What would life be without sport? Sure, I’ve grown to appreciate plenty of things away from it but right up there with family, friends, food and travel is a love of sport I can’t shake.
They say your first love changes you forever and Liverpool FC was mine. Watching them made me feel things that nothing else could.
In 2005, on that famous night in Istanbul, I stormed up the stairs crying at 3 nil down, unable to sit with the smirks of my family and suffer further humiliation at the hands of AC Milan. A sore loser of the highest order, I watched the second half alone in my room, sulking my way through Dunphy and the boys proclaiming victory for the Rossoneri at the break. Then Gerrard scored a glancing header, Smicer a second and Alonso a rebounded third.
My heart was in knots, agony to ecstasy and far too young to understand it. Far too wrapped up in the thoughts of returning to the front room and facing my embarrassing exit to enjoy the greatest comeback of all time.
But face them I did. Eyes raw from crying, smile beaming from ear to ear because nothing ever felt so good.
Supporting Liverpool has been quite the ride. When I was christened a red without realising it in 1990, my brother getting to the cot before the Leeds and Man United supporters in the family had the chance to recruit another victim, few would’ve predicted I’d have to wait thirty years to experience a Premier League win.
From Rush to Fowler to Owen to Torres to Suarez and now Salah, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster all the way through, while the longing, wishing and waiting for the league title made it all the sweeter when it finally arrived.
Tears filled my eyes watching the trophy presentation, even though Covid meant the ceremony was held behind closed doors. It was a lifetime in the making, and although I technically didn’t kick a ball along the way, it felt like I did. That’s what happens when you’re emotionally invested in sport.
You see, Liverpool had won the league a thousand times in my imagination. I commentated over countless victories on the green-cloaked Subbuteo board that slept under my bed. I coached them to victory in Championship Manager. Simulated title situations kicking the ball between the pole and tree in my local estate.
I guess it’s easy for me to quantify what it means to be a Liverpool fan because it’s all I’ve ever known. When it comes to golf, however, the relationship is far more complicated.
For this article, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it means to me to be a golf fan. I know the many benefits the playing side of the game gives me but when I’m watching it, how many times does the ancient club and ball game make me feel things that Liverpool do.
The Ryder Cup definitely evokes a similar passion. When half of America trod on Jose Maria Olazabal’s line at Brookline in ‘99, I wished evil on Justin Leonard that I dare not repeat. But Ryder Cups aside, golf is largely a game played by individuals, and outside my patriotic urge to favour those born on this island I call home, there are only so many reasons I’m going to emotionally invest in a player, and there’s a whole bunch more that will see me turn the other cheek.
And look, I’d love to live in a land where I view sports stars through a singular prism, where I can filter out the bad to focus on their feats of sporting brilliance. But as a fan of pro golf, I am bound to the individual whether I like it or not, and their actions, inside and outside the ropes, have consequences.
The Saudi sportswashing scheme has exposed a number of LIV golfers who I can no longer support. By taking that money, they’ve made their priorities abundantly clear, and while it might provide them with work-life balance, early retirement and generational wealth, it doesn’t match up to what I value as a sports fan.
And I’m actually not bitter, honest. I can even wish them luck in their new endeavours without losing a minute’s sleep. Why? Because there happens to be an abundance of players just as good, if not better, who play on tours that I can get behind, where winning and losing matters and the essence of sport is preserved.
And before you LIV loyalists ask, yes, I watched some of LIV this past year. I even tried to watch it with an open mind, which is incredibly difficult to do given the personalities involved and the money funding it.
But I tried at the Boston event, the only one that stands out from memory. And I watched Dustin Johnson’s eagle putt assault the playoff hole before finding the dark for his first LIV win, and how the galleries embraced their champion, and how the champagne celebration spat bubbles in the air. I could even see why some people might get excited about it, especially if you were there to witness it live.
Only I wasn’t. I was watching on YouTube, and while I don’t judge anyone who enjoyed DJ’s final hole heroics, all I saw was a guy prepaid 150-odd million dollars hole a putt to win four million more.
And just as I suspected, I felt nothing.