Fiction Fridays: When Reality Feels Like Fiction - The Story Of Liverpool FC’s 2019-2020 Season
A big thing happened this week. Huge. Monumental. Historic.
Liverpool FC won their first Premier League title, their first league championship in 30 years.
The last time Liverpool won the League was in 1990, literally the year before the Premier League took over as the top flight in English football.
There have been plenty of other articles and lists going around with what life was like in 1990, so I probably don’t need to remind you of that. Which players that are currently on the squad weren’t even born yet — including the current captain who literally just turned 30 a week ago.
I know that today is Fiction Friday and I had originally planned on doing a completely different post. Even though Liverpool had won their game against Crystal Palace on Wednesday, I was going to save my thoughts and feelings from that for my Liverpool post on this coming Monday.
And then Chelsea beat Manchester City on Thursday, making it mathematically impossible for them to catch up to Liverpool, thus handing the Reds the title.
It doesn’t feel real. Truly, none of this season has felt real.
If this were a fanfiction, some fans might say that this story has strayed too far from the Liverpool FC and Premier League canon. LFC canon would have you think that we are the perpetual “next year will be our year”s, as we let another title slip out of our grasp at the last minute. As the Reds would get complacent, resting on their laurels and allowing their opponents to catch up and overtake them. Injuries to key players during a crucial run of games, just as they were finding their form, or in a huge final, would be their undoing. Those storied titles and trophies from the past would never come back to the present.
Instead, we were gifted with this piece of fiction, the craziest season ever.
Liverpool FC, on the back of winning the Champions League in Madrid, but losing the Premier League by two points to Manchester City, start strong. Their big money goalkeeper sustains a calf injury literally 35 minutes into the season, and his backup — just signed on a free transfer from West Ham — has to come on in a role where he probably didn’t expect to get any league minutes. This is worrisome, as Liverpool are off to face Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup in five day’s time, but Adrián does his best and Liverpool win against a newly promoted Norwich City side 4-1.
And then they beat Chelsea, on penalties, with Adrián in goal, to secure the UEFA Super Cup, alongside their UEFA Champions League trophy. They are officially the best team in Europe, by nature of beating the winners of the Europa League.
They then go on an unbeaten streak in the League. Literally. In any other season, they may have hit a slump around October and November, and they do receive their first draw of the season, unfortunately against Manchester United. That comes in October, saved from the jaws of defeat by a late equalizer from Adam Lallana — the forgotten attacking midfielder who had seen his position usurped as he struggled with injuries, coming to our rescue just as he did during another fateful Norwich City match.
December will weigh heavily on our Reds. As injuries start to plague key players (Alisson returned for Manchester United, but Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah have been nursing knocks, and Joel Matip hasn’t been fit), the December traffic jam looks tougher than usual. December is always packed with the “festive fixtures” as families are home for the holidays and more likely to be watching as much football as possible.
There is also the FIFA Club World Cup set in December, that Liverpool qualified for by being Champions of Europe. They are set to play in Qatar against a Mexican team, CF Monterrey, and a Brazilian team, Flamengo. The Reds, unused to playing in conditions such as Qatar, are given a fight in the Club World Cup. Monterrey is dealt with handily, but Flamengo is more of a challenge, and that final goes into added extra time, with Roberto Firmino — our Brazilian striker — scoring in the 99th minute. A detail you couldn’t make up.
Despite all this, despite the injuries, and the travel times and obviously playing in Qatar, they keep winning. The wins are not easy, mind you, as many come through late goals or even a couple late penalties (the return of #Penaltypool). The draw to Manchester United is a blip, as they continue to beat the likes of Everton, Manchester City (their closest table rival), Crystal Palace, and Watford in the League. There are some heartbreaks, as we draw to Napoli in the Champions League, and lose to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup. Both momentary setbacks, as the Premier League is clearly what the ultimate prize is this year.
Liverpool get through December without a loss. Their most perfect performance of the year so far comes against a re-energized Leicester City on Boxing Day, away at the King Power Stadium. Any other year, this would’ve been a nail biter, especially considering Leicester had won a title even more recently than Liverpool and had a magical team of their own that season. This year they have our old manager, Brendan Rodgers — the last manager to get close to winning the title before Jurgen Klopp became ours. Leicester were no match for our Reds, though, as they cut through the home team like a skilled swordsman. It was the most comfortable and complete performance Liverpool had put on yet, winning 4 goals to nil.
Liverpool get through January without a loss. Last season, January started the slump of draws that would take us out of title winning contention. Liverpool of 2020 have decided that losses and draws are rarely a thing, and continue to win. They keep increasing the gap, with win after win, although nothing above three goals in a game. They are dirty, tough, skin of your teeth wins. But that is all that matters. Just. Fucking. Win.
February 1st marks 24 wins in 25 games in the Premier League, with one draw and no losses. That is UNREAL. It is unthinkable, for a team that has been known to give away early leads easily.
Through all this, opposition fans are begging the universe for anything to stop the runaway train that is this Liverpool Football Club. February does seem to slow them down, as a 3-2 win over West Ham comes scarily close to breaking that unbeaten at home record.
Their first loss would come on Leap Day, February 29th, against Watford. A notoriously tough and physical team, it would sting. 3-0 is not a good scoreline to lose to, especially for such a dominant defense that our Liverpool has. It did sting, but thankfully it was away, and it was now gotten out of the way. This team can lose, unfortunately, but thankfully it took six months to do it.
And then March happened.
Liverpool were able to bounce back, with a win against Bournemouth, but dual losses in the FA Cup and the Champions League kicked us out of both tournaments. That sucked, but not as much as what was to come. March is when the league was suspended, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Apparently, the collective begging of opposition fans worked, and a major global catastrophe stopped everything. Stopped Liverpool from playing, stopped world football as we know it, stopped sports as we know it.
I don’t have to tell you that part. I don’t have to remind you of the uncertainties, of the fears, of the squabbling between club chairpeople as they decided what to do with the season. As FIFA and UEFA tried to tell the FA and the Premier League what to do with their seasons. As club owners watched their businesses hemorrhage cash, alongside the threat of losing their multi-million dollar television deals, or even worse having to pay them back. As lower table teams fretted about whether or not they’d be unfairly relegated, or others unfairly promoted.
It was not a pretty moment for football, but Liverpool shone through. For the most part.
While this historic and monumental season was taking place, the Women’s team that shares the same name, was losing. They had had only one win the whole season, the rest marred by losses and draws. While the Liverpool Men’s team was sitting pretty with a 25 point gap between them and Manchester City in second place, the Women’s team were rooted firmly in last place. Relegation.
While Jordan Henderson and Andy Robertson were starting appeals and charity funds for food banks and NHS employees, Sophie Bradley-Auckland and Niamh Fahey were sitting at home, waiting to hear about their fate as part-time footballers for the most decorated club in England, that was on track to win their historic 19th league title (for the Men’s team).
Then, the decision was made for them. The Premier League would return, Liverpool would have the chance to mathematically secure their title. The FA Women’s Super League would be canceled, and a points-per-game system would decide that Liverpool FC Women would be relegated.
With all the drama, and goodness of this season, that would be the heartbreak. Every other obstacle would be small, but the Women’s team relegation — largely ignored by the rest of the world and the club itself — would fall by the wayside. A forgotten C storyline in the charted path of this season of The Reds.
The extended break would eventually end. In May it was announced that squads could return to training at their facilities, in small groups, with a target to restart games in June — without fans. Throughout all this, the pandemic is still raging, unrelenting, and to add more drama, the world is swept up in a time of protest. The world joins the United States in protesting police brutality and working towards dismantling symbols of racism. These protests that started in response to the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis are still going on to this day, and inspired the Premier to allow a Black Lives Matter patch on team shirts for the rest of the season. Liverpool returned to work on Sunday, June 21st, against hometown rivals Everton but wouldn't get a single goal, ending with a draw.
June 25th, 2020, following a Liverpool win at home to Crystal Palace — an old nemesis who had destroyed our chances of winning a title a long time ago, managed by a man who represented some of the darkest days in Liverpool history (and the first manager of the Reds when I became a fan #ChildrenOfTheHodgpocalypse), all eyes were on Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hosted Manchester City. Any points dropped by City would mean the title would be ours. Chelsea went ahead in the 36th minute through Christian Pulisic. Kevin De Bruyne would equalize in the second half.
And then Chelsea won a penalty, City went down to ten men. Chelsea took the lead.
It was almost cruel, knowing that all of our work had been done. That the fans couldn’t witness this in person, that winning the title now depended on what happened in another game. Without fans it still felt hollow. The last plot twist in what was literally a larger than life season was that we would have little to do in our eventual winning of the title. And even if City had beaten Chelsea, all Liverpool would’ve needed to do was beat City at their home stadium in a week.
That doesn’t matter now. Because Liverpool are the Premier League Champions for the 2019-2020 season.
After reading all of that, it doesn’t feel real, right?
It’s the most insane season of television you may have ever watched. The writers of the football season have finally decided, “let’s give Liverpool what they deserve.” It’s fanfiction, in the wildest, dreamiest way. And I used to write fanfiction.
But it’s real. Everything, has led up to this. Every team, every injury, every manager, every player. Every fan. Every moment.
Read it over again, and make sure it’s real. Pinch yourself.
This is fact, not fiction, for the first time in years.