I tweeted out, sometime before kick-off, that I’d write something about the Liverpool vs Manchester United match. I wanted to write one of the hopefully fun match reports that I like to do. I haven’t done one in a while and I like to write and you only get better by doing it more often, seeing what works, seeing what doesn’t.
The point of those, when I do them, is to find a narrative in the match. Not a spurious way of hyping a player up or questioning whether another is in the midst of an interminable decline. Not about whether referee calls swung the match and just *how* wrong they were to make that particular call. Something fun, something with emotion and problems and (perhaps) resolution. The director’s cut of reality.
It would have probably involved how much I was hoping Mourinho would get into an argument with Klopp and, perfectly pettily, flick his glasses off. Klopp would look bemused, chuckle, and then point to a spot of dirt on Mou’s gilet. Jose, with his face in an even glummer frown than usual, would look down. Klopp would throw his finger upwards and flick Mourinho in the nose. That would be fun.
I made a couple of notes at the start of the game but gave up after a while because I was FaceTiming my brother and – I mean, it wouldn’t be hard to guess – it was far more fun than paying attention to the match.
If you wanted to, you could carve something interesting out of this dry-bled stone of a game; about how United came out and pressed Liverpool, covering the centre of the pitch quite well. How as the game wore on, spaces opened up and United’s defence looked increasingly shaky.
But I can’t say any more than that because I was chatting with home. There was a fun minute-and-seven-seconds delay between my (parents’) SkyGo stream and my brother watching it live on the TV. At times I wondered about whether they (my Dad was also in the room back home in the background) were showing admirable restraint in refraining from cheering and woeing at events that unfolded, but then I realised it was just *that* type of a game.
The match reports, the match ‘stories’, that I do are about heart. They’re about recgonising that everyone can get the key events of a match from Twitter feeds or highlights online and that, by and large, no-one really cares about the rest of the game. We care about the story, we care about heroes and villains and the love in our hearts for our team and the loss in our souls when they lose. We care about heart, and the game is largely incidental.
About 65 minutes in I asked whether Firmino had been on the pitch the whole game. My brother said that he had and I (in jest) said that I didn’t think so, and then noted the more important point that he had very white teeth. As did Coutinho and Fellaini, and that maybe they got their teeth whitened together.
In the 88th minute, or something, my Dad said with surprise that Rooney was on the pitch. “Yeah,” I said, via the magic of the internet, my face coming from my disembodied face on a screen that wasn’t even facing him “He came on about twenty minutes ago. Weren’t you listening to our [mine and my brother’s] conversation?”
I’d brought up Gerrard’s infamous slip when the sub had been made. Me and my brother had laughed about how the best part of it is that his slip came after a terrible piece of miscontrol. So much is made of the slip that you forget he lets the ball roll straight under his foot and into the path of Demba Ba. When you see the clip again, it’s like the old joke has a new punchline.
We laughed a lot. We laughed about how my brother is always a lot louder whenever I’m around, and how my parents both get used to zoning us out, “like working next to a railway line, you get used to it after a while” as my Dad said.
I wasn’t going to write anything about this match. I hadn’t been paying attention to it, I didn’t know what narrative, what story, I could draw out of it. I didn’t know how to make it interesting and how to make people care.
But then I remembered that we care about football for reasons that don’t make sense, and we care about our players and fellow fans like family. The football is incidental. It’s the fun along the way that matters.