Jordan Henderson is (likely) leaving Liverpool Football Club.
Our captain since 2015, that took on the monumental task of following in former club talisman Steven Gerrard’s footsteps, is (potentially) leaving the club.
Not only is he (possibly) leaving the club, moving to a new one, but he is leaving unexpectedly, during the summer transfer window. Leaving at this time would mean that he would just be poof, gone, vanished, when the next season starts. No trace left, save for (probably) a farewell social media post to try and justify the move. Maybe an “exit interview” video from the club if we’re lucky.
Context: some weeks ago, the rumor mill started churning out the idea that Steven Gerrard, newly appointed manager to the Saudi Pro League club Al-Ettifaq, was interested in signing his former teammate and current Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson. As much as I tried to ignore this rumor, it became very much a “where there’s smoke there’s fire” type of situation and it quickly turned from rumor into truth. The Saudi Arabian club had offered Henderson somewhere in the range of £300k-700k a week in wages and he was “seriously considering” the offer. There were moments when it looked like it would fall apart, but then Henderson left Liverpool’s training camp in Germany to return home to England. Henderson himself has not said anything publicly of the move, or really anything at all - his last tweet was on July 6th, his last Instagram post on July 9th, before he even returned to Liverpool to start preseason training.
While an official announcement has yet to be made, trusted journalists are reporting that he’s accepted an offer of £350k a week wages, tax free, and the club has accepted a bid of £12 million plus add-ons for the transfer.
I’ve written - at length (no really) - about how important he has become to the club, to the Liverpool way, and frankly, to me. Beyond just having the same first name, he was a magnet in a new culture, a rope that tethered me in the vast sea of soccer fandom. To the Reds.
Maybe I have committed the cardinal sin of sports fandom in making a single player my entire identity, and now that he’s leaving I’m having a crisis. I gave so much time and energy to being a fan of his, so much of my self. It became what I was known for amongst our club and amongst other fans. Losing him is losing a little piece of me, that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to. Not this way, not now.
He is the player I got printed on the back most often when I buy a new Liverpool shirt. He is the player I defended the most to people in person, and online.
If anyone followed my personal Twitter account, at one point the name field was “OG Hendo Ultra” - a reference to being one of his first fans, and one that would fight endlessly for him. (There’s an end to everything).
As cheesy or maybe unrealistic as it sounds, we felt kindred. Related by our shared name and need to prove ourselves to our peers.
Sure, he’s not dying or dead, he will (most likely) be playing somewhere else come the fall.
It’s still a mourning, a grief, of this relationship that I’ve built with someone I don’t know. There are people who don’t understand it, or who think lowly of this kind of thing. I can’t help it - I have always been this way. I have always given my whole heart to these kinds of things, and gotten it broken in return because it’s not real. I know that, it’s not real, they don’t know who I am and likely never will. These feelings will never be returned, and that’s okay. I know that.
As a terrible author once wrote in another fandom that shaped my life, “Of course it is happening inside your head, [redacted], but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
It’s real because we shared that pain. The losses, the misses, the heartbreak of not quite making it over the line. Of missed penalties and lost championships.
It’s real because we shared the glories, too. Every single trophy lift, every single whistle on a win. Every time he fell to his knees, every time I watched the video of him celebrating the Champions League win with his dad. Every time I lifted his scarf and wore his shirt and screamed his name.
The kind of energy that being a sports fan brings you, imbues us all with, because we give so much of our energies to it. That has to be shared, in some magical way, with the players themselves. We may be 5,000 miles apart but he is still as close to me as ever because we are part of the same microcosm of Liverpool fandom.
And next season it (might) be over. He will be gone and part of my Liverpool heart will go away with him.
Of course, there will be other players to love (hopefully), and there have been other players that have left that I have loved before. Lucas Leiva, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino (funny that these are all Brazilians). Caroline Weir, Christie Murray, Ashley Hodson. There’s been betrayals in those heartaches (looking at you, Phil), and there’s been genuine goodbyes.
And then there’s the gutting betrayal of Henderson’s departure, because it’s not just in a summer window, after he’s given so much to us that we’ll never be able to show our appreciation (I will never be able to show it).
It’s that he would be leaving for a club and a country that forsakes all the morals he previously stood for.
Through his tenure as Liverpool captain, he stood tall for LGBTQ+ rights through supporting the Rainbow Laces campaign. He raised millions of British pounds for the NHS, their nationalized healthcare. He was the first player to raise concerns and fight back against the attempted “Super League” project. He stood up for black players, and regularly hosted Christmas parties at Anfield for underprivileged and disabled kids.
All this to say, he apparently has no issues taking a large payday from a low ranked club (Al-Ettifaq finished 12th in their league last season) in a low ranked league in the world, in a country with egregious human rights violations.
So this player that I have defended, for years, with my whole heart, would turn his back on many things that made me proud to support him. Would choose to make this move, knowing the negative reaction it would receive, that it will likely tarnish the legacy he would leave behind as the greatest captain of Liverpool’s considerably long and successful existence.
Plunge the knife ever deeper, as if it weren’t enough that he was just leaving (poof, gone, vanished), that he wouldn’t be retiring a Liverpool player as I always said he would. No, he is saying that these high weekly wages are worth more than any values performed for the fans’ benefit, this chance to play in a country that only started allowing women to attend matches five years ago is more important than when I said “football is for everyone.” That maybe playing in this league where he might not even get paid those exorbitant wages on time, is a better use of his abilities than managed minutes on the Liverpool bench. Playing and making a life in a country that enacts “capital punishment” for being gay, and kills journalists for daring to expose them.
How could this idea I had of someone could be so wrong?
That’s the thing, is that I never knew Henderson personally. It was only ever this parasocial relationship I built for myself, through these interviews and videos and articles and the media image of him. The image of him as a stalwart caring individual who rose above the stereotypical footballer archetype. If you want to get cynical about it, his publicity team (and the club’s) put out this image of a real ally and I ate it up because that’s what I wanted to see from him. Because I cared about him, because I chose him.
I chose him to follow. I decided in that bar in 2013 that he would be my player, forevermore. He would be the one I stuck by, that I would learn all about, that I would defend.
And ten years later, look where that’s gotten me, where that’s gotten him.
Crying into a blog post about him leaving. Deciding what to do with the numerous shirts I have with his name on them (burn them? sell them? donate them?)
He gets a fat, blood covered paycheck.
Here’s to you, Jordan Henderson. This Jordan loves you more than you will know, and hates to see you go.