EPL Champions After 30 Years: What Liverpool’s Win Taught Me About Victory and Defeat

It’s the moment every Liverpool fan has been dreaming of. After 30 long years, countless close runs, and a three-month delay no thanks to Covid-19, Liverpool Football Club have finally been crowned Champions of English football, with a record-breaking seven games in hand and a 23-point lead.

We’ve been champions of Europe and champions of the world over the past 13 months, but there’s been one trophy that has eluded us thus far, and it’s this: Liverpool FC, English Premier League Champions. 

Until now.

All of Liverpool’s trophies have been special, but this one is extra special not just because it’s taken 30 years to win it—but while other trophies can be won by flashes of brilliance, a big-game mentality, and (sometimes) an incredible stroke of luck, the Premier League campaign is a long-haul competition that requires consistency, focus, and perseverance over 38 matches. 

As a Liverpool fan of 17 years, I’m accustomed to last-gasp victories, dramatic comebacks (think Istanbul 2005 and more recently, last year’s overturning of a 3-0 first-leg semi-final defeat by Barcelona in the Champions League) . . . and also squandered leads, so winning the EPL almost feels too good to be true.

Any Liverpool fan will remember the pain of how we lost the title by just one point in the last Premier League campaign after our unbeaten run and seven-point lead was derailed in January, so even as we’ve inched closer to victory with every game, I must confess that I’ve been holding my breath, not quite believing that we’re finally getting there. 

But over the past few months, the players stretched themselves to their physical limits and gave it their all, racking up a 25-point lead this time, and it seemed like the Premier League Cup would finally be gracing the trophy cabinets of Anfield. 

And then, Covid-19 happened, and the Football Association contemplated cancelling the season, threatening to erase the impact of all those hard-won victories. 

But the team continued to walk on, even though their dreams were “tossed and blown” . . . and finally, following a few months of deliberation by the Football Association, the English Premier League was allowed to restart again. 

After a brief stutter of a draw against Everton last weekend at the Merseyside Derby, and a resounding 4-0 victory against Crystal Palace on Wednesday night, Liverpool fans caught a glimpse of that “golden sky” and the “sweet silver song of a lark” announcing the end of our storm.

It’s finally, finally our year.

 

4 Lessons I’ve Learned About Defeat and Disappointment

As I reflect on the team’s incredible journey and my experience as a Liverpool fan, I couldn’t help but think about my own journey as a follower of Christ—which is often filled with starts and stops, and more moments of my dreams being “tossed and blown” than moments of glory.

It got me thinking: How can I learn to turn my disappointments in defeat into fuel to never give up and keep going?

 

1. Keep our eyes on the right prize

In my battle with sin, I’ve often found it easier to zone in on one or two issues I want to eliminate: today it might be learning to be kinder, gentler, more humble (Ephesians 4:1-2); tomorrow, it might be weeding out envy and discontentment. This leads to small victories that might last for a couple of weeks at best . . . but it doesn’t change me from the inside out.

And I’m learning that perhaps this is because I’ve got my eyes on the wrong prize. Instead of pressing on towards “the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14), I might be running “aimlessly” or boxing “as one beating the air” (1 Corinthians 9:25)—fighting without a clear purpose in mind.

But when I fix my eyes on the right prize—becoming more like Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith”, who endured the cross “[f]or the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2)—then it becomes easier to see challenges and defeats as opportunities to cultivate joy and Christlikeness.

A tagline that has been covering the stands at Anfield shouts, “We are Liverpool, this means more” reminding everyone associated with Liverpool that this victory means so much more than just about winning another trophy—and seeing it flash up during games always gets me pumped up on behalf of the players. How much more then, should it be for us as Christians, knowing that the prize we are receiving is one which is imperishable (1 Corinthians 9:25), enduring, and doesn’t have to be passed on from team to team?

 

2. Don’t just rely on past glory

I was first drawn to Liverpool because of players like Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, and Jamie Carragher, but it was Liverpool’s illustrious history that cemented my status as a fan. I was particularly enthralled by stories of how former manager Bill Shankly inherited a languishing team in the Second Division and rebuilt it from scratch, turning Anfield into a fortress that would terrorize opponents, and laying the groundwork that would lead to the glory years of the 1970s and 1980s. 

But as the last 30 years has demonstrated, it isn’t enough to just rely on past glory or history, but to keep looking forward, rebuilding, and strategizing. In an interview Liverpool’s current manager Jurgen Klopp gave hours after the team was crowned champions, he shared about how the players “love being part of the story of this club and the history” and how they used that history to motivate themselves to go all the way and win the league—while adding their own names and stamping their own mark on the annals of history. 

Recently, I was challenged to write a two-minute life testimony. As I reflected on the turning points on my journey with God, I wondered, “If someone were to ask me about my walk with God today, what would I say?” 

Would I just be rehearsing those “mountaintop” moments that I’ve memorized by heart, or would I be able to share about how God has been quietly but surely working in my day-to-day life as well? While it’s important to always recall what He’s done in the past—am I also looking for fresh manna from Him each day? How can I, too, be challenged to keep building my life on the foundation that Christ has set for me (1 Corinthians 3:11)—and yet keeping my eyes on the future at the same time?

 

3. Give it everything we’ve got

One of my favorite quotes from Bill Shankly is his retort to an injured Tommy Smith, “Take that bandage off! And what do you mean your knee? It’s Liverpool’s knee!”

This is the same spirit that has characterized the current Liverpool team—one that’s relentless and never gives up, all for the sake of the club’s glory. Even when we finished with 97 points in the Premier League last season, the third highest total in English football history, but just one point short of the main prize, the team kept going—surpassing themselves each step of the way and culminating in the record-breaking season we’ve just had.

What if I also saw every part of my body and the gifts and talents that God has given me in the same way—not as my knee or my fingers, my lips or my skills—but God’s gifts, God’s body, to be handled with the utmost care in service of my Maker? Would that change the way that I treat it or see my worth? Would I be less afraid of using what I have in service of others and more intentional about stewarding them well?

 

4. Harness the strength of walking with others

Even those who are unfamiliar with Liverpool’s history would have heard of our famous theme song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. When the fans fill Liverpool’s Anfield stadium (and many other stadiums of our opponents) with their spine-chilling rendition of the chorus, crackling the atmosphere with its magic, they’re often been credited with being the “12th man on the field”, driving the players towards impossible victories.

The Liverpool fans have always had a special place in my heart, and it’s not just because we have a stirring theme song or the best manager and players in the world (although we do). But there is something about enduring tragedy (the Hillsborough disaster), seasons of triumph and disappointment, lack of sleep, barbs from fans of rival teams, and betrayal (Owen signing for Real Madrid remains the most heartbreaking moment in my time as a Liverpool fan) together that has helped us forge a deeper connection—in spite of our geographical distance and cultural differences. 

The kindness and encouragement I’ve encountered from my fellow Liverpool fans over the years remind me just how important it is to surround ourselves with people whose strength we can harness and lean on in moments of defeat and disappointment. 

And even more encouragingly, I’m reminded that in Christ, we’re all part of an even bigger family, one in which there’s room even for the fiercest football rivals to co-exist, and to share in each other’s joys and sorrows (2 Corinthians 1:7). 

 

There’s still seven matches to go in the English Premier League and more records to break before the boys can relish in their victory and enjoy their well-deserved rest. And for us fans, even though Covid-19 and social distancing restrictions might mean a very different kind of celebration than what we have envisaged for the past 30 years, I’m sure seeing our captain Jordan Henderson officially lift the trophy will bring a rush of emotions that will stay with us for a long, long time . . . before we get ready to keep going again for yet another season.

One thing I’ve learned as a Liverpool fan and a follower of Christ is that setbacks will come and there will be times when we’ll grow weary, feel discouraged, and be tempted to lose heart (Hebrews 12:3). During those times, may we continue to rally around each other, to “strengthen [our] feeble arms and weak knees” (Hebrews 12:12) as we focus on our ultimate goal in this life. 

For now, let this sink in for a bit: We are Liverpool, champions of Europe, champions of the world, champions of England.

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