Liverpool vs Sheffield United: Back to the Future with the Beautiful South

By Simon Meakin

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.

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