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Jordan Henderson’s Embrace Captures the Magic of Liverpool’s Triumph

Jordan Henderson’s Embrace Captures the Magic of Liverpool’s Triumph

Tuesday, 11 June, 2019 - 06:00
Jordan Henderson hugs his father Brian after Liverpool’s Champions League triumph. Photograph: BPI/Rex/Shutterstock
London - Daniel Tylor
It was just before Christmas in 2013 when Brian Henderson, a retired police officer from Washington, Tyne and Wear, went to have a cyst removed from his neck only to be told it was cancer and that there was no guarantee, as there never is with that cruel, indiscriminate disease, that he would see it off.

At first he did not want to tell his son, Jordan, because he was worried about how it might affect the performances of a player, then 23, who was already finding it hard enough to prove he was worthy of succeeding Steven Gerrard at Liverpool. Then, when father and son finally had that dreadful, life‑changing conversation, the 59-year-old decided it would be better for Jordan not to see him while he was undergoing treatment.

It is brutal, radiotherapy. “The worst thing I’ve ever had in my life,” Brian says. He reckons he lost four stone during the long, gruelling process to shrivel the carcinoma in his throat. A tumour had to be cut out of his tongue, leaving a hole the size of a 50p piece, and he needed surgery to remove the lymph nodes from both sides of his neck.

Brian had once played on the wing for the England police team but in the summer of 2014 he was too unwell to catch a flight to Brazil to watch his son play in the World Cup for England.

All of which might offer a little extra context if you have seen that wonderful clip of father and son meeting by the side of the pitch in the Estadio Metropolitano, an hour or so after Jordan had lifted the European Cup on Liverpool’s behalf, and holding one another in an embrace that was so tight, so loving, so beautifully spontaneous, it felt as if we were witnessing a moment that might surpass anything we had seen during the final itself.

It was difficult to know how long they were clamped together. It was quite some time, though, before they prised themselves apart. And, again, it would have needed a flint heart not to be moved by the power of that father-son bond when a television reporter from Optus Sport stopped Brian – spectacles, pink shirt, grey hair – to ask if it was even possible to sum up his emotions.

He started by telling the story of taking a 12-year-old Jordan to Old Trafford to see the 2003 Champions League final between Juventus and Milan. Jordan, he said, had been so mesmerised by the size of the occasion, the full stands, the colour, the noise, he had told his father on the journey home he would play in such a game one day.

How did it feel, Brian was asked, at that precise moment when his son was about to lift the trophy and the entire football world was watching? “It’s just very emotional,” he said, with that lovely north-east accent. “The tears come. You start shaking. You grab your wife, you grab your daughter-in-law, you grab anybody that’s around you … just so, so happy.”

By this stage the stands were virtually empty and the crowds were on their way back to the beer‑soaked pavements of central Madrid where, if you had seen how many Liverpudlians were shoehorned into Spain’s capital, it is fair to say the city could forget about getting too much sleep.

Those supporters probably did not realise that, if they had hung around a bit longer inside the stadium, they would have seen some of the night’s more tender moments. The scene, for example, when a couple of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s mates somehow found their way on to the pitch to have a kickabout with one of the red-shirted heroes. They started off with some keepie‑ups. Then Alexander‑Arnold was generous enough to play one of his defence-splitting passes and suddenly one of his friends was running through the middle, bearing down on goal with the chance to stick the ball into the net. Never mind the fact it was past midnight and the beaten Tottenham players had already started boarding their coach outside.

Usually the team who win this trophy would disappear into the tunnel for their champagne and dressing-room selfies. Here, most of them stayed on the pitch because that was the easiest place for their families to locate them. Toddlers wearing Liverpool shirts with their dad’s names emblazoned across the back frolicked in the silver tickertape. Alisson’s wife, Natalia, could not be there because she was expecting their second child, so Liverpool’s goalkeeper Face-timed her to show the medal he had just won.

The only minor problem came when Dejan Lovren took a pair of scissors to the goal where Divock Origi had swivelled on his left foot to score a goal described by one commentator as his own version of that Gary Lineker, Italia 90, finish.

Lovren tried to cut away a piece of the netting to take away as a souvenir. At which point a clutch of worried-looking men in suits – Uefa officials, no doubt – pointed out they could not be absolutely certain this was permitted. Virgil van Dijk fancied a bit of that net, too, and was not impressed at all by their jobsworthiness. It did not make any difference. No player had found a way past Van Dijk all season, but this was one battle he was not going to win.

No matter. Kevin Keegan, one of the heroes of the 1977 final, always used to say that when Liverpool brought back European trophies to Merseyside it made him feel as though they were in Ancient Rome, like warriors returning from a bloody conquest to show off all the gold and loot they had plundered. Jürgen Klopp and his players will find out for themselves when their open-top bus sets off from Allerton Maze into the city centre.

It was estimated there would be 50,000 Liverpool fans in Madrid but it turned out there might have been twice that – outnumbering their Spurs counterparts in such a way it was possible to wander along Gran Via or any of the main thoroughfares in Madrid and forget there were two English clubs in the final.

That is not intended to belittle Spurs, who have a 62,000-capacity stadium now and are regarded by some as possessing the best away support of all the London clubs. Yet the past few days have served as a reminder about the sheer size of Liverpool, their right to be considered one of the giants of the sport and – judging by the number of Asian, American and Australian accents (and that is just the As) – their global reach in this internet age.

There are only Real Madrid, with 13, and Milan, on seven, who have won the European Cup more times than Liverpool’s six and Klopp was right when he said his players have to soak in these moments – cherish them, remember them, recognise this kind of euphoria does not come along too often.

It would be easy to write that Liverpool must use this victory as the platform to find a way past Manchester City next season and to dwell on the fact they still have the aching disappointment of going 29 years without winning the English championship.

Right now, though, is this the moment for think‑pieces about how a team who have won the European Cup, reached consecutive finals and accumulated 97 points in the league, setting all sorts of club records in the process, can do any better? They have not done too badly.

Next season, Klopp promised, he could guarantee another epic battle with City. But first he wanted to celebrate and drink and sing, including his own version of Salt‑N‑Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex (Klopp making it “six”) during one interview.

Enjoy it now, he said, because you never know what the future can bring. Something Brian Henderson, one of the proudest dads you will ever see, knows very well.

The Guardian Sport

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