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

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By Simon Meakin

Simon Meakin takes a look at this Sunday’s titanic clash with Manchester United, in a match preview like no other.

And we danced all night to the best start ever!  Woo!  Yeah!  Big shout out to young person’s beat combo, One Direction for perfectly encapsulating what is now officially, The. Best. Start. Ever.  And, not only in the English top flight but in any of Europe’s big leagues. 

I’m now wondering how may more games we need to win to break the record in Europe’s small leagues (I believe that’s their official title).  Although I’d imagine someone like Dynamo Berlin in their 1970s Stasi-backed pomp probably managed to rack up 300 wins on the bounce without breaking a sweat (I can’t imagine who would have even dared try to take a point off them knowing that that the team, coaching staff and entire support would probably have been dispatched to the nearest gulag quick-sharp, while the result was “unwritten” in the paper next day.

Our football now seems to have entered a new dimension. The games against Sheffield United and Spurs felt unlike our previous matches this season.  Completely dominant in possession against sides that barely attempted to cross the halfway line.  It’s starting to become reminiscent of peak Pep-era Barcelona (see the 2011 Champions League Final against Man U as evidence.  I’ve never seen them so impotent.  And that’s when they were still quite good).  But (whispering it quietly) it does make for slightly sterile football matches.  I think we actually managed to send ourselves to sleep for the last twenty minutes at White Hart Lane (or New White Hart Lane, or Not White Hart Lane or Highbury or whatever they call it these days) given how easy things had been until then.  All part of Jose’s latest master-plan no doubt, and it almost worked. 

And to make it clear I’m not complaining here – I’d be delighted to send millions of Sky Sports subscribers to sleep if we romp to the title.  It’s up to the other team to try and stop us.  We are basically crushing the life out of teams.  So after my range of Big Red Combine Harvester merchandise mysteriously seems to fail to impress the LFC marketing department I’m planning to sneak back on to Dragon’s Den to unveil my latest new club nickname. The Big Red Boa Constrictor!  Although that does sound a bit Benny Hill-ish (“Hello there young lady! Would you like to come home and see my Big Red Boa Constrictor?”)  Although I might suggest to Jürgen that he could maybe mix it up in training by hiring a saxophone player, having Jordan Henderson dress up in a nurses uniform and getting the entire squad to run in and out of the bushes in Stanley Park really fast, all in a line, while Jordan’s clothes mysteriously fall off and everyone tries to slap Fabinho on the head.  Always worth trying something different to gain that little extra edge surely?

Anyway, back to by far the greatest team the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford (it’s not far from Manchester I believe) has ever seen. The auld enemy (not sure why I’ve come over all Scottish here.  It’s not the Old Firm Derby).  But ever since I was a small child these have been our biggest rivals.  These have been the ones I’ve been most desperate to beat.  More so than Everton or whoever we were fighting it out with for the title.  Even when they weren’t that good (although sadly I’m too young to remember when they were really bad and Denis Law managed to relegate them to a backdrop of their fans fighting, while wearing ludicrous trousers).

But even in those days we always seemed to struggle to beat United as often as we should have (sorry I should be clearer here.  That’s Manchester United.  There is only really one United and that’s the late lamented Hereford United RIP, God Rest Its Soul).  And that didn’t exactly improve when Ferguson turned up and they actually started winning everything. Okay, sometimes we might have been occasionally well beaten but I’ve lost count of the number of times we seemed to lose to scrappy late goals or their keeper having a blinder.  John O’Shea only scored about six goals in his entire career but I reckon about 14 of those were winners against us.

But that only makes the good times all the sweeter. Top of the list has to be the 4-1 demolition at Old Trafford when I thought Torres was without question destined to become our greatest ever player (rest easy King Kenny. Your crown is safe – for now).  Other highlights include a pile-driver from a young Stevie G, THAT goal from Riise and a hat trick from the mighty Dirk Kuyt from a combined distance that was probably less than the length of my big red boa constrictor (I’ll leave you to debate how long that might be).

Favourite memories from matches I was actually at include winning 2-1 at Old Trafford circa 1990. The first victory there for many years and the last for quite a few more, and achieved despite John Barnes deciding to go for own goal of the year by sending a lovely lob over the keeper from 25 yards.  And also last year’s 3-1 win at Anfield when Santa came to deliver an early Christmas present, including an extended Christmas break to a Mr J.Mourinho care of the Lowry Hotel, Salford. 

Less pleasant memories include seeing Jamie Carragher trying to outdo Digger by scoring two own goals.  And the aftermath of our 2-1 win at Old Trafford circa 1990, when we thought we were being clever slipping out of the police cordon leading us back to the Liverpool coaches to get back to my student digs, only to find that thousands of angry seething Mancs had all spotted our sneaky move and decided they were going to lynch us (in some cases trying to climb out of the back window of the top deck of a bus in their desperation to get at us). Rapidly coming to the conclusion this wasn’t the best thought out plan ever, we turned tail and just about made it back to the cordon unscathed (in my mind I cleared the central reservation Colin Jackson style although I suspect the reality was a little less graceful). 

I’ve always wondered what became of the one nutter who followed us, thinking we were up for a ruck, and went charging into the angry mob on his own, while wearing a Liverpool shirt. He actually thought we would be right behind him. It really can’t have ended well for him.

As for Sunday’s match I really, really want to win this one. Not only to take another step closer to the title, and not only because of the rivalry but also because these buggers have had the temerity to be the only team to have stopped us winning.  I’m not sure we’ve ever managed to beat every other team in the league in a single season (we failed to beat City last year, I probably don’t need to remind anyone about not beating Chelsea in the ill-fated Brendan Rodgers title bid season and even our record breaking 1979 team couldn’t beat those lot from Goodison). Win on Sunday and we’ll only have West Ham to go.

So it’s going to be tight.  But as ever I’m going to predict a Liverpool win. 2-0 to the Big Red Boa Constrictor.  Salah to finally break his duck against Man U and Shaqiri to reprise his act from the bench.  Although unlike Jose, Ole will remain at the wheel having perfected the art of winning just enough games to remain in his job without ever threatening to turn Manchester United into a force again.

Oh, and memo to Jurgen. As a Hereford fan, do not let the kids lose to the Slop in the FA Cup. Repeat do not let the kids lose to the Slop in the FA Cup. Don’t expect them to be as big a pushover as that shower from the last round. Curtis get your shooting boots on again!

Liverpool vs Brighton: Lady luck, black cats and Kloppmobiles

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By Simon Meakin

Since my last blog, we’ve kept our long unbeaten Premier League run (and our long unbeaten run against City at Anfield) going in ultimately magnificent style last week. Although, it has to be said we rode our luck a bit early on. And, I’m trying to remember whether there is some sort of grammatical rule about the maximum number of sets of brackets allowed in a single sentence – (I’m not sure my old English teacher “Hipster” Hothersall would be approving of this).

Salah’s goal in particular was fabulous, evoking memories of the goal my Dad used to rave about above all others in the 1970’s, Terry McDermott’s famous header in the 7-0 demolition of Spurs.  Watching it again it’s amazing how similar they are.  For David Johnson’s raking crossfield ball and Heighway’s sublime cross just insert Trent and Robbo.  It’s the first thing that came up when I typed Terry Mc into YouTube. 

I didn’t even type the “Dermott”.  Although I clearly needed to include the “c” as disgracefully when I only typed Terry M he’s shunted down to third place behind a bloke playing Boogie Woogie piano at St Pancras station and some sort of American TV Evangelists with what appeared to be the world’s worst Irish accent (despite coming from Dallas).  Neither of this pair of jokers I wager ever even managed to get on to the subs bench v Spurs.

Crucially, we followed the City win up by somehow dredging up yet another win against the odds at Palace.  I’m not sure what the opposite of running over a black cat is but I’m sure Klopp must have done it recently.  Maybe he found a squashed black cat in the road while out cruising the streets of Formby in the Kloppmobile (most likely with the windows rolled down, Wayfarers on and listening to “Summertime” by Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince while on the way to Waitrose) and took it to the vet? 

Whatever it is, Lady Luck seems to be smiling on us.  The old adage says that winning while not playing well is the true sign of champions, but I’m fairly sure that champions also manage quite a lot of winning while playing well too. It seems ironic that the only team we seem to have beaten relatively comfortably in the last couple of months has been City themselves. 

And, given the insane schedule we’ve got coming up in the next month, the lads could surely do with a few more relaxing, less emotionally draining wins (the sort where Van Djik can slap on a face mask and some cucumber over his eyes, put a big towel on his head and whack on some whale music with twenty minutes to go).

I’m hoping that Brighton will be one of those games.  I couldn’t write this preview without commenting upon what was obviously the most exciting fact about Brighton growing up in the 1980’s.  The fact it had a nudist beach!   When it was announced that it was opening it was the most mind bogglingly exciting thing my schoolboy mind had ever heard of.  I immediately set about trying to figure out how to suggest a family holiday to Brighton and then to somehow “accidentally” chance upon the Swedish women’s beach volleyball team, who would just happen to have chosen the very same day to forsake Malmo for team practice right next to our deck chairs. 

It wasn’t until many years later when living in Sydney, that I did finally get the chance to stumble unexpectedly onto a nudist beach (on more than one occasion in fact) only to discover that your average nudist turned out to be a lot more old, male and wrinkly than in my fevered teenage dreams.

As I’ve noted previously on this blog I’m also a Hereford fan and the mere mention of Brighton brings back painful memories of the crucial do or die match on the last day of the season in 1997, when the loser would go crashing out of the Football League into Conference oblivion.  I missed the game as I was in Australia at the time.  Specifically, I was visiting a German speaking village outside of Adelaide (I’d taken a day off from tracking down naked men on nudist beaches). Instead of finding an Oompah band and lots of thigh slapping Bavarians, or even a young Jurgen Klopp cruising around rescuing black cats, I somehow managed to find a pub full of Brighton fans. 

This being back in the dark ages, I also had to try and follow the game on the BBC World Service in the middle of the night.  A World Service which incorrectly kept telling me that Hereford were winning until after the final whistle. I have to apologise to the poor German girl who woke up in alarm thinking Adelaide was suffering an earthquake following my string of expletives when I finally found out we’d gone down.

I’d like to think it was some sort of Sliding Doors moment where had the World Service been right, I’d now be faced with split loyalties as Hereford were preparing for their visit to Anfield and it would be Brighton who were looking forward to the visit of Farsley Celtic.  Gwyneth Paltrow would be playing the role of the Farsley coach driver trying to work out quite why she’s faced with a fifteen hour round trip to the south coast in the National League North.

I do have happier memories of a Brighton game when I was at Anfield on the last day of the season a couple of seasons ago.  A 4-0 walk in the park in glorious sunshine with Mo Salah scoring his 32nd goal of the season to set a new Premier League scoring record (for a 38 game season before you start writing in to correct me Mr Alan Shearer).  And Mo Salah’s daughter becoming surely the youngest person ever to score at the Kop end.  Checking back it also turns out that Dominic Solanke scored what, remarkably for a player we managed to sell for £17m on the basis that he was a striker, still appears to be his only ever goal in English football.

Anyway.  On to my match prediction.  Liverpool to repeat the scoreline of a couple of years ago and win 4-0, finally keeping a clean sheet at Anfield. Two goals from a fit again Salah, one for Firmino and Harvey Elliott puts down his copy of the Beano to come off the bench to break Mo Salah’s daughter’s record as youngest ever goalscorer at the Kop end. 

Jordan Henderson will be so relaxed he has time for a facial, a deep tissue massage and some boiled beetroot soup.  Klopp cruises home a happy man listening to Warren G on his in-car sound system and imagining he’s in South Central Blundellsands.

Liverpool versus Tottenham: Low Blocks, Split Strikers and Wagon Wheels

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By Simon Meakin

Simon Meakin returns to preview this Sunday’s clash with Spurs, gloat about getting the Leicester result spot on and deliver his verdict on this weekend’s result. As ever, it is a match preview like no other.

So we’ve dropped the first points of the season. On the glass half full side, we maintained our unbeaten start to the season (and we’re now 26 league games unbeaten since January). And, we demonstrated yet again that we simply won’t lie down and accept defeat with another late goal (and I’m delighted for Adam Lallana too. After all, he has been through injury-wise over the last few years), and once we equalised there was only one team who even looked remotely like they could win it (how often could we have said that about a visit to Old Trafford). Of course, we also denied United two crucial points in their relegation battle. Could be telling in May that!

But. But. But. There’s no getting away from the fact we were very poor for most of
the game, against a very average side. I’m not sure what kind of wheel Ole is
supposed to be at, but looking at United’s performances so far this season my best
guess is a Wagon Wheel (you knew it was always a good school lunchtime when you
opened your lunch box and found one of those circular chocolate treats within).

But, it is slightly worrying that we produced our worst performance since last time we
visited Old Trafford. Do we have some sort of mental block about playing there?
Scarred by too many defeats in the Fergie era? In a way it might be better if the
answer was yes, given we don’t have to play there again this season. But we’re still
six points clear at the top so any complaints can probably be filed away under “first
world” problems for now. Incidentally does anyone actually know where the second
world is? It never seems to make the news so I can only assume it lacks a decent
publicist (you know the sort of chap who tells it to don a Chelsea shirt and start
sucking someone’s toes just to get a mention after the Giant Pandas failing to mate
again on John Craven’s Newsround).

Before we move on to the Spurs game I’d also just like to put in a big shout to me
and my Leicester prediction. Not only did I get the result right, not only did I get the
score bang on, I even correctly predicted our winning goalscorer and the scorer of
Leicester’s consolation goal. I haven’t been in the club shop of late but given how on
fire I was with last week’s predictions (yes I know it was actually three weeks) it
wouldn’t surprise me if a whole range of ‘Big Red Combine Harvester’ memorabilia
hasn’t already been rolled out. For any new readers (for example I’d imagine Eric
Dier is likely to be reading this looking for red hot tactical insights ahead of Sunday’s
game – and let me say Eric, you’ve come to exactly the right place) please refer back
to my previous blog entry.

On to Spurs then (finally says Eric). This is the club who in my youth epitomised the term “Fancy Dan”. They had Ricky Villa, who sported the kind of revolutionary beard that could singlehandedly bring down fascist juntas, Glen Hoddle who rebelliously wore his shirt so untucked from his shorts, he almost looked like a particularly hefty member
of Pan’s People wearing a mini-skirt on Top of the Pops circa 1970, Ossie Ardiles – who
famously adopted the role of happy, clueless Manuel out of Fawlty Towers foreigner mispronouncing “Tottingham” on Top of the Pops, and Steve Archibald, who slightly less famously achieved the rare feat of appearing with two separate acts on Top of the Pops on the same night. He sang with both Tottenham and the Scotland World Cup squad – yes do not adjust your sets younger readers – Scotland once used to have enough good players (mostly ours it has to be said) to actually qualify for things (Christ knows what Yazoo and Altered Images or whoever else was appearing on that episode thought was going on). Oh, and Garth Crooks.

As a child, I have to admit I had a sneaky pang of jealousy at their Fancy Dan ways. Especially when compared to our slightly dour, get a goal and then let Hansen and Lawrenson pass it round the back for an hour approach (I may be slightly exaggerating for effect here). But, on the other hand, as a child I also got a lot of joy from the fact we used to win everything all the time as well. So, swings and roundabouts.

Returning to Steve Archibald, his other main claim to fame was that when Terry Venables took over as Barcelona manager he decided it would be a good idea if the first thing he did was to flog Diego Maradona to Napoli and replace him with Archibald.

For those younger readers still reeling from my explosive Scotland revelations this was the equivalent of selling Messi and replacing him with Danny Ings. Even more astonishingly ‘El Tel’ and Archibald then proceeded to win what was – at that time – Barcelona’s second title in a quarter of a century (the only other time being in 1974, when having just signed Cruyff from under the noses of Real Madrid. Allegedly, Cruyff refused to sign for Madrid due to their associations with fascist General Franco. Barcelona then famously went to the Bernabeu and dismantled Real 0-5 with Cruyff putting on a Total Football masterclass. So, there you have it. Steve Archibald. Better than Maradona. As good as Cruyff.

Right, now that Dier will have given up trying to follow this and gone off to look at Jan
Vertonghen’s wife’s Instragram account instead, it’s time to move on to the modern
day Spurs. Having moved from Fancy Dan, through to “Spursy,” to actually being
quite good – they now appear to be going through a mini-crisis (but at least have the
advantage of the media being a bit distracted by Man U having a bigger one). I thought I’d look back to the last time we played this lot. And after racking my brains for a while, it came back to me.

Oh yes! It was when we became Champions of Europe! For the sixth time! Has anyone mentioned this little known fact since? I believe we should put it out there (and not using the second world’s useless publicist. No. I’m thinking more like Kenny Everett’s Brother Lee Love and his enormous hands!). “We’ve conquered all of Europe. We’re never going to stop” “We’re the greatest team in Europe and we’re off to Auntie Bee’s!” (Sorry. That’s what I always sing to my son when we’re off to visit his Aunt. Who’s called Bee.

I’d like to think that’s what sealed the deal re him becoming a Liverpool fan. Even though I haven’t really explained the Rome 77 stuff and he therefore hasn’t got a clue why I’m singing it). Anyway, calming down after that moment of excitement, on to the match.

Having failed to turn up against Crisis Team A, I’m feeling a backlash in my bones, and a convincing performance against Crisis Team B. I’m going with 4-1 to the Red Men. Two goals and a man of the match winning performance from Bobby, a goal from Mane and an own-goal from Dier – who will have been thoroughly bamboozled by my talk of low blocks, split strikers and wagon wheels.

I’m predicting that Harry Kane will fall over, win and then score a penalty. So, it’s another week at number one for Klopp’s People, Ole dropping out of the top 40 entirely and Clare Grogan having to chase Steve Archibald out of her dressing room, after discovering him wearing nothing but a Womble costume!

Van Dijk, shotguns and flat caps: Can the ‘Big Red Combine Harvester’ keep chugging along?

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By Simon Meakin

Liverpool face Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City this weekend. Can Klopp’s Reds continue their impressive run? Simon Meakin takes us on a meandering run through Saturday’s big match, with the usual detours along the way.

So, the Red Machine keeps chug chug chug chug chugging along (borrowing the lyrics from the well known ditty “Big Red Combine Harvester,” as sung by my son at nursery school).  It was one of my favourites of his nursery songs along with one about being a pirate in the Irish Sea (whether this was of the Redbeard Rum type or Somali Pirates trying to hijack the Isle of Man ferry was never specified). 

But I’m now thinking that “Big Red Combine Harvester” is a football club nickname in waiting, and there is no reason why Liverpool shouldn’t claim it (better than trying to copyright the name of the entire City anyway).  As far as I’m aware no-one has ever clarified what type of Red Machine we are meant to be – internal combustion engine? Japanese Bullet Train? Toaster? So, I’m going to be the first. 

Is it the perfect metaphor for Henderson and Wijnaldum threshing in midfield? Do combine harvesters thresh?  What is threshing? Or, is it Mane, Salah and Firmino combining up front with Van Djik sporting a flat cap and threatening people with his shotgun, telling them to “get orf my land?” 

Now that I’ve sorted our new marketing strategy (in your face Ed Woodward and your noodle partners) back to the football.  We’ve had two really tough, battling away wins since our last home game and probably ridden our luck a bit at times so hopefully a return to Anfield will mean a return to the sort of champagne football that Firmino delivered from the bench against Newcastle. 

But it’s not going to be easy against Leicester.  They are looking well placed for a shot at a top four finish partly due to the current inadequacies of most of the traditional “Big Six”.  And, Leicester have form in this area, taking advantage of the inadequacies of all the Big Six to famously win the league only four seasons ago.

Looking back it seems even more dreamlike that they actually did that.  No outsider has even come close to breaking into the top four since.  For years beforehand I’d been willing a small team to actually break the monopoly (or should that be sexopoly?  I’m now wondering what I’d find if I googled ‘sexopoly’?) of the same teams always qualifying for the Champions League. But none ever seemed to be able to manage the consistency to actually do so.

Rumour has it David Moyes still sends Collina Christmas cards

There is the exception of Everton, who forced us to go and win ‘old big ears’ in Istanbul, by qualifying for the Champions League themselves. Only for them to make an unholy mess of their one shot at glory.  Then there was a period when Charlton, of all clubs, used to make an unlikely annual bid for the top four only to fall to pieces every February.  And then Leicester not only did that, they went and won the bloody league. 

The visit of Leicester also means the return of Brendan Rodgers to Anfield for the first time since his unceremonious sacking. Actually, I’ve no idea whether it was unceremonious or not to be honest. Given it wasn’t actually me who fired him. It just seems to be the law that you have to use that word to describe sackings but nothing else. It’s a bit like how a bottle of red wine always had to be described as a ‘decent red’ – usually in relation to Alex Ferguson’s post match routine, when it was seen as an affront to the ‘great man’ if the opposing manager failed to turn up to his office post-match with said decent red. 

Is Klopp tall? Or, are we all just small?

I’m not quite clear what ever became of those managers who dared show up with some white wine (why do you never hear of a decent white?), a couple of G&T’s or a few cans of Lidl own-brand scrumpy (Ian Holloway I’m looking at you).

I’ve no idea whether Brendan used to turn up with anything (I’d imagine if he did it would have an umbrella in it). But I’ve always felt he has never got the credit he deserved from Reds fans.  Whether it’s because he took over from St Kenny, some of the pseudo- psychobabble he used to come out with in interviews. Or, is it because he is short and Klopp is tall? Is there a psychological caveman type thing subconsciously going on here? Or am I talking pseudo psychobabble bollocks?

Does this mean I should apply for the Leicester job, maybe? I don’t know.  But he took what was arguably the worst performing Liverpool side in 50 years (yes I know we got to two cup finals but points wise it was the worst season since we got relegated in the 1950’s, and the football was bloody awful at times. Within two years had taken us to an ace of the title.  There was an immediate improvement in the likes of Henderson and Stewart Downing (remember him?). 

That’s the mark of a good manager.  It’s not just about who you sign.  It’s the improvements you make to the players you do sign (or inherit).  This is an area where Klopp has been superb, Ferguson (grrrr) and his bottles of Rioja used to excel, and one of many areas where our chums from down the M62 seem to have lost their way in recent years.

So basically I think I’m saying this is going to be a tough one.  Leicester were after all the only team, bar Man City themselves, to take a point from Anfield last season.  So Big Red Combined Harvester 2 Leicester 1.  Firmino and Milner to score, Maddison (a player I’d be very happy if we signed) to get their goal and Klopp having to fend off awkward allegations about his sheepdog running amok savaging the local livestock down Anfield Road, in his post match interview.  . 

Liverpool vs Newcastle: Proroguing the Premier League, Syd Puddefoot’s record fee and Steve Bruce is not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy

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Newcastle have broken an age-old Geordie tradition, by not appointing a Messiah

By Simon Meakin

Simon Meakin returns with his completely unique take on this weekend’s clash with Newcastle United.

It seems like an age since the previous preview, thanks to the International break.  Normally, this is where having a second team to support usually comes in handy to get my fix of league action.  This was foiled by Hereford surely setting a new world record for worst team ever to have to call a match off due to multiple international call-ups. 

Not content with cornering the market in St Kitts and Nevis players, in the hope they’ll be the new Belgium, they had a guy who didn’t even get the chance to come off the bench and kick Shaqiri on behalf of Gibraltar.  Although, checking the line-ups, ‘Big Shaq’ didn’t even manage to get on the Swiss bench in the first place (resist joke about him just being hidden behind some Micky Droy sized centre back or sitting under the bench) so I’m now wondering whether we’ve sustained yet another injury on international duty

Anyway the league finally returns and things are going pretty swimmingly so far.  Still top of the league, still with a 100% record and having defeated our first top six rival with ease.  If we beat Newcastle on Saturday that will be our 14th straight league win. 

To put that into context, in a century or so of trying, no team in the top four divisions had ever won more matches in a row, until Pep turned up.  It almost seems unfair that we won’t be able to count most of them this season purely on the basis that they happened last term.  Bloody rules!  Can’t Klopp just go the Queen and prorogue the Premier League?

The Mogg family pretending they like soccer ball

Newcastle aren’t in a good place though.  Man City got owners that desperately wanted to plough billions of pounds into an English football club, in order to distract from a record of human rights abuses back home. They also managed to break the only rule of English grammar that never gets broken, by having a country that forgot to put a U after it’s Q. One of these things convinced Jacob Rees-Mogg to make his kids support Liverpool in protest – can you guess which one kids?. 

Newcastle, meanwhile, ended up with a bloke who searches his employees underpants when they leave work, in case they’re cunningly trying to make off with the stock by wearing it.  Sadly for Newcastle fans, he doesn’t seem to believe in ploughing billions of pounds into an English football club to distract from underpants searches.  And, so a club who remarkably became one of only two English clubs to break the world transfer record since the 1950’s with the signing of Shearer (the other one being United’s purchase of Pogba – har har. How’s that one working out then United fans?) now find themselves shopping in Poundland – relatively speaking of course.

This is the Premier League after all, and they have just signed a player from a shop that if you were being picky must have actually been called Forty Million Pound Land (where you can also presumably buy a bumper pack of eighty million Duracell batteries or an old DVD of Andy Townsend football bloopers).  Mind you, all of that is not half as remarkable as discovering that the world transfer market was once shattered by Falkirk of all clubs, when they bought the excellently named Syd Puddefoot.

Syd Puddefoot: record breaker

In terms of matches between the two teams it’s impossible to look any further than the pair of legendary 4-3’s in the 1990’s.  Great though both games undoubtedly were, they did highlight the notoriously soft centre that prevented the Roy Evans era team really doing justice to the undoubted talent they had. 

I was at the second match and while it was brilliant celebrating the last minute winner, I remember the sick feeling immediately beforehand when we appeared to be on the brink of blowing a 3-0 lead, thanks mainly to David James apparently hammering Super Mario Brothers the night before (not an excuse you ever heard Syd Puddefoot come out with I’d wager).  That game was part of the run-in in 97, when we had a golden opportunity to haul in a stuttering Man United. If only we displayed a bit more steel.  So, bitter-sweet memories there.

Newcastle are of course famous for pioneering the unique “Messiah” management structure.  Some clubs might plump for Directors of Football, Head Coaches, or just plain and simple Managers.  Yet every time Newcastle sack their manager (so quite regularly) there is am immediate demand to find a new Geordie Messiah. 

They even had two of them one year and promptly got themselves relegated.  Presumably the Board have to draw up an all Geordie shortlist containing Chris Waddle, Jimmy Nail, Cheryl Cole and at least one of Ant and Dec.  Why is this?  Bolton never put the call out for a new Boltonian Messiah when Big Sam left them.  Florentino Perez doesn’t go looking for a new Madrid Messiah every time he has to fire the Real manager for not winning the Champions League. 

To paraphrase Tom Baker’s sea captain in Blackadder (the brilliant Redbeard Rum) when asked whether it was usual practice not to have any crew –  “Opinion is divided on the matter!  All the other Chairman say you don’t need a Messiah.  I say you do!”

Which brings us to the match prediction.  So far I’ve got a 100% record in getting the winning margin right.  But 0% in terms of the score or pretty much any of the scorers.  Anyway, I’m thinking Newcastle being in a bit of a mess will be counteracted by the fact that their latest Messiah is actually a naughty boy called Steve Bruce, who has a very annoying record of generally avoiding getting beaten by us.  But not counteracted that much.  3-0 to the reds with a goal apiece from Mane, Firmino and Salah – I’m really trying to make sure I get at least one goalscorer right this time. Oh, and a 14th league win on the bounce too. 

Oh, and a message to Mike Ashley. You have a woman’s purse (which you never open).  I’ll wager you’ve never had sixteen shipwrecked mariners tossing in it!