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A surreal feeling for Liverpool's supporters
AS news came in on Friday morning, with confirmation that Liverpool had finally clinched the English Premier League (EPL) title to end 30 years of waiting for the club's long-suffering fans, it was indeed a surreal feeling for many of us.
Liverpool clinched the trophy with seven games to spare, after their closest challengers, Manchester City, lost to Chelsea, a result that meant Liverpool - the runaway league leaders - could no longer be caught. Just 24 hours earlier, Liverpool defeated Crystal Palace 4-0 inside an empty Anfield stadium.
Months ago, I had secured a once-in-a-lifetime chance for my young daughter to walk Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson out onto the pitch for this very fixture, but that priceless opportunity could not materialise as the Covid-19 pandemic brought the EPL season to a halt in mid-March.
With mixed emotions, I stepped out of the house on Friday to head to work. The first sight to greet me that morning was, believe it or not, a football fan wearing a Manchester United jersey.
This is indeed the essence and beauty of sports. Football cannot be viewed in a vacuum, and Liverpool's great rivalries with the two Manchester neighbours - Manchester United and Manchester City - have made supporting Liverpool more fun, frustrating at times, and sometimes sad.
During the Covid-19 crisis, when football and most other sports ground to a halt, football pundit Gary Lineker said in a Financial Times article that "it is OK to miss football". Indeed, for many fans, football is a welcome distraction from the daily grind of life. With the stoppage of the games, however, I found myself missing my family and football buddies more than watching the actual games.
Over the years, I would use football as an excuse to meet up with different friends along with my family every matchday. With the lockdown, I missed going to Kwan or Howard's homes, to the neighbourhood coffee shops and to the bars, to watch the games. Football is truly a social game too.
30 years in the wilderness
A football club exists to win and, in recent seasons, Liverpool has been excellent on the pitch. Liverpool has won more than 60 per cent of its games in the last 30 months. It speaks volumes of the team's quality that even a draw feels like a defeat these days.
When Liverpool last won England's top division back in 1990, it was inconceivable to many fans that it would take three entire decades for the team to win another. Over this period, Manchester United went from strength to strength, both on and off the pitch, as the sport developed into a multi-billion-dollar phenomenon.
Liverpool went through 30 years in the wilderness, despite tasting occasional success along the way. One manager after another tried their best to bring back the glory days, but could not. Mediocre players sometimes wore the same jersey numbers of the club's greatest legends. Efforts to reach out to the club's fanatical Asian fan base were largely flat.
The club even strayed dangerously close to bankruptcy at one point. False dawns were aplenty. Second-placed finishes in 2001, 2009, 2014, which should all have been springboards for the future, were followed instead by the sale of some of the team's most influential players.
For a very long time this season, most Liverpool supporters have lived in expectation of enduring yet another heartbreak.
From the initial worries that the team would somehow find a way to throw away the huge lead at the top of the table, to the fear that the season would be cancelled and declared void due to Covid-19, we are thankful that these heartbreaks never came.
Recently, I had the privilege to organise the You'll Never Walk Alone fundraising campaign with the Community Chest. It was a truly family affair. My son and his friend Barnabas planned the publicity campaign from scratch with the Community Chest team. Singapore's Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, an ardent Liverpool supporter himself, donated a custom pair of running shoes.
Liverpool CEO Peter Moore and watch specialist Dominic Khoo contributed a unique timepiece. Retired Singapore football player Lim Tong Hai was among the many people who came to lend their support to this worthy cause.
Through the many heartbreaks, this family spirit kept Liverpool's supporters together. For a long period of time, this family spirit was the only thing that the club's fans could cling onto in the absence of success by the team on the pitch. Even in the last few years as Liverpool won one trophy after another, this family spirit has remained strong. Having visited many football stadiums around the world, Anfield is the only place where family initiatives feel planned with much love and care.
After 30 years, the patience and love of the global Liverpool family have been rewarded. The Reds are now champions of the world, champions of Europe, and most importantly, champions of England.
- The writer is a CEO of a multi-national company who, despite being a lousy football player himself, has been trying to use sports to teach his children about resilience and to never give up.