These remain the strangest of times. But as the French say, plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose; the more things change, the more they stay the same.
It’s eight minutes to kick-off before Liverpool v Arsenal, both teams with a maximum six points ahead of a fixture which would normally have Anfield brimming with people, passion, and possibilities.
Normally, I would be there, tipsy from a couple of hours in the pub with family and friends. A night with my match mates….the 306 Lift Crew ready to shout themselves hoarse, talk themselves to death over a half-time drink, and catch-up by the concourse elevator at the back of Kop Block 306.
Instead, I’m in a pub, totally sober, ready to watch the Reds play in an empty church with no congregation. While the teams line up, the pub karaoke is still in full swing and there’s a friendly blonde girl lashing out a recording artist-like rendition of Black Velvet.
So, no meet up with usual mates or family.
We have lost touch, primarily because of “contagion fear” and the widespread communication breakdowns that owe much to the human tragedy that is Covid19.
As many normal people are dying – in the main, metaphorically – of loneliness and isolation as the thousands of poor elderly folk; our ancient pillars of society finished off by a virus that is most deadly for its power of exclusion, especially in those last few dying days.
The venue tonight is my new local – The Brownlow – with my new mates, Dave and Natalie.
Dave is a Blue, with a handshake as gripping as a decent horror or drama, and a warm personality to match. “Come on Arsenal”, he shouts; attempting to wind me up, before revealing he’s struck a bet on Liverpool to win 3-1 coupled with Salah to get on the sheet. He explains that it’s an insurance bet. He’s happy if Liverpool lose, or happy if they win but his bet comes in.
I say, “Ahhh but Dave, you’ve not legislated for Liverpool winning, but not by 3-1 and Salah to score anytime. If your wagered special circumstance doesn’t come to pass you’re buggered either way. You lose and Liverpool win” – a nightmare for any bitter blue, and Nirvana for us Reds.
Dave knows. He’s not soft; he’s just playing the joker.
His lovely partner, Natalie shakes her head wistfully, lovingly, before losing eye contact with me, her peelers aimed suddenly at one of the 16 tellies on the walls. No offense to me though; Natalie is drawn to the screen as Salah threatens to score in full HD, until her brief flirtation with fella’s potential riches is ruined by a parry from the Arsenal keeper and Sadio Mane’s equaliser.
Mane is on fire.
The Senegalese has been “flames” for a while. Is he the best player in the world right now? I think he is and he deserves an adoring crowd but we share his separation anxiety, like so many with the ones we love amid this horrible, uber-false, suspicious existence that is foisted upon us.
After half an hour at 1-1, I move on in the hope of bumping into someone I know elsewhere.
I head through a deserted Liverpool City Centre; the populace exclusively indoors watching the Champions who bear the City’s name. The love is still there for the Reds but seriously, Football without Fans is Nothing.
Each upcoming fixture is a trick worse than this pandemic; momentary salivation akin to that of Pavlov’s Dog and then realisation that the food bowl is empty and so is the ground.
I opt for the Slaughterhouse for the second-half, on the other side of town. I get tracked and traced as I go inside, but give a false number. I’m not having the barmaid ripping off my contact details and sexting me in the middle of the night when I’m trying to get some kip. Joke, lads and lasses – taking my number is infringement of my civil liberty, something precious and already under threat from this pernicious authority.
Before I get to my second venue it is 2-1 to Liverpool; Andy Robbo brave-hearting his way to an atoning equaliser after a dipsy mistake to rival that of someone lovely but whose head is always in the clouds. Robbo of course, a left-footer full of passion, fire and brimstone will always remain my favourite Celtic Red.
What I don’t hear from the pub coverage, but do later on a LFC TV re-run, is the noise that accompanies the Reds’ goals; a sliver of home advantage – the ecstatic yells of celebration from an entourage so much bigger than that of the London visitors. Ball boys, subs, pressmen with Red hearts, and permissable LFC employees per se, all scream into the warm Liverpool night their love of goals two and three.
The third – the second-half clincher – is scored by the new boy, Diogo Jota, on debut.
A gorgeous Kop End volley. All the Reds converge and he deservedly gets his hugs. It’s a lovely moment. But there is no Kop for him to cascade its adulation; to throw down it’s unconditional love for a new son. Just an empty brick and plastic stand as the backdrop to the Portuguese’s special moment.
In the Slaughterhouse, strangers hug a lot when we score – breaking the law of the land. The drinks are in and the wits are out. Actually, no, our marbles are all there, still – just.
We do not dance to your tune, Boris – not where the Reds are concerned. I briefly hug a lad of 20-odd, same age as my son who I would normally embrace when we score at the game. For a second, it could have been him but it is not. More emptiness; the vacuum not just a hermetically sealed stadium that used to be our playground.
However, 3-1 to the Reds. Maximum points.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Up the Reds and down with The Ev. Dave, lad. Unlucky. No Salah goals. You lost the bet and we won as well. Buy you and Nat a bevvy though next time, so see you both Friday. Thanks for being my new mates.
Life without Friends is Nothing. Football without Fans is Nothing.
About the Author
Mike Nevin is the Director of Lobscouse Media and freelance writer for Anfield Index Pro, The Cricketer, and ATX Reds Press. He is also a contributor at The Liverpool Connection Podcast, based out of Austin, Texas.