Liverpool vs Burnley: Dolly Parton, Sonia and the Ginger Janis Joplin

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By Simon Meakin

It’s that time again. The weekend is here and the Reds face the Clarets at Anfield. That can mean just one thing – it’s time for Simon Meakin to take us through another one of his unique match previews. You won’t find anything like it anywhere else.

Why does the sun keep on shining? Why does the sea rush to shore?  Don’t they know it’s the end of the Premier League?  It ended when we won it a couple of weeks back.  Apologies for mangling the lyrics to “The End of the World”, originally a 1963 hit for one Skeeter Davis (who was a big influence on Dolly Parton according to Wikipedia, and had a propensity for appearing on American country music programmes with Dougall from the Magic Roundabout on her head according to YouTube) and covered by red-haired Scouse popstrel Sonia, but that’s how it feels at the moment.  It’s almost a surprise to find that there are still football matches going on.  OK there are some minor issues to be settled such as relegation, European places etc but it appears that we are also under some contractual obligation to still turn up, kick a ball around and walk away with three more big shiny points (unless its anywhere away from home within 50 miles of Anfield.  We don’t seem to have been all that great at that – we clearly need a longer walk to make it worth our while).

Unluckily for Burnley it turns out that Turf Moor is a grand total of 51.4 miles away from Anfield (according to the AA Route Planner anyway.  If any crows want to start arguing the toss please go ahead) Which means that we came away with a 3-0 win way back in August which included a thirty yard Trent cross cum/shot that sailed over the keeper (and unfortunately appears to have been marked down as an own goal after taking a deflection).  And also set a new club record 13th win in a row (on our way to 17 in total, which hasn’t even turned out to be our best run of the season).  And that’s what we’re going for now.  More records.  Most points, most wins, most home wins, biggest winning margin, largest parsnip, bonniest baby (I’m putting Firmino down for that one – I’m sure he had dazzling white teeth and immaculate hair when he danced right out the womb – although possibly points deducted if he was sporting his current curly, Vera Duckworth rocking Prince style pink rinse).  I want to break them all!

Hopefully Klopp can motivate them to keep going until the finishing line.  It reminds me of watching Seb Coe breaking world records as a kid.  You can find footage on YouTube of his legendary 1981 world record run in Florence.  I think I had school sports days on better quality tracks than the one he was running on (if you look closely I’m sure you can spot the PE teacher in his Adidas three stripe track suit and the kid made to run in his pants after he forgot his games kit) yet he was so far clear of the field he managed to win an 800m race by 900m (probably). Only two runners have ever beaten that time almost forty years later.  That’s want our season to be like.  The equivalent of Seb Coe in Florence.  No slacking off now boys!

And having discovered that Curtis Jones’s goal v Villa equalled another club record of 17 different league scorers in a season I now want us to go for the all-time record for that as well.  I’ve no idea what it is but I’m going to be very disappointed if Klopp doesn’t name a front three of Joe Gomez, Neco Williams and Allison for this match.  Hell he should even stick himself on the bench and bring himself on to take any last minute penalties if he can.

That would of course be taking Burnley far too lightly.  Sean Dyche (a man with a voice so gravelly he could earn a few extra quid as Lancashire’s Premier Ginger Janis Joplin Impersonator) has done a remarkable job with Burnley, still in with a shout of a spot in Europe next season.  It’s a club with a proud European heritage.  European Cup quarter finalists no less in 1961.  And this from a somewhere with a smaller population than Southport (which may have a beach bigger than Bulgaria but not exactly renowned for those big European nights against Barca under the floodlights at Haig Avenue).

Burnley are not a side I’ve seen too many times at Anfield although I was there last year to watch what was at times a surprisingly nervy 4-2 win before a last minute Mane goal settled the nerves during the run in to our ultimately doomed title challenge.  I did also once pay a visit to Turf Moor to watch them play Wolves in a second division match. Starring a Mr P “Gazza” Gascoigne, the fake breast wearing, inappropriate invisible flute playing Clown Prince of English football.  And in my opinion the greatest English player I’ve ever seen (yes I know it might be sacrilege to nominate someone who never played for us).  But not based on this match.  Hauled off at half-time with Burnley 3-0 down, to watch his teammates almost salvage a draw without him, he never started another match at that level for Burnley or anyone else ever again.  The only other sides he ever played for were the unlikely pair of Chinese titans Gansu Tianmi and Boston Utd.  It’s fair to say he’d be a shoe-in for the “They Played For Both Teams” section of the programme should Gansu Tianmi’s much anticipated pre-season tour of Lincolnshire ever come to fruition (it would be like Wham in China in reverse but much massive.  And minus Pepsi and Shirley).

Now if that hasn’t got your excitement building to fever pitch I know something that will.  Following on from the midweek win at Brighton which put us on 92 points (to put that in context that is Man United’s record points total.  Ever.  Which they achieved in a 42 game season.  We’ve done it in 34) we’ll return for our penultimate match at Anfield and win 3-0.  Two more goals for Salah as he chases the golden boot plus a last minute penalty for Joe Gomez (go on Jurgen you know you want to) for win number 31.  Sean Dyche to nip off early as he’s second on the bill at the Phoenix Club. Bolton (tonight Matthew I’ll be appearing as Ginger Janis).

We’re on that closing straight now.  The lactic acid might be burning in our muscles but the finish line and those records are in sight now.

And just as a reminder in case anyone has forgotten.  We’ve won the League!  We’re Bigger stars than Dallas!  We’ve got more silver than Buckingham Palace!  Red Machine In Full Effect!

Shirley Maclaine, Faye Dunaway and the Champions of England

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By Simon Meakin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherlock Holmes, Countdown and Chasing the Title

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By Simon Meakin

With the Reds ready to face Crystal Palace and achance to edge ever nearer to a first league title in 30 years, Simon Meaking returns with his usual match preview.

Well. When I decided to embark on a one-off series of match reviews for each
Premier League match at Anfield last August I wasn’t quite expecting a season like
this. Yes I know I could qualify to join Sybil Fawlty on Mastermind, specialist subject
the Bleedin’ Obvious with that statement – point me out one amongst us who
predicted we could potentially move to within one win of our first title in 30 years v
Crystal Palace at Anfield in late June in front of no fans, and I’ll show you someone
who has clearly got Vladimir Putin to hack in to their old Twitter posts and doctor
them.
Back in August I was frankly feeling a bit apprehensive about the new season. Could
we really summon up the emotional energy to compete against what felt like the
remorseless Man City machine having fallen so agonisingly short last time.? It felt
like being up against a Terminator (For some reason I see them as being more like
the other one from Terminator 2 rather than Arnie). Never in a million years did I
expect us to be 20 odd points clear in a procession for the title.
And that’s before the truly surreal (and making no bones about it for many people
tragic) turn of events over the last few months. I had to look back to try and
remember what I’d written about the Bournemouth game. It turned out to be a bit
tighter than the comfortable 3-0 win I’d predicted, but we did clinch a record
breaking 22 nd straight home league win. The place in the Champions League quarter
finals I was confident we’d book didn’t quite happen alas and the Monday night trip
to our neighbours took slightly longer to arrive than expected (only one day of the
week out in the end to be fair, but a match that could be described as “slightly more
daylighty” than your average night time kick off – and yes should I ever end up on
Countdown confronted with a board saying “yhigaldyt” I am definitely having that as
my nine letter word).


I was at Anfield for the Bournemouth game and went to the Cabbage for a few post-
match beers to celebrate our win. Everything seemed (sort of) normal(ish).
Stepping through the door on the way out of the pub was like stepping into another
dimension (I’m sure if you go back and look at the CCTV footage of the Cabbage car
park you’ll see that sort of swimmy, wobbly effect beloved of sci-fi films signifying
this sort of thing). At that precise point my wife phoned me, spooked by empty
shelves in London shops, and sent me on a Magical Mystery Tour of every chemist
and supermarket between Anfield and Lime Street (not sure the Beatles had the
London Road branch of Boots in mind when they wrote the song to be honest),
stocking up on as much hand sanitiser and Aspirin as I could lay my hands on (all I
can say by way of apology for this wanton display of panic buying was that at least I
left all the bog roll). Got on the train back to London and that was it. Haven’t set
foot in a pub since, haven’t left London since, (in fact barely been more than 2 miles
from my house bar the odd bike ride).
And no football. Until now. Watching the derby was a very odd (and frankly a bit
dull at times) experience particularly after turning off the fake crowd noise for the
last ten minutes. It sounded like it was being broadcast from the local baths. With
the players taking particular care not to break the “no running” bit of the “no bombing, no diving, no heavy petting” rulebook. I wouldn’t have been surprised to
find some kids having a surreptitious wee in the corner of the pool/pitch had any
actually been allowed in. It was a Merseyside derby as watched by Sherlock Holmes
in an opium induced stupor rather than the raucous, Jamie Carragher somehow
managing to not get sent off type I’m used to.


Which brings us to Crystal Palace. Managed by one Roy Hodgson. A man who’s time
at Liverpool was to put it mildy “not regarded as a total success”. I know some
Liverpool fans who try to claim that that era never actually happened at all and it
was all a bad dream (the mysterious Cabbage Hall “Bermuda Triangle” car park
wibbly wobbly crack in time working its strange powers again maybe?). My only trip
to Anfield during his reign was to witness us lose to Blackpool (Blackpool!) while
suffering with a stinking hangover so it’s safe to say it’s never going to be troubling
my list of top ten Anfield moments.
Another fun fact about Crystal Palace is that it is the only football team to begin with
five consonants (something to bear in mind, if fired up from owning the Countdown
panel’s collective ass with my “Daylighty” zinger I then forget about picking any
vowels in the next round). On a more footballing note Palace have been a bit of a
thorn in our side over the last few years. The last ten minutes at Selhurst Park in the
infamous collapse that put the final nail in our title challenge under Brendan Rodgers
still brings me out in a cold sweat. I was so incensed at our spineless performance
after they beat us in Gerrard’s final match at Anfield that I flounced out of the
stadium in a big diva hissy fit worthy of Elton John at the end of the match rather
than stay for the Gerrard farewell (although it did mean it was the quickest I’ve ever
been served my post-match pint in the pub). They inflicted Klopp’s first defeat at
Anfield on us (I had to apologise after I sent an expletive filled text about Palace to
the wrong person after that one). And they inflicted Klopp’s last (league) defeat at
Anfield as well (albeit more than three years ago). Even last year they gave us a right
old scare before we scraped over the line in a rollicking 4-3 win.
But win we did last year. And I predict we’ll do so again. It’ll be hard fought and
nail-biting for the packed crowd of, er, none. We’ll need to come from behind (this
is Liverpool, we don’t do things the easy way. Even with a 25 point lead we managed
to end up in a situation where the whole season could have been null and voided).
But we’ll eventually shake off the rust and do it. 2-1! Mane equaliser and Bobby to
get the winner in front of the (not very full) Kop to put us on the brink of ending
thirty years of hurt. To put us on that final march to Manchester. After which, when faced with a board saying “hpiancosm” in my final Countdown round I’ll know what nine letter word that spells. CHAMPIONS!
unless Super Frankie Lampost* goes and steals our thunder by beating them first
of course.
** My wife’s humorous nickname*** for Lampard
*** The Lampost bit. She has never called him Super to the best of my knowledge.

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.

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…

View original post 1,614 more words

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.

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.

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.

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.