Anyone who meets me more than once knows I am a rabid Liverpool fan. Even if they do not quite understand what that means. I live in America so most of my cohorts have no idea what support for a team looks like in Europe. We do get our fanatical fans in our sports. It’s not the same.
To be clear, I am a Liverpool supporter. I am going to talk about Leeds United. Then I probably won’t do it again. Until Liverpool next plays them. Unless they beat Liverpool. Then I will kick on as if the game never happened.
As Jurgen Klopp says “football is the most important of the least important things.”
I love that. For me, the beautiful game gives me hope, pulls joy from despair, and shows a path for life that I have never been able to put words to. It is no more and much more than a bunch of players kicking a ball about, everything and nothing at all at the same time. It shows what is possible when we can work together for a common goal. Even if the goal seems unlikely, even after doing a lot of things wrong.
In Liverpool’s first game of the 2020-2021 Premier League season, they faced Leeds United, a newly promoted team from the Champions League. Ultimately, Liverpool won 4-3 in a scrappy match riddled with Liverpool errors and saved by a Mo Salah hat trick, made possible by two Leeds penalties.
Much was made of Leeds United being promoted back into the Premier League after a 16-year absence. They had once been great. They had once won the league. The press is enamored of the tale, the great vanquished team coming back at last. Overcoming the sins of the past.
Back when I first fell in love with Liverpool in the mid 1980s, I don’t remember Leeds United at all. I do remember them in the late nineties and early 2000s, a team that seemed to be burdened with scandal after scandal.
I don’t remember details and timing, just the shadows of events. Two Leeds players were charged with assault of an Asian student, causing life-threatening injuries to him. The Leeds United management borrowed a large sum of money against the hope that he could pay it back with proceeds from European nights in Champions League football only not to qualify for Europe. This brought financial ruin to the club. On a night in Istanbul, two of their supporters were stabbed to death in a riot. Relegation, despite a streak of success, seemed inevitable. How could they overcome all that?
I was more worried about how Liverpool would overcome their being “knocked off their perch” by the damnable Manchester United under Sir Alec Ferguson. Liverpool had their own demons to overcome. The Hillsborough disaster of 1989 weighted heavy on the team. Some went so far as to blame us supporters for what could not have been our fault. It was rough and heartbreaking. It hurt the club. Our mentality no doubt suffered for the loss of lives on that horrific day.
Liverpool went through their own penance through a series of mismanagement and poor decisions. Thirty years. It took us thirty years to win the league again after being legendary for decades. So Leeds down in the lower leagues was not even on my radar. I did not think they could overcome the sins of their past. I was not certain Liverpool could either, but I never worried they would be relegated. I had hopes that Everton might be…ok, ok, I digress.
Sixteen years in the lower leagues and here Leeds United are again. Giving Liverpool, the reigning champions, a proper match. We all have our sins of the past to overcome. Sometimes it takes a few hours to put your ship right. Sometimes it takes sixteen years. Or thirty years. Or a life time.
While I have never assaulted anyone contrary to reputation or been caught in a riot or crushed in a stampede, I have bet financial stability against future success and lost. I have let my demons off their leash and nearly been devoured for letting them lash out at me. I have hurt others by my own inaction or caught in my own pain.
My body and soul have suffered for making poor decisions that I knew were risky or plain stupid, decisions made in despair. I fell into the trap of blaming a cruel world and my mental illness for my shortcomings. This never works. I have power over my own life .
No matter our circumstances, no matter what others would have us believe, we all have power over our own lives. And we can all find absolution and strive toward our best selves. Truth be told, most of us will never get there. But the point is not the ends but the journey to get there. The journey is a beautiful game. A dance that never ends.
There is power in acknowledging that, perhaps, we have not always done what is right for ourselves or others. And forgive ourselves. And each other. Nothing is more powerful than true forgiveness. It is an easy thing to write. A terribly difficult thing to do.
Strength, mercy, kindness, and humility are essential elements of renewal and always the hardest to bring out of ourselves. Invisible demons never quit their assault on us, lying and tearing us down. It takes hard work to beat the world back and push yourself toward your potential. Without exception, all individuals have a gift to bring to this life, a light in the darkness, or at least, to discover what hides in the darkness and create from it. Kick on.
And support Liverpool so that you will never walk alone in the wicked storms of this life.