Shirley Maclaine, Faye Dunaway and the Champions of England

By Simon Meakin

Simon returns with his quirky look at this weekend’s encounter with Aston Villa. And, as you’d expect he’s feeling pretty self-satisfied right now, a bit like Shirley Maclaine or is that Faye Dunaway?

Champions!  We’ve done it!  Champions!  At last!  Champions!  After thirty years of hurt.  Champions!  They can never take that away now.  Even if we fall apart like Mourinho’s Chelsea title winning side (careful about slagging off any Portuguese female doctors we happen to have lurking around on the payroll somewhere Juergen) we’ve won it now.  The curse is lifted, the monkey is off our backs.  We’ve reached the sunlit uplands and can now bask in our glory.

One of my favourite ever photos was of Shirley Maclaine, sitting, feet up, on her balcony the morning after she had won an Oscar, orange juice on the table, papers proclaiming her triumph scattered all around her.  Although when Terry O’Neill (no not Terry Neill, the man who put the Boring in Boring Arsenal as their manager in the seventies and eighties – unless that was Don Howe), who took the photo died last year they republished the photo in many journals and it turned out it was Faye Dunaway not Shirley Maclaine, she was sitting by a swimming pool and it was a pot of coffee.  But apart from the actual actress, the coffee, the swimming pool, better sanitation, irrigation roads etc when has my memory ever failed me? So clearly I’ve forgotten how bad my memory is.  For all I know everything I’ve written in these blogposts has been wronged.  Maybe I’ll check back and find out I’m actually an Everton fan and turns out I should be busy drowning my sorrows??

But the reason I love that Shirley Dunaway/Fay Maclaine photo is the way it captures that absolute peak moment when someone is on top of the world, they have achieved everything they set out to do, that small moment in time when they can just sit back and luxuriate in their triumph.  That is where we are now.  There is no more to be done (OK a few more teams to beat, a few more records to break).  Champions of Europe, Champions of the World and now Champions of England.  We are at the zenith, the moment will be fleeting and there will never be another one quite like it.  That’s not to say we won’t be sitting here next year celebrating another title, far from it.  But no other title will ever feel quite as sweet as this one.  And I genuinely don’t think I’ll ever see another Liverpool team as perfect as this one to my dying day.  So drink it in and enjoy it while it lasts.

The one downside of course is that there were no fans to witness it, although given that they would have all been Chelsea and Man City fans it’s more accurate to say that there will be no fans at Anfield to welcome home the Champions against Aston Villa.  Forty years to the day (give or take two months) after I was at Anfield on 3 May 1980 aged nine years old to see us beat Villa 4-1 and claim our 12th title.  The first and so far only time I’ve seen us do it.  I can remember the morning of the match vividly, putting on my favourite track suit that my Mum had laid out for me only for my Dad to almost have a fit when he saw me ready to head off to watch Villa resplendent in Claret and Blue (quite why I had a claret and blue tracksuit in the first place I’m not too sure – was my Mum a secret fan of hairy goal machine Peter Withe?  A man who I was confident could have easily got a job as Captain Caveman’s stunt double when he retired as long as his leaping up and down in a mad rage and boinking people on the head with a bat skills were up to scratch). 

My main other memories involve accidently dropping my programme through the fence at the front of the Anfield Road terrace, so I must have had a good view of our title winning performance.  And standing in front of a closed down, derelict and padlocked Exchange Station waiting for a bus to the ground while a punk march went past.  And to a 9 year old in 1980 there was nothing more exciting than punks! (yes I know that punk was by then officially “dead” but there were people sporting mohicans for gods sake (except possibly winning the title on the same day).  It wasn’t until years later that I heard of the famous march to save legendary nightclub Eric’s from closure so I fondly imagined that I was standing there in my (by now) non claret and blue clothing watching the likes of Pete Burns, Holly Johnson and Pete Wylie march right past me.    Except that it turns out the famous Eric’s march was in, well March.  Not May.  So either I was on my way somewhere entirely different on that day, or it was another march entirely.  Was that what punks did when they weren’t gobbing on each other and pogoing?  Go for a stroll down Tithebarn Street?  Or maybe my worst fears are true, my memory has completely lost the plot and I was actually off to cheer on (Hang on a minute? Cheer?  Sorry it’s Everton here.  I mean boo!) Gordon Lee and Big Bob Latchford to scrape a glorious 18th place.

Other highlights against Villa include seeing us cruise past them 3-0 at Old Trafford in the 1996 FA Cup Semi-Final (David James excitedly bounding back to the team coach afterwards to Google “where can I buy white spice boy suits” only to remember they hadn’t invented online shopping yet.  Then trying to Google “what on earth does Google mean?”…I could run with this for a while…).  And seeing a very young Jamie Carragher score a thumping header against them for his first ever goal for the club (and more than likely the last one I ever saw – I’ve got a horrible feeling I saw him score more goals for Man U than for us).

So on to Sunday’s match.  I should have a bit of a soft spot for the current Villa team as they are managed by former Hereford legend Dean Smith (and record signing to this day – a cool eighty grand from Halifax in 1994 – yes I realise that the fact our record signing dates from a time when John Barnes and Ian Rush were still playing for us says a lot about the Mighty Bulls).  But his Yin is kind of balanced out by the Yang of John Terry.

We came very close to losing at Villa Park back in the November dark before a dramatic late comeback thanks to a rare Andy Robertson goal and a Mane winner.  Villa are in dire form, our hangovers should well and truly have cleared (something about City game?) and while we possibly won’t hit the heights of the magnificent performance against Palace we’ll match the scoreline with back to back 4-0 wins at Anfield.  Wijnaldum, Firmino to finally break his goalscoring duck at Anfield (I love the fact that we can win the title with seven games to go, be 23 points clear without the closest we’ve got to a Number Nine actually needing to score any goals at home whatsoever), The Ox and Keita.  Jurgen Klopp to be spotted lounging by the dugout/swimming pool/balcony still wearing his Oscar night frock, chilling with his pot of coffee and paper strewn all around him.  And the headlines just say one thing.  Champions!

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