Liverpool, the club and the city, are all together now ahead of Premier League title bid

The city of Liverpool (or at least half of it) is united in believing anything is possible ahead of title showdown day. 
The city of Liverpool (or at least half of it) is united in believing anything is possible ahead of title showdown day.

Tuesday night changed everything on Merseyside. According to Peter Hooton, the singer in the band The Farm and a lifelong Liverpool fan, he has never experienced such a rapid transformation in outlook.

On Monday evening, like many an Anfield regular, he was engulfed in gloom. Vincent Kompany’s scorcher for Manchester City against Leicester suggested that, despite potentially accruing 97 points, Liverpool were destined to finish second in the Premier League. Add to that inevitable elimination from the Champions League by a Barcelona led by the chief executioner Lionel Messi, and the mood as he approached Anfield for the start of the semi-final second leg was hardly tinged with optimism.

“Everyone was deflated after Kompany’s goal. The balloon had burst,” he says. “It was really strange making your way to the ground on Tuesday. It didn’t feel like a semi-final. It felt like the last rites. Yeah, we were all telling each other, ‘You never know it might happen’. But I don’t think anyone believed it.”

Then came the astonishing 4-0 victory and scenes of unbridled celebration, encapsulated by the social media footage of a teenage pitch invader flicking V-signs as he passed Messi, pursued by stewards. With the dramatic conclusion came enormous collective uplift; at Anfield, they were all together now.

“Now we’ve seen the impossible, we believe anything is possible,” adds Hooton. “Maybe Brighton will get a draw against City. Maybe City will be complacent. And even City they do take the title, being in the Champions League final isn’t a bad consolation prize is it?”

Peter Hooton
Hooton will be hoping Liverpool players are all together on Sunday. Because of the song.

In Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle, there is a building-sized mural of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. “We are Liverpool. This means more,” reads the slogan.

It might look as if it is a spontaneous celebration of the German, the work of a Scouse Banksy. But it is a commercial for Liverpool’s kit manufacturer. Still, it is a sharp piece of copywriting, tapping into football’s place in the city.

Some might see an arrogant assumption that football carries greater meaning here than elsewhere. But locals read it with a different spin: that victory in the league would mean more than any trophy. There is no doubting the scale of longing among Liverpool fans after a 29-year hiatus.

“As Bill Shankly said, it’s our bread and butter,” says Hooton. “We thought we’d always win it. We became blasé. The watershed moment was Hillsborough. We lost so much of what we were about at that point.”

Chris Carline, Shankly’s grandson, agrees about why the league means more.

“I was eight when Liverpool last won the title,” he says. “But I wasn’t old enough to appreciate what it meant. We just seemed to win it every year. In nearly 30 years since, I’ve been lucky enough to see us win every trophy available. Bar it. That is the one we all crave.”

Chris Shankly - Credit: Paul Cooper
Chris Carline is Bill Shankly's grandson Credit: Paul Cooper

Carline is speaking in the splendid, recently-opened city centre hotel he runs which bears his grandfather’s name. Filled with memorabilia from the great man’s time as manager, the Shankly Hotel is adorned with images of Bill lifting the championship trophy. The business, in the former Liverpool Echo building, characterises modern Liverpool: independent, individual, and described by its success at football.

“There’s two things which define this city: football and the Beatles,” says Roag Best, brother of the early Beatles drummer Pete who runs the Magical Beatles Museum. “Bearing in mind those were its trademarks, Liverpool took its time getting its act together to promote them. It’s really only in the last 10 years, since we were European Capital of Culture in 2008, that we have started to play to the city’s strengths. Now the economic returns are obvious.”

All day on Tuesday the museum, in a converted warehouse in Mathew Street, where the Beatles used to perform in the long-since-departed Cavern, was filled with Catalan supporters, poring over its displays, like the Apple boardroom table, Ringo Starr’s snare drum and the medals John Lennon wore for the cover shoot of Sgt Pepper.

“It was great to see so many Barcelona fans,” says Hooton. “It was an example of real synergy: they came here because of the football and they’re enjoying the musical history. Football is massive for tourism here. When we win, it gets bigger and bigger. People were saying on Tuesday, that’s added another 10 million fans around the world.”

Carline could feel the economic benefit of success from the moment Divock Origi’s winning goal hit the back of the Barcelona net. He hosts events for big matches; more than 1,000 people came along to watch the Champions League final on big screens at the hotel last season.

“I was in car park at Anfield after the final whistle on three phones telling my staff here to get ready for the rush for tickets for the final,” he says. “Next morning we sold out in five hours: one thousand people.”

When they come to watch the game, his guests will be able to enjoy the exhibits harking back to the glory days of Shankly’s reign. Reading the manager’s famous quotes decorating the place is to be reminded how this man from the Ayrshire coalfield embraced his adopted city. Hooton, who has written Tales from the Boot Room about the Shankly legacy, suggests there are parallels with Klopp.

“He’s the nearest thing I’ve ever known to Shankly,” he says. “He’s got the same leadership qualities, his natural enthusiasm. Look at the T-shirt Mo Salah wore on Tuesday night. ‘Never Give Up,’ it said. That’s the mentality Klopp’s brought. And it is very Shankly.”

Soon after arriving on Merseyside, Klopp came to the Shankly Hotel. He spent five hours with the owner and members of the Shankly family, learning about his approach.

“Jurgen fits this football club and this city in a very similar way to my grandad,” says Carline. “When he came here, he told me he was a football romantic. That mirrors very much who my grandad was.” That is why Hooton, like thousands of Liverpool followers, is so optimistic Klopp will deliver the title. He gets the club.

“Brendan Rodgers nearly won us the league [in 2014], which would have been great. But if he had, we’d never have got Klopp. It’s almost fate,” he says. “That was why that victory on Tuesday was so significant. It was won on the fundamentals established by Shankly. That mentality and unity, Klopp’s building something, you can feel it. With him you know we’ll get there. If not this year, then soon.”