“There is not one club in the world so united with their fans.” – Barcelona and Ajax legend, Johan Cruyff
“I walked out into that cauldron and heard the singing and saw the passion. The hairs on my arms were standing up.” – Chelsea legend, John Terry
“Liverpool’s fans are just amazing.” – Arsenal legend, Thierry Henry
“I remember standing on the Kop, hearing the fans, seeing that green grass, and twirling my shirt over my head. It was an incredible occasion, and one which became even better when I hopped on the Soccerbus outside Anfield, armed with a curry, rice and chips from the Sing Fong on Walton Breck Road, and partied all night in Popworld.” – 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama
Three of those quotes are true, one is not. It won’t surprise you to discover Barack Obama did not go to Liverpool’s world-famous 1990s pop music nightclub chain Popworld, or indeed Anfield at all, to our knowledge. (No, but seriously, if Obama’s lawyers are reading this, his words are pure fiction).
The point of including those made-up quotations is this: A lot of people say a lot of nice things about Anfield. Cruyff, Terry and Henry did actually say those words – and their words were hung in Melwood for posterity – but they are not the only ones. Putting words about Liverpool’s stadium and the fans within it are more than believable, because so many people love the concept of Anfield and what it means.
The latest on the list, although maybe not Melwood wall-worthy, was England Rugby Union head coach Eddie Jones. “The last game I saw was that Champions Cup semi, Barcelona and Liverpool at Anfield,” he said, slightly mispronouncing Champions League. “The best sporting event I’ve been to. Just the atmosphere. I remember walking off, and the girls serving all the dinner there, they are crying. The total emotion that ground has is incredible.”
Jones has coached teams on the biggest stage; the Rugby World Cup, Six Nations and Tri-Nations; Twickenham in London, the Gabba in Brisbane, the Stade de France in Paris. He will have been a guest to many others, rugby or otherwise. He called Liverpool’s win over Barcelona the best he has ever been to.
This is in direct conflict with what supporters of Leicester City, Arsenal and Newcastle United have said this season alone. The fans of many, many more clubs who have been to Anfield over the years disagree with Jones, Cruyff, Henry, Terry. The same things are said: it is a library; it is something which rhymes with plucking fit; there are enquiries about where the famous atmosphere is.
The atmosphere at Anfield has improved a lot since Jürgen Klopp took charge. Even a routine home game can now have a buzz it never used to. It is not a wall of noise for 90 minutes, it is not the cauldron Terry describes, but that is because Newcastle early on Saturday, or a 3-1 win over Arsenal, is not Barcelona, AS Roma or Manchester City.
When Liverpool go to Selhurst Park this weekend, they will undoubtedly be met by a raucous Crystal Palace support. Palace, more than most Premier League teams, generate a constant backing of their team, no matter the result. That will only be intensified when the European champions, the eight-point league leaders, arrive in South London. Liverpool are a scalp.
For Liverpool at Anfield, they have become used to winning. When the team is in peril, such as against Tottenham earlier this season, it rises to the occasion. But league games under Klopp sometimes lack the sense of occasion, and instead move into the realm of routine. Home supporters have to listen to the mocking and the goading from away fans, safe in the knowledge they will be leaving the stadium happier at full time. Energy and voices can be saved for bigger occasions.
What is remarkable is that this rarely impacts the team. There is rarely complacency, and never the sense of feeling a game isn’t an occasion, isn’t big enough. One of the underrated aspects of theMentality GiantsKlopp speaks about is not just that they produce it when required, but every week. A team unbeaten at home in the league since April 2017 have to produce against all sorts of teams, on all sorts of occasions.
Jones’ recent comments put Anfield in the spotlight once more. A cathedral of football. Sometimes the congregation do not sing as loudly. but Klopp has his side singing, no matter what. Liverpool fans have endured unfair taunts for years; what unfolds before them is now the perfect response.