Sport Soccer

Sunday 24 September 2017

My wife was in labour, but Liverpool was on my mind

Graham Clifford on the hope – and heartbreak – of being a Liverpool FC fanatic

Graham Clifford sets off for Liverpool, with son Aodhan waving him off
Graham Clifford sets off for Liverpool, with son Aodhan waving him off
Daugher Molly in team strip
Liverpool lifting the Champions League trophy in Istanbul

Graham Clifford

Since Monday night, I've hardly slept. Every time my eyelids close I see Crystal Palace substitute Dwight Gayle firing the ball low and hard under the body of Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to deny the Reds three precious points – and all but end our hopes of a first title in 24-long years.

As he reeled away in celebration I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. I bowed my head, cursed and swore and drifted into a gloom. Every time I looked at the back pages of a newspaper, went online or flicked on the TV I was reminded of those crazy nine minutes when we conceded three goals – the pain compounded by the comments of supporters who follow other sides.

As seems to be the way of the modern-day 'football fan' there's no greater enjoyment than taking unbridled satisfaction in another's misfortune on social media.

"Leave Dad alone now gang, he needs a bit of peace" instructed my wife the morning after the game as my children gathered around to ask how the match went.

Amidst it all I was completely aware of how juvenile and irrational my reaction to Liverpool's 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace was. Here I was in my comfortable home in Cork distraught by the outcome of a game of football played nearly 400 miles away on a patch of grass in London between two groups of multimillionaires who were strangers to me.

On Morning Ireland, the presenters spoke of the escalation of tensions in the Ukraine and of the mass abduction of young girls in Northern Nigeria. I tried hard to put our Selhurst surrender into context ... but failed.

As the days passed though, I emerged from my cavern of darkness and today leave for Liverpool where I'm hoping that, against all the odds, the footballing Gods will smile on us against Newcastle and inspire West Ham to beat Manchester City on Sunday.

Following their 4-0 thumping of Aston Villa on Wednesday night, Manuel Pellegrini's men are so close to lifting the Premier League trophy that they can see their faces in it – but after nearly quarter of a century of waiting, we simply have to hope for a miracle.

I was 12 when Liverpool last captured the league title and, while utterly consumed with Kerry GAA and the fortunes of the Republic of Ireland side, I found solace in the red jersey between August and May.

My older brother Kevin followed the Reds, who were unstoppable at the time and boasted a large Irish contingent, and since the age of seven I wanted in on the action.

While working as a sports writer in Britain between 2005 and 2011, I saw them play on countless occasions, the highlight being the FA Cup Final in 2006 when the Reds piped West Ham to the title in Cardiff (let's hope the Hammers have forgotten about that one by Sunday).

On various occasions, I have interviewed Liverpool bosses Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson and, the legend that is Kenny Dalglish and got quotes from the likes of Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Daniel Agger.

Each of my three children were dressed in their 'You'll never crawl alone' vests in their first few weeks on Earth and once they were old enough to learn the songs heard on the Kop, they were willing students.

On the evening I found out my wife was pregnant with our first child I was euphoric ... but still managed to sneak down to the local pub to watch a crucial European tie between Liverpool and Benfica.

And on the night she gave birth to our second daughter, Aoife, I spent the evening popping in and out of the hospital's television room as Liverpool secured an excellent 2-1 away win over Marseilles in the Champions League with Gerrard netting two stunners.

Today I'm crossing the Irish Sea in the hope that I'll have another Liverpool-connected story to tell my kids in the years to come. Of how I flew from Cork to Birmingham, hired a car and drove two-and-a-half hours up to Merseyside to book into a guesthouse which had seen much better days.

Of how I joined the thousands who made their way to Anfield without a match-ticket, roared when the team coach came into view and then took my seat in the Park Pub, opposite the ground, to watch West Ham United stun City and Liverpool trounce Newcastle.

Of how we partied long into that May night when strangers embraced and Liverpool fans from every corner of the globe came together on the streets of this great city. How champions were crowned in our midst as You'll Never Walk Alone hung in the air.

The unexpected happened in Istanbul when we fought back to beat AC Milan in that unforgettable Champions League final in 2005 –can it happen once more? As a friend and fellow Liverpool supporter exclaimed in resignation this week 'it's the hope that kills you.'

That hope, blind as it may be, must carry Liverpool fans through to the final whistles on Sunday. We've come too far and are too close to throw our hands up in the air.

I've heard that Liverpool supporter's clubs in Ireland have been offered in excess of €2,000 for a single match ticket for Sunday's game at Anfield. And with good reason – so many of us want to be part of what could be a historic day.

The journey home could be a sour one on Monday. But miracles can happen. Believe.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport