NOEL KING, HOST:
Last night, Liverpool's soccer team did what it was not supposed to be able to do.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Go on and take it quickly - Origi.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Yeah. We got it.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Over (unintelligible). We got it.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Yes, you did.
KING: Liverpool beat Barcelona to advance to the Champions League finals - and not just beat them. Liverpool crushed Barcelona 4-0. Barcelona is widely considered to be the best club in the world. This is a very big deal for the city of Liverpool, and Wright Thompson is here to tell us why. He's a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He's joining us from his home in Oxford, Miss. Good morning, Wright.
WRIGHT THOMPSON: Good morning.
KING: All right. That tape was delightful. For the uninitiated, what are the Champions League finals? Why was this such a big deal?
THOMPSON: Well, you know, this was to get them into the Champions League finals, which is a league made up of the best teams from the leagues all over the world. And so it's an honor for teams just to be asked to compete in it. And it really is the best of the best playing each other. And it's, you know - as you could hear the sound of their voices, it's a very big deal.
KING: Yeah, it was - that was terrific. It wasn't just a win, right? It was a comeback against Barcelona.
THOMPSON: Correct. They play home and away. And so they lost 3-0 in Barcelona, which means that they had to win 4-0 at home. So I mean, even if they'd won 3-0 last night, it wouldn't have been enough. And so it really was a miraculous comeback.
KING: They had to crush them. You were recently in Liverpool. You wrote a long story - a long piece called "Liverpool Rising." Will you explain why this team is so important to the city? Tell us about Liverpool and what this team means to them.
THOMPSON: You know, Liverpool is a dock city. It is an industrial city that was in decline for a very long time. I mean, I have a book out that's a - right now called "The Cost Of These Dreams." It's a collection of stories very much like this Liverpool story.
And there's a line in the intro I've been thinking about for the last 24 hours. And I wrote an essay as a preface, and it talked about, you know - the line was these tribal ideas of home and family and sporting events played by strangers. And that absolutely is what's happening because if you start in the '80s with the decline of the docks and Toxteth riots and the city's, you know, really left-wing reaction to Margaret Thatcher and on and on and on, so many of these things that Liverpudlians - which is a delightful word to say - feel about themselves are represented in this team that takes the field at their stadium called Anfield. And it is very, very tribal, which is interesting because Liverpool is one of the few places I've ever been that manages to be a modern, multicultural, global city, and yet retain enough of its tribal soul to still feel like itself.
KING: So people in this city really hang their hopes on this team.
THOMPSON: They hang many things on them. They hang hopes. They find a great deal of joy that they are poised to finish first or second in the English League, which they haven't won in 29 years. And that will happen or not happen this Sunday. And I think that if you ask fans around Liverpool - that, yes, they desperately want this long-awaited title. They desperately want to win the Champions League final that's coming up on June 1.
KING: Well, I'll be rooting for them. Wright Thompson's new book is called "The Cost Of These Dreams: Sports Stories And Other Serious Business."
Thanks so much.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, Wright Thompson incorrectly says the Champions League is made up of the best teams from leagues all over the world. The Champions League is a tournament involving only the top European clubs.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.