“It’s kind of mad to think I woke up this morning thinking today could be the day,” says Leanne Prescott. “That’s kind of mad to think.” It was the morning after a 4-0 win over Crystal Palace at Anfield. Manchester City would lose to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge later that same evening, and Liverpool would be crowned Premier League champions.
The 30-year wait for the domestic league title to return to Anfield has now ended, but not before it created a generation of fans like Prescott for whom witnessing Liverpool win the Premier League has become a life-long ambition, bordering even on an obsession.
There are thousands – if not millions – of Liverpool supporters who have grown up following the most successful club in English football’s history without ever knowing them to be the best. In that time, they have left school, grown up, gone on to university or the workplace, some have even started families.
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They are of the same generation as many of the players in Jurgen Klopp’s title-winning squad. Like Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and others, they will have grown up knowing Liverpool as a good team, if not necessarily the great one recorded in the history books or spoken about by television pundits.
Some of them have travelled around the country and the continent to watch their club, others have attended as and when possible, many have followed from home or from the other side of the world. Football has given them more than their fair share of happy memories. Two Champions League wins, no less, and 17 trophies over the 30 years all told. But never that elusive league title until now.
Michael Crosby was always likely to become a Liverpool supporter, growing up in West Derby in the early 1990s, but the arrival of a new neighbour when he was only a baby made it all but inevitable. Graeme Souness was Liverpool’s manager at the time, his best friend lived next door to Crosby’s parents and, shortly after joining from Bournemouth, Jamie Redknapp moved in.
“I used to call him Jamie ‘knapp ‘knapp,” Crosby says, with an understandable hint of embarrassment. When he was little older, he would play football with Redknapp in the street, hoping to make a lasting impression. “I sent him a message when he was at Southampton and he didn’t reply to me! Well, maybe he doesn’t remember.”
Crosby and his fellow match-going friends Tom Hesketh and Jack Jenkins are all of a similar age and were all brought up around stories of a golden era they had been born too late to witness. “Everyone would be like: ‘Liverpool were the best, they’d always win the league’. Well they’ve not won it when I’ve been here,” Crosby says. “Growing up for me it was Man United and you’d think that’s mad, that it used to be Liverpool.”
“My dad always said to me it was just a given really,” says Hesketh. “They’d just go stand on the Kop and it’d be like we’re going to win now, three or four nil. It was just a thing they did. Then, it just suddenly stopped.” Jenkins agrees. “I always speak to my dad about how it was when he was growing up, about the players he’d seen come through and win leagues, European Cups and titles and stuff, and it seems like two completely different eras.”
Josh Sexton, editor at The Anfield Wrap, credits his dad – born on Rockfield Road, just outside Anfield – as giving him his “football tuition” too, but remembers stories of great European nights more than anything else.
“He didn’t talk to me too much about the league-winning years because they just became so routine, in the same way in my generation it would be to United fans. I think it’s almost natural to take that in your stride when you win so many. The league title was so routine to them back then.”
And even then, Liverpool’s success was winning fans across the world. Big Zuu, the grime artist, grew up in west London but began supporting Liverpool because of his dad.
“He lives in Sierra Leone in West Africa, and he just told me that when they got colour TVs they were the biggest team at the time and they were wearing red, and he was just attracted to the red. I never grew up with my dad, I grew up with my mum but I always had contact with my dad back in Africa. It was just a thing, my mum used to say: ‘Ah, your dad supports Liverpool’, so I just adopted it.”
Most of Zuu’s friends growing up supported either Arsenal or Manchester United, and in the mid-2000s, he could not trade on former glories. “In my teenage years, I didn’t want to talk about football, man,” he says. “Even though we had all that success back in the day in the ‘80s, I wasn’t able to experience it. We won the league, the European Cup, Kenny Dalglish, but all that was before my time and a lot of my friends, they don’t really care.
“The argument was always: ‘You’ve never won a Prem!’ I always had to back it up by saying we won the Champs in 2005, you know, but when United beat Chelsea for the Champs that argument goes out the window. They had all the Prems, all the glory, so I went through most of my teenage life being able to celebrate one trophy and always not being allowed in the football conversation.”
The Liverpool supporters of this generation share a few common traits. Steven Gerrard is considered a legendary figure, predictably, but there is a lot of affection for Fernando Torres too. “Everyone was in awe of him,” says Prescott. “He sort of always has been for me a childhood figure that you look up to.”
The lowest moments, meanwhile, almost exclusively come from the start of the last decade, particularly the Roy Hodgson era. “My uncle from my Irish side is a massive Liverpool fan,” Prescott adds. “I remember during the Hodgson season, I was like: ‘Oh my God, this is awful. Can you tell me some happier stories?’”
Hesketh was in the away end for Hodgson’s final game in charge – a 3-1 defeat to Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park – and put his dad on speakerphone so he could hear the away end turning against a Liverpool manager. “You think this is mad, this,” he recalls. “We’re just back again to square one.”
The most painful memories, though, are the near misses. The dramatic 2013-14 title challenge is a particular source of regret. “The Gerrard slip, you know what, I always try to put that to the back of my mind,” says Zuu. For Jenkins, it’s the 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace. “That was one of the darkest days. Heartbreaking. Everyone says there’s more games to it, but that’s the one that stuck out for me.” That run had plenty of good memories as well as bad though, and helped rediscover something that had nearly been lost at the club’s lowest point: belief.
Crosby and Hesketh were at Upton Park together in early April as two Gerrard penalties secured a nervy 2-1 win. “I remember it for two reasons,” says Crosby. “One, Gerrard hit Tom with a shot in the warm-up and knocked him out. He had a concussion. Suarez was laughing, and I bumped into Gerrard a few months later and asked him and he was laughing his head off about it. But also because it was the first time everyone used to sing we’re going to win the league.” Hesketh gets goosebumps thinking back to that moment, which is presumably nothing to do with the concussion.
But even if there are far worse fates in football, having those hopes built up and then dashed was still difficult. “I remember having conversations with lads who are Wigan fans and Rochdale fans at university when we went close in 2014 and talking about how hard those moments were against Chelsea and Crystal Palace,” says Sexton. “They were saying how could I say that’s challenging when we’re on the brink of administration every year, having stadiums taken off them, that sort of stuff.
“I suppose because I am so spoiled as a Liverpool supporter over my lifetime, those probably would be the lowest moments. The other low moments under Hodgson and stuff, sure they didn’t feel great at the time, but when you look back you just accept them as being part and parcel of Liverpool not being a great side. It’s the time when Liverpool were a great side and you knew what they were capable of and then they do go close, that’s football at its most agonising as a Liverpool supporter.”
When attempting to end a 30-year wait for a league title, it doesn’t come much closer than posting the third-highest points total in Premier League history, only to be pipped by the second-highest. The final day of last season against Wolves at Anfield is still a fresh memory. The 83 seconds between Glenn Murray scoring for Brighton at the Amex – briefly sending Liverpool top of the table – and Sergio Aguero equalising for City are particularly vivid for those who were there.
“When you go to a game and you spend all day drinking, you look for different things in the day that go your way,” says Sexton. “I remember having a big breakfast that day, having a nice pint outside, it was absolutely roasting. If you could make a picture perfect day of going to the football, it would be that and I almost walked into the ground thinking: ‘Imagine if we don’t win the league today’.”
Zuu was driving up to Liverpool to play on the Anfield pitch after the final whistle. “I was watching the City game on my phone, and when Brighton scored and it was 1-0, that one minute feeling of winning the Prem? Oh my God. It was like the most joy I’ve ever had in my life. Brighton scored that corner, I was screaming in the car. I was thinking I’m driving to Liverpool, we’re going to win the Prem, I’m going to play on Anfield after we win the Prem. What more can I ask for?”
“Everyone’s going mad,” says Hesketh. “The shivers are down you. Oh my God, we’re going to do it! I remember they were going it’s 2-0, and the next minute it was 1-1, or 2-1 to them. It happened so quick. It was that euphoria. Tears were coming in your eyes. We’re going to do this! The players were even getting a bit itchy, passing the ball about.”
“It was like euphoria in a way. Fucking hell, we could do this,” says Crosby, who was sat in the Main Stand, “but deep down I knew.” Prescott was in the city, watching at a bar nearby Albert Dock. “You think this can’t be happening,” she recalls. “This is really it. Everything just comes at you at once and you have to take a moment, and then by the time you’ve taken a breath City have equalised and it’s back to normal.”
It was 83 seconds at the gates of heaven, waiting to be invited inside only to be turned away. “That’s the strange thing for me,” says Sexton. “If you’d asked me at the time what winning the league feels like, I’d probably have said it was that 30 seconds against Wolves when Brighton scored against City. But I’d probably now at this point say it’s Leicester away this season or United at home.”
Leicester away, United at home. Those are two games which come up in conversations over and over again. Crosby calls both pivotal moments. “Last year we got loads of stuff like that and didn’t win it, and I thought, is that it? Is that our ‘hit’ at all of them?” Hesketh thinks back to the 4-0 win at the King Power on Boxing Day and simply says: “That’s what winning the league is. When we beat United at home, when we beat Wolves, when we beat Villa.”
Not that you could say so, though. “You’re looking at each other and you’re both dying to say we’ve done it but you can’t,” says Jenkins. “You look at each other, you’re thinking: tough fixture, we went there, played out our skin. We’ve been to a few where you think I’ll take a point there, when you would’ve back in the day. You go back the last five years, you take points and win your home games. Now, we’re that strong and City are that strong as well, you’ve got to win near enough 90 per cent of your games.”
It was those moments and those many victories that meant, whether Project Restart got off the ground or not, many Liverpool supporters felt their team had done enough to be considered rightful champions. “For me, regardless of whatever happened, we basically won the league,” says Zuu. “We were 25 points clear, we had one loss against Watford. If we never lost to Watford, we would’ve been one game away. If we were only three points off City then people would be able to say something to us.”
And Zuu, the three-month hiatus only allowed the idea of the title already being won to sink in. “I’ll be real, this is the first time in my life I’ve felt that we’ve ever won the league,” he adds. “It’s like a feeling that’s just been there. It’s pending. It’s like it’s just been there, hovering over my head. When I talk to my friends, we talk like we’ve already won the Prem, and they talk like we’ve already won the Prem. It’s been a long time, and finally we’ve won it, and finally I can walk around talking like my team is the best.”
And so, during the final few days of that 30-year wait, there was only one obvious question left to ask those who have waited their entire lives for this moment. How will it feel once it finally arrives?
“I think the main thing will be relief,” Sexton said, “because of what’s happened with the whole pandemic. We’ve had the ecstasy already this season, you could celebrate and go out on your night out after, and that’s the thing we’ve sort of had taken away from us for the time being now. We’re not going to be able to go on a night out, not going to be able to go on a parade and see a million people lining the streets. Hopefully we’ll get to do that soon but for now it’s just relief.”
Hesketh agreed. “Relief. Finally we’ve done it. Monkey off the back, all that type of thing, shut everyone else up,” he said. “Then it’s like OK, we’ve done but let’s not dwell on it, like Klopp said about the European Cup. At the start of this year it was like forget about Madrid. Don’t even talk about it. Let’s go again this year. We’ve won the league. Amazing. And then, let’s go after 21. Let’s beat United. They wanted to beat us so much with Ferguson so why not? Enjoy it, but let’s go again and forget about it.”
“I think there’s obviously relief, but there will be a general wave of jubilation all through the city,” said Jenkins, foreseeing the joyful scenes outside Anfield. “Once it’s done it’s in the bag, I think there will be general euphoria. Everyone will be made up. Then we go again, we push on. I think that’s the difference. That’s the difference with the former efforts. They were our last hurrah and the closest we were going to get, and we knew that. Whereas now, we’ve got the team, the structure, the manager to keep pushing on.”
Others, though, could not predict how they would react. The sense of achievement would be simply too great. “You don’t quite know how to celebrate,” said Prescott, “because you’ve been building up for so long in your head that this is going to happen, then when it happens you step back and take 30 seconds to say what have I just witnessed? It’s just that kind of excitement and being overwhelmed.”
“I don’t know to be honest with you,” said Crosby, finally. “It’ll just be mad. It’ll be the happiest moment of my life. I don’t really know how to describe it because I’ve never had it. The Champions League is a final, that 90 minutes. This is like a culmination of 27 years of my life, wanting us to win the league. There isn’t a word to describe how I’ll feel because it doesn’t exist.”