Superstitions are mental. Proper batshit crazy. Stevie Wonder made them sound like great fun. He made us think that everyone in the ’70s was going around smashing mirrors like Greek waiters smash plates.
In football they take on a life of their own. When commentators start saying that your team is doing well, thousands of fans around the country shout “shut the fuck up!” at the screen, lest they should jinx the good work being done on the pitch.
Players and supporters have their own versions of them, too. Though for us they’re called “rituals”. Pepe Reina notoriously has such a long and complex set of rituals (including the recent addition of wearing Mario Ballotelli’s used shirt in bed the night before a game), that if he doesn’t get one thing right it can entirely disrupt his mental preparations for the game.
When I was at Uni I had to drink a pint of coke during the first half and then another one during the second. Whilst at Uni I watched the Reds take home two major honours, and I left with a high risk of diabetes.
At the start of the season the rituals we have are less important. Of course you might meet your mates in the usual pub before the game. And maybe you like to get to the Kop 30 minutes before kickoff and read the manager’s notes. If you’re anyone that sits near me when I go then you must love arriving 5 minutes after kick off and making the entire row stand up so you can find your seat. But generally early season rituals are incidental.
As the season progresses, though, our rituals become more pronounced. This is especially true if some sort of success seems to be on the horizon. A cup run, for example, might well be punctuated with you needing to brush your teeth twice on the day of the game, because you were so hungover the morning of the third round you didn’t realise you’d already done it.
This season, however, our superstitions are all becoming heightened to the extreme. Liverpool could be just 5 games away from their first title in 24 years. Change your routine at your peril.
I’ve got two t-shirts with Bill Shankly on. One’s a reasonably classy affair. All grey, with Shankly’s shadow outlined above the text of one of his quotes. The other is a tacky red thing, with what looks like an ironed-on collage of various moments from the great man’s career. I love it.
I wore one of them when I watched the Arsenal game. I wore the other when Rodgers’s Tricky Reds beat Fulham. I’ve been alternating them ever since. (I’ve washed them, of course. I’m not a total greb). I even packed one in my hand luggage for a recent stopover in Washington so I could wear it while I watched the game there.
Neil Atkinson of The Anfield Wrap has been writing…things…after each match since that 5-1 demolition, too. It’s become a ritual. A routine. I’m sure if you asked him he’d tell you he could stop doing it. That it isn’t making a difference to what’s happening on the pitch.
But what if it is? What if we all are?
That way madness lies.
I’ve got a puppy. His name is Shankly. I’ve had him since just after Rodgers arrived as Liverpool manager.
Is it really a coincidence that Liverpool have started growing in style and confidence as my puppy has been growing?
Yes. Yes it is.
But if he decides to shit in the middle of the floor 30 seconds before every Liverpool goal for the rest of the season, I’m going to let him. My dog that is. Not Brendan Rodgers.
Perhaps our rituals are an attempt to gain some sort of control over a thing that is entirely out of our hands. Maybe it’s an attempt to feel like we’re making a difference.
Ultimately watching football can be a terrifyingly lonely experience. You can be sat surrounded by thousands of like-minded people, all wanting the same thing, and yet feel entirely isolated.
You can see where things are going wrong. You can sense an impending disaster. You can feel over-whelmed by the inevitability of what is taking place in front of you. But you can’t do a thing.
So I’ll continue wearing my Shankly t-shirts. Neil will continue with his streams of consciousness. You’ll keep doing whatever it is you do that helps you focus your mind.
And the Reds will keep on winning. They have to, don’t they? It’s inevitable. It’s written in the stars.
Forget about the fact that they’re playing such scintillating football. Ignore Brendan Rodgers’s tactical masterclasses. Don’t get bogged down by Gerrard’s imperiousness on the pitch matching his hunger for a title winner’s medal. It’s not even worth getting wound up by the classlessness displayed by that twat at Stamford Bridge.
I’m wearing my lucky t-shirts. Nothing can go wrong. So NOW you’re gonna believe us.
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