The End of the Storm (2020)

A Liverpool to remember in ‘The End of the Storm’ (2020)

At the end of the season, English clubs typically issue a compilation of highlight videos. But at the beginning of the 2019/2020 season, Liverpool felt they had a good chance to win the EPL. So they recruited James Erskine to follow the club season-long and work on a documentary, somewhat along the lines of the Sunderland and All or Nothing series. 

The difference was that Jurgen Klopp would not let a film crew invade the team’s inner space the way those series did, and also, this was only a feature-length film. It wasn’t going to feed the voracious content beasts of Netflix and Amazon. To me, The End of the Storm is all the better for it.

Rather than just show all the goals, Writer-Director Erskine gets Klopp, the team leaders, and club legend Kenny Dalglish to give their views of the highest highs and the lowest lows. Erskine also gives us the background on Liverpool, once the biggest club in England, but now 30 years away from a Premier League championship. Liverpool fans from around the world are loyal and ever-hopeful, but Klopp’s entrance in 2015 has certainly changed Liverpool’s trajectory.

In the prior season, Liverpool had claimed 2nd in the league (to ManCity) and had won the Champions League (vs Tottenham). They are still on a roll. In 2019/2020, they win the UEFA Super Cup (Aug-2019) and the FIFA Club World Cup (Dec-2019 and LFC’s first World title). At one point, they are 25 points ahead in the table. Surely, nothing short of a disaster can stop Liverpool from winning the EPL.

And of course, an hour into the film, the pandemic threatens everything — not just individual goals or the season, but life itself, everywhere in the world. Erskine doesn’t dwell on how COVID affects all of mankind, but instead he shows the impact on the sport and how the team sticks together and weathers the storm. The league is suspended for  2 months and resumes with a compressed schedule to finish all the matches without fans in the stadiums. Liverpool become EPL Champions.

Playing in a pandemic

It’s funny how soon we forget that massive upheaval just 3 years ago: millions of deaths, apocalyptic empty streets, months of isolation. I remember thinking at the time, how can the leagues resume playing? How can they justify putting players at risk of infection? In accordance with that concern, some leagues shut down and declared no champion.

For Liverpool though, the long-standing Jordan Henderson and his teammates express how much they want to finish this season with a title that they well deserve. Their words make you realize how much football means to them, and that they are willing to risk infection to achieve a lifelong goal. On the other side, for the fans, watching football means a return to normalcy and in that sense gives them hope that there is a future beyond the pandemic.

Looking back now, I can’t remember any sport that returned to play, followed precautions, got infected, and then participants or staff became seriously ill or died. Maybe I’ve just forgotten? In any case, whether altruistic or strictly a business decision to keep the football economy rolling, at this point 3 years into the pandemic, I have to side with how the decision turned out. Maybe by 2030 we’ll see memoirs where players express their feelings about playing under those conditions.

Liverpool fans

Quite a bit of the film covers Liverpool fans around the world. Director Erskine had directed an episode about Liverpool fans in Rwanda for the Amazon series This is Football. Liverpool wanted him to do the same thing in this documentary. The fan interviews play up the idea that being a Liverpool supporter builds family and community relationships through a shared passion. While I understand that this film and the club needed to reach out to its supporters, it does make the film more of a marketing endeavour, and caused me to lower my rating a bit.

Klopp, always Klopp

How can you not love Jurgen Klopp? That smile. So honest and self-deprecating. His story about his father is so touching. Like Alex Ferguson‘s story, when the son doesn’t work for and achieve the success that the father believes is attainable, the two fall out. In Jurgen’s case though, his father died without ever seeing his son’s managerial success. Jurgen could not experience that moment of Father-Son pride.

Contrasting the way Liverpool played in this film with the way they play today was a bit sad. Liverpool had a roster that could perform the way Klopp wants to play, and clearly he doesn’t have that now. Sadio Mane, Fabinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wijnaldum, Keita and Milner are gone. Jordan Henderson left for a Saudi paycheck, and Mo Mania Salah will probably leave too. Virgil van Dijk got injured.

After 2019/2020, I remember hearing an opinion that Klopp was only good for 5 years. Watching this film made me realize that maybe Klopp is not the kind of manager who churns rosters to achieve a certain style. Maybe he doesn’t tell a player to leave once he has aged out, nor ask a player to stay if he has an interest in going elsewhere. I think he seeks a kind of equilibrium of togetherness in his team, and if he is lucky, that equilibrium settles at the top of the league.

My confusion on “You’ll Never Walk Alone”

I’ve always wondered why “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is the anthem for Liverpool FC. My first exposure to the Rogers and Hammerstein song was when I saw the film “Carousel” which, as a young’un, I found thoroughy depressing. I mean, your Dad is killed while committing a crime before you were born? What’s the upside of that?

But in researching this film, I listened to the Gerry and the Pacemakers version (which I remember hearing 60 years ago) and I read the lyrics for the first time. It’s such a dirge in Carousel, but it’s a little more uplifting with the Pacemakers. And it’s curious that it seems to have caught on in Anfield in the 1960s, at a time when LFC was winning. But certainly, as a football or sports anthem, it works out really well for LFC fans and is a hymn that welds stadiums into both sword and shield.

When you walk through a storm Hold your head up high And don’t be afraid of the dark

At the end of a storm There’s a golden sky And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind Walk on through the rain For your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on With hope in your heart And you’ll never walk alone

Lyrics to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Rogers & Hammerstein

BTW, for a really interesting exploration of the history of the sports anthem “Who Let the Dogs Out”, I highly recommend this podcast episode by 99% Invisible.

In Conclusion

James Erskine’s The End of the Storm nicely captures Liverpool’s winning season during a pandemic.

8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8

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