LIVERPOOL – In the stand Liverpool's most fervent fans usually sit, sway and sing, captain Jordan Henderson received the Premier League trophy.
The party on the Kop was the culmination of a quest to end a 30-year title drought that began 348 days ago, before the outbreak of a new coronavirus that jeopardized the season finishing.
English football trophies are never handed out in July but the chilly weather felt more like winter when Liverpool started to run away with the championship that meant only the pandemic — no opponent — put glory in doubt.
For three months, players and fans agonized whether the season would even resume. They only way they could was with fans shut out of the stadiums. No exemptions. Not even for a title party.
Instead seats on part of the Kop were removed and replaced by the purple podium where manager Jürgen Klopp followed by his coaching team and players went up to collect their winners' medals.
Mohamed Salah was wrapped in an Egypt flag. Trent Alexander-Arnold, the 21-year-old Liverpool-born defender who has never seen Liverpool as English champions, peered down inspecting his medal.
Finally, the trophy was received as fireworks exploded around Anfield, smoke and pyrotechnics filling the emptiness of the arena where Liverpool had just beaten Chelsea 5-3 in a thrilling final — and 18th — home win of the season.
“It would be perfect with the stadium full,” Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp said. “But you cannot change it."
As his players partied around him on a field covered in confetti, Klopp had a message for the absent supporters.
“I don’t know when this (expletive) virus is gone," the German said. “Then we will have a party all together. Make sure you are all ready then.”
The Premier League trophy didn't even exist when Liverpool was last champion of England in 1990. This new competition was only formed two years later.
But Liverpool's 19th title was clinched the earliest of any time in English football history stretching back into the 19th century, by winning with seven games to spare.
"The expectation is so high," Henderson said. “It’s been a process, it’s been a journey. It hasn’t happened overnight.”