This Means More: My 45 Year Love Affair with One Bird

As the late night euphoria of Saturday became an equally euphoric dawn, there was, in the oxymoron of blissful sleeplessness, a moment of stunning reflection.

The Beatles sang of places I'll remember, and for Liverpool supporters of all ages and generations, the cities of Rome, Paris and Istanbul (not forgetting London) are etched permanently in our consciousness. Madrid is now spectacularly added to that list after a night which brought tears and joy in abundance.

As someone who openly speaks about my life with mental illness, of attempting to take my own life, of a freedom giving perspective in life, it surprises some that a mere football match can be the stuff of tears, that it can mean so much.

But then again, one of the best recent chats I heard on the brilliant Anfield Wrap discussed the very essence of "why we are how we are" - the beautifully simple answer is that we just are and #ThisMeansMore. This club is embedded deep in the souls of its supporters.

I'm one of those lucky enough to have lived in Liverpool for several years and, for a long period, had a season ticket through the West Midlands Supporters Club when I was at home. This city, this club, gets under your skin, it floods through every pore, captivates you, makes you feel truly alive.

For me, my moment of reflection merely emphasised the joy of what had happened in the Wanda Metropolitano just a few hours ago.

Quite simply, Liverpool Football Club has been there all of my life. I didn't ask my mum to support them in the old Division Two before I was born, it just happened.

And in the 45 years since, Saturday being the most joyful 45th birthday imaginable, it has remained the constant, even at times when all else was falling apart.

As an innocent and joyful kid, there were wonderful memories of commentary on Radio Two, the trips to the Kop, the European nights on television. Even after all these years, little brings as much hilarity as trying an Alan Kennedy style celebration à la Paris and Rome.

The events of 1989, even as a teenager, impacted on me and I hope I have learned so much from the compassion, strength and dignity shown by so many.

Even at the age of 15, Hillsborough had a profound effect on me. I'd been at the 1988 Semi-Final as a 14 year-old and watched in horror from afar, being away on holiday, at what was unfolding. At 15, you don't really understand why you are crying over people you don't know in person, but I felt broken inside.

Most recently, the renaissance under Jurgen Klopp and a Liverpool side launching a sustained attack on major honours has been captivating, invigorating and quite stunning.

However, it is my most difficult times which tell a story of their own. Somehow, my darkest days of mental illness almost matched a walk into Liverpool themselves being challenged, two things totally unrelated but which essentially provide the magnet that I have with the club and the city.

In those fifteen dark years of illness, relationships and friendships, faith in God, my finances, my physical and mental wellbeing were all shattered into pieces. Even then, my love and relationship with Liverpool Football Club was often the one thing that brought me any kind of joy and hope.

On the day I returned home from an attempt on my own life, Liverpool went and turned over United... in my moment of utter despair was a light shining over L4. At a time when I was crying out to be alone in the almost terminal sentence of mental illness, supporting my club was the one time when I knew I never walked alone.

One day I'm in hospital trying to come to terms with trying to end my own life. 48 hours later, I'm in ecstasy on the Spion Kop surrounded by 43,000 brothers and sisters most of whom I'll never know in person. It was truly mental.

In fact, far from the 'man-up' stereotype, I found the terraces and football a place where men could cry both in joy and grief without judgement, because we all understood how much it meant.

So for me, as with so many others across the world, there is a story, there is a passion in the soul, a yearning for the success of Liverpool Football Club.

This is where I have made lifelong friendships, this is where I have managed to stay alive when dead inside... this was and is my constant, my lifelong companion, my bird, the Liver Bird upon my chest for 45 years.

Times may change, priorities change and I may not be at the match like I always was, but a piece of my heart remains in Liverpool constantly, staring at the clock in Lime Street Station, queuing for a pint in The Sandon, taking my place in Block 104 of the Kop, walking up Bold Street towards the bombed-out church afterwards.

So yes, this means more and it is never just a football match, it is a way of life, it's my family, my first love... and my first love just arrived back at Europe's top table, and I can't see it leaving anytime soon.

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