“What do you do when you figure out the world isn’t made for you? Remake it yourself so that it fits. Or, at least, so that a small corner of it does.”
—The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater, Alanna Okun
If you are looking for me on matchday, I’m the one tucked away at the back of the pub knitting. If my project is simple and Liverpool FC’s opposition are unthreatening, I’ll probably be working on the brim of a hat or a sleeve for a sweater — anything I can knit without looking down at what my hands are doing. If the project is more complicated and requires a bit more attention, that’s what halftime or the early match of the day is for. Most of my fellow fans probably couldn’t tell you my name, but if you asked them about the woman who knits, they’d know exactly who you’re talking about.
I became a knitter after I became a football fan and it seemed inevitable that I’d find a way to mix the two. Knitting satisfied a limitation that I’d repeatedly come up against as an avid sewist: Though I could sew clothing in shapes, cuts, and styles I might not be able to buy commercially, I was constrained by the fabrics available to me. Knitting goes one step further in allowing you to create the fabric itself in whatever colour, motif, or shape you want as part of the overall construction of a garment.
My enthusiasm sometimes extends past whatever my skill set might be, and so it only took a year for me to go from a fledgling knit newbie to knitting my first Liverpool-inspired sweater. I found a pattern I liked and immediately set about re-designing all the motifs from the original so they could feature Liverpool. I obsessively researched Turkish knitting motifs so that I could represent the Miracle of Istanbul, the 2005 Champions League final that saw Liverpool lift their fifth European Cup. I fussed over which text elements to include, as if the sweater were a banner on the Kop, before settling on song lyrics (“to glory we will go”), the years of each of Liverpool’s five European Cup wins, and a smattering of obligatory “YNWA”s. I hand stitched a giant Liver bird on the back as if it was the questionable back tattoo of one of my favourite players. It took an entire month to plan, a month to knit, and, sadly, six years later it no longer fits!
None of this would be necessary, of course, if club shops would stock clothing options for female fans that weren’t uniformly awful. (In fairness, they hardly do any better with the men’s range, but at least there’s much more variety to pick — or not — from.) Would I have to design and make my own mittens if the ones offered by the club weren’t a nondescript black with the team’s logo embroidered somewhere on them? Would I have to keep an endless supply of red and white yarn on hand if there were options other than dubious v-neck tees with “Liverpool FC” written across the chest in glitter or an undulating, dainty script, or sometimes both? In truth, I probably would. Because no matter what the offerings are, none of them are going to be customized to my taste and none of them are going to be a true expression of me and what I feel for this club.
And that’s really what it’s about: I could knit pretty much anything — and I do — but my football knitting is really about how I situate myself within a larger fanbase, how I express what might otherwise be inexpressible. Football fandom has come a long way in the last few decades, but there are still elements who do a very good job of making sure you feel like an outsider if you don’t meet an ever-shifting definition of what it means to be a fan. So you carve out a space that is your own, one that focuses on the things that bring you joy rather than whatever arbitrary criteria works for others. I’m never going to be an obsessive memorizer of facts and figures; I can’t tell you which Liverpool player scored the most goals during the season where they earned a permanent promotion back up to first division football and, perhaps more disgracefully, I do not care. I don’t know former manager Roy Evans’ blood type. Anyone who finds it important to quiz me on arcane trivia is never going to be satisfied no matter how many questions I get right, and so I choose to sidestep the cred-checking altogether.
It’s not about not caring about our history — the history is very, very important, especially to a club like Liverpool — but about caring about that history in a different way. I couldn’t tell you the attendance that night at the Atatürk Stadium, but I’ll always know Liverpool won their historic fifth European Cup in Turkey because of those motifs intertwined in the very fabric of my sweater. I couldn’t tell you the shirt numbers of every former Liverpool player, but I can tell you Lucas Leiva wore number 21 the season I knit a pair of mittens with his number on them for a fellow fan. I couldn’t tell you the score of the game, but I definitely know it was Manchester United we played the morning I stood outside the pub waiting for it to open at 7am on a frigid January morning in the double-wrapped scarf I knit to keep me warm in that exact scenario. I can’t tell you who scored Real Madrid’s goals in Liverpool’s devastating Champions League final loss in 2018 but I can remember the absolute bliss of the Reds’ ecstacy-inducing season up until that point every time I pull on the second Liverpool sweater I finished just in time for a trip to Anfield for the last game of the domestic season, two weeks before the final.
Knitting itself is part of the long history of football, though that’s not immediately obvious despite how highly visible its legacy remains in the game to this day. The humble football scarf is now considered an integral element for fans demonstrating their affiliations, but long before they became commercially available they would have been lovingly crafted by someone at home, likely a mother or grandmother, maybe a sister. Women have always been a part of the game’s history, often as the invisible pair of hands doing the work of creating a precious object to be held aloft in a sea of other scarves during your club’s anthem. It’s the image sold to fans around the world as the quintessence of the beautiful game and it’s one that would be nothing without miles of yarn and a few modest techniques.
During the run-in to last year’s Champions League final, Liverpool put on a gorgeous 4–0 Champions League masterclass over Barcelona that saw the Reds overcome a deficit of three goals from the first leg to advance to their second final in as many years. It was another historic win to add to the list of matches that comprise the much-revered but never oversold “famous European nights” at Anfield, and it ended with one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever witnessed in a match: the team going to the fans, with their glorious scarves held high, to join in singing the club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
The final was not one that will stand out in anyone’s memory as being especially enjoyable, but the result was the one that Liverpool’s semi-final heroics ultimately deserved. I don’t doubt that there are people committing to memory all the important stats that tell the forensic story of the match, but me? I’ll be tucked in away in a corner, needles clicking fervently as I work on my victory knitting. I’ll commemorate these lads and their accomplishment in the only way I know how: by creating something that lets me wrap myself in the same warmth I felt when Liverpool FC were crowned the six-time Champions of Europe.