In an ideal world they'd have won it with their boots on, at Anfield, in front of a crowd volcanic with emotion. Instead they won it with their boots off and their feet up watching television, looking at the champions hand them the crown via defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
It was shortly after 10pm on Thursday. Manchester City had formally abdicated, Liverpool FC were crowned champions of England without the cup, without a game to turn into a victory parade, without their adoring masses on all sides. Sometimes the fixture schedule and the mathematics conspire to deprive new champions of the perfect crowning moment.
Instead, Liverpool's players began their celebrations in a high-end golf club on the edge of the city as soon as the final whistle went at the Bridge. The full pomp and pageantry of a coronation in their home stadium would have to wait for another day. It might have to wait for another year; or it might never happen at all. Anfield will again be empty when the new sovereigns make their entrance there next Sunday. Before that, the same fixture schedule will send them to the Etihad on Thursday for a diplomatically-awkward appointment with City. A guard of honour from Guardiola and his defenestrated champs? The timing is definitely a little bit raw.
The timing has been totally out of kilter anyway since lockdown began in March. Given the global pandemic, it can only be a matter of minor regret that the title race for 2019/20 was completed in such strange and barren circumstances.
Liverpool supporters can hardly forget that it is only a matter of months since it looked like the season might not be completed at all. The prospect of an abandoned campaign was frightfully real. Some of their fans at home and abroad were among the victims of Covid-19. Measured against this ultimate yardstick, all the societal deprivations caused by the crisis may feel somewhat softened by comparison.
Yet, even whilst acknowledging that saddest of perspectives, an abandoned championship would have been deeply painful too for this club's mighty congregation in the city itself, in Britain and Ireland and around the world. If it had still been a close-run thing in March, they would have had to stifle their disappointment to some degree because nothing was guaranteed. But to have it cancelled with a lead of 25 points would've been a unique sporting tragicomedy - tragic for their fans, hilarious to rival fans with a lust for schadenfreude.
It would have been a bitter farce. A team so far ahead of the rest that it was effectively running its own race, stopped in its tracks by a plague that had never been seen by humanity before?
Liverpool's 30 years in the penitentiary were about to be ended - until a plotline from a science fiction movie sprung into life. Even the agnostics and atheists among their ranks would have had to contemplate the notion that this was the work of mysterious forces from another dimension. In short, that there were in fact gods somewhere out there in the universe, and these entities were against Liverpool, and against them for reasons not known to man. Except for the possibility that maybe, conceivably, these wanton gods still hadn't forgiven Fowler and Redknapp and McManaman et al, for wearing those white Armani suits to the cup final in '96. What other explanation could there possibly be for this outlandish destruction of their dreams?
So, all things considered, the circumstances last Thursday night were fine. The season was saved, and Liverpool's manifest destiny was finally fulfilled. They will take an empty Anfield and a prohibited players' bus tour and a house party instead of a city carnival. Their team is now officially and unequivocally the best in England. The job is done, the quest is over.
Justice has also been done and this is no small issue because sporting injustices can tear people to pieces too, even if there are worse things happening in the so-called real world. Emotion is emotion, it cannot be compartmentalised into separate suitcases. What happens on a football field doesn't stay on the football field. People carry it around in their hearts thereafter. They feel the weight of it while knowing full well that more profound sadness is occurring every minute of the day elsewhere. This knowledge might bring some perspective, but the hurt felt in the sporting realm doesn't disappear by a wash of perspective. It is not a magic sponge, this wider awareness. The pandemic has wrought pain and suffering on a bewildering scale but people still turn to the sports pages.
And in this case, we're not talking about a local matter but arguably the biggest tournament in world sport. The Premier League is a weekly international story, the winning of it a landmark achievement in the annual news cycle. And all the more so this year because it was won in the middle of summer rather than its allotted window in the calendar.
The outcome wasn't really in doubt since Christmas but by March its very existence was - at least for 2020. Once it resumed, the outcome again became a foregone conclusion. And any contest in which the result is a foregone conclusion usually ends up diminished and devalued. The complete absence of suspense meant that a sense of anti-climax hung over the top end of the table once it resumed. There would be no title run-in as such, Liverpool would merely reel off the remaining games they needed to meet the mathematical threshold. There wouldn't be, there couldn't be, any sort of imperious march to the crown.
They were rigid with rust against Everton in their first match back last Sunday; on Wednesday they were a mismatch for an impoverished Crystal Palace; on Thursday Manchester City vacated the throne. Three months of waiting around to reopen the book, four days to write the final chapter. The rest is epilogue.
Naturally, the players and manager were suitably delighted when the TV cameras caught up with them on Thursday night. They hadn't allowed themselves to concede that the outcome was a fait accompli, no matter how often everyone else said it. That would have been unprofessional. They would wait until the fat gentleman was singing.
The more serious test of their nerve might have come during those weeks when it was chillingly feasible that everything they had worked for might be taken away from them by something far beyond their control or imagination. This must have been a devastating prospect.
When they get to tell their story, those times when they couldn't kick a ball at all may loom much larger in their memory than the games they actually played. They presumably were tracking the news day by day, maybe hour by hour, lurching between hope and dread as the virus ruptured its way through every society. Most people were panic-stricken in one way or another, but most people weren't tantalisingly close to the culmination of a lifetime's work, to the realisation of a historic prize. It was there within touching distance, just another few games away, a couple more weeks down the line. And all of a sudden it was gone, vanished, maybe never to return. The real climax was not in them winning the title, for that was already ordained, but in getting back on the field in the first place.
There will never be another season like it. There will never be another year like it, we must all hope. But this is still only June; we are not out of the woods yet by any means. But Liverpool are, and not just out of the woods but on top of the mountain: champions undisputed, albeit of a game still lost in its own silence.
Sunday Indo Sport