About jeffgoulding

I am Jeff Goulding, I am the author of three books about Merseyside Football; red Odyssey: Liverpool FC 1892-2017; Stanley Park Story: Life, Love and the Merseyside Derby and We Conquered all of Europe: Red Odyssey II. You can also find my work on www.thisisanfield.com I hope you enjoy your time on my pages. You'll never walk alone.

The Lost Shankly Boy: A New Title Coming Later This Year

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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.

Liverpool vs Manchester United: Benny Hill and the Big Red Boa Constrictor

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By Simon Meakin

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!

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

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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.

Cup of Coffee

Check out Andy’s musings on the Wolves game

Andy's Anfield Articles

Cup of Coffee

Liverpool v Wolves

29TH of December, 2019

I was coffeed-out.

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…

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Liverpool vs Wolves: Crazy Horse, Judi Dench and the Debenhams Cup

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By Simon Meakin

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. 

Yes, I actually found a picture of Judi Dench on a bench

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.

Liverpool vs Watford: Gary Lineker's crisps, Elton John's dress and Roy Wood's merry Christmas

By Simon Meakin

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!

Strangers in a strange land

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By Jeff Goulding

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.

Almost.

‘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.

Liverpool vs Everton: Oleg the Serf, Bubonic Plague and the Smurfs

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By Simon Meakin

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!).

Liverpool vs Brighton: Lady luck, black cats and Kloppmobiles

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By Simon Meakin

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.

Hillsborough verdict, 30 years of pain in Britain's pathological State

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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.