It goes without saying that there has been precious little happy thoughts to muse upon here at the Deeg of late. Sure, Scizz and Yachter have firmly pronounced their excitement about NASCAR and Linsanity, and Apologist is - if he cared to share here - fascinated with the NBA season's progression beyond just the could-be-flash-in-the-pan Jesus loving Asian-American from Palo Alto, but these are not matters of sport life-and-death (to the extent there is such a thing... which there is...). Even Yachter, the Deeg's Crown Prince of Hyperbole and Contrarianism, would admit - as he has already - that watching the Knicks these days is fun, not fanaticism; the joy increased, in aggregate, by the absence of any true possibility of pain.
Of course, it goes without saying that the true, shared foci of our fandom are little more than utter disappointment of late, leaving an understandably jaded tone to much of what we might say here about our Bills or Sabres.
Which is why, at the tail end of a tiring week of work with moments of excessive drinking mixed in, I'm overjoyed to talk a little bit about the Liverpool Football Club and their upcoming shot at taking home the League Cup.
Perhaps. There are a litany reasons of why I don't give a steaming turd about such objections, not the least of which is that they arise out of ignorance and xenophobia and stupidity and other insulting words that overgeneralize haters of the best motherfucking sport on this planet. So, instead of dismissing this out of hand, let's take a brief journey through my reasons this Cup Final is a big deal.
1. Liverpool has been shit at times this season, but is ninety minutes away from silverware.
Let me first say that this is a big deal even if you don't care about Liverpool, since it epitomizes the excitement and complexity of European soccer and how the various competitions are structured. One of my favorite things about the sport - and, to a certain extent, the MLS achieves this as well - are the built in second chances and alternative means to success. Unlike every American pro sport, British soccer's main season is based solely on record. The league leader at the end of a 38 game Premier League season is the Champion. No playoffs, no chance of an underdog putting together a magical march through Goliath teams en route to a title. In essence, it's as if there's a world where the President's Trophy would actually mean something.
This year, Liverpool has never had a shot at the Premier League title. From Match Day 1, when they drew to Sunderland while Scizz, Aps and I watched cars racing around The Glen, Liverpool has pretty much played themselves out of title contention. The big dogs of the league - this year, in essence, the two sides from Manchester and the Harry Redknapp's lads from Tottenham - have handled business with frightening consistency, and Liverpool never really had a chance to keep up.
As it stands, Liverpool are also barely holding on to hope of a Top 4 finish, which would guarantee them an opportunity for UEFA Champions League play next summer and fall. Recent losses to shit sides like Bolton, for instance, have created an uphill battle, even with other sides tripping over themselves to give Liverpool a shot at moving up the table. (Sound familiar Sabres fans?).
But, then there's the League Cup (and the FA Cup, god-willing, but that's for another day /crossing fingers in fear of sorrow) and Liverpool suddenly has the ultimate mulligan. A chance to hold a Cup high above their heads and allow their fans a day of unbridled joy in victory. Sure, it's not a League title, and it's not a Champions League birth, but it is silverware, a Europa League qualification and a decent chunk of change for the Club. As shitty as the team has looked at times, they have the chance to put a positive stamp on the year and give their fan base a reason to hope for continued progress in the coming months.
2. The journey to the Final was nothing short of magical.
The obvious caveat: The League Cup tournament, while exciting, involves matches against lower-tiered British clubs that never really had a chance to compete against quality Premier League teams. Second caveat: some Premier League clubs, believing the League Cup to be a lesser competition (which it is), didn't play their best teams for this tournament, leading to their early exits.
Caveats aside, Liverpool's victories in the tournament included a 2-1 victory at Stoke (one of the tougher pitches to play, given the narrow lines and Stoke's box-crowding defending), a 2-0 victory at Chelsea (on the heels of a 2-1 league victory at Stamford Bridge just nine days before), and then a 3-2 aggregate win over Man City (including a 1-0 victory at Etihad Stadium). In fact, all of Liverpool's matches were on the road (a symptom of the randomness of Cup draws), which makes their run all the more impressive. Need more proof? Watch this. UNREAL.
Knowing full well that approximately 5% of our readership cared to watch that video in full, you'll simply have to take my word that there was a ton of brilliance shining off Liverpool boots throughout their journey back to Wembley. In the midst of uninspired play in the Premiership, the club found a way to keep pushing forward on this alternate track. With as much frustration as I have had with my teams failing to show any hint of passion, any shred of realization of how important the whole thing is to those of us who choose to watch, it has been no small comfort to see the Reds continue to put effort into this Cup. Again, with full recognition of the existence of bigger and badder fish to fry, it has been fun as hell to see them succeed against some of the best teams in England.
3. CRAIG BELLAMY.
Bellamy has provided much needed grit and spark on the Liverpool squad this year. With a team as young as ever, the 32 year old Bellamy has been a shining example of what guys like Carroll (22 years old) and Suarez (24) should aspire to on the pitch. With his second tenure with Liverpool, Bellamy plays with a fierce desire and loyalty to the club, and it shows whenever he takes the field. This, in particular, will be an interesting facet of Sunday's Final, as Bellamy seeks to bring Cup glory to his current club while playing against another former club, Cardiff City. While Bellamy's time there was relatively brief, via a loan from Man City, Cardiff is also where he grew up. In fact, he had stated that he would have loved to stay there and help them achieve promotion into the Premier League, though that dream ended when he was given an open door to return to Anfield. Any sports fan should be able to appreciate how special and emotional Sunday may end up being for Bellamy, and I am excited to see how he performs under this particular brand of pressure.
I'm an Anglophile, tried and true, so perhaps I'm overstating the importance of Wembley Stadium (and perhaps such is true with respect to any and all statements I've made in this piece), but the place is EPIC. Seating 90,000, with an extra 15k of standing room capacity, it puts American venues to shame and is the second-largest stadium in Europe. It's an English cultural center as well, having hosted huge concerts (back-to-back 88,000 fan U2 shows, for example) and the 10th Anniversary Commemoration of Princess Diana's death. And, of course, despite being a newly constructed venue which opened in 2007, its name signifies a particularly British insistence on maintaining links with the past. THIS IS SOMETHING WE YANKS ROUTINELY FUCK UP. The first Wembley Stadium, opened in 1923, was a temple of football and sports history (including 1992 WWF SummerSlam! Say Word!), and the fact that its replacement retained the name of the park on which it was built - rather than taking on a corporate branding which I'm sure would have meant a delightful windfall - is a truly special thing. As much as purist sports fans like to gripe about sponsorship and corporate branding taking over sports and venues, it is refreshing to see that a place like this still exists.
With the name comes the history, of course, and with the history comes the bragging rights of Liverpool Football and the opportunity to build on them. Wembley, hosting League and FA Cup Finals over the years, has been a frequent destination for Liverpool. LFC won four straight League Cups in the early 80s, and then again in 1995 during their last victory at Wembley. (Note: Their other 2 league cup wins were at Millennium Stadium when the New Wembley was being built. Those 7 League Cup titles are the most of any club). Add in FA Cup titles at Wembley in 1965, 1974, 1986, 1989, 1992, and you have a sense of how rich LFC's history is there. (Again, other FA Cup victories were had in 2001 - the year of the League Cup and FA Cup Double - and 2006, though these were at Millenium Stadium as well).
Sunday, the Club looks to regain Cup glory and create another entry into the history books of Liverpool Football. They look to gain momentum as they continue their quest for that Top 4 finish and continue their efforts in the FA Cup (in which they have played themselves into the quarterfinals following a hilariously one-sided victory over Brighton last weekend), all the while confirming to their fans that life really is different under the Reign of Dalglish.
Sunday morning will be a wonderful moment of sport pomp and circumstance, and I'm full of *cautious* optimism about what to expect from the Reds. Having done the work to get there, of course they need to do the work to finish the deal, and Yachter would have my head if I didn't concede that Cardiff is an opponent capable of taking the wind out of my sails and pooping all over my dreams out of karmic spite. They've been to Wembley their fair share of times lately, and since their promotion to the Championship in 2003, they've consistently been on the cusp of promotion to the Premier League. They also proved they could hang with a Premiership squad by beating Blackburn 2-0 in the quarterfinal, and given Liverpool's draw against Blackburn at Anfield on Boxing Day, there is certainly reason for fans to temper their breathless praise.
With all this, and more that I've chosen to left unsaid, HOW CAN YOU NOT BE EXCITED??
Ah, Eff it. I'm done with my pitch - essentially an excuse to avoid the Sabres game, work and studying for a few moments on a rainy Friday evening - and, whether you watch or not, there's a world full of Liverpool fans elated to see their boys try for a big win. As for me, in the midst of ongoing studying and employment obligations, I'll be glued to the TV for a brief couple of hours, happy to have had a reason to unload some joy on the pages of the Deeg, and just as happy to have you all tell me how much of a boob I am for unabashedly loving a sport about which most of our readers have no interest. So have at it and comment below. Or don't.