This is not how it was meant to be. Liverpool will receive the Premier League trophy on an empty Kop instead of on the pitch in front of a packed Anfield after the match against Chelsea tonight. The Covid-19 crisis means that this is unavoidable but the dynamic of the celebration has changed for many people.
Jurgen Klopp has asked fans not to gather outside the stadium. Even inside, the festivities will be unlike any seen in the sport’s history. No one could have predicted the sequence of events leading up to the club’s first title win in 30 years.
John W Henry, the principal owner, visualised something very different. The 70-year-old expected a celebration of unprecedented proportions. The leading figure in Fenway Sports Group (FSG) has experience in busting hoodoos and the wild outbreaks of joy that follow long-anticipated success. Henry imagined scenes similar to 2004, when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.
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The events 16 years ago produced a life-changing moment for Henry. When FSG took over the Red Sox in 2002, it seemed the ‘Curse of the Bambino,’ would haunt the baseball team for ever. ‘Bambino’ was the nickname of the legendary Babe Ruth, who the Boston franchise sold to their main rivals, the New York Yankees, in 1919. For the rest of the century, the Red Sox were unable to capture the sport’s biggest prize. In New England a fatalistic belief that the team were destined to fail developed.
When the Red Sox finally won the World Series again, Boston went crazy. Entire generations had lived and died with their baseball dreams unfulfilled and those who saw the victory over the St Louis Cardinals celebrated like it was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Henry talked about its impact on him personally in a London restaurant five years ago, months before appointing Klopp as manager.
He spoke of being on the receiving end of a mass outpouring of love and affection from Red Sox fans. “I’ve never been a ‘jock’,” he said, using the American term for athletes with sporting prowess. “I’d never known what it was like to feel the adulation that the players get. For the first time I got to understand the feeling. It was powerful.”
The Red Sox have since won the World Series three more times but nothing could match the release generated by breaking that eight-decade barren spell. Henry recalled the aftermath with awe and said that he never believed that he would have the chance to replicate that feeling again. Until he came to Anfield. “Winning the World Series was huge for New England,” he said. “But when Liverpool win the league it might even be bigger.”
American sporting culture is different to Britain’s. Owners, not players, are presented with trophies. They are more visible to supporters because of this. FSG were prominent on the pitch in the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid after Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League final last year. Instead of being involved in one of the biggest parties that Merseyside has seen, the owners will have to watch from the other side of the Atlantic as Klopp’s team receive their reward for an exceptional campaign.
The owners deserve plenty of credit. Their methods have sometimes been questionable – especially during the first half of their decade at the helm – but their ambition has never faltered. FSG entered the Premier League with the intention of winning. Success puts value on their asset but that is only part of the motivation. Henry and his partners understand the emotional impact of bringing silverware to Anfield.
The cathartic outburst of relief and excitement witnessed in Boston cannot be reproduced on Merseyside because of the worries over the spread of the virus. Henry will not get the opportunity to bask in the glory on a night when emotions will be at their zenith. The consolation is that the billionaire has overseen two landmark successes in two different sports. That is a massive achievement. The once-in-a-lifetime personal moment in 2004 might turn out to be just that but the delight of Klopp and his players on the Kop tonight will resonate around the globe. Defending the trophy might be even more satisfying than breaking the 30-year spell. Unlike the World Series, winning the Premier League for the second time may end up more pleasurable for Henry.