This article is co-authored by A J Cortese and Gabriel Li.
Famous Chinese commentator for the English Premier League, Zhan Jun posted on June 2nd, Beijing time. “Finally it’s time to shout out loud: Liverpool is the champion!!” June 1st is the international children’s day, also a special day for Liverpool fans when they were preparing to stay up late until 3 am to watch the match. In China, as for most of Asia, staying up late has become a way of pledging your allegiance as a football fan. Due to the time difference, Champions League matches are often played at 3 am on weeknights, testing the resolve of even the most fervent supporters. Thankfully for fans in China, the UCL Final between Liverpool and Tottenham in Madrid was early on Sunday morning, sparing millions of fans an exhausting day at work.
“You don’t call yourself a true fan if you don’t stay up until 3 o’clock”.
Liverpool has a massive following in China. For the post-80s generation, one Champions League memory that stands out is the “Miracle in Istanbul”. 14 years ago, when AC Milan took a 3-0 lead, all hope seemed lost for Liverpool. Following a rousing 3 goal comeback led by captain and legend Steven Gerrard, Liverpool would go on to win on penalties. This unforgettable night would endear Liverpool to many millions of Chinese fans, who fell in love with the romantic story of an improbable comeback, and an epic victory. The “Miracle in Istanbul” can never be replicated, but its impact carries on to this day, as Liverpool supporters all around China flocked to support their club on European football’s biggest stage once more.
In England, fans call Liverpool “Reds” for the red jerseys they are wearing. For Chinese fans, the nickname “red army” has a deeper implication. It stands for People’s Liberation Army, which has the same perseverance and determination with a history enduring and prevailing in the face of adversity.
Of the trying Long March the Red Army makes light; Thousands of rivers and mountains are barriers slight.
The essence of this poem is similar to Liverpool’s club anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” which is commonly abbreviated to YNWA.
When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
For Liverpool fans, history granted them the opportunity to witness greatness in a span of just fourteen years. A top Weibo post commented, “Why do we love Liverpool so much? From the miraculous night in Istanbul to the expected win of Real Madrid. Fourteen years of reincarnation shows the fact that everyone, with a dream, should never give up what he loves, whether it’s football or your life.” This clearly portrays the inspirational quality of football for people all over the world.
Liverpool has had a magical season in which they pushed Pep Guardiola’s legendary Manchester City team for the title to the final week in the Premier League, and completed an epic comeback at Anfield in the Champions League semi-final vs Lionel Messi’s Barcelona. A Chinese football fan posted on WeChat moments after he watched the Liverpool-Barcelona semi-final second leg on May 8, “I’ve cried several times for Liverpool. I have so many things to say, but can’t say anything, feeling like a fishbone stuck in the throat. The trident (formed by Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino), even with two broken, reversed the game with a 4-0 victory. The red army no longer needs to feel pity for what happened last year. Anfield believes in miracle forever YNWA.”
There is a feeling of redemption for Liverpool fans, as this year’s Champions League triumph erased the bitter memories of last season’s loss to Real Madrid, highlighted by two goalkeeping errors. This time around, Liverpool’s big money signing, new goalkeeper Alisson made some crucial saves to keep a clean sheet. Along with man of the match Virgil Van Dijk, the Liverpool defense was the foundation on which they created this amazing season. Charismatic Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp had developed an unfortunate reputation for losing in major finals, failing to win the first three he reached with Liverpool. However, that has been completely disproven by his team’s controlled and clinical performance in Madrid, as the Liverpool went on to win their 6th European Cup in the club’s history.
The story is touching in a way that there has been years of disappointment and sadness. Ten years after the Istanbul miracle, the stories of past glory was struck by the melancholy end of Steven Gerrard’s career. Another Chinese Liverpool fan commented, “It was in 2015 when I was studying in London, it was Gerrard’s final game, which astonishingly ended with a devastating 6:1 defeat. I couldn’t forget that Gerrard’s face.” Liverpool’s quest for a Premier League title has been excruciating, when in 2015, Brendan Rogers led a brilliant side with an in-form Luis Suarez, only to fall just short against Chelsea with the iconic Gerrard slip. Now Reds all over the world can celebrate their new heroes like Mo Salah, Virgil Van Dijk and Andy Robertson.
This year, the Champions League final was live-broadcasted on CCTV5, and collaborative platforms including Youku video and Migu Video, the online video platform of China Mobile. However watching streaming online alone is far less exciting than joining some football fanatics in crowded bars in Beijing. What’s more eye-catching is this year’s final is literally a “civil war” between two top ranking teams in the English Premier League, the first time two English teams met in the final since 2008 in Moscow when Manchester United defeated Chelsea on penalties. In China, the Premier League attracts the largest fan base, available on a total of 27 live-broadcasting platforms. With two of England’s top clubs competing for club football’s most prestigious trophy, it was always bound to be popular in China.
Featured photo credit to the Times