At last, the storm had ended and there was a golden sky for Liverpool. The title was decided by an old enemy against a contemporary one. At the end of Chelsea’s win over Man City, the sentence “Liverpool are English champions” could be uttered for the first time in thirty years.
As a fully grown adult, I am happy to confess that Premier League victory reduced me to a state of tears. I found myself loving Liverpool’s manager, Jurgen Klopp, more than I could love a stranger I’ve never met. Football is irrational like that; a terribly powerful but exhilarating love, soaked in hues of tribalism, family, and identity, that can be utterly transportive for ninety minutes.
Football, more than anything, is an understanding of the melting pot of emotions that defines the human experience; the yearning for an attachment to a tribe, the need to share glories and traumas collectively, and to hug each other in the moment of a goal rather than just cheer to yourself.
Why else are so many people moved by renditions of Liverpool supporters singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” on European nights at Anfield? The song understands the appeal for solidarity and spirit, the symbiosis between a club and its fans.
The banter in school was such that, if your team lost you would inevitably invent an illness never heard before in order to skip school. And if your team won, you would be insufferable. Even as one grew up and shed the childhood hobbies, football remained what it was.
For most part, it was an absolute ordeal as a Liverpool fan who grew up around friends who support Manchester United, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way; being part of something bigger than yourself is an essential human experience.
This experience is different for me as someone not from the city of Liverpool. But it’s a glimpse into the different emotions that drive football fans with immigrant roots. Football clubs are the representation of their local communities in the eyes of many, a borderless force of localism.
But for many immigrants, they didn’t yet have affinities with their local towns, and for some, the clubs were often too nasty and grim to support. Asian migration after WWII was particularly notable during the seventies and the eighties. This is the period of time during which my mother’s family returned to Britain. It is also the time during which Liverpool were utterly dominant.
Immigrant families arriving in Britain were likely to be more enamoured with the highly successful team from Merseyside than a club from the area they had settled in. It is also worth highlighting that many ethnic minorities found a role model in John Barnes, a black footballer playing for Liverpool.
Of course, Liverpool’s success dried up during the nineties, and Manchester United stepped forward, thus explaining why nearly all my Asian friends at school were United fans. You grew up and supported what ran in the family or what was successful. For a lot of Asians, those went hand in hand. It’s no surprising that according to a YouGov poll in 2016, only 29% of Liverpool and United fans are actually from the North-West.
Now of course, it isn’t just immigrants who refuse to support their local clubs. Football crosses local loyalties and, as I said before, is irrational. You will find people from all over the country who support Liverpool because they see something in it that they are captivated by.
But if anything sweetened this victory, it was that this was a Liverpool team comprising of several black footballers, with two iconic Muslim footballers, led by an anti-Brexit, left-wing German manager whose emphasis on emotions, heart, tactical awareness, and unity made all of this possible.
For a club that embraces a Scouse brand of leftism, there probably wasn’t a better way to stick it to the establishment. And for me, a Muslim, watching Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane power Liverpool to the title was an incredibly powerful and uplifting feeling. Here, were two players who resonated with me personally within a club that I already identified with.
There is of course a danger in minorities requiring positive role models to combat bigotry because it plays into the tropes of the good/bad immigrant/Muslim narratives, but a study from Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab found that Salah had reduced Islamophobia by 18.9%.
That the title would be secured in empty stadiums due to the pandemic could not diminish the moment of this. As the club’s famous anthem says, you don’t walk alone at Liverpool. There were millions of us around the world interlinked in a singular emotion upon the instant realisation that Liverpool were finally, champions of England. Not even a global pandemic could deny us this anymore.