Simon Meakin is back with a bang. Here he discussed the crisis at the Etihad, 1960s American TV, 70s pop combo, Mud and somehow manages to look ahead to Monday’s tussle with the Hammers. Enjoy.
Chaos! Mayhem! Cheating! Deception! Points Deductions! (Maybe). Yes I’m announcing the news of Man City being caught bang to rights for (let’s not beat about the bush here) cheating and lying in the style of those 1960’s Batman serials with their Pows and Thwacks and poisonous gases, that despite always being bright pink or green or yellow seemed to take Gotham Police Departments finest by surprise every episode. Did no-one ever tell the next guy down on the rota to guard the really big important safe with a diamond in it, to watch out for dodgy blokes in green leotards letting off flares in a particularly nice shade of mauve or Dulux Autumn Sunset?).
We’ll have to wait and see what punishment the Premier League and FA come up with (more than likely nothing more than City being sent to their room and being banned from Snapchat for a week). But Premier League, if you are going to deduct points do it next season. Not so much because we don’t exactly need any help winning the league this season, but because I don’t want any uncertainty hanging over us when we do win it (not being quite sure whether we can celebrate because City have whacked an appeal in for instance). Or, even worse. clinching the title at the end of the committee meeting when the points deduction is decided. Whatever happens it needs to happen (appeals and all) while Leicester can still catch us. Or, if not, once we’ve already wrapped it up.
I realise I’m spending half my West Ham preview talking about Man City. But, re-reading my Man City preview, it turns out I spent half the time in that one talking about West Ham (and Dave Swindlehurst in particular). So I think that pretty much evens things out (it’s almost as if I planned it that way – I am the master games player – I see every move 15 steps ahead – although if that really was the case, maybe I should be putting these talents to better use than talking about Dave Swindlehurst? I could become a criminal mastermind instead. If anyone knows of any large diamonds being stored in big safes nearby, and how I can get my hands on some tangerine coloured smoke bombs, please drop me a line).
It’s been a while since my last preview, thanks to the winter break. And, I have to say I’ve come back refreshed and raring to go. I can’t praise a mini-break in Colwyn Bay in February highly enough. Had a bit of a hot streak in the seafront arcades and was able to use my winnings to indulge in some high end retail therapy in the local Home Bargains (although I have to say the staff in there do get a bit uppity when you try and purchase some new pants with a bucket full of two-pence-pieces). I’ll upload the photos on to Instagram just as soon as I work out how to open an Instagram account. James Maddison eat your heart out!
I did almost have to cancel my holiday because of the Shrewsbury replay, but luckily I managed to find a toddler to write the review once Messy Mayhem had finished at the local playgroup, with James Milner on hand to supply crayons and moral support. We’ve also managed to pick up six more (unexpectedly hard fought) points against Southampton and Norwich, moving remorselessly closer to that title. There was a slight hiccup in the Champions League though. Still all to play for, but there’s that nagging doubt that we can’t keep pulling it out the bag at Anfield on big European nights. Can we? Yes we can! Maybe.
So what of West Ham? They were another team I had a soft spot for as a kid. It became a bit of a cliche but they always did seem to play proper passing football, and this seemed to persist well into my adulthood more so than with other clubs which supposedly had a similar tradition (Ipswich were another one). I can remember the Ian Bishop (he of the long straggly hair who looked like he wanted to be in Iron Maiden) inspired team in the early 90’s playing some lovely football (although I think they ended up getting relegated). And although the passing football force was strong in that one, it wasn’t strong enough to survive an encounter with Darth Big Sam unfortunately.
I can also remember the 1980 FA Cup Final with John Lyall leading out his team in the glorious sunshine (the FA Cup Finals of my childhood were always played in glorious sunshine – I’m sure that is a fact) resplendent in a cream blazer (not quite Spice Boy 96 but still enough to stand out in my memory) and thanks to a famous Trevor Brooking goal vanquishing the dark forces of boring boring Arsenal with the infamous Willie Young (the only footballer ever who also happened to be the guitarist out of Mud. If you don’t believe me you can see him on You Tube performing Tiger Feet on the Christmas Top of the Pops in full on Obi-Wan-Kenobi robes and Christmas Bauble ear-rings) committing a notorious professional foul on 17 year old Paul Allen (got me very het up as a 9 year old at all the injustice in the world that did!). And, more importantly, avenging the team who had knocked us out in the semi final after endless replays.
The romance has worn off West Ham in recent years it has to be said though. What with that “lovable” pair of rogues Sullivan and Gold in charge along with sidekick Karen “Catwoman” Brady (she doesn’t look like a cat, I’m not sure I’ve seen her in a skin-tight black catsuit, she doesn’t drink from a saucer or bring dead birds in from the garden, but I’ve spotted an opportunity to shoe-horn a meaningless Batman reference and I’m going for it), rattling around in a Stadium paid for by my taxes (my taxes! Possibly some other people’s taxes as well) with David Moyes (Football Genius™) at the helm.
All is not well at West Ham and I feel this is the match where we’ll really let rip, with no game for five days either side. A 6-1 hammering (pun absolutely intended) with a Firmino double (Pow!), one each from Mane (Thwack!), Mo (Clonk!), Gini (Zap!) and Minamino coming off the bench late on from his debut goal (Crump!). West Ham to somehow get a goal somewhere (that Haller feller maybe).
So there we go. This review has been brought to you by me whilst listening to Tiger Feet by Mud (featuring Willie Young and Drake). Which has inspired me to write my own version.
“We’re Top, We’re Top, We’re Top, We’re Top, I really love my Jurgen Klopp!”.
“He won’t get the Chop, Get the Chop, Get the Chop, Get the Chop, I really love my Jurgen Klopp!”
“We Beat the Slop, Beat the Slop, Beat the Slop, Beat the Slop, I really love my Jurgen Klopp (even though he didn’t turn up)!.”
We got a Club shop, Club shop, Club Shop, Club Shop, I really love my Jurgen Klopp”
He might consign West Ham to the Drop, To the Drop, To the Drop, To the Drop, I really love my Jurgen Klopp!”
Simon Meakin returns to mull over a momentous January, which puts Liverpool in pole position for their first league title in 30 years. He reflects on the tussles with United, Wolves and West Ham and looks forward to this weekends home clash with Southampton, with a few customary detours along the way.
This pretty much feels like it. Salah’s last minute goal against Manchester United seemed to unleash something in the Anfield crowd, who finally seemed to believe that the title is coming home after thirty long years. I’m not sure I was quite there myself at that stage. The crucial point for me came a few days later in the cold and dark of Molineux with the mist rolling in from the stands.
To be frank, we were on the ropes and taking a bit of a beating at times during the second half. I had the feeling that our unbeaten run was under more threat than at any other point during the season so far. Yes we were never actually losing at any point, unlike the games at Old Trafford and Villa Park, but the dynamic in those games seemed different as we were chasing the game and I always felt we could get something. This time I wasn’t feeling at all confident about us getting back off the canvas had we gone behind.
But we managed to not only survive but, thanks to Bobby’s late goal, even to steal away into the mist with all three points like a Will ‘O’ The Wisp. I’m thinking more of the strange mystical light of folklore rather than the Kenneth Williams version constantly being menaced by Evil Edna the big square angry telly, just after Grange Hill finished. To be clear (after a quick Google) I’ve just discovered that Disney remade Will ‘O’ the Wisp a few years ago and turned Evil Edna into a flat screen TV (complete with Netflix and BT Sport no doubt!).
We faced six games in a row after Christmas, against teams in the top eight, and won the lot. And, then we followed that up with what was a pretty much routine, nothing much to see here, win against West Ham (other than Trent at one point deciding to see how hard he could welly the ball against his own post just for the hell of it – answer “quite hard”). Which does now mean that we’ve now done something that none of the great Liverpool sides of the past ever managed, and beaten every other team in the league in the same season (please see my last blog for details). Incredibly, Norwich now stand as the Premier League side who have gone the longest without losing. All of five months and a grand total of zero games. Daniel Farke must be proud of his boys achievement.
So even though the bitter winds of winter have yet to depart (or if I’m being honest yet to actually even show up at the door thanks to global warming) I’m calling it that we’ve got this thing won! No if’s, no but’s. Klopp won’t admit it but it’s a matter of when rather than if now.
So, on to our favourite feeder club Southampton. Out of all the clubs I’ve previewed so far, I have to say that this is the one I’m struggling most to remember anything memorable from the times I’ve watched us against them. I have seen them at Anfield a few times but the only thing that springs to mind is Matt Le Tissier, who apart from scoring some of the most beautiful goals I’ve ever seen also has to be possibly the laziest player I’ve witnessed in all my time watching football. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone move around less on the pitch (and I’ve seen Jan Molby play at Hereford, for Swansea, in his dotage and wearing what Norris McWhirter later officially confirmed were the worlds largest pair of shorts).
What does stick in my mind though is us being handed our arse on a plate at the Dell on more than one occasion in the 1990’s, usually with at least one Le Tissier wonder goal and a Rod Wallace thunderbolt thrown in. It seemed to be a right bogey ground, up there with the notorious plastic pitch at Kenilworth Road, and Coventry City (who were just simply a bogey team wherever we played them).
This match won’t be the foregone conclusion it probably would have been a couple of months ago. Southampton have gone streaking through the field like Ayrton Senna trying to get to the post office before it shuts. It’s the sort of run Bobby Robson’s Ipswich always seemed to go on when I was a kid, suddenly going from the relegation zone to the top three quicker than Jimmy Hill could light his pipe. If Chelsea continue to wobble it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they could even sneak into the Champions League places. I’m unclear what Ralph Hassenhuttl has done to turn things around but it’s certainly seems to be working.
Part of the reason is of course the form of one Danny Ings, once of this parish and a rare example of our school exchange programme, with Saints working the other way (in return we got a moody French kid who just rolled his eyes and went “pah!” in a Gallic fashion every time he got taken to Nando’s as a treat. And then trying to get Curtis Jones hooked on Gauloise’s. Plus Sadio Mane). A player I always liked and was at Anfield to witness him scoring a rare goal v Norwich (in the dying days of the Rodgers era in what also turned out to be the last time I failed to see us win at Anfield). Huge shame that injuries meant he never really got a chance with us but it just shows how far we’ve come, that he’d be unlikely to ever get a look in these days.
The other best thing about Southampton is of course the fact that Ralph Hassenhuttl is apparently German for Ralph Hare-Hutch. Not an expert on how things are hare-wise in Austria but from what I’ve seen of hares over here they are a damn sight bigger than rabbits. So, either they have very small hares in Vienna, very poor standards of animal welfare or the literal translation of huttl is really ‘small B&Q garden shed’.
Right, on to the match prediction. But before I do so I’d like to blow my own trumpet for getting my last match prediction almost spot on for the second time this season. Right scoreline and correctly forecast that Salah would finally break his duck against Manchester United. And, I more or less got the second goalscorer right as well (when I said Shaqiri would get it, I meant Virgil Van “Shaqiri” obvs. I was just using the nickname known only to me and the lads in the dressing room, thanks to his, ahem, strong resemblance to his Swiss twin, their shared love of things with holes in (cheese, dykes, Everton’s plans for their new stadium) and the fact that if you spelled out their names together on a Scrabble board, you can get rid of all the hard letters apart from Z (I always knew I’d find a use for Christian Ziege one day).
As for Saturday’s game. 3-1 to us to equal City’s record of 20 consecutive top flight home wins. Keita (after Klopp decides on a bit of rotation), Salah, and Firmino. The inevitable curse of the ex-player meaning a Danny Ings consolation is inevitable. And then we go marching on into the winter break, needing a maximum of four (four!) points to clinch our place in next season’s Champions League. On the 1st February!
I am delighted to announce my fourth book has been picked up by those wonderful people at Pitch Publishing. It is a collaboration with George Scott, one of Bill Shankly’s first signings. The book will be published in Autumn. Watch this space for updates.
Here’s a taster of what the book promises to deliver:
An enthralling tale of triumph in adversity and hope over despair. The story of a poor boy from a fishing village in Aberdeen, who dreamed of playing football and ended up rubbing shoulders with one of British football’s greatest, Bill Shankly. Shankly would assemble a team to rival ‘Busby’s Babes,’ his very own ‘Shankly Boys.’ With Tommy Smith and Chris Lawler already at the club, he would add a raft of young players to the squad, including Gordon Wallace, Bobby Graham and a 15-year-old George Scott – the lost ‘Shankly Boy’.
Here Scott provides a fascinating and unique insight into modern Liverpool’s formative years and Shankly’s Anfield. His is an untold story of a dream crushed and of a career rebuilt in Scottish football and taken to new levels in the South African Premier League. The lost Shankly Boy: George Scott’s Anfield Journey, is a must read for every kid who dreams of football glory. It is a never-say-die tale of passion, commitment and hard work that will be identifiable to anyone who has ever tasted the pain of rejection – only to rise again and grow stronger.
Simon Meakin takes a look at this Sunday’s titanic clash with Manchester United, in a match preview like no other.
And we danced all night to the best start ever! Woo! Yeah! Big shout out to young person’s beat combo, One Direction for perfectly encapsulating what is now officially, The. Best. Start. Ever. And, not only in the English top flight but in any of Europe’s big leagues.
I’m now wondering how may more games we need to win to break the record in Europe’s small leagues (I believe that’s their official title). Although I’d imagine someone like Dynamo Berlin in their 1970s Stasi-backed pomp probably managed to rack up 300 wins on the bounce without breaking a sweat (I can’t imagine who would have even dared try to take a point off them knowing that that the team, coaching staff and entire support would probably have been dispatched to the nearest gulag quick-sharp, while the result was “unwritten” in the paper next day.
Our football now seems to have entered a new dimension. The games against Sheffield United and Spurs felt unlike our previous matches this season. Completely dominant in possession against sides that barely attempted to cross the halfway line. It’s starting to become reminiscent of peak Pep-era Barcelona (see the 2011 Champions League Final against Man U as evidence. I’ve never seen them so impotent. And that’s when they were still quite good). But (whispering it quietly) it does make for slightly sterile football matches. I think we actually managed to send ourselves to sleep for the last twenty minutes at White Hart Lane (or New White Hart Lane, or Not White Hart Lane or Highbury or whatever they call it these days) given how easy things had been until then. All part of Jose’s latest master-plan no doubt, and it almost worked.
And to make it clear I’m not complaining here – I’d be delighted to send millions of Sky Sports subscribers to sleep if we romp to the title. It’s up to the other team to try and stop us. We are basically crushing the life out of teams. So after my range of Big Red Combine Harvester merchandise mysteriously seems to fail to impress the LFC marketing department I’m planning to sneak back on to Dragon’s Den to unveil my latest new club nickname. The Big Red Boa Constrictor! Although that does sound a bit Benny Hill-ish (“Hello there young lady! Would you like to come home and see my Big Red Boa Constrictor?”) Although I might suggest to Jürgen that he could maybe mix it up in training by hiring a saxophone player, having Jordan Henderson dress up in a nurses uniform and getting the entire squad to run in and out of the bushes in Stanley Park really fast, all in a line, while Jordan’s clothes mysteriously fall off and everyone tries to slap Fabinho on the head. Always worth trying something different to gain that little extra edge surely?
Anyway, back to by far the greatest team the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford (it’s not far from Manchester I believe) has ever seen. The auld enemy (not sure why I’ve come over all Scottish here. It’s not the Old Firm Derby). But ever since I was a small child these have been our biggest rivals. These have been the ones I’ve been most desperate to beat. More so than Everton or whoever we were fighting it out with for the title. Even when they weren’t that good (although sadly I’m too young to remember when they were really bad and Denis Law managed to relegate them to a backdrop of their fans fighting, while wearing ludicrous trousers).
But even in those days we always seemed to struggle to beat United as often as we should have (sorry I should be clearer here. That’s Manchester United. There is only really one United and that’s the late lamented Hereford United RIP, God Rest Its Soul). And that didn’t exactly improve when Ferguson turned up and they actually started winning everything. Okay, sometimes we might have been occasionally well beaten but I’ve lost count of the number of times we seemed to lose to scrappy late goals or their keeper having a blinder. John O’Shea only scored about six goals in his entire career but I reckon about 14 of those were winners against us.
But that only makes the good times all the sweeter. Top of the list has to be the 4-1 demolition at Old Trafford when I thought Torres was without question destined to become our greatest ever player (rest easy King Kenny. Your crown is safe – for now). Other highlights include a pile-driver from a young Stevie G, THAT goal from Riise and a hat trick from the mighty Dirk Kuyt from a combined distance that was probably less than the length of my big red boa constrictor (I’ll leave you to debate how long that might be).
Favourite memories from matches I was actually at include winning 2-1 at Old Trafford circa 1990. The first victory there for many years and the last for quite a few more, and achieved despite John Barnes deciding to go for own goal of the year by sending a lovely lob over the keeper from 25 yards. And also last year’s 3-1 win at Anfield when Santa came to deliver an early Christmas present, including an extended Christmas break to a Mr J.Mourinho care of the Lowry Hotel, Salford.
Less pleasant memories include seeing Jamie Carragher trying to outdo Digger by scoring two own goals. And the aftermath of our 2-1 win at Old Trafford circa 1990, when we thought we were being clever slipping out of the police cordon leading us back to the Liverpool coaches to get back to my student digs, only to find that thousands of angry seething Mancs had all spotted our sneaky move and decided they were going to lynch us (in some cases trying to climb out of the back window of the top deck of a bus in their desperation to get at us). Rapidly coming to the conclusion this wasn’t the best thought out plan ever, we turned tail and just about made it back to the cordon unscathed (in my mind I cleared the central reservation Colin Jackson style although I suspect the reality was a little less graceful).
I’ve always wondered what became of the one nutter who followed us, thinking we were up for a ruck, and went charging into the angry mob on his own, while wearing a Liverpool shirt. He actually thought we would be right behind him. It really can’t have ended well for him.
As for Sunday’s match I really, really want to win this one. Not only to take another step closer to the title, and not only because of the rivalry but also because these buggers have had the temerity to be the only team to have stopped us winning. I’m not sure we’ve ever managed to beat every other team in the league in a single season (we failed to beat City last year, I probably don’t need to remind anyone about not beating Chelsea in the ill-fated Brendan Rodgers title bid season and even our record breaking 1979 team couldn’t beat those lot from Goodison). Win on Sunday and we’ll only have West Ham to go.
So it’s going to be tight. But as ever I’m going to predict a Liverpool win. 2-0 to the Big Red Boa Constrictor. Salah to finally break his duck against Man U and Shaqiri to reprise his act from the bench. Although unlike Jose, Ole will remain at the wheel having perfected the art of winning just enough games to remain in his job without ever threatening to turn Manchester United into a force again.
Oh, and memo to Jurgen. As a Hereford fan, do not let the kids lose to the Slop in the FA Cup. Repeat do not let the kids lose to the Slop in the FA Cup. Don’t expect them to be as big a pushover as that shower from the last round. Curtis get your shooting boots on again!
Simon Meakin says farewell to the last decade and looks forward to the first game of the next one. The Reds take on Sheffield United on Thursday 2nd January and Simon gives us his unique take on the match.
In the words of the legendary football pundit Kate Bush, December Will Be Magic Again. I thought last December must surely rank as not only the greatest single calendar month in Liverpool’s history but most likely in anyone else’s ever. Not only did we win eight games out of eight, they included a 96th minute derby winner (with added comedy goalkeeping), totally outplaying Man U and dispatching Mourinho, and hammering Arsenal 5-1. Added to that the nerve shredding win over Napoli (and where would we be now, had Allison not made that last minute save?) and Man City’s sudden Christmas wobble which left us seven points clear at New Year (yes we all know how that turned out but that wasn’t the fault of December) and I’m thinking that we would never see such a fabulous month again.
And yet, just one December later and we could actually already have a better one. Another eight wins, including scoring five in a Merseyside derby for the first time in over thirty five years, destroying our nearest title rivals on their own ground and becoming world champions (I might be repeating my last blog entry slightly here but hey why not!). And with both City and Leicester wobbling we are almost over the hills and far away at New Year this time. The only blot on our copybook was the Carabao Cup defeat to Villa but given the team we put out does that even count?
That’s our most intense month out of the way. Although it won’t feel like it to the players as straight up its surprise package of the season Sheffield United (although to be fair they will have had an extra day than everyone else to recover from extortionate Uber prices and Jools Holland’s Hootenanny). Relegation favourites at the start of the season they are instead battling for a place in Europe and remarkably are only six points off the Champions League spots. Which means that we’re now in the middle of a run of six games on the bounce against the current top eight. So another tricky match coming up. The game at Bramall Lane was one of our toughest of the season and needed a goalkeeping howler to give us the three points at what is a bit of a bogey ground for us (that was our first win there since 1990 and ended a run of only three wins in 25 visits stretching all the way back to the 1940’s).
I’ll be paying only my second visit to Anfield this season for this one (the first was the City game which didn’t go too badly). As far as I can remember, I have only ever seen us play Sheffield Utd once before in what was the dawning of a new era as it was the very first Premier League game at Anfield. We won 2-1 but oddly enough the only goalscorer I can remember was Brian Deane for the Blades. It turns out our goals were scored by Mark Walters and Paul Stewart, which may give some idea as to why it turned out to be the dawning of a fairly rubbish new era from our point of view.
I didn’t realise watching on a balmy late summer’s evening that I was witnessing a football revolution. Looking back it’s remarkable how quickly things changed from the late 1980’s to say the mid 90’s. There are lots of theories as to the sudden transformation in football’s popularity, from the necessary post Hillsborough stadium reconstruction and modernisation through to Italia 90 and Gazza’s tears, the impact of Fever Pitch on the middle class view of football to the apparent sudden discovery of ecstasy by football hooligans who decided to stop punching each other and instead start phoning random numbers stuck to phone boxes and drive round the M25 for four hours trying to find a secret field with a rave in it. But the impact of Sky Sports and in particular the money it brought into the sport (more so than the actual launch of the Premier League itself – much as the blissed out former members of the Inter City Firm in Ibiza and Islington Times Literary Supplement readers were enthralled by the changes in the league’s governance structures I suspect that if that’s all that had changed things wouldn’t have changed very much).
I once read some Tory MP claim that the railways were basically an anachronism, should be shut down, and that had the petrol engine been invented before the steam engine they would never had needed to exist in the first place, as everyone would already have had cars (I would have liked to have seen him trying to battle his way into Central London every day in his chauffeur driven limo if that had been the case). Nonsense in my view but in a similar vein I sometimes wonder what would have happened to football had satellite telly been invented before video recorders.
It’s little remembered these days that when Sky first launched it threw all of its money into movies rather than sport and almost went bust before belatedly latching on to the Premier League cash cow. But if people had not already had the option of nipping out to their local Blockbusters to rent out Back to the Future 2 on VCR would they have maybe rushed out to buy satellite dishes instead, saving Sky from bankruptcy and meaning they would never have needed to plough billions into football? We’ll never know (unless some mad scientist manages to go back in time in a De Lorean, accidentally runs over the bloke who invents the video recorder and arrives back in the present day to discover Gary Newbon broadcasting to an audience of 95 from a shed behind some razor wire, for some TV station that looks something like that “Scorchio” one from The Fast Show, while Joel Matip is late for kick off as he’s too busy driving his Uber to supplement his minimum wage income, and has got stuck in the horrendous traffic caused by Lime Street never having been built in the first place).
I’d mentioned that I thought I’d only seen Sheff Utd once before, but now I’m not sure. I have this other memory of us playing them and seeing Beautiful South front-man and big Blades fan Paul Heaton in the Arkles pre-match (although far from being the born and bred Yorkshireman I thought he was, it turns out he was born in Bromborough and his Mum was from Woolton!). The Beautiful South were playing at the Royal Court that evening and he was reportedly pretty well oiled by the time he got on stage post match. I remember it was an evening kick off. That must mean I was also at the next home game which we managed to lose to a relegation bound team (and on my birthday as well!). I’ve got absolutely no memory of the match itself but clearly the new era had not just dawned by this point, but had reached about 11 o’clock in the morning with Liverpool still in bed with a hangover and the sheets pulled over our head.
But setting the controls on the De Lorean to the present day things are looking a lot brighter. I managed to correctly forecast a return to narrow wins and that Mane would be amongst the scorers against Wolves. Just not that there wouldn’t be any other scorers (thanks to VAR that late Virgil bullet header wasn’t required). I’m feeling a little more confident that we’ll manage a more comfortable win this time. Let’s go for 3-0 for this one and the Caravan of Love to keep on rolling. Bobby to continue his hot streak, Origi to start and score and Lallana to bag his second of the season.
Happy New Year! And to the dawning of another new era. And a big thank you to the boss. Jurgen Klopp. He’s come to sparkle the dark up.
Another weekend, another home game and Simon Meakin is back to run the rule over a tricky clash between the Club World Champions and Wolves. Sit back and enjoy.
It is impossible to win the League by the day after Boxing Day! It is impossible to win the League by the day after Boxing Day! It is impossible to win the League by the day after Boxing Day! I need to keep telling myself this.
No matter how enormous our lead is, no matter how many times my non-Liverpool supporting friends tell me “it’s in the bag” and notwithstanding the fact that it was any other team this far ahead of us I would have given up hope by now. I am not calling it that we’ve won the league. What I am calling is that in my opinion this is the best Liverpool side I have ever seen. Going back forty years. Better than any of the title winning sides.
To go to our nearest title challengers a few days after arriving back from Qatar (possibly with a bit of Christmas dinner and some port and cigars in between) and to blow them away in their own back yard (where they had not lost all season remember) was simply imperious. And as for Trent he can be crowned player of the season now as far as I’m concerned.
Oh and did I mention Qatar? Aside from everything else I now have the privilege of previewing the world champions. It may be a glorified friendly to some but I’m delighted to have won the World Club Championship. It’s about the only trophy we’d never previously won after three failed attempts (under various different guises). OK we never won the Cup Winners Cup but that’s been an ex-Cup for more than 20 years.
I don’t ever want us to be in a position to win the Leyland DAF Cup (or whatever they call it these days) and I was never quite sure exactly what the Watney Cup was. Even more intriguingly I remember once reading a Rothman’s Football annual many moons ago (do they still exist? I assume that’s one more thing the Internet consigned to the dustbin along with the High Street, the Echo Pink Un’ being sold in the pub on a Saturday evening and quite possibly Razzle) that Chester once won the Debenhams Cup. I’ve never heard mention of this mysterious trophy before or since and no-one else ever seems to have won it or even played in it. Maybe it’s something that only came to me in a fevered dream? Or a mysterious artefact with great power that you only hear faint whispers about in certain bars in the Congo and can only be claimed by surviving a three day trek through the jungle, pits full of snakes and a large rolling ball shaped rock just the perfect size to fit in a smoothly contoured tunnel with no uphill bits or sharp corners?
Anyway good luck to Chester for managing to do all that. As for us, it’s on to the Wolves game. Another tricky fixture as this lot are no mugs, as they have just demonstrated. As well as doing the double over City they have beaten all the rest of the “Big Six” at least once since they got promoted, beaten our Under 12’s in the FA Cup and are closing in on a Champions League spot despite the supposed burden of playing in the Europa League with a small squad. We did win 2-0 at Molineux just before Christmas last season but Wolves were probably one of the best teams we played all season. That victory probably more than any other at that time gave me the belief that we really were the real deal.
What else of Wolves? They’ve got a famously distinctive kit (I like teams that have a kit no-one else has) and used to be quite good. A very long time ago. My ex-boss was a Wolves fan. I can remember him coming into the office in a state of great excitement one morning as for the first time in his life he had actually found someone who was a glory hunting Wolves fan (well someone’s Dad anyway). This guy was apparently in his nineties and had no connection with Wolverhampton but started supporting them in the 1950’s because they used to win everything. It might be hard to imagine for a Liverpool fan where half of Norway seem to support your club but for most clubs there is no such thing as a glory hunting fan (well bar Chester following their Debenhams Cup winning exploits obviously).
Wolves were also the second side I ever saw play at Anfield back in 1979. The Red Machine won 3-0 (same score as my first game against Norwich – I was still to endure the shock of us actually conceding a goal at this point) and the history books tell me it was through two goals from Dalglish and one from Ray Kennedy.
The opposition line-up included Crazy Horse himself, Emlyn Hughes and future Sky Sports Anchorman legend Andy Gray (Stay Classy Richard Keys!). And also, apparently, Geoffrey Palmer (what that Geoffrey Palmer? Did they also have Dame Judi Dench on the bench? (although Dench on the Bench – could be a good idea for a TV show – Dame Judi visits various parks, sits down and reminisces about the golden era of parks, while shouting at you to keep your ball off the grass, Choppers and white dog poo – up there with Monkey Tennis that one).
Anyway, despite this star studded Wolves line-up, the main thing I can remember was standing next to a woman who seemed to be covered head to toe in Alan Hansen badges and spent the entire match on the verge of hysteria screaming “Alan, Oh Alan” at the top of her voice every time Crazy Horse, or one of his hairy-arsed Wolves team-mates threatened to so much as slightly mess up Alan’s beautiful locks.
The other thing the history books tell me about the Liverpool line-up that day is that it was the the classic line-up I remember as a kid. The one I could recite in the school playground from 1 to 11 without blinking an eyelid. Because it was probably the same line-up as every single other week. None of this namby-pamby squad rotation, squad numbers up to 66, names on the back of shirts stuff.
At a push we’d bring David Fairclough or Sammy Lee off the bench. They were probably totally knackered by the end of the season (those team bonding sessions down the pub probably didn’t help either) but it didn’t matter because every other team was just as exhausted.
So on to the match then. I’m expecting this to be as tough a game as last season’s Christmas encounter. Yet another hard fought 2-1 with a bullet header from Van Djik to win it following a Mane equaliser late in the first half. That speedy Traore chap, thinking he’s still playing Man City, to put them ahead. Leaving us sitting pretty at the top of the table as the new decade beckons, Lords of all we survey. Even if I live to be 150 we will never, ever be this far ahead at the turn of the year again. Enjoy it while it lasts.
The 2019 General Election result has installed an openly racist, misogynist and homophobic man as Prime Minister. In doing so, it rejected a man of peace and a lifelong anti-racist campaigner for social justice.
The British media and those who refer to themselves as moderates have spent four years undermining Jeremy Corbyn and his manifesto of hope, and in doing so they have paved the way for Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister is a man who lies, while hides from scrutiny and who courts the approval of the far right.
I weep for our public services, for the NHS, schools and fire services. I am terrified of what the future holds for the homeless, the hungry and ethnic minorities in our country. I am also worried about the future of our children.
Scotland has overwhelmingly rejected the Tories. As a Liverpudlian, I have never understood more their yearning for self-determination. My City has also rejected Johnson and his Trump tribute act. Our city on both banks of the Mersey remains deep red.
We are unrepentantly Labour, socialist and proud. Liverpool knows what far right Toryism can do, we understand how free market ideology can hollow out cities and communities, leaving them prey to speculators and spivs.
As I walked my daughter to school and then raced to work, on the morning after the election, I saw stoicism and a gritty determination to carry on all around me. These are my people. I love them, I’m proud of them and I can think of nobody else’s company I’d rather be in, in this darkest of hours.
I saw two women hurrying along the road, herding their kids in front of them, they’re clearly running late but they’re locked in conversation and one of them is discussing the result with her child. I could only snatch a fragment of conversation, as I hurtled past on my own rush to join the daily grind.
“Nothing to do with us,” she is saying. “We didn’t want Brexit…” and then what sounded like “we’re not Boris Johnson…”
Then I’m gone. On my way and lost in thought
She was right, I thought. We’re not Boris Johnson or Thatcher or their ideologies. We’re us. That’s how it’s felt most of my life. It’s almost a source of comfort, in a world gone mad. We can always rely in each other, when the rest of the country is voting to destroy themselves. At least that’s not us we think. We’ve done the right thing.
It’s because we have long memories, I think. We recall how the Tory media manipulated and lied and we don’t listen to their crap anymore. Or maybe there’s just something in the water of this port city and cultural melting pot. Or is it in the make up of our immigrant blood. We’re from everywhere, us.
Our minds are not tied to a tiny, island mentality. We’re not English, we’re Scouse is a contradiction, I think. It sounds isolationist but in essence it is a rejection of that, I think. At least it is for me. To be Scouse is to gaze out across the ocean, to the world and all it has to offer. Not to look inward and be insular. Today that’s what Englad looks like to me. I think it always has.
Sadly many northern working class communities don’t seem to feel the same way. It appears that people whose towns and cities were once decimated by Thatcherism, have decided that Brexit and a retreat inland is a much greater priority than the NHS, medicine, education, housing and the food in their bellies.
Places like Blythe and Bolsover, Workington, Wrexham and Crewe have fallen to the Tories and Labour majorities in the North East and the Midlands crumbled amidst a pro leave wave. People like Ian Lavery barely hung in to their seats.
I may be be able to understand the deep socio-economic forces at play, that have led us to this point. But, I’m struggling to live with the consequences.
In other parts of the country there are pockets of hope. In Manchester, Labour remains strong. But Leigh, the seat of Labour MP Andy Burnham fell.
In London, the working class flew Labour’s flag with pride and in other parts of the South too. However, across England the picture is one I cannot comprehend.
As I woke on Friday 13th, I felt like a stranger in a land I simply cannot fathom. I’m not sure I ever will. I know many fellow Scousers will understand what I mean.
It feels like we are living in a cultural and political oasis, in the middle of a horrible, miserable and increasingly terrifying desert. I have felt this way for decades. However, the last four years gave me hope. Today, that hope has almost broken me.
‘Scouse, not English’ has long been a rallying cry on Merseyside’s terraces, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, often in protest. For many of us struggling to comprehend and contemplate another five years of austerity, that clarion call sounds louder than ever.
Offer me a ballot paper with a box for Liverpool independence now, and I will cross that box without hesitation. Right now I would. As crazy as I know it is – I’d sooner cut my City off from England, forge bonds with Scotland, Ireland, Wales and mainland Europe, than spend another second in this little England.
That’s how I feel now.
I’m ranting. I know I am. Right now ranting seems the only rational thing to do. I want to scream but at the same time I feel like retreating into my shell. I want revolution, then I’m overwhelmed by resignation. It’s fine-lines everywhere.
Somehow, someday, I will find my true north again. I’ll rediscover my internationalism and figure out a way to understand the English working class. However, right now that place seems so remote as to be in another country altogether.
Liam Thorpe, writing in the Liverpool Echo, has called on us not to retreat into our Scouse bubble. He argues that we are an outward looking city. We are.
Liverpool is proudly exceptionalist, but we are not petty or nationalist. I believe that we see ourselves as citizens of the world. A world in one city with an internationalist spirit.
We are also fighters. We don’t stay down, no matter how hard it feels to get up. In the coming years the blows will once more reign down us. We’ve been here before. We survived by believing that unity is strength, not through division and self recrimination.
In another overheard piece of conversation today, I heard someone mention the election. “I’m done with this, ” said a woman at the counter in a coffee shop.
“Nothing we can do. We’ll just have to buckle up and get in with it.”
“This is it. You’re right. Yes.”
Again, stoicism and a refusal to be broken. In the months and years to come, we are going to need that in spades.
That has to be the way forward. As Scousers, we may feel like strangers, in a strange land, but we will have to be the change that we want to see in it, if there is any hope for us and the future.
We will need to respond to those who would divide with a greater commitment to community and solidarity, to hate with hope. And yes, we will need to look after each other like never before. That means supporting our Foodbanks and other charities with even greater vigour and working as one city to help vulnerable communities and the homeless, and being prepared to support our public services.
Liverpool must become a beacon of cooperation and community solidarity and a model for the rest of the country. The next Labour leader must rebuild the party and the movement on these principles and ideas, and not those of the right-wing and their little-England ideology.
If England has any hope of redemption for me, it rests on the unshakeable spirit of the Mersey.
OK. So at the start of an insanely busy and hugely crucial month it’s that lot from down the road up next. Despite Alisson clearly getting a bit bored and deciding to liven things up by channelling his inner Grobbelaar, we start December maintaining our eight point lead at the top but more crucially are now 11 whole points ahead of Man City (and 14 clear of an increasingly irrelevant Chelsea). Leicester may now be our nearest rivals but it’s still City I’m most wary of. I simply don’t trust the blighters not to suddenly perform some sort of witchcraft or hocus-pocus like deciding to reel off 20 wins on the bounce. Can’t take your eyes off them for a second, I tell you.
If we can make it past the Sheff Utd game at the end of the Christmas and New Year period with our lead more or less maintained, and hopefully having (finally) won the World Club Championship, got through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League and our kids having got us through to the semis in the League Cup then I’ll be a very happy man (I don’t subscribe to this trying to get knocked out of cup competitions early to concentrate on the League – I want to win everything! In particular it would seem a waste of the lunatic win over Arsenal if we went out with a whimper).
And so we’re in rude health as we face our blue-hued friends (I suspect I mean friends here in the same way that Boris Johnson constantly refers to “our European Friends” every time he talks about Brexit). Although I have made them sound more like the Smurfs. Proper or Barron Knights version (“Where are you all coming from? We’re from Dartmoor on the run!) available.
It’s still not clear by the time we get to Wednesday whether Marco Silva will still even be in charge as Everton are clearly not in rude health (lots of rude words raining down from the Gwaldys Street yes, I’ll grant you that). This is despite allegedly winning the last couple of transfer windows. I hadn’t previously been aware this was a thing and I’m not sure whether it means they get awarded an actual window to go into their ever bulging trophy cabinet, along with the arched window from Playschool and some of those ones Ted Moult used to flog possibly?
Or, maybe their trophy cabinet is just made out of windows? All the better to see their massive haul of big shiny cups. They’ll be searching for their first win at Anfield since approximately 1276 when Oleg the Serf, returning after six weeks out with bubonic plague, scored a controversial winner which was allowed to stand after Martin Atkinson’s VAR review took two hours, mainly because he had to catch and slaughter his own chicken in order to read it’s entrails.
I have to admit at this point that I had a narrow escape from being a poor benighted Everton fan myself, given that my Mum came from a long line of Blues (despite having been born in Anfield). Luckily she was never really interested in football (as far as I can work out she has only ever been to one match, the main highlight of which was “Rowdy” Yates attempting to throttle a Fulham player.
She still gets affronted when I tell her that Everton are not my second club (or third club really – she does accept the Hereford supporting bit) as she seems to work on the principle that how much you support a club should be in direct proportion to how close the ground is to where you were born. I’ve decided to go with this and adopt an irrational hatred of Robbie Fowler’s Brisbane Roar on the basis that Brisbane is a “good hike” from Fazakerley Hospital.
My Mum also claims that my Dad’s family must have been the Black (Red?) Sheep of the Scotland Road catholic community, given she swears blind that Everton were the catholic club, but I’ve met many people who seem to think it was the other way round. I’m beginning to suspect that there was no actual religious split at all. Liverpool were famously formed by a breakaway group from the Everton club (after an argument about whether it was better to win the Champions League on a regular basis vs winning the transfer window and sacking your manager every October) so I’m kind of guessing they probably all went to the same church anyway. But I’m sure someone with far more knowledge of the history of both clubs can put me right on this.
Highlights against Everton? Too many to choose from, from Rushy’s four goals to Origi’s comical winner last season. But one of my favourites has to be Gary McAllister’s 40 yard last minute winner in 2001 which was crucial in sparking off the late surge to snatch our first ever qualification for the Champions League (although I’m told we might have previously done alright in the same competition in a previous guise).
It’s interesting to speculate what would have happened to Gary’s old club had he not scored that goal as it effectively condemned Leeds to their near-death spiral given it turned out “Publicity” Pete Risdale had mortgaged the house, including posh goldfish and Seth Johnson, on Champions League qualification. We probably wouldn’t have got Harry Kewell for a start and then where on earth would we be?
Another favourite memory dates from the last Merseyside derby with standing on the Kop, when leaping forward to celebrate coming from behind to lead 2-1 courtesy of Brisbane Roar’s (Booo!) Robbie Fowler, the entire Kop seemed to part in front of me and I went hurtling about 20 rows forward before actually finding some supporters to crash into. It took me most of half time to actually battle back up to my mates. And looking at the fixtures that season I think that must have been the last ever goal I celebrated on that old Kop. Don’t think I made it to another game until the last day against Norwich when we failed to score at all. The last goal that standing Kop ever did celebrate turns out to have been by Julian Dicks of all people. Penalty against Ipswich. Now there’s a quiz question you never knew the answer to.
I do have to admit that this game doesn’t quite carry the same weight it did when I was living in Liverpool and surrounded by Everton fans at work (along with a Stoke fan who pooh-poohed the idea of it being a proper derby at all on the basis that the players never got hit in the face by pasties hurled from the crowd – apparently par for the course in the world famous Potteries derby – I do wonder if in the big Truro-Falmouth Cornish derby they throw Wedgwood China at the players instead?).
But we still need to win it of course. I’ve given up trying to predict clean sheets at Anfield so I’m going to go for a 2-1 win because that’s what we win all our games by these days. Let’s say Firmino and Wijnaldum. Late scrappy consolation from Richarlison. Everton manager sacked again (Where is Marco Silva coming from? He’s from Goodison on the run!).
Since my last blog, we’ve kept our long unbeaten Premier League run (and our long unbeaten run against City at Anfield) going in ultimately magnificent style last week. Although, it has to be said we rode our luck a bit early on. And, I’m trying to remember whether there is some sort of grammatical rule about the maximum number of sets of brackets allowed in a single sentence – (I’m not sure my old English teacher “Hipster” Hothersall would be approving of this).
Salah’s goal in particular was fabulous, evoking memories of the goal my Dad used to rave about above all others in the 1970’s, Terry McDermott’s famous header in the 7-0 demolition of Spurs. Watching it again it’s amazing how similar they are. For David Johnson’s raking crossfield ball and Heighway’s sublime cross just insert Trent and Robbo. It’s the first thing that came up when I typed Terry Mc into YouTube.
I didn’t even type the “Dermott”. Although I clearly needed to include the “c” as disgracefully when I only typed Terry M he’s shunted down to third place behind a bloke playing Boogie Woogie piano at St Pancras station and some sort of American TV Evangelists with what appeared to be the world’s worst Irish accent (despite coming from Dallas). Neither of this pair of jokers I wager ever even managed to get on to the subs bench v Spurs.
Crucially, we followed the City win up by somehow dredging up yet another win against the odds at Palace. I’m not sure what the opposite of running over a black cat is but I’m sure Klopp must have done it recently. Maybe he found a squashed black cat in the road while out cruising the streets of Formby in the Kloppmobile (most likely with the windows rolled down, Wayfarers on and listening to “Summertime” by Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince while on the way to Waitrose) and took it to the vet?
Whatever it is, Lady Luck seems to be smiling on us. The old adage says that winning while not playing well is the true sign of champions, but I’m fairly sure that champions also manage quite a lot of winning while playing well too. It seems ironic that the only team we seem to have beaten relatively comfortably in the last couple of months has been City themselves.
And, given the insane schedule we’ve got coming up in the next month, the lads could surely do with a few more relaxing, less emotionally draining wins (the sort where Van Djik can slap on a face mask and some cucumber over his eyes, put a big towel on his head and whack on some whale music with twenty minutes to go).
I’m hoping that Brighton will be one of those games. I couldn’t write this preview without commenting upon what was obviously the most exciting fact about Brighton growing up in the 1980’s. The fact it had a nudist beach! When it was announced that it was opening it was the most mind bogglingly exciting thing my schoolboy mind had ever heard of. I immediately set about trying to figure out how to suggest a family holiday to Brighton and then to somehow “accidentally” chance upon the Swedish women’s beach volleyball team, who would just happen to have chosen the very same day to forsake Malmo for team practice right next to our deck chairs.
It wasn’t until many years later when living in Sydney, that I did finally get the chance to stumble unexpectedly onto a nudist beach (on more than one occasion in fact) only to discover that your average nudist turned out to be a lot more old, male and wrinkly than in my fevered teenage dreams.
As I’ve noted previously on this blog I’m also a Hereford fan and the mere mention of Brighton brings back painful memories of the crucial do or die match on the last day of the season in 1997, when the loser would go crashing out of the Football League into Conference oblivion. I missed the game as I was in Australia at the time. Specifically, I was visiting a German speaking village outside of Adelaide (I’d taken a day off from tracking down naked men on nudist beaches). Instead of finding an Oompah band and lots of thigh slapping Bavarians, or even a young Jurgen Klopp cruising around rescuing black cats, I somehow managed to find a pub full of Brighton fans.
This being back in the dark ages, I also had to try and follow the game on the BBC World Service in the middle of the night. A World Service which incorrectly kept telling me that Hereford were winning until after the final whistle. I have to apologise to the poor German girl who woke up in alarm thinking Adelaide was suffering an earthquake following my string of expletives when I finally found out we’d gone down.
I’d like to think it was some sort of Sliding Doors moment where had the World Service been right, I’d now be faced with split loyalties as Hereford were preparing for their visit to Anfield and it would be Brighton who were looking forward to the visit of Farsley Celtic. Gwyneth Paltrow would be playing the role of the Farsley coach driver trying to work out quite why she’s faced with a fifteen hour round trip to the south coast in the National League North.
I do have happier memories of a Brighton game when I was at Anfield on the last day of the season a couple of seasons ago. A 4-0 walk in the park in glorious sunshine with Mo Salah scoring his 32nd goal of the season to set a new Premier League scoring record (for a 38 game season before you start writing in to correct me Mr Alan Shearer). And Mo Salah’s daughter becoming surely the youngest person ever to score at the Kop end. Checking back it also turns out that Dominic Solanke scored what, remarkably for a player we managed to sell for £17m on the basis that he was a striker, still appears to be his only ever goal in English football.
Anyway. On to my match prediction. Liverpool to repeat the scoreline of a couple of years ago and win 4-0, finally keeping a clean sheet at Anfield. Two goals from a fit again Salah, one for Firmino and Harvey Elliott puts down his copy of the Beano to come off the bench to break Mo Salah’s daughter’s record as youngest ever goalscorer at the Kop end.
Jordan Henderson will be so relaxed he has time for a facial, a deep tissue massage and some boiled beetroot soup. Klopp cruises home a happy man listening to Warren G on his in-car sound system and imagining he’s in South Central Blundellsands.
Thirty years ago British football witnessed the worst sporting disaster in its history. On the 15th April 1989, 96 men, women and children died Another victim of the crush in the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium, Tony Bland, a Liverpool supporter who was in the fatal crush, died from injuries he sustained that day, which placed him in a persistent vegetative state, died in 1993. He became the 97th victim of the disaster, but the true toll goes way beyond that.
Survivors of the disaster, the families of those who lost their lives and countless others have suffered three decades of needless torment. Some, were unable to bear the pain, and took their own lives. Meanwhile, energy that should have been spent rebuilding lives was instead devoted to fighting against an establishment that simply wanted to sweep the disaster under the carpet and move on.
Men, women and children carrying the unbearable weight of grief and loss were forced to become campaigners, study legal texts and relive the disaster in minute detail in courtroom after courtroom. It should never have taken two public inquiries, civil and criminal proceedings, two coroners inquests, an independent panel report and over 11,000 days to right the wrong that was done to these people and their community. However, despite all of that, that wrong has still not been put right.
The ‘not guilty’ verdict, delivered in a drab courtroom in the North West of England on the 28th November 2019, meant that the only man to face criminal charges for the deaths of all those people was acquitted. It also meant that families of the deceased and survivors had sat through days of testimony and evidence, much of which dredged up traumatic memories and rehashed long discredited theories and conspiracies, and all for nothing.
The coroners verdict had exonerated the supporters. It had found that David Duckenfield’s decision making and actions on the day directly contributed to the deaths of 96 people. It concluded that those who died – many of whom could have been saved had expert help arrived sooner – were unlawfully killed.
After the verdict in Preston, families are left asking, if Duckenfield is not guilty, just who was it that unlawfully killed our loved ones? The answers to that question will now have to wait. Further proceeding are pending and all of us will have to hold our tongues, something we’ve all dutifully done throughout this whole process.
Not so the internet trolls, however. This verdict has emboldened those who would once again seek to divert culpability to people whose names have long since been cleared – the supporters. As a result, the hurt and the pain is set to continue for people who have committed no crime, and who have behaved with such dignity and strength for so long. It is a national scandal.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, a healthy State would have wrapped its arms around them all. Every service and aid would have been placed at their disposal, justice would have been swift and learning would have been profound.
In a healthy State, the survivors would have been cared for from day one. They would have been offered the comfort and support necessary to rebuild their lives. Today, they and the families would be able to have made sense of the disaster and while they would never forget, they would be able to live in peace – perhaps enjoy life once more. Instead, they fight on, in needless pain and suffering.
Because, Britain is not a healthy State. Instead it is one that is deeply pathological. A healthy state treats all of its citizens equally, from top to bottom all people are equal in the eyes of the law, and institutions are accountable and act in a way that is caring and supportive when they get things wrong. A healthy state is open, transparent and holds its hand up when it falls short of the standards expected of it.
In a healthy State, government and institutions serve the people and answer to the public. The injured and bereaved do not have to fight for truth and justice. It is seen as a minimum standard, a legitimate expectation and a human right.
None of that is too much to ask. It was achievable in 1989 and it is today. The cost of delivering care and justice promptly is far less expensive than the protraction of agony, the intolerable suffering and the lining of lawyers pockets that has occurred during thirty years of injustice. Yet, to the establishment and the system it propagates, all of that is preferable to real scrutiny and accountability.
The British State is pathological, in my view, because in the face of catastrophe, it’s first instinct is to protect itself, the powerful and institutions. The need to do that far outweighs any other consideration. There are no lengths the State won’t go to in order to avoid taking repsonsibility.
Faced with the Duckenfield verdict, I am left with the seemingly inescapable conclusion that there is no equality before the law, only a pretence of it. Ordinary working people are clearly treated differently, and often with an indifference that borders on the callous.
When an anguished relative, struggling to cope with the enormity of the not guilty verdict, yelled out in court, pleading with the judge to tell him who unlawfully killed the 96, he was ignored and the court was simply adjourned. Those who have been so terrible wronged are left to pick up the pieces without succour from the State. They’re expected to find their own way in an uncertain future.
They facd yet more hardship and struggle. Meanwhile, the judge could find no words for this distraught a being, in pain, in his courtroom.
It should be beyond comprehension that the State and its institutions can be so lacking in basic compassion – yet none of this surprises any of us. My whole life has been spent witnessing evidence of the pathological State. I only really opened my eyes to it after Hillsborough, but it has been there all the time, and it doubtlessly predates me.
The list is endless, Bloody Sunday, The Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, Orgreave, Hillsborough and more recently Grenfell. In all these cases, we see the same pattern. A lack of openness and transparency, attempts to shift blame and even falsification of evidence in order to protect institutions and powerful figures. Justice is rarely served, and if it is at all, only after decades of struggle by people who lack the resources to fight.
Sometimes they struggle in isolation, often they are vilified and every obstacle is placed in their way. Only if they have the stomach to overcome all of that, can they get close to justice. However, even then, they can have it snatched from view in the final hour.
This should concern all of us, whether we are personally affected or not. For humanitarian reasons, sure, but not just that. Because the States pathology means that it never learns, things don’t improve and the injustices continue, handed down from one generation to the other.
Anyone who has lived through the aftermath of Hillsborough will have been horrified by the eerily similar patterns that have unfolded following the Grenfell fire. A complete failure to care for the victims by the government – many have still not been rehoused – compounded by attempts in the media to blame the victims and even the rescuers for the tragedy. And, two years on, many high rise buildings in the UK remain unsafe, despite evidence that they are covered in the same dangerous cladding as Grenfell. The pathological State doesn’t learn.
Its primary motive is self-preservation, and it is too remote to care about anything else. That is true today, and frankly it has been true for as long as I can remember.
The time for peace-meal reform is long past. The State is in need of fundamental reform, if not a complete revolution, which would allow ordinary people to hold the powerful to account and usher in a compassionate State. Only then will we be able to have faith in government and its institutions.
Of all the images shared online to remember those who fell during the two world wars that blighted the 20th century, I found this one deeply moving.
It depicts a familiar scene to all of us. A parent and child getting ready to go to Anfield on match day, only in this one the boy has been robbed of the chance to attend with his father, who in turn has lost all of his tomorrows. The mother has lost a husband.
For me, few images sum up the utter futility and all-pervasive impact of war as much as this one. Thank you Tim.
As the Reds gear up for a huge encounter with title rivals, Manchester City at Anfield this weekend, Simon Meakin is back with another completely unique match preview.
So we’ve staged a well earned comeback against Spurs, a dramatic late comeback against Villa and a frankly ludicrous comeback against Arsenal. Then, we followed all of that up with a mundane, run of the mill win against Genk – who I had to admit I had to check was an actual real place when the Champions League draw was made; a bit like Neil the dim one out of the Inbetweeners having to ask “what is Swansea? Is it some sort of animal?”
And now, this is it! The big one! It’s not even Christmas but it’s time to roll out the cliches; Title decider! Championship six pointer! Season defining encounter!
Speaking of Christmas and cliches does anyone remember the one about West Ham always coming down with the Christmas decorations? They always used to somehow be challenging at the top of the League until December. Usually with Dave Swindlehurst bagging an unfeasible number of goals. What Hammers fans these days wouldn’t give to at least have the chance to be dragged from the loft, checked for faulty bulbs that might knacker the entire circuit (more than likely the Andy Carroll light) before being put up with the Christmas decorations in the first place.
Right, now that I’ve gone and blown my Christmas bolt in early November (what the hell am I going to write about for the Boxing Day match) let’s focus on the Man City match (I was just going to say “City” there but I don’t want fans of Norwich, Kansas or the City of London accusing me of arrogance). Normally the above cliches would be just that, cliches, but given the performance of City over the past couple of years any chance to take points off them feels crucial.
It was arguably our failure to take more off them last season that did for our title hopes. And, given our performance since the start of last season, the possibility of going nine points clear of them while only having to play them once more would start to get me just a little bit excited. Unlike some Liverpool fans with a hatred of anything “Manc,” I’ve never minded City (that red lot from the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford are a different kettle of fish entirely).
I’m not sure whether it’s because “my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” the fact I liked their kit growing up or just their past comedy tendency to arse up and shoot themselves in the foot at every opportunity (deliberately playing for a draw against us on the last day of the season and promptly getting themselves relegated for not being able to add up anyone?). Sadly this trait seemed to rather irritatingly disappear at the exact same time large bundles of dodgy Qatari oil money appeared.
I also went to university in Manchester and (whisper it very quietly) really liked the place (apart from the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford of course – which is famously not in the City of Manchester). I used to cycle past their old training ground in Moss Side every day (hoping to sneak a glimpse of legendary players like Andy Hinchcliffe or Ian Brightwell). My mind might be playing tricks on me in my old age but, from what I remember, it pretty much consisted of what looked like a bunch of Goals five-a-side pitches. Pep would be choking on his Jamon Iberico and Patatas Bravas had he had to put up with those kind of facilities, and with me pedalling past and trying to gawp through the fence to try and spy on his Tika-Taka based tactical genius
Mind you, given that he would have also had to put up with Niall Quinn playing up front, I’d imagine even his Tika-Taka levels of genius might have been stretched a bit. Man City do not have the best of records at Anfield it has to be said and that’s putting it mildly. I read somewhere a couple of years ago that Anfield was the only ground they had failed to win at since they became billionaires, but it’s actually much worse than that.
They have incredibly only won twice at Anfield since beating us in an FA Cup tie in 1956 on their way to winning the tournament, despite Bert Trautmann famously playing most of the final with a broken neck. This is a game still used by football fans of a certain age – i.e. so old they looked like Tommy Hutchinson in his prime – as exhibit number one in why modern day footballers are a bunch of namby-pamby pansies, who wouldn’t know what had hit them if they played in the good old days, along with other exhibits such as shoulder barging, having a crafty Woodbine mid-match, compulsory 14 hour shifts down the mine before kick-off, tackling from behind, and being allowed to infect the opposition centre-half with Smallpox.
One of those wins was due to a last minute Anelka winner in the Houllier years. The other, more famous win (to my mind at least) was the 3-1 win on Boxing Day 1981. I’ve got vivid memories of this game as a child, as I clearly remember the fact that it left us 12th in the table over Christmas (fully 11 places behind a Dave Swindlehurst inspired West Ham no doubt). Equally, I can clearly remember the 10 year old me not being worried about it as, in my youthful naivety, I simply assumed we would still win the League, because “that’s just what Liverpool did.”
The incredible thing was that I was right. We did. I believe we hold the record for coming from further back at Christmas to win the title than anyone else ever. Although my memory isn’t quite as clear as I thought as I’ve always had it in my head that an inspired Trevor Francis scored two of their goals. Having just watched the game back on You Tube he didn’t actually score at all.
The win was more to do with performances to forget from Grobelaar and Phil Thompson. The game also apparently involved Big Joe Corrigan being hit on the head with a bottle thrown from the crowd according to my mate.
As for this weekend’s game it’s going to be quite a nervous one, for me at least. Hopefully, Klopp will have the players sorted. There’s a chance to go nine points clear or potentially have it cut to just three.
I was toying with predicting my first draw but let’s go for yet another 2-1 win. Hopefully not leaving it as late as Villa. Firmino and Mane with Gabriel Jesus getting one in return and us sitting pretty, eight points clear of Leicester.
So, if you’re a Red in the UK, you’ll be all too aware that we face a General Election in six weeks time. Within hours of Parliament agreeing to go to the polls, Boris Johnson was being booed out of a London hospital, the Lib Dems were blaming Labour for almost a decade of austerity they helped to facilitate, and Brexit – which austerity helped to facilitate – and Jeremy Corbyn was asking a nation to choose between disaster capitalism or a future in which we cooperate to solve our problems.
He repeatedly asked, ‘Whose side are you on? Is it the bad bosses, who grow rich by avoiding tax while exploiting their workers? Or are you on the side of the real wealth creators, forced to compete for zero hours contracts and supplement their income with visits to a foodbank? Are you on the side of unscrupulous landlords who force tenants to live in squalor, or the media barons whose squalid coverage has polluted our politics and sewn hatred and division? Or do you side with those who want decent homes for all and a media that deals in truth instead of lies.
The Tories, meanwhile, have boldly suggested that, after they’ve spent a decade in government, ‘Britain deserves better.’ I could not agree more.
After years of failed Brexit negotiations and broken promises, three successive Tory Prime Ministers have failed to deal with a single one of the country’s ills. And, they want us to believe that all of that is the fault of the opposition, not those who’ve been in power throughout it all. It is a spectacularly brazen con, but it will be dutifully aided and abetted by their friends in the print and broadcast media – particularly those who donate millions to the Conservative cause.
By now, if you didn’t know already, you will be beginning to see where my allegiances lie, where I’ll put my X on 12th December and whose side I’m on. For the avoidance of doubt, I’ll be voting Labour.
You may feel this post seems out of place on a website devoted to my love for Liverpool Football Club. Well, let me tell you why it isn’t.
To readers who reside in Liverpool, I know you require no explanation. We have long understood our relationship with the British establishment. If the sleep was not cast from our eyes by their policy of managed decline of our city during the Thatcher years of the 80s, we became fully awake in the aftermath of Hillsborough.
In the years that followed that terrible day in 1989, we were treated to the full spectacle of the press, the police, the courts and the government acting in concert to shift blame away from those responsible for the tragedy, and on to the people who suffered most. We responded by being even more united and determined than they were in our quest for truth and justice. And, we won.
We beat MacKenzie and Murdoch and we outlasted and outfought Thatcher and her successors. That banner on the Kop – the one that says ‘Unity is Strength’ – is about so much more than football. It’s a message to all who visit the away end at Anfield too. And, it’s a lesson for life.
We can be sporting enemies for 90 minutes, but in life we are cut from the same cloth. Those in Yorkshire who remember Orgreave and those living in the shadow of Grenfel know only too well that our struggles are the same.
Manchester United fans, or fans from any other club who support their teams on Anfield Road, return to the same daily grind as those who stand on the Kop, when the final whistle blows.
In the next six weeks we will once again be faced with a barrage of lies and distortions. We will be told we are ‘leavers’ or ‘remainers,’ ‘Workington man’ or ‘London elite.’ These are labels intended to divide and convince us to vote against our interests.
Then there is the ‘people versus parliament con trick’ – the one that suggests that privileged and powerful people like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have our backs. That has frankly never been true, but it has never been more laughable than it is today.
If that fails, then the Tories will rely on the most dangerous lie of all taking hold among voters. It’s a falsehood that is already gaining traction, and it can be captured in just four words:
‘They’re all the same.’
We’ve all seen these words writ large on social media pages or uttered almost proudly in coffee rooms or on public transport. It is the rallying cry of the apathetic and a justification for disengagement and inaction. And, it is music to Tory ears.
To be honest, I almost sympathise. If you’ve been treated to scenes of parliamentary pantomime on your TV screens, to MPs in suits shouting and bawling while the country goes to rack and ruin, if you’ve watched the opposition leader struggle to be heard amidst the melee, while some posh bloke in a gown yells ‘Ordeeer!’ Then I can understand why you might think it’s all a farce and that it means nothing to you and doesn’t solve your problems.
I also understand that if every major news outlet accuses the opposition of incompetence, and worse still treachery, you could be forgiven for throwing in the towel and escaping to the make-believe world of Strictly and Celebrity X-Factor. But, that would be a terrible mistake.
Because, they are not all the same. This election is about two very different visions of our future.
In this Parliament there are those who are there to serve the interests of the wealthy, the landlords, the billionaires, the bosses and their backers – let’s call them ‘the few.’ And there are others who seek to represent the rest – we’ll call them ‘the many’.
In my view this has been the case for more than a century. Yes, it’s true that sometimes those charged with fighting the corner of the masses have let their constituents down. The current crop of Labour MPs may not be perfect on that score either. You may feel their leader doesn’t seem strong enough, wears the wrong tie, has a beard and oh, don’t they say he’s a terrorist?
Frankly though, if you won’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party because you honestly believe that he is a jam-making, terrorist racist, despite him campaigning his whole life for peace, and being arrested once for fighting against South Africa’s racist apartheid laws. Or, because he’s somehow simultaneously a terrorist and a pacifist who refuses to incinerate the planet in an all out preemptive nuclear attack, then this blog probably isn’t for you anyway.
However, if you’ve seen through all that stuff, but remain unconvinced that Labour will do any good in office, then I urge to look at their programme. Seriously, it is one that offers something radically different to anything we’ve seen since 1945 and it could transform your life for the better.
It is a stark difference to the slashing and burning of workers rights, pensions, environmental and consumer protections on offer from this government. You may have wanted to take back control from Brussels, but did you really want to hand it over to Trump and his backers, allowing them to buy up our public services and turn them into profit machines for the super-rich?
I don’t believe you did. I believe you want the same things that I and millions of other people want. You want to live in peace, you want your kids to be educated well, in classrooms that help them to fulfill their true potential. And, you want a decent home and to live in a society that cares for you when you need it and where you have the wherewithal to care for your family, instead of being one paycheck away from a loan-shark or a foodbank.
Actually, you want more. And you should aspire to have more. You should find work rewarding. It should satisfy you financially but you should also feel valued in the workplace and have a voice at work.
And, when work is over, you should be free to enjoy your leisure time, which should be affordable. People should be able to play and watch football or take part in their community or the arts without going into debt or sacrificing other things.
We should all have a voice in how our neighbourhoods or our football teams are run and served. It should not be left solely to billionaires and speculators to monopolise our free time, in order to extract profit from us.
If you’re young, you should be able to look forward with optimism, not fear about whether you can afford an education or what state the planet will be in. You should expect to leave University free from debt and look forward to a career and a life that is fulfilling.
These aspirations are not too much to ask for. We’ve been told they are for too long. The 14 million people living in poverty in the UK today, have been made to feel it’s their fault, while the super-rich avoid tax and the rest of us are asked to accept there’s no other way.
Curtailing the excesses of privilege is robbing people of aspiration, we are told. It’s a perverse logic that prefers the hope’s and dreams of those tiny few, already bloated by excess, at the top of the pile, while depriving the rest of all hope for a better life.
It’s a lie that your desire for a decent and fair life is unaffordable. This is one of the wealthiest nations on earth. The challenge for us is not one of managing scarcity, but of seeking social justice, and striving to achieve greater redistribution of wealth and power.
We can meet all the challenges facing us, if we work together. It won’t be easy but we can deal with the climate emergency, regain control over our working lives and of our communities. We can share the wealth we create and look after those who can’t look after themselves. We can do all of that despite what the media and some politicians tell us.
It’s all within our grasp. All we have to do is vote for it on December 12th. Only a vote for Labour will deliver this vision. No other Party is offering real change.
The club we follow today is built on the principle that if everyone works together we all win together. And, on the simple idea that the spoils of victory are shared by all. This was of course Shankly’s mantra but it belongs to an old and noble tradition of socialist thought that has the potential to benefit us all, regardless of who we are or where we’re from.
This is also a vision regained and held, at long last, by the Labour Party today. It’s in every word of their manifesto and the hearts of their half-a-million members.
So, in this election there has never been a clearer choice at the polls. When it comes to the political parties in this country, they are absolutely not all the same and there is no justification for apathy.
All of us need to decide whose side we’re on. Are we on the side of the many or the few? There is a bigger picture, bigger than Brexit and bigger than any individual politician.
Our collective futures are at stake in this election. A vote for the status quo will deliver only sustained decline. So, I know I’ll be voting Labour, for the many. I ask you to do that too.
Simon Meakin returns to preview this Sunday’s clash with Spurs, gloat about getting the Leicester result spot on and deliver his verdict on this weekend’s result. As ever, it is a match preview like no other.
So we’ve dropped the first points of the season. On the glass half full side, we maintained our unbeaten start to the season (and we’re now 26 league games unbeaten since January). And, we demonstrated yet again that we simply won’t lie down and accept defeat with another late goal (and I’m delighted for Adam Lallana too. After all, he has been through injury-wise over the last few years), and once we equalised there was only one team who even looked remotely like they could win it (how often could we have said that about a visit to Old Trafford). Of course, we also denied United two crucial points in their relegation battle. Could be telling in May that!
But. But. But. There’s no getting away from the fact we were very poor for most of the game, against a very average side. I’m not sure what kind of wheel Ole is supposed to be at, but looking at United’s performances so far this season my best guess is a Wagon Wheel (you knew it was always a good school lunchtime when you opened your lunch box and found one of those circular chocolate treats within).
But, it is slightly worrying that we produced our worst performance since last time we visited Old Trafford. Do we have some sort of mental block about playing there? Scarred by too many defeats in the Fergie era? In a way it might be better if the answer was yes, given we don’t have to play there again this season. But we’re still six points clear at the top so any complaints can probably be filed away under “first world” problems for now. Incidentally does anyone actually know where the second world is? It never seems to make the news so I can only assume it lacks a decent publicist (you know the sort of chap who tells it to don a Chelsea shirt and start sucking someone’s toes just to get a mention after the Giant Pandas failing to mate again on John Craven’s Newsround).
Before we move on to the Spurs game I’d also just like to put in a big shout to me and my Leicester prediction. Not only did I get the result right, not only did I get the score bang on, I even correctly predicted our winning goalscorer and the scorer of Leicester’s consolation goal. I haven’t been in the club shop of late but given how on fire I was with last week’s predictions (yes I know it was actually three weeks) it wouldn’t surprise me if a whole range of ‘Big Red Combine Harvester’ memorabilia hasn’t already been rolled out. For any new readers (for example I’d imagine Eric Dier is likely to be reading this looking for red hot tactical insights ahead of Sunday’s game – and let me say Eric, you’ve come to exactly the right place) please refer back to my previous blog entry.
On to Spurs then (finally says Eric). This is the club who in my youth epitomised the term “Fancy Dan”. They had Ricky Villa, who sported the kind of revolutionary beard that could singlehandedly bring down fascist juntas, Glen Hoddle who rebelliously wore his shirt so untucked from his shorts, he almost looked like a particularly hefty member of Pan’s People wearing a mini-skirt on Top of the Pops circa 1970, Ossie Ardiles – who famously adopted the role of happy, clueless Manuel out of Fawlty Towers foreigner mispronouncing “Tottingham” on Top of the Pops, and Steve Archibald, who slightly less famously achieved the rare feat of appearing with two separate acts on Top of the Pops on the same night. He sang with both Tottenham and the Scotland World Cup squad – yes do not adjust your sets younger readers – Scotland once used to have enough good players (mostly ours it has to be said) to actually qualify for things (Christ knows what Yazoo and Altered Images or whoever else was appearing on that episode thought was going on). Oh, and Garth Crooks.
As a child, I have to admit I had a sneaky pang of jealousy at their Fancy Dan ways. Especially when compared to our slightly dour, get a goal and then let Hansen and Lawrenson pass it round the back for an hour approach (I may be slightly exaggerating for effect here). But, on the other hand, as a child I also got a lot of joy from the fact we used to win everything all the time as well. So, swings and roundabouts.
Returning to Steve Archibald, his other main claim to fame was that when Terry Venables took over as Barcelona manager he decided it would be a good idea if the first thing he did was to flog Diego Maradona to Napoli and replace him with Archibald.
For those younger readers still reeling from my explosive Scotland revelations this was the equivalent of selling Messi and replacing him with Danny Ings. Even more astonishingly ‘El Tel’ and Archibald then proceeded to win what was – at that time – Barcelona’s second title in a quarter of a century (the only other time being in 1974, when having just signed Cruyff from under the noses of Real Madrid. Allegedly, Cruyff refused to sign for Madrid due to their associations with fascist General Franco. Barcelona then famously went to the Bernabeu and dismantled Real 0-5 with Cruyff putting on a Total Football masterclass. So, there you have it. Steve Archibald. Better than Maradona. As good as Cruyff.
Right, now that Dier will have given up trying to follow this and gone off to look at Jan Vertonghen’s wife’s Instragram account instead, it’s time to move on to the modern day Spurs. Having moved from Fancy Dan, through to “Spursy,” to actually being quite good – they now appear to be going through a mini-crisis (but at least have the advantage of the media being a bit distracted by Man U having a bigger one). I thought I’d look back to the last time we played this lot. And after racking my brains for a while, it came back to me.
Oh yes! It was when we became Champions of Europe! For the sixth time! Has anyone mentioned this little known fact since? I believe we should put it out there (and not using the second world’s useless publicist. No. I’m thinking more like Kenny Everett’s Brother Lee Love and his enormous hands!). “We’ve conquered all of Europe. We’re never going to stop” “We’re the greatest team in Europe and we’re off to Auntie Bee’s!” (Sorry. That’s what I always sing to my son when we’re off to visit his Aunt. Who’s called Bee.
I’d like to think that’s what sealed the deal re him becoming a Liverpool fan. Even though I haven’t really explained the Rome 77 stuff and he therefore hasn’t got a clue why I’m singing it). Anyway, calming down after that moment of excitement, on to the match.
Having failed to turn up against Crisis Team A, I’m feeling a backlash in my bones, and a convincing performance against Crisis Team B. I’m going with 4-1 to the Red Men. Two goals and a man of the match winning performance from Bobby, a goal from Mane and an own-goal from Dier – who will have been thoroughly bamboozled by my talk of low blocks, split strikers and wagon wheels.
I’m predicting that Harry Kane will fall over, win and then score a penalty. So, it’s another week at number one for Klopp’s People, Ole dropping out of the top 40 entirely and Clare Grogan having to chase Steve Archibald out of her dressing room, after discovering him wearing nothing but a Womble costume!
Liverpool will face Leicester City for the 112th time this weekend. Here I look back at one of the Reds biggest wins in the fixture, a 5-1 victory at Anfield in 1934. As we will see, it would prove a rare oasis during what would turn out to be the club’s wilderness years, in the 1930s.
It’s the 17th November 1934, Liverpool are gearing up to face Leicester City at Anfield. The club is a fading force, having failed to win the title since 1923. Unlike their all-conquering forebears, this was a Reds side that was far from untouchable.
With George Patterson in the dug out for his second spell as manager, the Reds were struggling. Patterson was a popular man at the club and literally lived in the shadow of Anfield – his home was in Skerries Road, minutes from the Kop. However, by the time Leicester came to visit, his team had already shipped eight goals twice in two humiliating defeats during the opening games of the season.
The first had been an 8-1 mauling at Highbury, and the second had been delivered at Leeds Road, when Huddersfield Town had plundered eight without reply, just a week before the November clash with Leicester. That game could easily have ended 9-0, had the Reds keeper, Arthur Riley, not saved a penalty in the 37th minute.
So, this was a Liverpool side languishing in mid-table and having finished regularly in the bottom half of the table in previous seasons, appeared to be going nowhere. Therefore, Reds supporters must have been looking with some relief at facing a side whose defence was perhaps even weaker than their own.
These were tough times for working class cities like Liverpool. The opening of the ‘Queensway’ Mersey tunnel in the July, a tremendous feat of engineering and a sign of civic ambition, masked the suffering and hardship faced by many on Merseyside and across the country. Just two years later marchers from Jarrow in Tyneside would begin their epic march against hunger, poverty and unemployment. They would be joined by comrades who set off from Liverpool. joining the Merseyside contingent was none other than the author, George Orwell.
These were fertile times for those who would sew division and hatred in the UK and across Europe. The year had begun with a huge rally by the British Union of Fascists in Birmingham. Oswald Mosley had addressed an audience of 10,000. Demagogues and opportunists were using the misery of working people to whip up racism and fear. Sound familiar?
Mosley’s politics never gained ground in Britain despite these turbulent times. However, it was a different story on the continent. Within five years, the whole of Europe would be at war. It would be a conflagration that would ultimately burn up the entire globe and cost 50 million lives.
Football then, as it is today, must have seemed a rare form of escapism in a world that to many would have appeared to have lost its collective mind. So, against this backdrop, thousands of Liverpudlians made their way to Anfield to see their heroes do battle. Not as many as in previous years though.
The opening game of the 1934/35 season, a 2-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers, had seen over 31,000 file through the turnstiles. However attendances soon slumped.
This was a decade that belonged to Everton. They had the greatest striker in the country at the time – Dixie Dean was a marksman without equal. They secured two league titles in 1932 and 1939, and they also won the FA Cup in 1933. Perhaps it wasn’t the dominance we see today, when super-rich clubs can create cabals that lock the rest out, seemingly forever. But, in the 1930s Blues’ supporters would have had a lot to crow about, far more than their Red counterparts.
So, in the face of Liverpool’s poor form, lack of silverware and the scarcity of disposable income in a city ravished by unemployment, the attendance for the visit of Leicester was a paltry 18,790. The Liverpool Echo even commented on the amount of space in the Paddock (an area at the front of the Main Stand) as the game got underway, and suggested that it may have been due to the early kick-off time – the match started at 2.30pm.
Liverpool might not have had a marksman of Dean’s rare talents on their books, but they did have the prolific Gordon Hodgson. The South African born Hodgson would score 244 goals in 377 games for Liverpool and he would grab three of them in this game.
Still, this was a tie between two struggling sides. Defensively, Leicester were poor. They weren’t tearing up any trees in attack either. Still, they managed to score the first goal in the 24th minute.
Liverpool had been much the better side and Vic Wright had smashed a shot off the upright in the third minute. Wright had made his debut for the Reds in the previous season, a 4-1 thrashing of Birmingham City. However, Gordon Hodgson stole the show in that game, scoring all four of Liverpool’s goals. Wright would leave the club in 1937, having played 85 games and notching 33 goals.
Liverpool were making all the early running against the visitors, and their back line had seemed well in control. Then midway through the first half Leicester’s John Summers sent in a delightful cross into the Reds penalty area. Danny Liddle leapt into the air and attempted a spectacular scissor kick. The Reds goalkeeper, Arthur Riley dived across his goal and managed to parry the goal-bound effort. However, Liddle wasn’t to be denied and, with the Reds defence ‘spreadeagled’ as the Echo put it, he regained his footing, chased the ball down and smashed it into the roof of the net.
It was 1-0 to Leicester and the relatively meagre crowd inside the stadium must have feared the worst. However, Liverpool and Gordon Hodgson had other ideas. Inside five minutes, the Reds were in front.
The equaliser came in the 27th minute after a delightful one-two between Alf Hanson and Hodgson saw the latter level spectacularly. The celebrating Kop end would have barely had time to finish cheering before Liverpool went in front. Just a minute after they had levelled, the pair were at it again, combining brilliantly to bag Liverpool’s second.
This time, a slide-rule pass by Hanson left five Leicester players chasing shadows, leaving Hodgson with a simple tap in. Fists punched the frosty air as relief and joy swept around the stands.
What followed was wave after wave of Liverpool attacks, and only Leicester’s goalkeeper, Jimmy McLaren, prevented the Reds from running away with the game. Stork, a Liverpool journalist who wrote for the Echo, described it as the ‘the fiercest onslaught on a goal I have seen for some time.’
Leicester were lucky to get into the dressing room at half time, still in touching distance of the Reds. However, they wouldn’t be able to resist Liverpool’s forward line after the break.
Liverpool were in control throughout the second period, and a very poor Leicester team simply couldn’t cope with them. Then disaster struck for the visitors. George Gibson left the field through injury and with no substitutes allowed, they would have to face the Reds ferocious attack with ten men, with just over 30 minutes to play. Minutes later, Liverpool’s Tommy Johnson send the ball forward, Hanson – again the provider – headed the ball to Hodgson who dutifully headed it past McLaren.
It was a sublime move and a sweet finish. Hodgson had netted his first hat-trick of the season and Liverpool were in cruise control. Gibson made a brave attempt to rejoin his team mates, but his injury proved too painful and he would eventually bow out for good.
Leicester were vanquished. Had this been a boxing match, the referee would have already called time. Instead, Liverpool were allowed to continue and in the 82nd minute Hanson would grab his fourth assist of the match, lobbing the ball into the centre and presenting Wright with a glorious chance, which he headed past McLaren.
It was now 4-1 and with the away side out on their feet, there was just time for another. Hanson was now terrorising the Leicester goal mouth. He hit the post in the 86th minute and was generally causing mayhem. Perhaps, that was the reason why the previously brilliant McLaren committed a catastrophic howler just two minutes later.
With just two minutes left on the clock, Harold Taylor, a former Stoke City player who joined the Reds in 1932, poked the ball tamely towards the Leicester goal. After pulling off a string of first-half saves that kept his team in the game earlier, McLaren stumbled and fell, allowing the ball to roll into the net. It may have seemed harsh on the goalie, but Liverpool were good for their five goals.
The victory was a much needed boost for the Reds. They would go on to win four out of their next five games. Their revival under manager Patterson, would eventually see them to a creditable 7th place finish, after a horrific start to the season. This would be their highest league finish of the 1930s.
This was a game and a season that would prove a rare oasis in what was undeniably Liverpool FCs wilderness years.
Liverpool face Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City this weekend. Can Klopp’s Reds continue their impressive run? Simon Meakin takes us on a meandering run through Saturday’s big match, with the usual detours along the way.
So, the Red Machine keeps chug chug chug chug chugging along (borrowing the lyrics from the well known ditty “Big Red Combine Harvester,” as sung by my son at nursery school). It was one of my favourites of his nursery songs along with one about being a pirate in the Irish Sea (whether this was of the Redbeard Rum type or Somali Pirates trying to hijack the Isle of Man ferry was never specified).
But I’m now thinking that “Big Red Combine Harvester” is a football club nickname in waiting, and there is no reason why Liverpool shouldn’t claim it (better than trying to copyright the name of the entire City anyway). As far as I’m aware no-one has ever clarified what type of Red Machine we are meant to be – internal combustion engine? Japanese Bullet Train? Toaster? So, I’m going to be the first.
Is it the perfect metaphor for Henderson and Wijnaldum threshing in midfield? Do combine harvesters thresh? What is threshing? Or, is it Mane, Salah and Firmino combining up front with Van Djik sporting a flat cap and threatening people with his shotgun, telling them to “get orf my land?”
Now that I’ve sorted our new marketing strategy (in your face Ed Woodward and your noodle partners) back to the football. We’ve had two really tough, battling away wins since our last home game and probably ridden our luck a bit at times so hopefully a return to Anfield will mean a return to the sort of champagne football that Firmino delivered from the bench against Newcastle.
But it’s not going to be easy against Leicester. They are looking well placed for a shot at a top four finish partly due to the current inadequacies of most of the traditional “Big Six”. And, Leicester have form in this area, taking advantage of the inadequacies of all the Big Six to famously win the league only four seasons ago.
Looking back it seems even more dreamlike that they actually did that. No outsider has even come close to breaking into the top four since. For years beforehand I’d been willing a small team to actually break the monopoly (or should that be sexopoly? I’m now wondering what I’d find if I googled ‘sexopoly’?) of the same teams always qualifying for the Champions League. But none ever seemed to be able to manage the consistency to actually do so.
There is the exception of Everton, who forced us to go and win ‘old big ears’ in Istanbul, by qualifying for the Champions League themselves. Only for them to make an unholy mess of their one shot at glory. Then there was a period when Charlton, of all clubs, used to make an unlikely annual bid for the top four only to fall to pieces every February. And then Leicester not only did that, they went and won the bloody league.
The visit of Leicester also means the return of Brendan Rodgers to Anfield for the first time since his unceremonious sacking. Actually, I’ve no idea whether it was unceremonious or not to be honest. Given it wasn’t actually me who fired him. It just seems to be the law that you have to use that word to describe sackings but nothing else. It’s a bit like how a bottle of red wine always had to be described as a ‘decent red’ – usually in relation to Alex Ferguson’s post match routine, when it was seen as an affront to the ‘great man’ if the opposing manager failed to turn up to his office post-match with said decent red.
I’m not quite clear what ever became of those managers who dared show up with some white wine (why do you never hear of a decent white?), a couple of G&T’s or a few cans of Lidl own-brand scrumpy (Ian Holloway I’m looking at you).
I’ve no idea whether Brendan used to turn up with anything (I’d imagine if he did it would have an umbrella in it). But I’ve always felt he has never got the credit he deserved from Reds fans. Whether it’s because he took over from St Kenny, some of the pseudo- psychobabble he used to come out with in interviews. Or, is it because he is short and Klopp is tall? Is there a psychological caveman type thing subconsciously going on here? Or am I talking pseudo psychobabble bollocks?
Does this mean I should apply for the Leicester job, maybe? I don’t know. But he took what was arguably the worst performing Liverpool side in 50 years (yes I know we got to two cup finals but points wise it was the worst season since we got relegated in the 1950’s, and the football was bloody awful at times. Within two years had taken us to an ace of the title. There was an immediate improvement in the likes of Henderson and Stewart Downing (remember him?).
That’s the mark of a good manager. It’s not just about who you sign. It’s the improvements you make to the players you do sign (or inherit). This is an area where Klopp has been superb, Ferguson (grrrr) and his bottles of Rioja used to excel, and one of many areas where our chums from down the M62 seem to have lost their way in recent years.
So basically I think I’m saying this is going to be a tough one. Leicester were after all the only team, bar Man City themselves, to take a point from Anfield last season. So Big Red Combined Harvester 2 Leicester 1. Firmino and Milner to score, Maddison (a player I’d be very happy if we signed) to get their goal and Klopp having to fend off awkward allegations about his sheepdog running amok savaging the local livestock down Anfield Road, in his post match interview. .
It’s September 1946, we’re three games into the first football league season since the end of World War 2. The Reds are about to take on Chelsea, and the Kop is about to witness one of the most remarkable games of their lives.
The war was over, the guns that had wreaked death and devastation across the globe had been silent for a year. Soldiers were still returning to rebuild their broken cities and the people continued to exist on government rations. Though the carnage had come to an end, life continued to be a struggle for millions. Thank God for football.
Games had continued throughout the war years, with clubs organised into regional leagues. The likes of Bob Paisley and Billy Liddell had signed for Liverpool before the commencement of hostilities. They would have to wait years to make their debuts, having to satisfy themselves with unofficial matches interspersed between active service in Europe.
In 1946, the football league resumed and Liverpool manager George Kay had assembled a formidable team. The club had not won a league championship since 1923. All that was about to change.
Kay, a pioneer who understood the importance of nutrition, decided to get his players out of the country in preseason. He took them to America, where they could build up their pale and malnourished frames with ‘steaks and malts.’ It proved to be a master stroke.
Kay, born in Manchester in 1891, managed the Reds for a total of 357 games. His first game in the dugout came in 1936. We’ll never know what glory he could have achieved where it not for the war, but that’s true of so many of the Reds’ greats. The 1946-47 season would prove to be a spectacular high point of his career though, with Liverpool winning the title in 1947. They had simply outrun, outfought and out thought their competition, and that inspired preseason will have played a vital part in that.
The omens had been good, as Liverpool toured New York, St Louis, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia and New England. They racked up 70 confidence boosting goals on tour, in front of packed stadiums, full of expats and locals. The highlight will have been a 12-0 hammering of a Philadelphia select at Yellow Jacket Field.
Then it was back home to a few knockabout games as the team re-acclimatised in the North West of England. Confidence in the red half of the city would have been soaring, as news of the US tour was lapped up by its citizens in letters sent home to the Liverpool Echo by the manager. Imagine the sense of eagerness and excitement, as supporters looked forward to the resumption of league football, for the first time in seven years.
However, Liverpool got off to a stuttering start that gave no hint of a first league title in 23 years. They saw off Sheffield United 1-0, in the season opener at Bramall Lane. The win came courtesy of a 90th minute strike by Len Carney. They followed that up with a disappointing 0-1 home reverse to Middlesborough in their second outing though.
Their fourth match, saw them thrashed by Manchester United, 5-0, in a game that was remarkably played at Manchester City’s ground, Maine Road. Had anyone suggested Liverpool would go on to lift the title in May, to a Red who had witnessed the humiliation, they’d have surely been given short shrift. The game had left United top of the table, and the men from Anfield languishing in 12th.
However, the Red Men would find their feet in a season that saw them score 84 goals, a figure that more than compensated for their occasionally leaky defence. In a foreshadow of the Rodgers era, Liverpool would often need to outscore their opponents to win the points, conceding 52 goals in a 42 goal season.
Kopites would have been given a glimpse of what was to come in the teams third game of the season, against Chelsea at Anfield. It would be one of the most thrilling games any one had ever seen.
The game got underway amidst unseasonably hot weather, on Saturday 7th September 1946. The official attendance was 49,950 but the numbers were likely to be much higher, as crowds continued to pour into the ground up until half-time, when the gates were finally locked. Even then, crowds of local kids continued to scale the wall on Anfield Road and found their way into the stadium regardless. The desire to see the Reds in action was so great, that even those locked out, some 5,000 people, remained at the ground, their ears pinned to walls, listening to the roar of the crowd inside.
It was the weekend. Work was over for a while, and tens of thousands of Scousers had tossed their cares and worries to one side, at least for 90 minutes. There was no place on earth they wanted to be, than right there, in or around Anfield.
Those inside would be treated to 11 goals in what would be one of the most remarkable games in an age. At the end of it, Liverpool would emerge the victors, but not before Chelsea had threatened one of the most incredible comebacks of all time.
Making their debuts that day, despite having
signed for the club seven years before, were Bob Paisley and Billy Liddell. The
Echo would proclaim that the pair had transformed the red attack. It wasn’t
without justification either. Liverpool were 6-0 up after 50 minutes.
Making their debuts that day, despite having
signed for the club seven years before, were Bob Paisley and Billy Liddell. The
Echo would proclaim that the pair had transformed the red attack. It wasn’t
without justification either. Liverpool were 6-0 up after 50 minutes.
The game got off to a blistering start, when Liddell opened the scoring inside two minutes, turning in a corner. The ground rocked as joyous supporters showed their appreciation. The man who would go on to define the club and who the Kop would call King Billy, was already 24 years old and had played 152 times for the club, scoring 82 times.
These appearances had been in the unofficial
inter-war games, and didn’t count. However, they would have mattered to the
supporters who continued to follow the club throughout the dark days of World
War 2. He would have been a hero, even then. This is how the Liverpool Daily Post recorded the goal:
Success came in exactly two minutes and Paisley
was the man who went forward to get the corner kick which produced a direct
goal for Liddell. The corner swung in, and Robinson, trying to punch away, put
the ball on the inside of an upright whence it turned into the net.”
The reporter felt Liddell was lacking match
fitness though and suggested this may have explained Chelsea’s second half
rally. In the first half though, Liverpool were irrepressible. They added
another three thanks to a brace from Bill Jones on his debut, and a goal from
Willie Fagan on the stroke of half time.
By now, the vast crowds on the Kop were
beginning to struggle with the heat. Packed so tightly under the tin roof, many
were becoming concerned for the safety of scores of youngsters who had climbed
onto the huge terrace. Though the local press claimed it had little to do with
‘packing,’ the conditions must have been incredibly uncomfortable.
Thankfully, police would allow hundreds of kids
to descend from the huge stand and sit along the touchline that surrounded the
pitch. There they would feel the fresh air on their cheeks and enjoy a
remarkable second half.
Jack Balmer, a Scouser from a family of Evertonians and future captain of the club, grabbed the Reds fifth, two minutes after the restart. He was far from a fans favourite, and many would let him know during games. Still, the bald-headed striker would play 309 times for the club, scoring a very creditable 110 goals. Bob Paisley would list him as one of his ’50 Golden Reds,’ and spoke of his sadness at Balmer’s treatment by some supporters.
Liverpool were cruising now, and when Liddell
hit the sixth goal just three minutes later, those kids on the touchline would
have been barely able to contain themselves. Then the game changed completely,
and the Londoners mounted a fierce fight back. 22 minutes later, they and every
Red in the ground would have been chewing their fingernails.
Goals from Len Goulden, and Jimmy Argue in the
55th and 64th minute would have caused the mutterings on the Kop to crank up a
notch, but the two-minute brace from Alex Machin in the 70th and 72nd may have
led to a full-fledged revolt. The score was now incredibly 6-4 and the Reds
defence was rocking.
However, the Liverpool crowd had long since
been singled out as different by the nation’s media. Famed for their ability to
get behind the team when they were needed, the seemingly put aside their
anxieties and helped George Kay’s charges to ride the waves and steady the ship.
In truth, Chelsea had given themselves a
mountain to scale when they fell six goals behind. They’d given Liverpool a big
scare, but after their fourth, they simply ran out of steam. Willie Fagan, who
had rounded off the scoring in the first half, repeated the feat in the second.
He hammered home Liverpool’s seventh in the 87th minute, no doubt much to the
relief of the Kop.
Liverpool supporters would get used to not
keeping a clean sheet during this season. There would be setbacks and defeats
home and away, but the Reds were simply too good for the rest of the league.
They clinched the title in the most bizarre of circumstances, on the 14th June
Liverpool beat Wolves 2-1 in their final game
of the season but had to wait two weeks to know whether they had clinched the
title. While the win had robbed Wolves of their chance win the league, Stoke
City could do it, if they beat Sheffield United at Bramall Lane, in their final
game. However, due to a bitter winter, that led to many fixture postponements,
that game wouldn’t take place until two weeks later.
And, it would coincide with the final of the
Liverpool Senior Cup, which pitted the Reds against Everton. That meant
Liverpool faced the possibility of winning or losing two trophies on the same
day. The tension inside the ground would have been hard to bear, as the Reds
laboured to a 2-1 victory over their neighbours to secure the cup and local
However, according to Billy Liddell, the only
thing on anyone’s mind was what was happening miles away in Sheffield, and the
game between Stoke and Sheffield United. Stoke lost the game and the result was
announced over the speaker system, near the end of the second half, to a packed
and raucous Anfield crowd. Liverpool were champions of England once more, and
they had beat the Blues to the senior cup.
Well, it’s finally here – publication day has arrived and I couldn’t be more pleased. We Conquered all of Europe: Red Odyssey II continues where my first book left off, and the journey is no less exciting.
When I penned the final words of Red Odyssey: Liverpool FC 1892-2017, an epic trawl through 125 years of Reds history, I always knew I’d be back with more. There’s just something in the club’s DNA, something that drives us on our quest for glory. I just didn’t anticipate that I’d return so soon.
Jurgen Klopp may not have delivered the holy grail of a Premier League title, but in leading the club to four cup finals in such a short space of time, he’s following in the footsteps of some of our greatest managers.
Of course the road hasn’t been smooth, and three defeats in the Europa League, League Cup and Champions League finals, allowed his critics to question his ability. However , throughout each of those incredible cup runs, something was beginning to grow at the club, and within the players and the supporters. It would strengthen their resolve and stiffen the sinews. It was of course belief.
It was the same potent brew served up by Shankly in 1959. The fire of faith established the Reds as a force in the 60s, and had sustained the club for decades, until its fuel ran dry in the 90s. Houllier and Benitez got it going again, for a short while. Under Rodgers, the flames flickered briefly again, before being extinguished too easily. Now, under Klopp, they roar once more.
Liverpool have grown stronger, not weaker, after each set back and their supporters, players and manager melded into one. Together, they were powerful enough to sweep aside the giants of Europe and it was almost enough to clinch domestic glory too. They are now the most feared team in the land and on the continent too.
Their followers are legion and occupy all four corners of the earth. We Conquered all of Europe: Red Odyssey II tells the whole story of this meteoric rise, using first person perspective on the low points as well as the highs. It is a must read for all Reds, and I’m sure all who love this amazing club will identify with the stories, adventures, defeats and victories.
So pick up a copy today. Immerse yourself in the journey, revel in the glory and view the moments of doubt with the perspective of hindsight. They were mere bumps in the road, trials on the way to conquest. After all what good is an adventure, if there aren’t a few challenges along the way.
It is also true that on this journey we paused to honour our legends, like Kenny Dalglish and former captains, like Johnny Wheeler. And, sadly, we also bid farewell to fallen heroes – players and supporters. Their stories are covered too. It makes for a compelling tale. So, enjoy the next chapter in our Red Odyssey. You can get it here or here and in many other places.
Simon Meakin returns with his completely unique take on this weekend’s clash with Newcastle United.
It seems like an age since the previous preview, thanks to the International break. Normally, this is where having a second team to support usually comes in handy to get my fix of league action. This was foiled by Hereford surely setting a new world record for worst team ever to have to call a match off due to multiple international call-ups.
Not content with cornering the market in St Kitts and Nevis players, in the hope they’ll be the new Belgium, they had a guy who didn’t even get the chance to come off the bench and kick Shaqiri on behalf of Gibraltar. Although, checking the line-ups, ‘Big Shaq’ didn’t even manage to get on the Swiss bench in the first place (resist joke about him just being hidden behind some Micky Droy sized centre back or sitting under the bench) so I’m now wondering whether we’ve sustained yet another injury on international duty
Anyway the league finally returns and things are going pretty swimmingly so far. Still top of the league, still with a 100% record and having defeated our first top six rival with ease. If we beat Newcastle on Saturday that will be our 14th straight league win.
To put that into context, in a century or so of trying, no team in the top four divisions had ever won more matches in a row, until Pep turned up. It almost seems unfair that we won’t be able to count most of them this season purely on the basis that they happened last term. Bloody rules! Can’t Klopp just go the Queen and prorogue the Premier League?
Newcastle aren’t in a good place though. Man City got owners that desperately wanted to plough billions of pounds into an English football club, in order to distract from a record of human rights abuses back home. They also managed to break the only rule of English grammar that never gets broken, by having a country that forgot to put a U after it’s Q. One of these things convinced Jacob Rees-Mogg to make his kids support Liverpool in protest – can you guess which one kids?.
Newcastle, meanwhile, ended up with a bloke who searches his employees underpants when they leave work, in case they’re cunningly trying to make off with the stock by wearing it. Sadly for Newcastle fans, he doesn’t seem to believe in ploughing billions of pounds into an English football club to distract from underpants searches. And, so a club who remarkably became one of only two English clubs to break the world transfer record since the 1950’s with the signing of Shearer (the other one being United’s purchase of Pogba – har har. How’s that one working out then United fans?) now find themselves shopping in Poundland – relatively speaking of course.
This is the Premier League after all, and they have just signed a player from a shop that if you were being picky must have actually been called Forty Million Pound Land (where you can also presumably buy a bumper pack of eighty million Duracell batteries or an old DVD of Andy Townsend football bloopers). Mind you, all of that is not half as remarkable as discovering that the world transfer market was once shattered by Falkirk of all clubs, when they bought the excellently named Syd Puddefoot.
In terms of matches between the two teams it’s impossible to look any further than the pair of legendary 4-3’s in the 1990’s. Great though both games undoubtedly were, they did highlight the notoriously soft centre that prevented the Roy Evans era team really doing justice to the undoubted talent they had.
I was at the second match and while it was brilliant celebrating the last minute winner, I remember the sick feeling immediately beforehand when we appeared to be on the brink of blowing a 3-0 lead, thanks mainly to David James apparently hammering Super Mario Brothers the night before (not an excuse you ever heard Syd Puddefoot come out with I’d wager). That game was part of the run-in in 97, when we had a golden opportunity to haul in a stuttering Man United. If only we displayed a bit more steel. So, bitter-sweet memories there.
Newcastle are of course famous for pioneering the unique “Messiah” management structure. Some clubs might plump for Directors of Football, Head Coaches, or just plain and simple Managers. Yet every time Newcastle sack their manager (so quite regularly) there is am immediate demand to find a new Geordie Messiah.
They even had two of them one year and promptly got themselves relegated. Presumably the Board have to draw up an all Geordie shortlist containing Chris Waddle, Jimmy Nail, Cheryl Cole and at least one of Ant and Dec. Why is this? Bolton never put the call out for a new Boltonian Messiah when Big Sam left them. Florentino Perez doesn’t go looking for a new Madrid Messiah every time he has to fire the Real manager for not winning the Champions League.
To paraphrase Tom Baker’s sea captain in Blackadder (the brilliant Redbeard Rum) when asked whether it was usual practice not to have any crew – “Opinion is divided on the matter! All the other Chairman say you don’t need a Messiah. I say you do!”
Which brings us to the match prediction. So far I’ve got a 100% record in getting the winning margin right. But 0% in terms of the score or pretty much any of the scorers. Anyway, I’m thinking Newcastle being in a bit of a mess will be counteracted by the fact that their latest Messiah is actually a naughty boy called Steve Bruce, who has a very annoying record of generally avoiding getting beaten by us. But not counteracted that much. 3-0 to the reds with a goal apiece from Mane, Firmino and Salah – I’m really trying to make sure I get at least one goalscorer right this time. Oh, and a 14th league win on the bounce too.
Oh, and a message to Mike Ashley. You have a woman’s purse (which you never open). I’ll wager you’ve never had sixteen shipwrecked mariners tossing in it!
Tommy Lawrence made a total of 390 appearances in goal for Liverpool, between 1957 and 1971. In that time he pioneered a new role for goalkeepers, in which he would act as a sweeper, often rushing from his line in order to ‘smash’ the opposition strikers (as he put it) and also helped the club to win two league titles and its first ever FA Cup in 1965. He is as deserving of the title ‘Liverpool legend’ as any man who has donned the jersey for the club. So, it is my honour to have been able to speak to his sister Mary and two of his children, Stephen and Tracy, who very kindly shared their memories and stories of the man who, to them, was much more than a footballer.
Tommy was born in 1940, in the South Ayrshire town of Dailly. He was the middle child, with an older brother called Billy and younger sister, Mary. His parents, Frank and Ruby Lawrence, moved the family to Warrington when the children were young and Tommy grew up in the North West of England.
His was a typically working class life. His sister Mary recalls how he left school at 15 and began work as an office clerk at Adam Lythgoe Ltd, on Hob Hey Lane, in Warrington. His father had been a chauffeur to the owner, Joe Lythgoe.
Tommy had harboured dreams of becoming a footballer from an early age though, and his father had taken him to a number of local teams, hoping someone would give him a chance. Each time he would be told to come back when he had grown a bit.
Stephen, Tommy’s son, remembers a story his Dad told him of how Roger Hunt –prolific Reds striker of the 1960s – once took Tommy to Warrington Town for a trial, as a striker.
‘I remember my Dad telling me that the Warrington manager had told Roger not to bring my Dad back, as he was not a good striker. Roger replied “don’t worry he’s signed for Liverpool Football Club as a keeper.”’
Lawrence had been something of a late bloomer, and the required growth spurt wouldn’t arrive until after his 16th birthday. It would see him granted a trial at Liverpool, who were in the English Second Division. The then manager, Phil Taylor, was suitably impressed and snapped up the teenager immediately.
Tommy’s sister, Mary, remembers how the club provided a car, which she called the Rolls Royce, to take him to training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At that time Liverpool trained in the Tuebrook area of the city back then. He continued to work at Lythgoe’s during the day, before being picked up by the club car and transported to Liverpool, where he put in the hours on the training field in the evenings. Tommy would go on to sign professional papers at the age of 17.
Mary recalls, ‘Things were certainly different then, even when he got in the first team, he came home to us every night, to the bedroom he shared with his brother. He still went out in the village with his friends. He didn’t leave home until he was married in 1963.’
Tommy married his first wife, Judith in 1963. They would go on to have three children; Tracey in 1964, Stephen in 1967 and the youngest Jayne who was born in 1970.
After becoming a professional, Lawrence would bide his time in the reserves and his break would eventually arrive under the great Bill Shankly, who handed him his first team debut on the 27th October 1962. Sadly it was a forgettable experience for the Reds, as they slumped to a 1-0 away defeat to West Bromwich Albion. But, the die was now cast and a career that would span almost a decade and bring glory to Anfield once more had begun.
Tommy would become Shankly’s number one, and thanks to his generous proportions and agility in the goalmouth, he would affectionately be christened ‘The Flying Pig’ by the Kop. Lawrence made 35 appearances in his first season, and managed his first clean sheet on the 17th November, in a 5-0 thrashing of Leyton Orient.
Two years later, he was a league champion. Under the influence of Shankly the club had won its first league title since 1947, and just two seasons after winning promotion from the second division. A revolution was under way at Anfield and Tommy Lawrence was at the heart of it.
His son Steven, born five years after that championship win, tells me of the influence Shankly had on his Dad and the club.
‘I think my Dad was quite scared of Shanks. So was most of the team. But they respected him because of what he was doing with the club. He was transforming Liverpool FC into the club it is today.
‘My Dad always told me that before Shanks came in, they used to just run for long periods of time. However, the Scotsman changed all of that and instead made them run with the ball at their feet. He stopped them running on the road too saying, “You’re not training to be road runners, you’re training to be footballers.”’
Despite having a healthy respect for the legendary Scotsman, Tommy and teammate Roger Hunt almost incurred his wrath, when they arrived at Anfield for a game, with just five minutes to spare.
‘My dad used to travel with Roger Hunt to the games, and he told me once that the traffic was so bad one match day, before a game against Manchester City, that him and Roger had to get out of the car and run through the city streets to get to Anfield. They arrived at 2.55pm, for a 3pm kick off.’
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that dressing room, that day. Fortunately, the referee agreed to delay kick-off a few minutes to allow them time to get changed into their kits. Shankly’s response remains shrouded in the mists of time.
Stephen missed the early years of his Dad’s career, but he has vivid memories of when the realisation that his Dad was a star began to dawn on him.
“I was born in 1967, so the first time I realised that my dad was in the limelight so to speak was when we used to have the press at our door and coming in taking family photos. I remember my dad used to bring home match programmes, which I’d to give out to my friends on Bollin Close where we lived in Culcheth.
‘Lots of people used to come round for family parties and we were invited to other players’ houses a lot. The first time I can remember going to Anfield with my dad was running around the pitch while they were having team photos. I recall someone giving me a Liverpool rosette to wear.
‘My Dad used to take me to the field on Shaw Street in Culcheth, and for some reason I was always in goal. I think he wanted me to take after him, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.’
However, being the child of a Liverpool footballing legend came with its ups and downs. While enjoying the admiration of his school mates, Steven recalls the strains on the family and his parents’ marriage, as Tommy’s career came to an end.
‘My parents split up when I was young,’ he reveals. ‘I think he found the transition from coming out of football very difficult, which put a strain on their marriage.’
This is perhaps a reminder, that our heroes and legends are human beings. They are subject to the same stresses and strains as the rest of us, and their families pay a price too. Tommy and Judith parted ways after 14 years of marriage in 1977, though he would remarry many years later. However, despite that, Stephen and his sister Tracey have nothing but fond memories of their childhoods and their father.
‘As a man and a Dad we have loads of memories. He was extremely kind and funny. We never remember him telling us off or being angry, he was always so mild mannered.’
Stephen recalls, ‘He used to take me swimming, to Irlam baths, and he would take all my friends too. When he finished football, we had a little money, thanks to opportunities he had as a pundit. He used to take us on adventures, to Crow Wood. We’d go conker picking and on long walks through the fields into Leigh.’
The children didn’t realise at the time, but Tommy was recreating the adventures of his own childhood, ensuring his offspring enjoyed the same sense of joy that he had. And, Tommy’s sense of fun continued throughout his life.
‘Even when he was poorly, towards the end if his life, he would have the nurses and doctors in the hospital in stitches with his stories and his humour,’ recounts Stephen, explaining how his father’s stories kept staff who were caring for him entertained.
Tommy was not of our city, but he was an adopted son of it. He was adored and respected on the Kop and, as his son explains, the feeling was mutual.
‘My dad loved the people of Liverpool and talked about them fondly to the moment he passed. He had so much love for them.’
The family are particularly grateful to Liverpool supporters who continue to keep Tommy’s memory alive. They point to the many tributes shared on social media. They are also grateful to the club who have produced a video of Tommy’s life and career, and gifted to the family. Stephen continues:
‘The people have been brilliant; I used to take my dad to signings, meeting the fans. I sometimes took my lads Adam and Scott. The fans used to ask them to sign things also because their granddad was Tommy Lawrence. They loved it.
‘I can’t thank Liverpool FC and their fans enough for everything they did for us and my dad. Every day it makes us so proud to know our Dad played for Liverpool FC. The only shame is he didn’t get a testimonial for the club after playing so many games.’
Of course, one of the many reasons why Tommy is held in such high esteem by Liverpool supporters is his involvement in the 1965 FA Cup Final. Liverpool had never won the trophy until then, and the outpouring of euphoria in the city was on a scale that put ‘Beatle mania’ in the shade, and would even give the post Istanbul and Madrid homecomings a run for their money.
It also had a profound impact on the players, and none more so than Tommy Lawrence. Stephen remembers fondly how his father would regale him and his sister with tales of that epic triumph.
‘Dad talked about the 65 final a lot. He spoke of walking out in front of the enormous crowd, feeling a little nervous as this was the opportunity that Liverpool had been waiting for, for so long. They had such a great team and they were determined to win the FA Cup for the first time.
‘He recalled it was a quiet final. The weather was horrendous, then suddenly the game came to life when Roger scored. He thought they had won it, as Leeds didn’t look like scoring. Then Billy Bremner hit an unstoppable shot which my Dad could only look at, as it sailed into the top corner. Despite that, they were still very confident of winning though. They all believed they were the much better team than Leeds.
‘When St John scored the winner, my Dad just dropped to his knees. That was the moment he knew they had won it. He told us the trip home was unbelievable, When they got to Lime Street and on to the buses, he recalled the amount of fans waiting for them to return with the Cup. He would never forget, people hanging off lamp posts and hanging out of windows just to get a glimpse of them. It stayed with him his whole life.’
Of course, the victory was not without its misadventures, and Tommy would be at the heart of them. Stephen explains:
‘The story about my Dad losing the bottom of the FA Cup is told a lot, but it’s true. He was given the job of looking after the plinth, but after the game, and a few drinks back at the hotel, Shanks came looking for it. It was nowhere to be found.
‘My dad told the boss he had no idea where it was. Shanks turned to him and said “The first time we win the FA Cup, and he’s lost it.” Thankfully, it was later found. It had been left on the coach and was on its way to Southend.’
Tommy’s sister, Mary, also remembers how important the final was to her brother and indeed the whole family.
‘The 1965 Cup Final was so exciting for us,’ she says. Mum and dad were so proud (Tommy and Mary’s parents); Dad especially, as he had been an aspiring junior footballer himself but never made it. So, what’s the next best thing? That would be his son playing in the cup final of course. In Dad’s eyes, that was only superseded when he played for Scotland.
‘We all went to Wembley in the Rolls Royce. Our uncle and cousin came over from Ireland. Only mum stayed home to look after baby Tracey. It was a great day for all of us.’
Tracey had been born only months earlier, in October 1964. Though, like her brother Stephen, she will have been too young to share in the joy of their father’s early career, she has devoted a considerable amount of effort to ensuring that his footballing legacy lives on. She explains why:
‘When I started doing the Shankly Nights – tribute nights organised to celebrate the achievements of the legendary boss and his players – my Dad loved it because I could hear and repeat the stories of his ‘boys.’ He loved meeting up with them, and thankfully he managed to do that twice before he died.
‘The first was a Shankly Hero’s Night and the second saw him attend the Philharmonic Hall for the premier of the Shankly documentary; Natures Fire. He loved that. And, seeing the respect he had from the younger players like Sammy Lee, Phil Thompson and Jan Molby was incredible.’
However no night out involving Tommy Lawrence could pass without some misadventure. Tracey explains, ‘He managed to lose me at the Philharmonic, while I had gone to collect the car. When I eventually found him outside, he was mobbed by adoring Liverpool fans. He looked like a movie star, like Patrick Swayze at the premier or Dirty Dancing, and surrounded by his admirers. My Dad was beaming, he loved it’
After Liverpool, Tommy went on to play for Tranmere Rovers for three years, before spending a season with Chorley. He sadly passed away on the 10th January 2018. He left behind a treasure trove of footballing memories, stories and of course silverware. He helped bring joy to countless Reds fans. However, he was also a man who loved and was loved by his family, in particular his three children, Tracey, Stephen and Jayne. Thanks to them his legacy will live on for many more years.
So, I’ll leave the last words to his son, Stephen.
‘My Dad, Tommy Lawrence, is a Liverpool legend. He was a true gentleman, very passionate about his heritage and he loved Liverpool Football Club. He made so many friends around the world, just because of who he was.
‘He was shy but loved talking to people, and always had the time of day for people who knew him, and people that wanted to know him. He loved watching his grand kids playing football too. I’d pick him up on match days and take him to football. We’d share a pie and a pint. He is missed by us all and the football family worldwide.’
In his first home match preview of the season, Simon Meakin predicted a 3-0 win over Norwich City. He was pretty close, as the Reds defeated the Canaries 4-1. Here, he turns his focus onto the upcoming game against Arsenal, at Anfield. Brace yourselves though, this is not your average match preview.
Since we last spoke, we’ve won another European trophy at one in the morning, flown back from Istanbul, got another three points from a tricky away game and sit top of the league – so it’s all going pretty well so far.
But with all due respect to Norwich and Southampton, things step up a gear on Saturday when Arsenal roll into town. And what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Arsenal? No, not the Wenger, foreign manager, football revolution or brown paper envelopes addressed to a Mr G.Graham c/o Watford Gap services. No, it’s Gunnersaurus – the big green dinosaur in an Arsenal kit.
I should point out that I actually support two clubs (don’t shoot me!). I was born in Liverpool but partly grew up in Hereford. So I developed an attachment to the local team. Given that I supported Liverpool well before I even knew where Hereford was, a case could be made for me being the world’s most useless glory hunter.
Anyway, Hereford United used to have a mascot called Billy the Bull (until someone stole his head one day). And that seemed right for a club that size. You could bump into him at the burger van in Stevenage, busily devouring one of his mates. Knockabout lower league, jumpers for goalposts stuff. But mascots always seemed a bit beneath Liverpool to me. Whether that made us feel like footballing purists, or more like some pretentious Shoreditch hipster with his craft beer, old vinyl jazz records and his artisan Y-fronts made out of quinoa, I’m not sure.
So, imagine my surprise when I spotted something red and mascotty, pitchside, at the Charity Shield the other week. I was even more amazed when informed that we’d apparently had said mascot for a number of years. How the hell had I managed to miss what appeared to be someone who failed the auditions for Finding Nemo, on my trips to Anfield? I’m guessing it’s meant to be some sort of Liver Bird?
Are we operating the worlds first undercover mascot? Does he work for MI6? Shouldn’t he be getting into brawls with Fred the Red? Maybe I’m just too late getting out of the pub on match days? Not quite sure how I feel about this. But I guess I’m going to have to ditch the craft beer and vinyl, and embrace a new world of fizzy Carling and Ariana Grande.
But, back to Gunners. And, the old days of Don Howe, George Graham and boring boring Arsenal.
When I was a kid I thought it was the law that every game between us had to end in a low scoring draw or a dour 1-0 win – remember the FA Cup semi-final with what seemed like 17 replays? I remember being shocked at watching some footage of a game on Football Focus when we actually beat them 3-0 (think McDermott may have got at least one).
And, speaking of Footy Focus I was also secretly quite impressed as a child that Bob Wilson once actually played in goal for Arsenal. A TV presenter who also used to be a footballer! How could one man be so multi-talented? Surely no other footballer would ever be able to do that (well apart from Saint and Greavsie obvs!).
There was also THAT game in 89. I won’t dwell too much on that, other than to say that I once went to see Lofty out of Eastenders perform a one-man monologue of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch at the old Neptune Theatre on Hanover Street. The whole centrepiece to the show unfortunately turned out to revolve around Michael Thomas’s goal that night, and what a life-changing event that was for Lofty/Nick Hornby (even putting marrying Michelle Fowler in the shade).
Performing it in Liverpool showed some bravery (or foolhardiness) on Lofty’s part at least. Or, that he’d just never bothered checked the tour dates before signing up. What made it even more surreal was looking down the aisle and finding Michael Thomas himself, sitting about 3 seats down from me.
He was playing for us by this point but I did wonder whether he traipsed round the country watching every show, just to revel in hearing how he was the most important thing ever to happen in the life of Lofty/Nick Hornby.
On a more positive note, there was the 5-1 demolition under Rodgers. I’d taken my son swimming and checked the score when leaving the baths. We’d just gone 1-0 up. By the time we reached the car it was 2-0. We’d gone three up before we left the car park and got the fourth by the time I’d reached the main road. It was a slight anti-climax that by the time I actually got home for the second half everything was pretty much wrapped up.
So, on to this weekend’s game. This will I suspect, be a real test for us, as I think Arsenal have bought well this summer. Dani Cebollas (which if I remember rightly from my Spanish night classes means either horse or onion) looks to be a real find. Meanwhile, I heard somewhere recently that it was typical of the misfortune of Scottish football, that they had finally managed to produce two top class footballers in the same decade, only for them both to be left backs. I can safely say that one definitely is top class. Arsenal have just signed the other one. So, if he’s only half as good as Robbo, they’ll have a hell of a player.
Not sure the rest of the defence is still up to much mind. We’ve also – to my slight concern – looked less than water-tight at the back so far this season. So given this fixture has usually delivered goals galore (mostly ours) in the last few years, I’m going for another humdinger.
4-2 to the Reds with a couple from Mane, one from Firmino and Robertson, who will be fired up by finding an upstart Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mel Gibson-style pretender to his Scottish left back throne, will grab the fourth. Mr Onion-Horse may or may not get a consolation goal.
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Steven Scragg, author, and writer for This is Anfield and These Football Times, isn’t too impressed with Liverpool’s new 3rd kit. Here, he takes us through his passionately held views and extensive knowledge of Liverpool away kit lore.
I’ve given it some consideration; I’ve tried to allow it the benefit of the doubt. We won at Southampton in it, but still the unavoidable conclusion was one I’ve drifted towards since the very moment I first set eyes upon it. That third kit of ours really is crap. My name is Steven, and I’m an unashamed kit snob.
Liverpool should only ever consider four different versions of away kit. White shirt, black shorts and white socks, – with red socks an acceptable alternative, upon occasion – all-white, all-yellow, or all-grey/silver.
No other colour permutation is good enough.
Christ we’ve had some shocking away kits over the course of the last 28 years, since we took the radical step to go green, in 1991/92.
If you are under the age of 30 then you’ll not know how much commotion that green and white kit caused. To say it wasn’t universally embraced would be an understatement.
Since then, we have gone black, charcoal, ecru, green again, orange and purple, sometimes simultaneously. One fact remains however. We have never won a league title with a shit away kit. Think of the most iconic kits we’ve had, and it takes you to our Umbro days of the 1960s, 70s and 80s followed by the first coming of Adidas from the summer of 1985.
The best kits we’ve ever sported have been blessed by simplicity. Funny that, considering the best football we’ve ever played has always been laced with simplicity too.
From those all-red, round neck kits of the mid-1960s, to the Adidas/Candy offering that we won the 1989 FA Cup final in, our kits were unimpeachable. Even that white flecked variant of 1989 to 1991 has garnered for itself a retrospective respect, despite being widely moaned about at the time.
Liverpool’s away kits were no different in this respect. The classic white shirts, black shorts, white socks combination wasn’t veered away from on a full-time basis until the all-yellow with red pinstripes effort arrived for the 1981/82 season. Meanwhile, the red with white pinstripes version didn’t appear until 1982/83.
Despite a change in style in 1984/85, we remained yellow until the dawning of our 1985 association with Adidas, who brought back the classic white shirt for 1985/86, except going all-white for the double-winning season, before the black shorts made a comeback the following campaign. Although white had made its return, Adidas retained all-yellow as a third kit until 1987/88. It was a thing of great beauty and was used only occasional, usually at Southampton and West Ham.
The all-yellow kit, often viewed as an inherently 1980s thing for Liverpool, actually made its first appearance in the late-1960s, while it was also used during the 1979 FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, during an era when the FA insisted all colour-clashes, on neutral territory, would be settled by both teams wearing away colours, a ruling that saw both teams in the 1980 and 1982 FA Cup finals wearing their away kits.
The issue for Liverpool and Manchester United in 1979 was that both teams away kits were white shirts and black shorts. Rather than yield on one team wearing their home colours, Liverpool were required to come up with a third kit.
1987 saw such problems being blown out of the water by the introduction of that all-silver/grey away kit. Largely mistrusted on its release, the football played in 1987/88 served to make it a classic away kit, simply by association to an iconic team. We wore variations of it for the next four years. Our third kit became white shirts, with red shorts and socks. We’d wear it at Villa Park and Upton Park.
That green and white 1991/92 oddity aside, it was the Premier League era that ushered in a spate of awful away kits in random colours, punctuated only when Liverpool’s various kit manufacturers have brought back updated versions of those classic away kits of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Crap football also plays its parts in how fondly, or not, a kit is remembered. We had some decent away kits in our most abject campaigns.
When it comes to kit etiquette, another very modern bone of contention is the unnecessary use of away colours. When Tottenham Hotspur travelled to Manchester City for the ‘El VARico’ last Saturday, both teams took to the field in differing shades of blue kits. An abysmal situation for the colourblind.
Liverpool have even partaken in this type of ill-behaviour. We should always wear red, unless we travel to face a team that also plays in red. There needs to be an automatic 3-point deduction for any team recklessly using their away or third kits unnecessarily.
Unfortunately, now there is a contractually agreed amount of times away and third kits must be used by teams, to act as an advertisement, primarily to make children ask their parents for one. It is all about product placement. You know football has completely lost itself to commercialism, when a team wears an away kit and the colour-clash is more of a problem than it would have been had they just worn their home kit instead.
This misses a trick however. The beauty of a third kit was that it would be rarely used, which in turn made it much more alluring to supporters. For instance, there used to be something quite mystical about Norwich City’s away kit, as unless they were sharing a division with Watford, then they could play an entire season without the need to wear their away kit.
Kit couture encompasses the broader spectrum of football for me. Away colours of rival teams from my childhood should never be relinquished. Everton’s second strip should always be all-yellow, with Umbro diamonds along the sleeves, Manchester United should always be in white shirts and black shorts, Manchester City should always be in red and black stripes, Arsenal should always be in yellow shirts and blue shorts, and so on, and so forth.
One thing is for sure however. That new Liverpool third kit just isn’t Liverpool enough.
There is only so much you can drink. I had half an hour to kill before going to Davie’s for the match.
The closest place for a hot drink was Sainsbury’s. It was still open and I got a hot chocolate and plonked myself down, the only person in the café. Flipped the Mirror crossword open and tried to do it. No chance. It was just one of those days where I had now failed to get going in all three of them. Or was it that my mind was being distracted by Liverpool – that was my excuse anyway!
The sweet drink went down a treat – I can recommend it.
I contemplated navigating into a proper car-parking slot – you know, between two cars; what do they call it, parallel parking. Well, I’m sorry…
Liverpool get ready to host Watford at Anfield this weekend, so it’s time for another sideways look at the weekends game. Simon Meakin does not disappoint.
Okay. Now we’re getting into dreamland territory. A 14 point lead over City is, lets not beat about the bush here, HUGE. No team has ever come from that far behind to win the League Title, apparently. Although whether this is one of those 1992 was Football Year Zero, nothing that happened before the Premier League ever actually happened type of stats I’m not sure. I also don’t know whether this factors in the days of two points for a win (you try overhauling a 14 point deficit when that means the team above you has to lose seven more games than you – or come up with an unfeasible amount of draws). Referring back to my Man City blog post (or is that blogpost? Where can I find a millennial, snowflake grammar pedant please?) how far back where we at Christmas in 1981?
That was also an exceptionally cold winter, so it may be we had a few games in hand at that stage (in the days when top flight pitches didn’t resemble bowling greens and under-soil heating wasn’t de rigeur – I seem to remember the Baseball Ground in particular spent half the season resembling either the Mississippi Swamp-lands or the Siberian Tundra). I was living in Shropshire at the time, where the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in England was broken twice in the space of six weeks.
The memories of playing in defence against Wilfred Owen Primary School, wearing just a thin short-sleeved top in what was basically an away game in Narnia, is still burned into my brain (we lost 5-1 despite having Guardiola-esque levels of possession due to the fact that once they had broken our high press (or in less high-falutin’ terms, got over the half way line, they simply waltzed through our frozen solid back four). Even the time I took an overnight coach through the Andes which no-one bothered to tell me effectively meant travelling in a mobile fridge-freezer on wheels and my coat and sleeping bag stuck in the luggage compartment didn’t come close.
Anyway, back to the game this weekend. We are at times playing some glorious football. The goals against Everton were an absolute joy to behold (Okay, the Everton defence was also an absolute joy to behold from our point of view). The ball from Trent, the ball from Lovren and Origi’s touch, Mane’s pass for the first. And the fact that three days later we cruised past Bournemouth with virtually an entirely different front six.
Unlike the past couple of seasons we’re also not so reliant on our usual front three. The goals are coming from all over the place. When Keita scored against Bournemouth it meant that every single outfield player who had played a minute of football (bar the Carabao Cup teams) had scored bar Joe Gomez (although Klopp then messed that stat up slightly by then sending Curtis Jones on who astonishingly somehow failed to score in the entire 14 minutes he was on).
I’m not writing Leicester off by the way, before Gary Lineker takes umbrage and throws crisps at me. The Boxing Day game is shaping up to be massive. Win that and the Holy Grail might possibly finally be in reach.
But, before then we’ve the small matter of Watford to beat. I make it sound like that’s all we’ve got to do. I suppose there is also the small matter of becoming Champions of the World, while simultaneously making sure our Under 12’s take out John Terry and his Villa chums. And all this after a trip to Salzburg when we did our usual leave it to the last game to actually qualify for the knock out stages.
I have to admit, I had the sort of horrible feeling about that match that Han Solo had when they ended up in the Death Star sewage system with the walls closing in and tentacled things trying to drown them (I always wondered as a kid how they actually got out of there. There didn’t seem to be a convenient set of steps). Luckily Red Bull didn’t have a be-tentacled danger-man, so we are safely through.
Watford themselves are clearly struggling and – on paper – this looks to be the biggest home banker of the season. Particularly given our last three home games against them have ended up 6-1, 5-0 and 5-0. The first of those 5-0’s happened to be my son’s first ever visit to Anfield, at the age of 8, to watch Mo Salah run riot in the snow and bag four goals (it was the first time I’d ever seen someone score four at Anfield as well, and he goes and manages it in his first game).
This all happened when the country was in the grip of the “Beast from the East” (insert your own joke about some big ugly centre forward from Norwich or Hull because I couldn’t come up with one). I’d never given it much thought before but it turns out the Kop faces North East. I can safely say it was the coldest I have been at a football match this side of Wilfred Owen Junior School (although watching Hereford v Wigan in a fourth division match at the old Springfield Park – featuring future Everton managerial maestro Roberto Martinez with a full head of hair – runs it close). I basically missed the last twenty minutes desperately trying to massage my son’s legs to prevent a full on millennial snowflake meltdown (given he was the temperature of an actual snowflake at the time he would argue he had good grounds to be fair).
Watford of course famously came steaming up from the old fourth to the first division in double quick order under the guidance of everyone’s favourite England manager, the late Graham Taylor (a man who must wish he had been knocked out of the Euro’s by Norway, Luxembourg, Equatorial Guinea, or any team that didn’t sound a bit like a vegetable). At least Roy Hodgson did the sensible thing and got beaten by Iceland and no-one ever remembers that do they?. And not forgetting the stardust supplied by their Chairman. Ladies and Gentlemen Mr Elton John! In my mind I always remembered Elton sporting ludicrously oversized comedy glasses in pretty much every picture of the pair of them together. But, a Google search shows that Elton disappointingly seems to be wearing quite sensible glasses (maybe picked up in a two for one offer at the Watford branch of Specsavers after blowing all his money on cocaine and Wilf Rostron).
One of the funniest interviews I’ve ever read was of Elton in a music magazine a few years ago where, he supremely grumpily reflected on his ridiculous lifestyle in the 1970’s, which veered from drugs binges, to needing a full-on articulated lorry to deliver him to his own birthday party dressed as Marie-Antoinette. His dress had been the size of a hovercraft. Then there was the time he turned up at a match one Saturday to find the whole ground singing “Don’t sit down, while Elton’s around or you’ll get a penis up the a*se (the kind of chant that might possibly get clubs in a spot of hot water these days, and quite rightly so).
Today’s chairmen have a lot to live up to really. Although, maybe, dressing up like Marie Antoinette and getting a boardroom full of Japanese Salary-men to sing about penises might help Ed Woodward seal the deal with Manchester United’s new avocado partner.
Time to sign off for Christmas with the match prediction. A third consecutive 5-0 given we’ve finally remembered how to keep clean sheets. Weather a bit more clement (possibly a light drizzle). Salah restricted to just the three this time, Keita to bag his third in three matches and a free kick from Trent. The club head off to Qatar (I’ll stick my neck out and predict no Christmas snow there) to be crowned world champions (where I really hope we get to play New Caledonia’s finest Hienghene Sport – although I somehow doubt it) and I’m heading off to whack on some Roy Wood and Wizzard, knock back some Bailey’s and have a row with the in-laws. Merry Christmas!