Saturday, April 12, 2008

Falling in love again

A love under control, a passion within bounds: That was how I always viewed the emotional ties I have with Liverpool – not the city, but the football club.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how this attachment, support, fascination, mild obsession – whatever you wish to call it – how it all began. I know the rough time frame (impressionable early teen in the 1970s) and the medium (the delayed weekly highlights and the occasional live telecast of finals, grounded on daily reports in the back pages of newspapers). But the firing of an imagination, the falling in love; that will forever remain a mystery and the domain of poets.

What I do remember is being transfixed by Steve Heighway rampaging down the left flank in a red shirt. The centre forward-centre back duels were all physical, crunching tackles; argy-bargy, clashing of heads, Henry V stuff. Not my cup of teh tarik. Wing play, however, was pure wizardry. Speed of thought and nimble limbs led to defenders on their bums. Ghosted past and teased were adjectives used to describe the effect Heighway and his ilk had on flustered fullbacks. Poetry in motion? More like a sonnet in red.

Today, I shudder at the thought that I might have become a Manchester United fan, as I was equally enraptured by Steve Coppell, who flew down the opposite wing for the other team in red. I took the high road, I now realise, because the left is my reflexive position, in matters other than sport as well!

Leaving behind the comforting world of home and education, and plunging into the bad world of having to earn a living, coincided with the decline of John Barnes (another nifty lefty) and the club in general. My passion held strong – I watched the matches on TV, debated with friends, read the papers, devoured the British press online after online became a word. I even made it to Anfield, with an authentic Liverpudlian by my side…

Yet, Liverpool was no longer an all-consuming affair as it had to fight for space with so many other things that grips one’s life in adulthood. At the club’s depths, and there were many in the 1990s, I brooded but never came close to rage, despair or suicide. At the height of Liverpool’s current renaissance, the unlikely and fairytale triumph against Milan, I screamed as loud and lustily as any frustrated fan did that day, but I watched the penalty shoot out, willing Jerzy Dudek to stop every kick, with eyes wide open. I didn’t need to avert my gaze at the pivotal moments; it wasn’t like the be all and eand all of everything, you know.

Until this past Wednesday.

It was almost 4 am in the morning and I had been up for an hour or so, willing the Reds to beat Arsenal. In the wonderful game that was trying to cram all of life’s highs and lows into 90 minutes (that’s what it felt like), I was at the lowest of low when Adebayor scored with six minutes left. That’s it. Head on chest. We’re done. And then, penalty. For us. And as Gerrard placed the ball on the chalk that marked the spot, I brought my hands up. And covered my face while squinting my eyes. Couldn’t bear to look. Waiting to hear the roar (or collective groan) of the crowd.

That night, Liverpool became life and death again.