My best friend Jordan was a Liverpool FC fan. The club went thirty years without winning a title – longer than Jordan was on this Earth.
Growing up, I used to take great pleasure in reminding him how awful at football Liverpool were. Jordan was bigger and more popular and better looking and better than me at everything. It was the only leverage I had.
In 2014, when we were young men living together in the first place that wasn’t our parents’, the team went on an incredible run. I’d never seen Jordan loving life the way he was in those weeks. Like all Liverpool fans, his swagger increased with every win. Then in one of the last games, Steven Gerrard – Liverpool’s captain and talisman, the apple of the fans’ eyes – slipped and gave the ball away at a crucial moment. It cost them the match and ultimately that elusive title.
I often think of the images of Gerrard after that slip. A local working-class boy turned global icon, pushed down by the world of expectation on his shoulders in front of a hundred television cameras. Truthfully, I felt for him as a man, as a human. But I could never show it.
I used to send Jordan relentless comedy GIFs and memes of that Gerrard slip, accompanied by laughing emojis. He would retaliate by threatening to tell everyone all my embarrassing little secrets. I knew he wouldn’t, though. I knew all his embarrassing little secrets too.
In 2019, Liverpool went close again. By the time it slipped through their fingers once more, we knew the tumour that had been discovered on Jordan’s brain was inoperable.
Even when he lost his speech; even when he could only just use his hand to send messages, there were always new Gerrard slip memes to send him and I couldn’t resist.
But the last message between us was something innocuous. A thumbs up emoji in response to me telling him I was five minutes from the hospice.
That animated yellow thumb became a remnant of him, I guess. I look at it often and always will.
Tonight, Liverpool Football Club became champions and it’s the top national news story. I’m on my own. On the TV, there’s images of the players and fans in tears. There’s champagne and red and white ticker tape everywhere. Everyone’s singing the club’s anthem – You’ll Never Walk Alone.
I’ve been looking at Jordan’s thumb the whole time.
I message back.
I tell him ‘About time’.