a healthy respect for each belief and norm.
A massive painted mural of Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp went up in the city’s Baltic quarter in November. On the corner of Jordan and Jamaica streets, you’ll find the bespectacled rock star tugging at the liver bird on his chest with a caption that reads: “We are Liverpool. This means more.”
Everton fans take the mickey out of it, wondering why they have to endure seeing the face of the enemy whenever they visit a thriving part of the city. Deep down, of course, even they understand that Klopp is the closest a German can come to being a Liverpudlian. He is mad, in the sincerest sense of the word.
A dreamer. A cajoler of men and the heartbeat of a dressing room dreaming of even more glory. All this exuberance and the emotive swell means more to him, too.
It is an increasingly rare thing that a football club has a manager whose philosophy is cut from precisely the same cloth. Football is evolving and many clubs have sold their souls in pursuit of relevance.
At Liverpool, there is a sense that Klopp is the perfect man for the job because his brain ticks as maniacally as the fan on the Kop. He is as optimistic as he is opportunistic, never missing a chance for a chuckle. Life is too short to walk alone and wallow.
Affection and attention
You see his persona at the end of each match as he seeks out every member of his team, hugging and slapping them on the back. In a world increasingly fuelled by money and power, Klopp is part of the rare few that use affection and attention to detail as their unique selling point. All of this matters to him.
It speaks volumes about his power of persuasion that he got his squad to dig deep and dust themselves off after their Uefa Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in May 2018. Forward Mohamed Salah rifled in an early penalty against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool went on to win 2-0 this year, wiping away the pain of the previous final and setting Liverpool on their way.
The artist behind the Klopp mural is Akse. He has created previous murals of such luminaries as Stephen Hawking, Muhammad Ali and David Bowie.
That Klopp has now been emblazoned on to the bricks and mortar of a city that has taken him to heart shows his influence. On match days, the Baltic corner hosts screenings of matches. It was an incredible place to be on Saturday 1 June, as the red half of the city took in the Champions League final in Madrid.
Given the slightest chance, they sing You’ll Never Walk Alone. This is Liverpool’s party trick. An intrinsic part of football culture around the world, the volume is cranked right up in times of rapture.
Walk on, walk on,
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll neeeeeeever walk alone
So the iconic anthem of this enduring club goes, as its players write chapter after chapter of continental lore. Their history and bottomless hope for the future has attracted millions of Reds dreamers from around the world.
Sing when you’re winning, sing when you’re hurting. On the occasion of their sixth Champions League victory parade, Klopp’s side was serenaded by a public choir viewed in person and online by about a million people. They came from all over, red with pride and relief.
A fitting end
This gathering was their reward after a season of such intoxicating football that even rivals agreed they deserved something. It wasn’t the Holy Grail of a Premiership title, which would have broken a three-decade domestic famine, but it was a European delicacy on which all could feast. Given the torture of a league race in which the lead swung to and fro between Manchester and Anfield, Liverpool and its fans needed the Champions League win. Desperately.
The final on 1 June was the business, Sunday was the pleasure. Jordan Henderson, a captain who some may not have previously regarded as a player befitting a Reds leader, stepped up magnificently over the course of the last six months of the season. He became the rock.
He is no Steven Gerrard, but it’s tough to emulate an England player that has had cup finals named after him and European football aristocracy fawning over him.
Sir Alex Ferguson was disparaging about Henderson in his book, saying that the lad from the northeast had an unusual gait when he ran. Ferguson also said he never regarded Gerrard as a “top, top player”, so critiques from the biggest rival must always be tempered with a pinch of perspective.
Henderson is Henderson, and he ran like a man possessed last season. Perhaps it was a drive that came from witnessing his father’s battle with cancer. They might say football matters more than life and death in these parts, but the fragility of human life puts that into sharp perspective.
At the final whistle in the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, Henderson made a beeline for the family section. There, he let it all out, engulfing his father in a passionate embrace. At times like that, when a family has faced the eternal final whistle that is death, this means more.
From watching to walking
As the victory bus made its way through the city on Sunday 2 June, Henderson was at the front, screaming his ecstasy for the world to hear. This mattered to him. Next to the club captain, among dozens of red-eyed teammates, young Trent Alexander-Arnold took it all in.
His story, perhaps, is the most poignant of the lot. In 2005, as a young boy of barely six, he watched Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and the rest of the Istanbul Miracle Men – the Reds team that overturned a 3-0 deficit from the first leg to defeat AC Milan on penalties and take the Champions League title in 2005 – parade through his neighbourhood, celebrating their victory.
He watched starry-eyed and dreamt of one day being a footballer. Perhaps even for Liverpool, who trained down the road from his family home. Like thousands of other young Scouse hopefuls, Alexander-Arnold peeped through the cracks in the wall during Reds training and watched Gerrard pinging passes across the turf and Luis Suarez nodding them in.
The seed was sown back then and, in the same year, he won a lucky draw in his class at St Matthew’s Catholic Primary School to attend a Liverpool summer camp. Within half an hour of him playing, the club scouts asked him to come back for formal training.
He rose through the ranks at Liverpool – as a ball boy, a trainee, a youth graduate – before pulling on the first team jersey on 25 October 2016. Just two and a half years later, he walked out to play against Tottenham in the biggest club fixture in world football.
He’s Alexander-Arnold, he’s Alexander-Arnold
He’s Alexander-Arnold, he’s the Scouser in our team
That is his song from the Kop, a simple but sincere salute to one of their own. That matters deeply in these parts, that thread of locality. A big-money signing can capture the imagination with 30 or 40 goals a season, but a little lad who makes it all the way captures the heart of the entire football club.
Alexander-Arnold has embraced the responsibility that comes with his standing as a local lad done good. “I’m just a local lad from Liverpool, living out his dream,” he beamed after the final whistle in Madrid.
He then tore across the turf and sang with the fans. On the victory bus, he waved and waved, picking out familiar faces among the thousands. How could that not be a dream for a boy who grew up a stone’s throw from the Reds machine.
There, too, was Salah, and Sadio Mane, and Fabinho, and Roberto Firmino. There was James Milner, who left the billions of Manchester City to become part of the furniture at Anfield in a classic case of money not always being able to buy what he got last season.
They are all cult figures, from different parts of the world, and they are all serenaded with their own songs by a fan base that reiterates Liverpool Football Club’s inclusivity.
Thousands upon thousands lined the path from Allerton, down the Queen’s Drive, past West Derby, Leeds Street, climbing towards the Strand and then, finally, into Blundell Street towards the majority of the fans gathered near the Unesco Heritage Waterfront, where this throbbing city meets the sea. For hours they sat and stood and crouched patiently, waiting for their heroes.
The celebrated convoy was tentatively expected to arrive in the nerve centre of the city at 6pm to show off their trophy. But fashionably late, much like their season’s reward, the Liverpool bus finally rolled into town at 7.25pm.
The place erupted, with fans gathered on hotel rooftops, apartment balconies, building sites, the tops of traffic lights and any other possible vantage point for a better view.
The liver bird that stands guard over Merseyside spewed rampant red dust over the party and scarlet confetti rained down from seemingly everywhere. Fireworks erupted from the Parliament buildings, their explosions drowned out by the choir of voices.
Allez, Allez, Allez
We’ve conquered all of Europe,
We’re never gonna stop
From Paris down to Turkey
We’ve won the fucking lot
Bob Paisley and Bill Shankley
The fields of Anfield Road
We are those supporters
And we come from Liverpool
Allez, Allez, Allez
A teary Klopp blew kisses to the crowds. Henderson hoisted the cup. Little boys and girls sat wide-eyed on the shoulders of their fathers, soaking in the magic.
If they didn’t already, they left the city knowing just why it means a little bit more in this part of the world, where you never walk alone.
As trains heaving with Reds fans made their way back to London close on midnight, the choir still wasn’t done. One more rendition of Allez, Allez, Allez rumbled through central London’s Paddington Station, before the remnants of the Reds fans disappeared into the night.
They will go again from Friday 9 August, dreaming of victory for their mad German and his conquerors of Europe, singing through the grim and the glorious. It’s the Liverpool way, and they will never stop.