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The Unlikely Fan, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Liverpool FC

For many sports fans, supporting the team that you do is a matter of heredity, no less than your height or your eye color. It's the common thread that runs through the shared history of your family, and you can't even imagine life without it.

How does it become such an integral part of who we are? Maybe you are a descendant of a long line of supporters: your grandfather from Toxteth or West Derby bought you your first ticket, and one of your first and most enduring memories was standing on the Kop or in the Boys Pen and watching Rush or Roger Hunt bang in the goals like nobody's business. Perhaps you were well into adulthood when the love affair began: you visited Merseyside one day and were fortunate enough to visit the cathedral of football called Anfield. You inevitably left later that day, but the magic and history that rings throughout the ground never left you. Or perhaps you can pinpoint the very date and time you became a fan for life: maybe it was late in the evening of May 25, 2005, as the red half of Merseyside erupted in outpourings of joy, elation and indeed, ale.

Me however? It's a little more difficult to pin down exactly how Liverpool Football Club found me.

I, like so many Americans who didn't grow up living and breathing football, was the most casual kind of football watcher. On the rare occasion when I could remember that a match was on, I would take no more than a passing interest in the fortunes of the US men's national team. Sure, I paid more attention at World Cup time, but I was never devoted enough to be properly gutted when the team inevitably underperformed and got bounced out in the group stage or first knockout round.

It was right around the time of the 2008 European Championship and the 2010 World Cup that I became a more avid football fan all around. I supported the US team more, and I gained a greater awareness of the major players, like Klose and Ballack in Jogi Low's Germany side, or Aragones' La Furia Roja featuring one Fernando Torres at the peak of his natural talent. I was able to watch more matches outside of the major tournaments on television, and thanks to the Internet I was voraciously consuming all the news I could find, the funny Photoshops, clips of the great goals and cringe-worthy tackles. Though I was relatively new to the game I seemed to develop an addiction to it, one that couldn't be satisfied just every 2 or 4 years, or even by international breaks. I decided to find a club to support, and I suppose I naturally gravitated toward the English Premier League.

In my cursory research I gained a little understanding of all the big clubs in England. Manchester United or Arsenal? Meh. Lots of success in the league through the 90s and 00s, but I viewed both clubs as the exclusive provenance of glory hunters and others who bought a shirt and pleasured themselves to clips of Ronaldo and Giggs but didn't know George Best from Boy George. I am proudly NOT a gloryhunter, let's get that out of the way now. When you support a club, no matter how you come to the decision, you support the club through the good times and bad. Also, you need to understand the history of the club. Not just who the major players were and which manager won which trophy, but the events that shaped the club's identity and the values that the supporters hold dear to their hearts.

Anyway, back to our story. I knew of Chelsea and Manchester City as well, two clubs which often performed well but had not yet achieved such high levels of notoriety that they have today thanks to Russian gangsters and Arab oil barons with unlimited wealth and knowledge of how to exploit the system to their advantage. So, I can't say that either of them appealed to me at all. Tottenham Hotspur? I admit that I found Spurs kind of appealing. They always existed in the shadow of their bigger North London rivals, yet they were still very proud of their club. They had (and still do) a large Jewish fanbase and I, while not being a member of the Tribe, respected that given all the anti-Semitism that can sometimes show its ugly face in sport. So, even though I do not and never will support Spurs, I do have some level of respect for them among clubs that I do not.

For me, though, it was Liverpool FC that ticked all the boxes. A club with a long and storied history of success? Check. A history that is always dear to the supporters and shapes the identity of the club to this day? Check. A population that stands by their clubs (even the bitter blue ones) through good days and bad? Check. A club that, despite not winning the league since the 89-90 season, continues to develop some of Europe's brightest talents in Stevie G, Torres and Alonso? That too. I said to myself, "This is the club that I feel I most identify with, and this is who I am going to support", and always will.

The summer of 2010 when I became a supporter was not a very happy time for my new club, however. A very public rift had developed between manager Rafael Benitez and owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett and many supporters, particularly the supporters group Spirit of Shankly, took sides against the owners and their treatment of Benitez, a man who had delivered the club's fifth European Cup and had come so close to another as well as our 19th league title. This was not the only reason why Tom and George had to be excised from the club: they had loaded the club with hundreds of million of pounds of debt resulting from their purchase of the club, and creditors Royal Bank of Scotland sanctioned the sale of the club. In an absence of buyers, the club would have gone into administration by RBS, resulting in a points deduction and imperiling the club's chances of staying in the top flight for the next season. When John Henry and his consortium New England Sports Ventures stepped forward and put forth an offer that was accepted, the feeling was nothing less than the greatest relief. It was as if a new dawn had arisen at Anfield, the two turds named Tom and George had finally been flushed, we would have proper investment in the club, and we would be back on our perch in no time.

In May of 2012, the club under the leadership of Kenny Dalglish, a living legend by any definition of the phrase, the club finished eighth in the Premier League despite winning the League Cup. Kenny's subsequent dismissal from management was no easy decision and a heartbreaking one for all of our supporters. In our new manager Brendan Rodgers, though, we found a very intelligent young manager who had previously worked under brilliant manager/horrible human being Jose Mourinho, had a very clear philosophy of how he wanted his squad to play, and wanted to stay with the club for the long haul.

A couple months later in July of 2012 I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Boston and Baltimore to see the club that I now loved with all of my being play matches Stateside. I made all my own travel arrangements myself, at the time I was not connected with other supporters in the Atlanta area where I live. I just figured that I would meet other supporters in the course of my travelling (and drinking), and I did. Some were from Florida, California, Texas, Illinois, Canada, and I even met some wool from Birkenhead who had traveled over just to see his club.

It was in Boston though that, purely, by coincidence, I met the people who would become part of my Liverpool family in Atlanta. I was standing in line for autographs after a training session at Harvard University on a Wednesday, the day of their match against Roma at Fenway Park. I was eagerly anticipating the moment when Stevie G would actually sign my shirt and maybe pause for a photo when I heard a gentleman next to me named Raj Patel mention that he was from Atlanta. Naturally I introduced myself and the fact that I was from Atlanta as well, and Raj introduced me to Stuart Brennan, Adam Wright, Ben Butler, and Matt Whitcomb who were also there (LFC Atlanta: Please forgive me if I've forgot your name in the preceding sentence!). I'm proud to say that these guys, along with everyone I met upon returning to Atlanta and heading to Meehan's on the weekends, are very good friends of mine to this day. Two years later I had the chance to see LFC play once again, and some of those aforementioned friends and I travelled together, wandered around cities together, and got extremely drunk together. That is something else that I love about LFC that I have failed to mention until now: it can help forge friendships that will endure for years and years.   

Since those manic days in October some four and a half years ago we've seen an eleven win streak that helped us come within two points of winning the league on the last day of the season, and we've seen some stagnant, boring football that has us wondering why the hell we woke up at 6:30 on a Saturday to watch. We have seen two managers depart, and we have also seen the back of several players; some of whom we were devastated to see leave, and some of whom we were relieved to see leave (and somehow get a transfer fee for!). The history of this magnificent club is being written every day though. Individuals come and go. Results will be good, and results will be bad. But if there is one immutable truth, it is that Liverpool Football Club will always go again.

David Jackson, 4 February 2015

                   

                   

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