THREE games. Two hundred and seventy minutes. Four-and-a-half hours. Call it what you will, the title is tantalisingly close. You can almost touch it. With Chelsea – still fresh from their poetic Stamford Bridge collapse to a Fabio Borini-inspired Sunderland – to come to Fortress Anfield on Sunday, we lead the table by five points after a club-record equaling 11 wins in a row. We’re a good side. We’re a great side. Even the neutrals love us. And we’re on the precipice of one of – if not the greatest achievements in the 122-year history of the club. And yet the torture continues. It’s been 24 years. Can’t someone just tell us what happens?
We’re blowing sides away, scoring goals for fun, steaming out of the traps and bowling teams over before they’ve had a chance to straighten their shirts. And yet it still isn’t in the bag. There’s still that doubt, that niggly finger in the ribs, that imaginary sucker punch that leaves you sat bolt upright in bed with beads of sweat on your forehead. At 4am. On a work night. Whatever happens, it’s been a great season. But we’ve come this far. We’re that close. Only Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Newcastle stand in our way.
But this fight. This battle. This nail-destroying marathon to glory. It all goes to show just how hard this league is to win. And it also explains the sleepless nights, the fresh batch of grey hair, the relapse of smoking habits and the new reliance on alcohol. This is simultaneously the best of seasons and the worst of seasons. The best because Liverpool are back as a force to be reckoned with. The Red Machine is in full effect. Competing. Restoring our pride. Playing the best football in the land. Qualifying for the Champions League. Making us dream. But we want more. And we can get more. Think about the football we’ve been playing. Think about the goals we’ve been scoring. Think about the determination etched on the faces of Martin Skrtel, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez. We want it and so do they. Why not us?
The worst? The worst because of the unknown. The doubt. The worry. The anguish. The limbo. The waiting. What do we do here? It seems no-one knows. The cool old-school Reds? Their heads have gone. They’re staggering around in the street with an incredulous expression slapped across their faces just like you are. The new generation? They’ve lost it as well. They’re bouncing around with a permanent grin singing “We Are Liverpool” at all-comers. The rest of world thinks we’re crazy. We know we are.
This is unprecedented. Ask anyone who was there the last time we won the league in 1990 and they’ll tell you it was met with almost a shrug. It was clinched with a 2-1 win over QPR at Anfield with two games to spare in front of 37,758. A polite clap, a clench of the fist. Same time next year, lads. We expected it. We were the best. It had become almost routine – winning the league was what we did.
Then it changed. We went backwards. Almost went bust. We haven’t won it since Happy Mondays, Adamski and Snap! were in the top 10. So now? No-one predicted this and no-one knows what to do. Before a ball was kicked this season, Neil Atkinson asked loads of Anfield Wrap contributors for their thoughts on how the season would go for the website. I make it that 16 of us answered on Liverpool. Two went for a third-placed finish, three went for fourth, six went for fifth and five went for sixth. A title challenge? Not a hint of it. That was crazy talk. We (I said sixth) were with Steven Gerrard on this. It was too much too soon. We were in transition. We were building. We couldn’t compete with the club paying the biggest wages in sport. The squad was too small. But no-one told Brendan Rodgers. No-one told the players. No-one told Steve Peters.
And now look.
The red half of Liverpool right now is a big bottle waiting to be popped. It’s been shaken for almost a quarter of a century and the city’s bars await its opening with welcoming arms. It’s got to be drunk. It has to be. And imagine the taste.
Anyone fortunate enough to be in the ground for the Manchester City game, or in Liverpool afterwards, will know exactly what I mean. This isn’t something people are dispassionately consuming and going about their business. This is something we are part of, excited by, consumed by. We’re willing it to happen and it’s happening. Look at the flags, the banners, the scarfs. Listen to that primeval roar that has been tumbling from The Kop. Look at the thousands lining the streets to greet the team to home games. This doesn’t happen anywhere else. We’re the story. If City or Chelsea win the league, who’s arsed? If Liverpool win it? It’s a fairytale. Another one. And we’re in it. This magic has even woken the Main Stand from its slumber. This is special and we’re a part of it. This is football.
So now we go again. Remember “the power of Anfield Road”? Wait until Sunday.
This does not fucking slip.