By James Keen (TTT Subscriber jimtheoracle).
The no-man’s land of the summer is an odd time for all football fans. For most of us, the love and support we lavish on Liverpool Football Club represents one of the most intense, long-lived and important relationships in our lives. Liverpool Football Club will be there throughout the majority of our existences, aside from the casuals or the apostates of course. But from late May until mid-August, our love of football is, against our wishes, put on hold. We rely on the relentless march of the season to sate our desire for the sport we love. There is always another game in a few days and then abruptly there isn’t; I always feel bereft for a few days after the FA Cup Final. What am I going to do now? Of course life carries on and there are barbecues to go to and holidays to have with your family, the genteel carefree cliché of the British summer has no place for the rugged and irascible beautiful game; but for me, somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain, a countdown begins after the FA’s Wembley showpiece until the new team takes to the field for the first time in August.
On reflection though, it is probably a good thing for us to have the year arranged in this way, an enforced absence probably does us all good in the long run. On the one hand it gives us all a chance to recharge our batteries and gain some perspective on the preceding nine months. Whether this occurs of course is open to debate, the most cursory glance at Twitter would suggest that perspective is in pretty short supply all year round. But for a lot of us the summer is a time for revision, collation and evaluation, because of the analytical nature of fandom in 2013 we spend our time discussing statistical findings, percentages and offering opinions on who we need to sign, trying desperately to identify who the proverbial “final piece of the jigsaw” is. Fans, players and staff alike, we need some space from each other to remember what it is that we loved about each other in the first place; absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder it seems.
On the other hand, and counter-intuitively, we are all perhaps more obsessed with the club during this period than we are during the season, without the macro sense of the season where we have regular games, press conferences, interviews and observable events to occupy us. The summer boils it all down to a micro sense of what the team will look like in August. That is the only concern available, as to all intents and purposes the club is shut down over the summer, unlike the fans, in the land of Twitter, blogs and social networking. They do not shut down. We get more obsessive and read more into tiny pieces of information. Often this is relaxed and light-hearted. But the hysteria filter of Twitter still does its worst to distort the importance of stories oozing from the least welcome or verifiable of sources.
This is a time when a sea of transfer rumours and counter-rumours flood the Internet, newspapers and whatever your particular gossip delivery system of choice is from all over the world. With the synchronising of transfer business in the major European leagues, FIFA and UEFA have ensured attention is focused on their sport for the few weeks a year when it is not (technically) the centre of awareness. Even in the recent past, football would be off the back pages throughout the summer, but now the saturation of the sports pages is absolute. Andy Murray at Wimbledon and an Ashes series have done their best but the World Cup warm-up tournament the Confederations Cup (which we are asked now to give weight and import to) and the proliferation of youth tournaments in odd-numbered summers means that there is opiate available for all of us to mainline if we want. Mostly, we cannot help ourselves and the authorities know this.
Opening the window
But the major source of discussion is the transfer window. Clubs all over the world prepare for July 1st from months or even years before, all of their energy put into preparing for the start of the summer break and the opening of the window. Agents and players consolidate their position or actively try to move on from their current clubs. The managers are in some ways much busier during the dead time of the off-season than they are during the regular timetable of the league season playing games every few days. Or at least they are pre-occupied with the administration of the transfer deal rather than the bread and butter of the training pitch, which I’m sure frustrates them all as this is where most of these committed football men would rather be.
There are many fans that view the summer with outright hostility and hibernate until mid-August when the relative sanity of the league season starts again. These fans opt to side-step the gossip and hysteria that inevitably follows the flood of unfettered tittle-tattle and tall tales that overwhelm us all in this period of uncertainty. Unfortunately there is genuine import to this period of time, the circus that surrounds it is frivolous but the window itself is far from unimportant. Because having a productive and successful summer, getting your transfer deals correct and maximising the players leaving with the players coming in is perhaps the most important time of the year. It is the time when you have to reshape and remodel your team, it is the time when the manager spins the roulette wheel and prays his scouts and analysts are worth their wages. In that sense a football club is like a shark, it must keep moving forward or it will drown. This means that some ruthless and emotionless decisions must be made. Beloved players will retire or be moved on and unknown quantities will be brought in. Using the experience of the previous season, the club has a chance like us to revitalise and reflect, then using the information gleaned, plan for the forthcoming weeks, months and years ahead. When we look at our club and our team it is the point at which our dreams and desires begin to take shape.
No matter how we view the season that has just finished, as Liverpool fans there is always the hope that next season will be the one that delivers title number 19. Before the stark reality of the difficulty of winning the Premier League is shoved in our faces we can dream and fantasise. In that respect my life as a supporter has not changed since I was seven and would play the entire team in the back garden. Putting together intricate passing moves before my beloved Rushie would score a hat-trick every game and we would always beat Everton 8-0. Right now intellectually, I know how unlikely it is, but I hope and I dream that we can compete with the top three and be back where we should be. It is our collective mission to achieve this goal; we will not rest until this football club is firmly back on its perch. On this we can all agree, whether we are traditionalists, out of towners, new supporters or old supporters, casual or committed. This desire unites and transcends us all and despite disagreements on the minutiae of running a club and a team and even the rights and wrongs of being a Liverpool fan, one thing we all share is an overwhelming desire to be collectively the best we can be. We cannot look into the future but we all want desperately to be the club we dream of. We hope the summer is when this dream can start to become a reality; it is a time of great optimism and expectation.
Opening the box
In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger proposed a thought experiment illustrating a problem that he observed with a particular interpretation of quantum physics. His experiment proposed putting a cat in a box and closing the lid. Within the box is a vial of poison; the poison will be released at some unspecified moment in the future. Therefore according to Schrödinger’s logic it is impossible to know whether the cat is alive or dead and therefore must be considered to be both alive and dead at the same time until the box is opened and the reality of what has occurred can be revealed.
Once the gates at Anfield are closed at the end of another season, the club is locked and only observed from the outside. Everything that occurs behind closed doors does so relatively unseen until the gates are opened again in August. We speculate on transfer targets and debate the merits of the players coming in and how we feel they might positively and negatively affect the group and how they might affect the tactical plan. YouTube videos are exchanged or made to illustrate a particular player and the benefits of adding them to the squad, and endless tables of stats by statisticians of varying quality bombard us with ideas about who will work and who won’t, and evidence that this is the case. But the only way to be sure what stage the team is at and how much closer we are to where we want to be is to see the team play and observe how they fare in the league season.
In other words until the club is opened up again in August, the team can be said to be both a success and a failure. It is only by observing it that we will discover which it is. During the season the team is a vehicle for us to project ourselves onto; we interpret its personality and will mean different things to each of us at different stages. But in the summer this is magnified because the team is a blank slate, it is vacant, a cipher, it doesn’t have a personality or a voice yet so it can be all the things that we want it to. It is positive and negative, sacred and profane, right and wrong. It is all things to all fans.
This is hugely frustrating because as a fan we are by our very nature impatient. It would be great to be sure that the team will improve, that the signings will all be huge successes and that the gap at the top of the league will be closed. But as Paul has pointed out, at best about 50% of transfers succeed, but which 50%? That’s the $64,000 question. Or considerably more in mosrt cases. Mkhitaryan might be awful and Aspas might be the game changer. Alberto might be the heir to Iniesta or Toure might be past it. Or the reverse of all of those positions, but despite my understanding of the numbers my dreams contain a team where all of these players are successes and we are brilliant. But I am generally positive thinking anyway, so my projection onto the gestating, foetal team is generally positive. But subjective projections from individual fans will depend hugely on the extent of their positive or negative outlook on the club; but shouldn’t we be overwhelmed with positivity by the blank sheet of paper that the summer affords us? The probability is that we will be a bit better than we were last season but will not be champions. Let’s enjoy the unknown and relish the summer by dreaming that we will be the best we can be.
Faith and hope
As fans we have in recent years adopted a much more analytical way of trying to prove definitively one way or another whether the team is working, whether players are delivering all that they could be. But at the centre of our supporter’s heart is a strong article of faith, faith in the team, faith in the manager or faith in each other as fans. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t feel irrationally drawn to this historic footballing institution. Those emotional responses of faith and hope seem archaic when compared and put alongside the statistical analyses or more scientific methods employed in the modern game, but it is those responses that mean Anfield is full every week as we congregate in that great Victorian cathedral to see whether our dreams and desires will become a reality.
Hope is ultimately the overriding emotion that I feel during the summer months. Hope that the team will be the team we all want to see. Hope that when the box is opened not only is the cat alive but that it has discovered a new found sense of vitality and purpose. That the coaches are all that we hoped they would be and have managed to persuade our bipedal mammalian feet to grip onto Fergie’s fucking perch that we all want to see us on top of again; particularly at the expense of the other reds from down the road. Even the most cynical of supporters has to feel that buzz of hope and positivity by the time the eve of the season finally comes round. Along with all the pomp and circumstance that the Premier League offers, it is exciting to see what the club has been working on and I love the feeling of waiting to see that work unveiled to the public. Because on that day the team could potentially be a championship-winning side, it could be a team to live up to the great teams of the past. That within that team there are heirs to Dalglish, Rush, Hunt, Keegan or Souness.
Schrödinger’s football team is a complete mystery until the box is opened. But I hope that they will be magnificent, I hope that they will fulfill all my dreams, I hope…