My leaving of Liverpool has nothing to do with success or even the charms of another club, it wasn't them, it was me...
My name is Kevin Donnellan and I’m a lapsed Liverpool fan. There I said it. My relationship with Liverpool has pretty much the same trajectory as my relationship with Catholicism; it peaked around the time I made my Communion, was beginning to wane when Confirmation time came around and we had gone our separate ways by the time secondary school was finished. Unlike the relatively easy break with Catholicism however, turning my back on Liverpool came with a fair amount of guilt. Football beats Catholicism for guilt every time.
Why did I turn my back on Liverpool? It was the classic break up line; it’s not you it’s me. I just didn’t feel the same anymore. It wasn’t the lack of success, in fact it would have been easier (or at least have looked better) jumping ship if they had been doing well. It was a combination of factors. Not having Sky Sports in the house was probably one. Watching Liverpool meant the odd FA Cup game or European match and highlights on the Premiership when that eventually started on RTE (we didn’t even have BBC; I didn’t stand a chance).
Matches used to be followed with great passion through Aertel (the Irish Teletext). Desperately re-pressing ‘221’ in the hope that Roy Evans’ men would suddenly summon a winner between 3.30 and 3.50pm. The 1994 3-3 comeback against United was my favourite Aertel moment, Ruddock’s name flashing up so late. But I’d struggle to describe what any of the goals in that match actually looks like. After a while Aertel fandom wears thin.
It wasn’t just that though. I also never seemed to develop that blind spot that passionate sports fans seem to have. The blind spot that allows all your sides traits to be seen a positive light and for the opposition to be cast as the forces of darkness in your mind’s eye. I liked Liverpool and the history of the club, but then I liked United players too. Loved Keane and Irwin, of course, but also had grudging respect for Schmeichel and Cantona. The 1996 Cup Final loss was the closest I came to hate but that was mostly because my prawn-sandwich-brigade United-supporting sister celebrated Cantona’s volley with so much relish. In her defence she probably wasn’t eating a prawn sandwich, she was ten. By the time they won the treble I was able to actively enjoy the comeback against Bayern.
If and when Liverpool do win the league it will be like hearing an ex-girlfriend is getting married; relatively happy for them, but I can hardly attend the reception
And I didn’t just a lack in United-hate either. I was delighted to see Everton win the FA Cup in 1995. Enthralled by Arsenal’s Cup Winner’s Cup exploits. Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday, QPR, Newcastle, had a soft spot for them all. Of course every football fan has the odd bit on the side but I had several football mistresses in each division and a few on the continent. Serial cheating like that will always erode the foundations of your core relationship.
I fought it of course, it seemed like giving up. Faked it for a few years. But neither the club’s highs or lows felt particularly different. By the time they won the Champions League in Istanbul we’d parted ways. The match was watched, and enjoyed, but I knew I’d no right to celebrate.
Now when the question comes up, as it does with understandable frequency, it’s hard to respond. Saying you don’t really follow a club, but that you like football, is a bit like replying “oh a bit of everything” to an enquiry about your musical taste; it’s taken as a tacit acknowledgement that you have minimal interest or knowledge. You can try to win them back with a few references to obscure footballers (Mark Stein is my usual go-to-guy) but you’re coming from a position of weakness.
And what about in the future, if I have a son and he asks me what team I support? Will I lie, say Liverpool and burden him with a false inheritance, or explain that “Daddy doesn’t have a team”? Will he understand or wish I was like the normal fathers who stuck with a club for life? Maybe, without a strong role-model, he’s fall into supporting the latest nouveau rich upstarts because “They win things”. Whichever mid-table side has just been bought by a Chinese trillionaire who also owns the half the oil on Mars (in this particular hypothetical I’m settling down quite late).
Of course I’m saving myself the heartache, but I’m missing out on the joy too. If and when Liverpool do win the league it will be like hearing an ex-girlfriend is getting married; relatively happy for them, but I can hardly attend the reception. So I’ll toil on with the rest of the failed fans; games will be watched, results studied, match reports read, it’s not a bad life. I love football, I just don’t love a team.
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