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.

Rees Mogg and Grenfell: Callous or detached indifference? — Ramblings of an Ordinary Man

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Were Rees Mogg’s comments on Grenfell the result of callous or detached indifference? Either way they make him unfit to govern

Rees Mogg and Grenfell: Callous or detached indifference? — Ramblings of an Ordinary Man

Whose side are you on?

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By Jeff Goulding

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.

Managed decline: A Tory vision for Liverpool

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.

We Conquered all of Europe: publication day has arrived

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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.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

We Conquered all of Europe: Red Odyssey II is almost here

Released on 16th September

By Jeff Goulding

We Conquered All of Europe: Red Odyssey II charts the re-emergence of Liverpool FC as one of the most feared and respected teams in European football. In 2015, Jurgen Klopp arrived at Anfield and set about rebuilding a sporting empire. In order to succeed he would need to transform its legions of fans from doubters into believers – and, in the process, would take them on the greatest of sporting odysseys.

In this book, I chronicle the whole journey through the eyes of the people who lived it, the supporters. Also included are key insights from former players, as well as eyewitness accounts of some of the most incredible moments of the Klopp era. Relive the humbling of Barcelona’s Messi and Suarez. Absorb the electric atmosphere on the Kop as the Reds pulled off the seemingly impossible, and journey with the fans as they conquered all of Europe.

Red Odyssey II takes the reader through it all – the highs and the lows – and describes how Klopp awakened one of football’s sleeping giants.

That winning feeling

Liverpool have won their second trophy in two months, adding the UEFA Super Cup to the Champions League. There are those who will say it’s not a major honour, calling it a ‘friendly,’ or even ‘the European Charity Shield.’ But do we care, really.

If you’re in it, then you’re doing something right as a club. And, if you win it, then for players and supporters there’s no better feeling. Winning trophies is a habit every team craves.

For so long Klopp was criticised for losing finals. Since 2012, I have listened to rivals saying “What have you won recently?” and of course Jordan Henderson had not lifted a trophy as captain of the club. Until now.

Liverpool’s win last night puts the Reds on 46 major trophies, one ahead of United. We are now the most successful club in the country. Any United fan arguing that the Super Cup isn’t a major trophy should look at their own club’s website, where it is listed as just that.

Now all of us, manager, players and supporters, can hold our heads up high. Liverpool are back on the trophy trail and back on our perch. Next up, we have a chance to add the World Club Championship, and who knows what else. I love that winning feeling.

Football wages: are they a threat to Shankly’s ‘holy trinity’

By Jeff Goulding

Bill Shankly, a famously socialist thinker and miner from the small town of Glenbuck in Scotland, frequently spoke of the union between players, manager and supporters at Liverpool football Club. He described it as a ‘holy trinity.’ To Shanks, there was a common bond and football was a working class sport.

He wanted his men to be payed well, of course. One of his most inspirational quotes was about what he would do if he was a bin man. Typically, He spoke of wanting to be the best bin man in the world, with the cleanest streets. He also said that his workmates would receive the biggest bonuses, and why shouldn’t they? After all, what would make anyone think a bin man was less important than anyone else? He asked.

I believe that behind these sentiments is a philosophy based on collectivism, equality and, put simply, an honest wage for an honest day’s work. Shankly abhorred anyone who he felt wasn’t giving everything they had for the team.

“To play for me, a player has to be prepared to run through a brick wall and come out fighting on the other side,” was another immortal quote.

Nobody working for the great man could ever get away with half measures, and certainly nobody would be allowed to see themselves as a star. Shankly did talk about the value of individual reward, though he saw it as the result of collective effort.

He once pointed out that so many of his players had achieved international caps, a personal accolade. However, he would go on to lecture that it was through their collective efforts, that they had achieved individual gains. You don’t get into the national team unless you are doing well for your club, and your club only does well when it works as a team, was his reasoning.

In this respect, the boss also felt that the supporters and the people of Liverpool were also part of the collective. Their efforts from the terraces were equally important and central to the vision. While he didn’t have the power or resources to pay them, he resolved to reward them with silverware – to make the people happy and proud. They would hold their heads up high, and say ‘we are Liverpool,’ he promised.

Stretch the gap between player, manager and supporters too much, and the ties that bind might snap. The bond may be broken, the trinity undermined. In truth, Shankly could never have envisage the disparity in earnings between his players and those who stood on the terraces. Nobody in the 1960s and 70s could have.

The level of wage inflation in football since those heady days can scarcely be believed even today. We do know that Bill was often prepared to spend big on a transfer fees, if he thought the player could improve his squad. He broke a number of records in this respect during his tenure.

However, it’s about proportion. And, we have certainly lost all sense of proportion today.

Figures published by Spotrac recently, show the eye-watering amounts shelled out by the club to its stars. ‘That’s modern football,’ you might say. ‘Yes, but a player’s career is short,’ you could argue.

It is, and they are. But the disparity is truly shocking, even allowing for inflation.

What, then, would Shankly make of today’s sky-high wage bills. Liverpool’s total payroll bill of £104,780,000 in 2019/20 truly dwarfs the levels he would have been familiar with.

George Scott, one of the Scotsman’s first signings, and a man Shankly described as the “12th best player in the world,” recently sent me a copy of Liverpool’s weekly wage bill from 1960. It covered everyone from players to coaching staff, and it came to a grand total of £517:12 Shillings and 2 pence.

According to the National Archive, it would be worth £9,119.33 in today’s money. In the 1960s a sum like that could have bought you 2 horses, 7 cows, 116 stones of of wool or 86 quarters of wheat. It was also the equivalent of almost years wages for a skilled tradesman.

So, it was a big wage bill by the standards of the day. But, it is dwarfed by those of the Premier League era, even when you factor in inflation.

Liverpool FC’s weekly wage bill in 1964

By now I am sure nobody is shocked or surprised by these revelations. I’m certainly not. Nor can we blame individual players for taking the rewards on offer to them. Who amongst us would look such a gift horse in the mouth.

However, it does speak to a growing divide between those who pay to watch the game and the stars they idolise. In Liverpool, like in many working class cities, there are people making incredible sacrifices in order to watch their team, and there are those who can barely afford food, let alone a match ticket. Those people will likely never even watch their heroes in the flesh, much less identify with them.

In the 50s and 60s you could reasonably expect to see a player on the bus or in the pub. Even earlier, in the 30s, supporters would chat to Elisha Scott – the club’s legendary goalkeeper – as he took the ferry from Birkenhead to the Pier Head before a game. These men were still stars, but they were within reach and identifiable.

Today’s players feel like movie stars, and those with a human touch, who go out of their way to bind with the supporters are to be cherished. Mo Salah, Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Milner, amongst many others, do leave you with the sense that they understand their enormous privilege and remember their origins.

However, for me, this is a more systemic problem. It’s obviously not just Liverpool’s problem, or even the Premier League for that matter. Though neither seem even interested in addressing it. This is of course a political problem and one that UEFA and FIFA must do more to address.

There are so many reasons why they should. For a start the current system is unsustainable. There are those who argue that clubs going into administration as a result of unsustainable wage bills is just business, a sort of Darwinian natural selection. Or, the natural consequence of market forces and poor management. The footballing authorities will hand out their punishments in response – fines, points deductions, relegation and even expulsion from competitions. And, we all move on.

But there’s a cost that goes beyond all of that. Whole communities suffer as a consequence, when their club goes out of business. Football clubs employ people beyond the playing staff and they bring hope and something to look forward to for so many. Because, as Shankly recognised, football is a communal experience. It’s more than a business.

I spoke to Karen Elizabeth Gill, Granddaughter of Bill Shankly and author of a fascinating biography of the man, The Real Bill Shankly. She told me,

My granddad was all about passion and commitment to the game. He would have played for nothing and expected his players to feel the same. The supporters, for him, were equally important in the equation. So having inflated wages for the players, which could end up with money-oriented players as opposed to football-oriented ones and core supporters whose wages might leave them unable to afford inflated ticket prices, for him, would mean the destruction of the game he loved so much.

So, when faced with the stark contrast between the football played and watched by our grandparents and their idols, and the game watch today, I won’t pretend to feel shock or surprise. I do feel that the game is slipping through our fingers though, if it hasn’t already moved completely out of reach.

I hope that’s not the case. However, if we are to reclaim even a small part of it, supporters need to become more vocal and more active in shaping the future of the game and the clubs they love. Politicians also have a role to play in influencing the direction of the game. Indeed it may take political action to rescue it.

With a potential UK General Election on the horizon, it wouldn’t do any harm to let them know.

Liverpool 4-1 Norwich City: A tale of the old and the new

By Jeff Goulding

In my mind’s eye, the first game of the season at Anfield conjures images of sun-baked streets, the Sandon car park packed to overflowing and chippy queues spilling out onto pavements. Not this season though. Instead, on Friday 9th August, L4 was warm, wet and muggy as it greeted the Champions of Europe and their adoring followers. In many ways this was an unfamiliar start to a campaign.

There was even a new object of pilgrimage too. Added to the old haunts – the Shankly statue – the food-bank collections, the myriad pubs and fan-zones and the fanzine sellers dotted around the stadium was a giant mural of Trent Alexander-Arnold – an ordinary kid from Liverpool, whose dream came true.

Scores of people made their way along Anfield Road to Sybil Road, where they would find a row of terraced houses basking in their new found fame. To their right, on the opposite side of the road, the great Georgian town houses, a symbol of the area’s affluent past stared on in green-eyed jealousy.

For all the wealth and power of those ghosts of Liverpool’s past, they would never have felt the passion and adulation experienced by this working class lad from West Derby and his team mates. One-by-one they queued to have their picture taken in front of his image. In the rain, Kids younger than Trent and perhaps dreaming that they one day will adorn a wall, or be idolised by generations, posed in front of the painting. Maybe, they dreamed of scoring in front of the Kop and feeling its power rattle their bones.

That’s the point of the mural, isn’t it. To inspire, to reach out and say ‘there’s a chance for you too. If you work hard and sacrifice like me.’ Maybe. But there’s no harm in dreams anyway. We know. At Liverpool, perhaps more than anywhere else, we know that.

The rich merchants of Anfield Road have gone, it’s our place now. That’s because we’ve dreamt of glory for each other, and then fought to make those dreams a reality. Just like Trent, Jamie and Stevie and all the others who have graced our history, have dreamed.

So, all around me were the old familiar places juxtaposed with the new and the unusual. And, the game itself turned out to be a mirror of all of that.

There was the old swagger we enjoyed last term and evident in the first half against Norwich, accompanied by the never-satisfied few who bemoan every miss-step and proceed to hound their favourite whipping boys throughout the game, irrespective of the quality of the performance.

For example, the sight of Origi being dispossessed shortly after Norwich had scored their meaningless consolation was greeted by one inexplicable shout from a fella near me.

‘Get him off, he’s shit!’

It was greeted with tuts and expressions of disbelief, but it still jarred. Another guy had shouted to Henderson to “get off and stay off,” at half-time. This is a phenomena almost as old as Anfield itself. For all our famed support and never give up mentality, we have always been ‘blessed’ with such absolute idiots.

Jack Balmer, Liverpool’s bald-headed striker of the 1930s and 40s, who hailed from the same district of West Derby that gave rise to young Trent, was often on the receiving end of abuse from supporters. Bob Paisely once wrote about how his treatment at the hands of some fans had hurt the player, who had scored 98 goals in 289 appearances for the club.

In the pub, before the game, we had been talking about how Ronnie Whelan had often been a player who could do no right, in the same way the current captain, Henderson, can never satisfy some people today. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who watched the game in the 80s who will admit they did it, but the Irishman would frequently hear their shouts on the pitch.

Just like Henderson though, Whelan would answer his critics by winning the biggest prizes in football. He could do no more. Neither can Jordan.

But, for all the familiar bitter barbs from the minority, the atmosphere during the game was a throwback to the fan-parks of Madrid and the glory of our run to the final. The mosaic displayed at kick-off told the world, as if they didn’t already know, that the Reds were back on their European perch. That represented something new in the recent context, a trophy win to gloat about. The monkey is off this Liverpool team’s back.

The Kop bellowed, at every opportunity, ‘We are the champions, champions of Europe.’ If it’s not unbearable for our rivals yet – it won’t be long before they are tearing their hair out. That’s exactly as it should be. We’ll keep it up for as long as they would, if we had lost the final – times six.

Imagine singing that for twenty minutes solid at Old Trafford or Goodison. imagine the fume. Brilliant isn’t it.

Roared on by a jubilant and at times carnival-like Anfield, the players switched through the gears in the first half. That’s not to say Norwich were out of it though. They threatened a number of times, and Alisson was called upon to twice prevent what looked like a certain goal. One save produced a crescendo of applause from the Kop and repeated chants of his name.

Not since the days of Clemence and Grobbelaar have we had a keeper of this quality. In fact, in one of those moments in the game, where your mind drifts, I began to muse on whether Alisson may well be one of the best since the days of Elisha Scott. Such is his command of the area and ability to calm his defence, I can surely be forgiven my reverie, no matter how premature it might be.

So, the sight of him clutching his calf and falling to the turf deep in the first half was like an arrow through the heart. We can only hope the injury isn’t as bad as it looked. The sight of him walking off, rather than being stretchered was the smallest crumb of comfort.

What was heartening though was the roar of approval for Adrian, as he ran onto the pitch. This was the Kop as it should be, as it always was. Getting behind the man with the Liver Bird on his chest, regardless of any misgivings. Once he crosses the white line, he’s one of us and part of the fight.

Back in June, the former West Ham man could scarcely have dreamed that he would be running out in front of a huge crowd at Anfield – for the European Champions, and with the team already 3-0 up. The reserve keeper showed no signs of nerves.

Liverpool had gone ahead inside ten minutes, thanks to an own goal by Grant Hanley, who had turned in a cross from the left from Divock Origi. From my vantage point, it had seemed like the hero of Madrid himself had scored and we roared his name. It didn’t matter though, he can rightly claim the assist.

Then came Mohammed Salah with the Reds’ second in the 19th minute. It was a crucial goal in my view, and not just in terms of the match. So much of Salah’s game is in his head, and the confidence he will take from kicking off his season with a goal is immeasurable.

The sight also of Bobby Firmino with the assist and the resultant chants of ‘Egyptian King’ followed by our mesmeric ode to his Brazilian strike partner were all welcome signs of the old and familiar Liverpool. The Liverpool of last season, at one with its people and relentless on the field of play.

With barely half-an-hour on the clock the Reds were three up. This time we were watching van Dijk score, and Salah was providing the ammunition. His lovely cross from the left was headed home with aplomb and we were ecstatic. None of us quite knew what to expect before the game. It had potential banana skin written all over it.

However, the Reds had simply picked up where they had left off the season before. Memories of a forgettable preseason had evaporated and the explosion of euphoria was reminiscent of much bigger games. The Reds were back in town.

The potentially disastrous loss of Alisson was brushed aside, when on 42 minutes Origi found the net with a brilliant header, following a superb cross from Trent. The young Scouser was also picking up where he left off last time out. He had found his groove and the Kop found its eleven button.

Amidst the noise and jubilation half time felt like a kick in the teeth. An unwelcome interruption. And, so it proved to be.

As I bounced down to the concourse underneath the famous old terrace, I entertained thoughts of a complete rout. Of six, seven, maybe even eight goals. Well, a Kopite can dream. But, while the second half was hardly a nightmare, it was a shadow of the first.

In truth, Norwich deserved their one goal. They had given it a go and some the of the football in the final third was impressive. It remains to be seen whether the real Norwich emerged after half time, and if we can expect better results for them in the coming season. They will certainly look for the positives in that second period as they plot their bid for survival.

For Liverpool, the one bright spot in the second half was Sadio Mane. The last to return to preseason, he showed no signs of rustiness and was a thorn in Norwich’s side from the moment he entered the fray, replacing Origi. Both players received rapturous applause as one departed and the other ran on to the pitch.

The visiting supporters sang ‘1-0 in the second half.’ You’d imagine that’s exactly what their manager will have told his players in the dressing room. Restricting the European Champions to just four goals, and grabbing a consolation at Anfield maybe the benchmark for a team like Norwich. It is also a sign of the progress made by Klopp and his players.

So too are the mutterings and grumbles of some Liverpool supporters, as they left the ground. This was the first game of the season. The Reds will undoubtedly improve and grow into the campaign. We can only hope that it will include Alisson. But Adrian looks a competent deputy. Meanwhile the team can only beat what’s in front of them.

A number of messages greeted me when I arrived home. One of them, on social media, was from an Everton fan. It said we had looked like Brazil in the 70s, during the first half. But it warned of burn-out and suggested better teams would have turned us over in the second half.

Neither assessment was fair in my view. Liverpool did what they needed to do against a plucky Norwich team geed up by the optimism of a new season in the top flight. It was a free hit for them and expectations among their fans were low. That wasn’t the case for the six-times European Champions (have I mentioned that we won the European Cup?).

For our rivals those comments are a sign of wishful thinking. It’s fun living inside their heads, and the rent is so low, it almost feels like we’re squatting.

The bar has been set for the Reds now. They rule over an entire continent after all. Ambitions and expectations, are soaring. The fact that some are bemoaning a 4-1 home victory on the opening day of a new season, is perhaps another symbol of the team’s rebirth.

Let’s all hope that, as annoying as those moans might be, they become another familiar feature of the Anfield landscape. I could live with that.

This week in the city

Shanks educates his troops, as supporters listen

It’s not been a great week for the Reds in terms of their relationship with the local community. Following controversy surrounding their plans for Anfield to host gigs in the close-season, they have now been embroiled in a row over attempts to trademark the word Liverpool in a football context. This has been followed up with the news this week that Melwood will be sold to housing charity, Torus.

While Everton are busy building their social capital in the city, it seems Liverpool have much to learn from their neighbours in this regard. Liverpool do a lot in the community, but these recent rows emphasise that they need to up their game, in my view.

Ensuring that the club services the needs of its out-of-town and overseas support is essential, and I fully support this. However, care must be taken to maintain and nurture the relationship the club has with its local support.

Here are a few pieces I have written this week about the trademarking controversy, the sale of Melwood and and the campaign in West Derby to retain a lasting legacy after the move to Kirkby. I feel strongly that Liverpool Football Club must do more to engage with its local community. I also argue that they must not wash their hands of their iconic former training base or the area that has supported it since the 1950s.

Tell me what you think in the comments section below.

The Charity Shield: the ‘meaningless’ friendly all clubs want to play

By Jeff Goulding

This Sunday, tens of thousands of Liverpool supporters will once again descend on the country’s capital in joyous football celebration. A trip to Wembley is always the finest way to end or begin a season. This time it’s for the Charity Shield, and I’m loving it. Here’s why.

Preseason games barely get my pulse racing. They never have. In my formative years as a Liverpool supporter, I wouldn’t even know they were taking place, much less what the results were. That is, with the exception of one – the Charity Shield.

For any youngsters reading this, I’m sorry, but it is the Charity Shield. Not the ‘Community Shield,’ and it always will be for me. The modern day penchant for rebranding stuff and then pretending it’s something different has always baffled me.

Anyway. Liverpool have competed for the big shiny shield 21 times. They’ve won it outright ten times, and shared it on five occasions. In the old days, they couldn’t be arsed with penalty shoot-outs and, if the game wasn’t settled after 90 minutes, both captains would simply parade it around the pitch. It would then spend six months in each club’s trophy room.

In the 70s and 80s, the Reds competed for no fewer than 12 Charity Shields, in twenty years. That mattered, because it meant they were winning English football’s big prizes. To be in that ‘curtain raiser’ for the new season, you had to have won the FA Cup or the League title.

So it’s always been the one preseason friendly that really matters to me. Well, that’s not strictly true. There’s the UEFA Super Cup too. If you’re in that, then you’ve either won either ‘old big ears’ or the UEFA Cup. Funnily enough, we’re in both of them this year, such is the club’s revival under Jurgen Klopp.

The competition was founded in 1911, and Liverpool’s first foray came in 1922. Then, the famous ‘untouchables’ side, who won back-to-back league titles between 1921 and 1923, contested the shield against FA Cup winners Huddersfield Town. Sadly they lost the game 1-0.

The game took place on the 10th May at Old Trafford, the first time it had been played outside of London and the first time the fixture took place at the end of a football season. Liverpool were presented with the league trophy on the pitch and, despite their defeat, there were joyous celebrations on the team’s return to Merseyside.

Imagine the scenes at Liverpool Central Station, as captain Donald Mackinlay is hoisted aloft by teammates and possibly a few supporters and carried into the street outside. Back then the shield wasn’t contested under the same rules as today though. Those competing for it hadn’t necessarily won anything.

So, despite winning the league again in 1923 and 1947, the Reds would wait 42 years before contesting another Charity Shield. That came in 1964 when, after a 2-2 draw with West Ham at Anfield, Liverpool claimed their first success. It meant Shankly’s men would share the shield with The Hammers.

They would repeat that feat in 1965, with another 2-2 draw against Manchester United. Liverpool’s first ever success in the competition came courtesy of a 1-0 over Everton at Goodison Park in 1966. It was the first of three Charity Shield encounters against the Blues, with the Reds winning one, drawing one and losing the other.

The game in 66, though, became more famous as a celebration of Merseyside supremacy in English football than anything else. The Reds had won the league and the Blues had won the FA Cup and both teams had contributed players to the England World Cup winning squad. Supporters packed into the old stadium watched in awe as all three trophies were paraded around the pitch before kick off.

It was the first and only time that has ever happened. And, it happened on Merseyside.

In 1974, after the Reds had vanquished Newcastle in the FA Cup final, they would meet league champions Leeds United on the 10th of August. It was the first Charity Shield to be played at Wembley and to be televised – but the game was anything but charitable.

It would also be the last time Shankly ever led Liverpool out at Wembley. The Scot had sensationally resigned earlier. The stage was set for an incredible battle.

So tempestuous was the match, that at one point Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner became embroiled in a fist fight. Both men saw red, and received lengthy bans from the FA. The country had never seen anything like it, and there were even calls for the clubs to face punishment. Fortunately that didn’t happen.

Phil Boersma scored for the Reds in the 19th minute, but Leeds levelled in the 70th through the brilliantly named, Trevor Cherry. That meant that for the first time in the history of the fixture, the game would be settled on penalties.

The Reds won the shootout 6-5, after David Harvey missed his spot kick. It had been a memorable game all round and the one question on everybody’s lips as they left Wembley was, how were only two players sent off? 

After the largess of the previous three decades, the 1990s brought relative austerity in trophy terms for Liverpool. That meant only two Charity Shield matches, in 1990 and 1992. The Reds would share it with arch rivals, United, at the start of the decade. But they lost 3-4 to Leeds in 92.

However, thanks to Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez, the new millennium brought three shots at the newly named ‘Community Shield.’ Those games would be contested outside of England, at Cardiff. The Reds beat United 2-1 in 2001 to cap a memorable season and also followed that up with the UEFA Super Cup.

They lost 1-0 to Arsenal in 2002 and then won the last of their shield victories in 2006. That year, Rafa took his FA Cup winners to Cardiff and they beat Chelsea 2-1. It was a game played in glorious sunshine and memorable for trademark thunderbolt from distance, courtesy of Jon Arne Riise.

So, it’s been 13 long years since we tasted the sweet smell of Charity Shield success. That’s the longest gap since we first tasted success in 1964.

Now Jurgen has a chance to add his name to the long list of winning managers by claiming our 11th outright win. Admittedly, we’re not there courtesy of a Premier League or FA Cup victory this time. However, we came within a hares breath of claiming the league title, and we’ll all settle for the Champions League over the FA Cup. And, let’s face it, the shield would look really nice sat next to ‘old big ears’ in that trophy cabinet, wouldn’t it?

So, while there may not be a banner for our ‘la decima’ of Charity Shields and the Kop may not sing ‘we won it ten times,’ that gleaming silver trophy will always mean something to me. That’s because, just as it always has in my lifetime, it’s a symbol that the Reds are at the top of the game, competing for the big prizes.

I can’t wait. Up the Reds.