There are just two home games Jürgen Klopp has not been present for in his four years and seven months at the club so far. Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland on February 6, 2016, and Liverpool 1-0 Shrewsbury Town on February 4, 2020.
While the former was forced and the latter was by choice, both occasions represent significant markers and moments of progress for the club.
That was the key line from Fenway Sports Group’s statement four days after the draw with the Black Cats.
On 77 minutes of that game, an estimated 10,000 home supporters had left their seats in protest at the recently announced restructuring of ticket prices for the 2016/17 season. A plan which included pricing some seats in the new Main Stand at £77 and certain season tickets at £1,029.
They made their point, and they were heard. The fact the Reds went from 2-0 up to drawing 2-2 in those final few minutes may just have exacerbated it that bit further, even.
FSG’s statement the following Wednesday acknowledged the supporters’ disappointment, that they got part of their proposed approach on tickets wrong and, in turn, announced a price freeze for the following two seasons. Something which saw the highest priced matchday ticket and season ticket remain at £59 and £869 respectively.
While this represented a low point — with regards to supporters doing what they did to get their feelings across — those stepping out of Anfield undoubtedly played a big part in the club, as a collective, making strides forward.
“We have always stated that this is a journey that the owners should embark upon and this is a positive step in the right direction towards fairness and away from greed, but it is only one step,” said part of a joint statement from supporters groups Spirit of Shankly and Spion Kop 1906 in response to the reconsideration.
Klopp, of course, wasn’t there to see it first hand. A bout of appendicitis diagnosed earlier in the day had forced him into surgery. Perhaps, it could be argued, it wasn’t a bad occasion for him not to be on the touchline, given the work he’d already done in building up that player-supporter bond. Though it would, admittedly, have been interesting to see how the German would have responded had he been in attendance.
As it was, Zeljko Buvač, Peter Krawietz and Pepijn Lijnders took charge on the day and — as we’ve become increasingly accustomed to — the latter cut a thoroughly engaging and impressive figure as he took on the media commitments after the game. That, surely, will have acted as an invaluable experience for the then 33-year-old.
The owners’ statement emphasised their commitment to progressing the club and justifiably cited how this was: “Exemplified by the £120 million advance from FSG to build the new Main Stand.”
That steel structure was towering over the old one at the time. It felt like a potential symbol of promise, progress and forward-thinking then. Even more so now.
Two days short of four years later, said stand and Anfield as a whole was sold out and booming for the FA Cup Fourth Round replay against Shrewsbury Town.
Ticket prices — in a satisfying piece of symmetry — were significantly reduced.
Why? Perhaps partially because of the competition and the nature of a replay’s swift arrangement. Primarily, though, this was because neither Klopp nor the first-team were under the Merseyside floodlights. Instead, they were on the Premier League winter break the German had stood firm on respecting.
Things were left in the more than capable hands of Neil Critchley and his u23s side. As the headline of a James Pearce piece for The Athletic pertinently observed, “different names, average age less than 20, but unmistakably Liverpool”.
The usual figurehead didn’t need to be present for his and the club’s overarching work, influence and philosophy to be on display and put into familiar action.
That could have been said in the stands almost as much as on the pitch. The support offered to those in Red was just as intense and impassioned as so many matchdays are at present.
There is a collective, coherent togetherness that flows through these days and nights at Anfield now. It was there in the goal celebration. It was there at full-time. It was there, perhaps most significantly, in the tougher moments.
The Klopp-based parallel between these two occasions simply represents a convenient point of reference.
Here are two examples that display the progress that can be made in a single 90 minutes, the progress that has been made over these last few years and — perhaps most excitingly — the considerable progress that can be made in those to come.
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