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“On Sunday all English people will have lunch while we play football. Who made this decision?
“It’s my first time [playing in the Premier League] at 12pm. It is really interesting to see who makes these decisions. But we can’t change it obviously, so we have to play then.”
These were the thoughts of Jurgen Klopp before an extra-early lunchtime kickoff last year against Swansea. Clearly his players were thinking about Sunday roasts and they duly lost 3-1.
Eight months later, the kickoff time was 12.30pm, the day was Saturday, the opponents were the same, but the venue was Anfield, not South Wales. Even so, Liverpool still didn’t turn up. In a game that was a must-win given Chelsea’s relentless pace at the top, the manager and the crowd were incredibly mute for the first hour of the match.
“It was very very quiet” the German complained after the Swans neutralised Liverpool in the first half and then stunned them in the second to win 3-2.
The 49-year-old had his own way of dealing with the reticence of the English in his first season at Liverpool. When the Anfield ‘faithful’ started leaving the stadium after a late Crystal Palace goal in November 2015, Klopp said that he “felt pretty alone” and although careful not to criticise the fan base, he suggested there was another way of showing a team support and that “we decide when it’s over”.
One month later, witness his insistence that the team join hands on the pitch and thank the support after Divock Origi’s 96th minute equaliser against West Brom. The move was scoffed at in some quarters, but the point Klopp was making was that everyone was in this together.
Turning “the doubters into believers” is still a work in progress. During a recent victory over Sunderland, the manager was reduced to maniacally throwing his arms around to try and whip up the watchers who were moaning at his team’s impotency
“I have to do a job and the crowd need to do a job. Sometimes you need reminders in life. It was obviously easy as they were ready. It is better to play when the atmosphere is like this.”
It is not like the Yellow Wall (pictured below) at Dortmund where 25,000 stand and provide the noise of a unit baying for their team as if their lives depend on it. There are some things that you just cannot replicate.
Klopp is not the only one to get exasperated. Jose Mourinho has always had a bit of a problem with the volume control of his English followers. The passion and fervour of the Premier League is much talked about but it is becoming a myth.
When he was in his second stint as Chelsea boss in November 2014, Mourinho suggested: “It’s difficult for us to play at home, because playing here is like playing in an empty stadium.”
Before his new side’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool earlier this month, Mourinho suggested the clash with Man United’s fiercest rivals must “not be a visit to the theatre”, and invited the fans to “come and play with us”.
Arsene Wenger has bemoaned the flatness within the Emirates on many occasions. In a survey of 17,000 supporters in November 2013, over half those taking part said that the atmosphere inside was “poor”.
The Frenchman mused: “You know that when you go to Sunderland the crowd plays every ball. When you go to Everton the crowd plays every ball. Then in London the crowd is a bit more relaxed.” That’s one way of putting it.
Above: Fans caught sleeping at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium
Even the gregarious and engaging Klopp is still working on Liverpool’s loyalists, silenced by 26 years of hurt and a nervous sense that the modern-day team will flop when the big prize comes into view.
The Swansea defeat was the first of four consecutive home games in 10 days for the Reds. The next match is a perfect chance to re-energise the crowd. A two-goal victory over Southampton will ensure another trip to Wembley.
The build of modern stadia do tend to suck the atmosphere out of games, while being up close and personal appears to be a thing of the past.
At one point, United hired an acoustics expert to try and improve the noise levels at Old Trafford, but there is a sense that the English struggle to create the intimacy and atmosphere that makes them feel part of the event. The Bundesliga have fought hard to keep safe standing and affordable pricing to generate the extra buzz of a youthful crowd.
Any fan can get excited by a comeback, but there needs to be a lifeblood running through the stadium so that the electricity of the drama is elevated. As Henry Winter, the former Telegraph writer, once pointed out, Dortmund and Bayern fans don’t demand an opera-style stance of “entertain me”.
On Saturday, the Liverpool supporters had empty stomachs, but seemed almost expectant to the point where they forgot they had a job to do. It didn’t help that the Swans were exceptionally well-organised by Paul Clement, who had enjoyed a whole week of preparation after the rather unlucky 4-0 drubbing suffered at the hands of Arsenal.
Sir Alex Ferguson once described Old Trafford as having the atmosphere of a “funeral” – and that was after his team had completed 10 home wins on the trot. Anfield was like a library yesterday. It sounded like all the Liverpool fans were in the reference room.
It looks like those title dreams will have to be rescheduled to 2017/18.