Liverpool supporters getting creative in response to Jurgen Klopp request
The 236th local skirmish between Liverpool and Everton will be the most unique yet. A Merseyside derby for the history books.
Played behind closed doors amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, the Reds will travel across Stanley Park aiming for a third successive victory against their oldest rival this season.
Under the the bio-secure cover of a sterile Goodison Park, Jurgen Klopp’s side will look to pick up half of the six points needed to clinch a first league title since 1990 on Sunday evening.
Victory for Arsenal at Manchester City earlier this week will leave the runaway league leaders needing a win to make them champions of England for the 19th time.
That the prospect of winning a maiden Premier League title at Goodison Park in front of zero supporters is even a remote possibility is testament to the increasingly baffling times the world finds itself in mid-2020.
But still, such an event could come to pass. What odds for all this back in August?
At usually the most ferocious of bear-pits, Liverpool will visit the neighbouring enemy without concern for the near 40,000 baying masses they are traditionally confronted by on trips across Stanley Park.
One of the most intimidating atmospheres for any visiting team – let alone those in Liverpool red – Goodison will this time fall silent when the two teams lock horns.
After three months without competitively kicking a ball, Carlo Ancelotti’s resurgent, yet injury-hit, Blues will be hell-bent on denying any visiting success on their turf.
For Liverpool supporters, they have been forced to make peace with an inability to attend. There are patently more important factors at play at present and for the next nine games, the best seat in the house will be in the house.
“I heard a day ago a really good phrase about that we have the best home fans in the world,” Klopp surmised recently. “And now we need the best stay-at-home fans in the world.”
For the thousands who routinely descend on Anfield, though, adjusting to the ‘new normal’ may take some getting used to.
With the government-imposed lockdown restrictions gradually beginning to be eased by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, how are Liverpool fans preparing to welcome back their first game since mid-March?
Neil Brophy has been attending Anfield since a 1-0 defeat to Leicester City in 1997, but his match-day routine has been skillfully adjusted with some creative thinking.
“I’ve got a big screen and a projector, so I will put that up and have my mates in the garden,” he says. “I’ve put it in the garage and I am just waiting for a ceiling mount to hang projector now.
“But I think a few people have had the same idea because the projector is sold out now!
“It’s all a bit surreal isnt it? There were originally plans for a big night out when the title was won, but now it’ll have to be a socially-distanced party in the garden. It will still be great, but it is just a bit of a dampener.”
The garden parties are a familiar theme among an expectant fanbase, it seems.
“I’ve had my fan card for about 13 or 14 years,” says lifelong Reds fan, Paul Karisa. “My first ever game was back 1990. It was King Kenny’s testimonial against Real Sociedad and John Aldridge was playing for Sociedad.
“If I haven’t got a ticket for the match now, I normally stay at home and watch it, but if Arsenal manage to do us a favour on Wednesday, then I’ll probably be in one of my mates’ makeshift-pubs in the back garden to watch the derby.
“I’m heartbroken about not being able to be there to see us lift the title. But I’m sure we’ll get that chance in the next couple of seasons with the way things are going. This team aren’t going away anytime soon.”
Football fans are a superstitious bunch. Match-day rituals and good luck charms are part and parcel of the experience, but for supporters who are now unable to attend, how will such traditions manifest themselves from in front of the TV screen?
“Everything about going the game is a ritual,” says Chris Allan, a season ticket holder since 1998.
“The pre-match drink in the Church before the game. Standing in the same corner of the Kop concourse at half-time. Drinking warm Carlsberg…It won’t be the same not being there, but the beer will remain though!
“I think it’s important first of all to put some perspective on it. Missing out on watching us lift the title is insignificant compared to what many families have dealt with during this pandemic.
“Leaving that to one side, though, it stings. Massively. People have invested so much emotion and money over the years hoping to have ‘that moment’ which has unfortunately been taken from us.
“It sounds good even just saying the football is back. We’ve arranged for a few of us that usually go the game together to meet up for a BBQ and a few beers – socially distancing, of course.
“One of the lads has actually built a bar outside with a TV in there, so we’re all set.”
But with Liverpool on course to lift a first league title in three decades without their supporters around them and an open-top parade simply out of the question, will the surreal circumstances embolden Klopp’s charges to repeat the feat next time out?
“I think they will go again next season,” says Neil. “Like the Kiev loss drove us on to Madrid [in the Champions League].
“Obviously there is always Manchester City and Chelsea seem to be buying, but I think they’ve got that mentality now and the hardest to win is the first.”
It’s a theory that appears to be common among the club’s followers.
“You only need to look at this group of players’ mentality over the last two seasons,” Chris adds. “They lost the league with 97 points [last season]. They have come back and embarrassed the rest of the league.
“Given their track record who would bet against them doing it again next season? Hopefully we will all be there to see that one!”