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Gerrard the saviour again

This article by me was first published on http://www.thisisanfield.com

Match day arrives and usually I’m full of it, but yesterday the mood was flat. Fourth place is the worst of consolation prizes and even that seems to be vanishing in the end of season gloom. My phone went around eleven. It was a text message ‘meet you in the pub at one’. I looked out the window and conducted a brief internal debate about whether I really wanted to go. The Hull debacle lingered like a bad hangover and looking at the weather it would have been easier to curl up on the couch and give it all a miss.

Like the match its self, even allowing myself to contemplate staying away was a pointless exercise. Despite our recent woes I continue to consider my regular pilgrimage to Anfield a privilege. I know many of us feel the same and that there are countless fans who would give anything to swap places with me. This why it’s so easy for the club to take advantage of us when it comes to setting prices.

Many have expressed disappointment that only a thousand fans boycotted the Hull game in midweek, a protest at obscene ticket-prices. Their logic is that everyone should have stayed away. That would have been better, but it ignores what a wrench it is for supporters to miss a game. Our away support are some of the most fervent and passionate fans in the game. For so many of them to consciously give up their seats only serves to demonstrate the strength of feeling and should be regarded as a huge success for Spirit of Shankly and Spion Kop 1906.

Anyway, as I turned on the news I was greeted with wall to wall coverage of some woman’s pregnancy and quickly gave myself a mental slap in the face. I’d rather watch paint dry than sit through endless guff about the birth of the Queen’s grand kid. So off I went to see Liverpool play her Park Rangers instead.

There was no escape though, because as we sat debating how much time Brendan Rodgers had left the Beeb’s royal correspondent waxed lyrical on the TV above the bar. Someone must have moaned because it was quickly swapped to the snooker.

It won’t surprise anyone to hear that opinion is split on the manager. He has made mistakes. They’ve been well catalogued. His post match sound-bites seem to really get under people’s skin. Even without the context of last season, this season is a bitter disappointment.

Rodgers dividing opinion

Rodgers dividing opinion

Despite all of this I was in Brendan’s corner yesterday. I just don’t want us to become that club. You know the one that swaps its manager every couple of seasons. I’d rather build something. FSG made a bold choice after sacking Dalglish. They went for a young, unproven manager because the wanted, they said to build a dysnasty. It’s time for them to back their idea by putting their money where their rhetoric is.

Now let me clear here. That’s my opinion and lets face it the game is all about people arguing the toss in the pub before and after the game. Many of my mates passionately disagree with me. We are still friends. Believing that Rodgers should go is a perfectly valid point of view. It’s also reasonable to speculate on his successor. As supporters we have that right.

However, I also want to make something else abundantly clear. If you hire a plane to fly over Anfield calling for the manager to be sacked and replaced with Rafa, then you are a blert, you have probably always been a blert and my guess is you will always be a blert. As we made our way to the Kop in the drizzle, many of us were disgusted at the sight that greeted us in the skies.

All around us people were shaking their heads in disbelief. There is a lot wrong with modern football in my opinion, but this latest manifestation of the soccer am generation takes the biscuit. In my opinion this is not how we do things at Liverpool. Nor do we shout at the manager from behind the dug out , as Brendan suggests, calling for him to substitute the captain. Some have called this wool behaviour. I say that’s an insult to wools. Such tactics are beneath Liverpool fans from any postcode and are an embarrassment to us all.

The game got under-way and immediately Liverpool conceded a corner, from which the ball ended up in the net. I was barely settled into my seat and hadn’t really seen the build up. A moment of confusion and disbelief followed. Here we go again, I thought, before realising the ‘goal’ didn’t stand.

As the first half developed Liverpool dominated. QPR’s players, despite desperately needing the points to stave off relegation, appeared to be dreaming of sunny shores. To put it politely they didn’t seem bothered. Given Liverpool’s recent woes, you’d have thought they might have seen this as an opportunity. Certainly their fans, who had travelled in large numbers did.

Ricky Lambert was afforded a rare start in place of the perennially injured Sturridge and the mysteriously absent Balotelli. He was full of industry throughout. This will probably be one of his last home appearances and it showed. Liverpool shouldn’t have gone for Ricky in the summer. He was doing brilliantly at Southampton and the move has derailed his career in it latter stages. Who can blame him for joining his boyhood club.

I desperately want him to get a goal at the Kop end before he departs. From his display yesterday so does he. You get the feeling that if it eventually happens the roof will come off, the heavens will open and Ricky will ascend to heaven; content that his life’s work is done. It wasn’t to be yesterday, but he did turn provider for the imperious Phillipe Coutinho.

The Magician Phillipe Coutinho

The Magician Phillipe Coutinho

On nineteen minutes he delivered a great pass to the Brazilian who calmly and expertly dispatched the ball with his right foot into the top corner. Robert Green had no chance. I allowed myself to briefly entertain the fact that we might have a go. The players owe us a performance. Someone is due a rout and here were relegation fodder aching for a sound thrashing.

Last season we would have delivered. Can you imagine what Suarez and a fully fit Sturridge would have done to the Hoops yesterday? Sadly this is a very different vintage and the half settled into a very familiar pattern. The Reds dominated without ever really looking like delivering the hammering we craved and QPR deserved. To say us traipse into the dressing room at half time only a goal to the good was as depressing as it was familiar. That world class striker simply has to arrive this summer, or Liverpool will slip even further behind the top-four.

The second half offered little hope either. Attempt after attempt went begging. One in particular from young Raheem, brought groans and sheer disbelief from the Kop. How did he miss? His contract wranglings have annoyed and irritated the Kop. So far they’ve vented their fury on his agent, but as the campaign draws to a disappointing conclusion you sense their frustration with this impudent millionaire is growing.

He is an incredible talent and it is to be hoped that somehow the impasse will be sorted. The papers this week suggested Liverpool will stand firm even if he doesn’t sign. The problem for him, is that he risks irrevocably damaging his relationship with the supporters, especially with displays like this. On current form you couldn’t imagine him playing week in week out at any of the current elite of English football, let alone either of the Spanish giants.

Then, inevitably, predictably and agonisingly the equalizer came. QPR won a corner down at the Centenary corner flag at the Anfield Road end. Defensively Liverpool have improved massively in the second half of the season, but the handling of this set piece was depressingly reminiscent of our earlier troubles.

Leroy Fer assisted by Barton shot from the centre of the box restored parity and the Londoner’s belief that they could snatch something from this game. I turned to the lad next to me and ominously predicted we would lose the game. Luckily I’m no ‘Mystic Meg’.

QPR briefly flickered into life and for a spell looked like they could grab an unlikely three points. Then came apparent salvation on 78 minutes.  Nedum Onuoha upended Martin Syrtel who was attempting a spectacular winner from a corner kick. Penalty! Gerrard and Lambert appeared to exchange words, with the latter apparently conceding that the skipper should take it.

Ricky gives Stevie the nod for pen

Ricky gives Stevie the nod for pen

Gerrard stepping up to take a pen is usually greeted with a sense of happy expectation on the Kop. However, the usually consummate captain has been somewhat accident prone of late and there was nervousness as he placed the ball on the spot. It proved well founded as Green save well to his left. In reality it was a poor kick.

Stevie’s Liverpool career is at risk of petering out. This would be a tragedy for such a talismanic player. I have written that he is Liverpool’s best ever and I stand by that. As the ball skidded out for a corner I couldn’t help asking myself, how did it end up like this for the skipper.

With just ten minutes left, another draw seemed inevitable. It would have been gut-wrenching. Even when QPR were reduced to ten, I just couldn’t see us grabbing a winner. We are so toothless up front. Fortunately the captain had other ideas and chose the 87th minute to roll back the years and come to our rescue.

This time it was the future of Liverpool FC who centred the ball for its past to head home. It was a great header, but as he said himself in the post match dispatches, he’s scored better. Frankly I wouldn’t have cared if it went in off his arse. I’m just glad it went in. I’m also delighted it was him who scored it.

Relief and joy in equal measure for the captain

Relief and joy in equal measure for the captain

The Reds are playing for pride only now. They are fighting for the right to end the season with heads held high and for at least the glimmer of hope that next season we can go again. Stevie’s celebration at the winner was full of pride and relief and the Kop responded by singing his his name loudly. He soon left the pitch to rapturous applause and appreciation.

Bill Shankly once said “When you’re part of the Kop, you are part of a big society. You’ve got friends all around you who are united and loyal.” These words are the foundations on which a spirit and ethos was built at Anfield. It is what separates us from the herd in my view. Bob Paisley tried to express this ethic in an interview many years later. He said, with characteristic understatement, “It’s like when you’re lost in the fog and you know someone will be there to help you out.”

This is Liverpool today. Lost in the fog and needing that spirit of Shankly and Paisley more than ever. Anyone who tries to undermine that is just plane wrong!

Dreaming of Wembley Way

Dreaming of Wembley Way

I awake after a night of fractured dreams, wide awake at three, then four and six, before eventually giving in at seven. Then I force breakfast into a stomach tied in knots and begin to wish the day away. You’ve all been there. Just transport yourselves back in time to every childhood Christmas eve, or the night before a holiday or birthday and you will instantly identify. You want time to race ahead, because the anticipation is too much to take. All that matters is tomorrow.

So what’s the point of today?

Rivals say the Cup doesn’t matter. They’ve got bigger fish to fry. They’ll spend today scrapping for points, fourth place, survival, or dead rubber. Deep down they know it’s a lie. It’s easy to say the cup doesn’t matter, unless you’re still in it.  How many would walk in my shoes tomorrow.

Seriously, what’s the point of today?

Why invest so much passion into the fortunes of eleven men. Why devote a life to the good times and the bad. Why empty pockets and bank accounts, if not for the chance to experience days like tomorrow. To come together in our thousands, to win to lose and to never walk alone. Tomorrow’s another fevered dream away.

What’s the point of today?

They went to a football match and never came home

They went to a football match and never came home

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This article by me was originally published by http://www.thisisanfield.com

Apathetic, sombre, downcast are not usually emotions you would associate with a must win league game ahead of a Wembley Semi-Final at the weekend, but that’s how it felt on the Kop last night.

Even before the game there was a real sense of anti-climax. The reds had been on a terrific run in the league, but it all seemed to have blown up in the last two games.

The defeats to United and Arsenal were disappointing to say the least. The former in particular was worse in my view, because I fully expected us to win. A struggle at the Emirates was always on the cards, but even so, the manner of the defeat was gut-wrenching.

Of course this week we mark our 26 year fight for truth and justice, while standing shoulder to shoulder with the bereaved and the survivors of Hillsborough. I always find the mood at Anfield around this time to be, well all of the above. Football seems a little irrelevant this time of year.

The cab ride to the game was entertaining though. I actually prefer it when the cabbie is a blue. I love it when they pretend to be fair minded football supporters with not a hint of bitterness or obsession about them.

“I don’t know what to predict from your lot tonight” he said. “Think I might have a bet on a draw.”

The ride became a bit of a sparring match, with both of us pretending to be respectful of each others teams, while managing to get a few digs in here and there. He managed a reference to the terrible cost of going to Anfield, especially when you add in your air fair. I managed to get in a crack about Everton selling half season tickets, before steering the conversation towards his thoughts on Martinez.

It was all good fun and I got out at the Cabbage Hall, wishing him a good night, before adding, “I hope your bet goes down though.”

The game its self started with promise. The Reds looked to be playing some decent football, and on 9 minutes were a goal up. Henderson was the creator this time, sending a delightful pass right onto Sterling’s boot. The youngster controlled the ball brilliantly, danced through a couple of challenges before finishing sublimely into the bottom right corner.

Newcastle’s Tim Krull was excellent on the night, but he could do nothing about that goal. The celebrations in the stands seemed to be more about relief than jubilation though. Anything other than a win at this stage of the season would effectively end any lingering hopes of top four. To get a goal so early on, might have prompted Newcastle to have a go and create more opportunities to score.

Around me the feeling was that this could end up being a big score. Let’s face it we haven’t really given anyone a mauling this season. Maybe tonight was the night when we at least made our goal difference look a little respectable.

Or maybe not! As the half wore on so too did the lingering suspicion that this could be another one of those games. Liverpool looked good, but again we lacked any kind of cutting edge. The Geordies were there for the taking, but we never looked like making it comfortable.

Hearts sank on 45 when Ayoze Pérez looked certain to score from the centre of the box. Thankfully Mignolet saved to his left. Fortunately Abeid shot high into the Kop from the resulting corner.

With the arrival of half-time, Newcastle will have felt they were well and truly in the game. Yet again Liverpool had failed to make their dominance count and a tense second half beckoned.

It was obvious that Carver had got into his team at the interval. He’d have told them at 1-0 this Liverpool team are vulnerable, especially after back to back defeats and with some of the players having one eye on Wembley.

To be fair to them they gave it a real go as the second half got under-way. A couple of corners and a number of chances were wasted, but there was always a fear they could nick an equalizer. Sterling missing a gilt-edged chance from three yards out, with Krull at his mercy, did little to ease the tension. It had actually been easier for him to score than miss. Maybe I’m being harsh.

In my view, Sterling’s performance epitomised where he is in his career right now. He is a wonderfully gifted talent, capable of sublime skill and finishing. He is not the finished article, nor should we expect him to be. He is 20 and still learning about life and football.

I believe he will go on to justify his agents exorbitant demands, in time. For now though he still has a lot to learn. Raheem spoke this week about his admiration for the Kop. He dreamed of a day when they would sing a song about him. Last night they obliged. Sterling may have smiled when he heard it, I doubt his agent would have.

The crowd at Anfield are still wonderfully inventive and irreverent and the ode to Raheem’s advisors last night was the perfect response to the players carefully orchestrated interventions into the media.

They also showed, once again that when it comes to respect and sportsmanship they are second to none. As Jonas Gutierrez entered the fray on 67 minutes the whole of Anfield stood to applaud.

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John Bishop said it showed “football still had a soul”. The watching media praised the crowd for their class and knowledge of the game. It was a magnificent gesture, but nothing compared to the strength and determination showed by the player in achieving his comeback at the highest level.

In the 70th minute victory was finally sealed with a very rare goal from Joe Allen. He will have relished his goal in front of the Kop as much as we did. It was a great finish and the celebrations on the pitch showed beyond doubt that there is still a team ethic in the Liverpool dressing room.

All that remained was for the Reds to see out the 90 with a confidence boosting clean sheet. Thankfully Sissoko made the task a little easier with his desperate lunge at Lucas late in the game. He was already walking before the referee reached for his card and well he might. It ended up being a second yellow, but it probably should have been a straight red.

Full time came and, with 3 points in the bag, thoughts turned to Wednesday once again. Another painful day of remembrance lies in the way of what will hopefully be, in the word of one survivor, a wonderfully cathartic day out at Wembley. I second that emotion.

Justice for the 96.

Originally posted on Jeff Goulding:

The Reds celebrate their first FA Cup on the pitch at Wembley 1965 The Reds celebrate their first FA Cup on the pitch at Wembley 1965

This article by me has also been published on http://www.thisisanfield.com

I’ve had butterflies in my stomach for the last 48 hours. On Thursday I read the selling criteria for the upcoming semi-final against Villa and realised I was guaranteed a ticket. Since then I’ve been like a kid on Christmas eve. On Friday morning I went online and opened my present. Ticket secured, I’m already planning my trip south.

I am 47 years of age and the FA cup still has that special magic for me. Yes, it has been devalued since the birth of the premier league, I concede there’s no Champions League on offer if you win it and okay it won’t fill the club coffers much, but why would I care about any of that?

I am a Liverpool supporter and I have never…

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Originally posted on Jeff Goulding:

sunsetcrosby-beach--shutterstock

Part Two: Fire and Light

Easter was days away, again. It seemed to come around quicker every year and the nagging anxiety in the pit of my stomach was starting to grow. Buck and I had taken to heading for the beach every year to clear our heads. There was just something healing about sitting on the wet sand and staring out into the vastness of the sea, particularly at sunset. It helped me transcend the  creeping fear that was polluting my life.

Ten years had elapsed since the abduction of Toby Matthews. At 21 I had completely rationalised the events of that Spring and all of those since. I had convinced myself that the horror stalking our town was a very human one.

“Kids disappeared all the time and when the police eventually bring the criminal to justice; it’s never a giant fucking rabbit,” I told Buck many times…

View original 4,994 more words

The Reds celebrate their first FA Cup on the pitch at Wembley 1965

The Reds celebrate their first FA Cup on the pitch at Wembley 1965

This article by me has also been published on http://www.thisisanfield.com

I’ve had butterflies in my stomach for the last 48 hours. On Thursday I read the selling criteria for the upcoming semi-final against Villa and realised I was guaranteed a ticket. Since then I’ve been like a kid on Christmas eve. On Friday morning I went online and opened my present. Ticket secured, I’m already planning my trip south.

I am 47 years of age and the FA cup still has that special magic for me. Yes, it has been devalued since the birth of the premier league, I concede there’s no Champions League on offer if you win it and okay it won’t fill the club coffers much, but why would I care about any of that?

I am a Liverpool supporter and I have never turned up to a homecoming parade and seen the players holding up a balance sheet. I have done the club stadium tour and I never saw the fourth place exhibit. We have finished in the top four countless times and it has never given me anywhere near the buzz I get going to a cup final.

Liverpool Football Club exist to win trophies. That’s the mantra I was brought up on. Seeing the club captain holding a piece of silver aloft in May is my dream at the start of every season. I do not get all misty eyed at the prospect of scraping into fourth place.

My earliest memories of the cup are watching the final against Newcastle on the telly at home in 1974. The windows of the house were plastered in posters of the players. The whole street was like that. You’d walk around the estate I grew up on and you’d be able to spot which families were blue and which were red by how  their windows were decorated. Some would just have a flag in one window and you could tell their were split loyalties in that home.

My earliest FA Cup memory the trouncing of Newcastle 1974

My earliest FA Cup memory the trouncing of Newcastle 1974

I still remember the whole family, red and blue, walking to Queens Drive to see the team bus. I remember running alongside the bus shouting up to the players and the sheer delight when one of them gave you the thumbs up or better still waved the cup at you.

All of that pales by comparison with the one I missed by accident of birth though. The stories associated with the ’65 FA Cup win have now passed into folklore. It’s hard to imagine now, but the homecoming in the city following the Reds 2-1 triumph over Leeds United dwarfed any celebration since. Even the incredible celebrations in 2005 don’t come close to the hysteria generated when Shankly brought the Cup to the Town Hall. See here  and here

Acknowledged by all as the greatest homecoming reception for a triumphant sporting team ever, it showed just how important the FA cup was. To me it still is the best football competition in the world. I defy anyone to watch those celebrations and not get emotional. For me the denigration of the competition in the name of profit and corporate sponsorship is criminal.

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Supporters pack Lime St waiting for a glimpse of their all-conquering heroes 1965

The cup and Merseyside has a special affinity. Between our two clubs we have won it 12 times. We have experience stratospheric highs and crushing lows following our teams in that competition. In ’86 and ’89 we met at Wembley. On both days Merseyside showed the world how two clubs from the same city can compete fiercely, but sportingly for one of the biggest prizes in domestic football.

Of course the ’89 final had special significance and in the end was more like a family outing than a cup final. In this case the family was the size of a whole city. It would be dishonest to say the result didn’t matter in that game. It did, but it didn’t matter as much as the opportunity for reds and blues to come together in the capital after a harrowing year. Chants of Merseyside echoed round the ground at the end, a collective display of pride and solidarity.

Kenny and Rushy 1989 Cup Winners

Kenny and Rushy 1989 Cup Winners

There are just countless memories associated with this competition for me. Not all of them to do with the games. All great stories are about the journey, rather than the destination. The getting there bit is often far more interesting than the 90 minute tussle at the end.

Handing my son his first cup-final ticket and seeing the look on his face, Then reflecting on my first visit to Wembley and how it felt to get that ticket in my hand. Getting up early, queueing for the coach on Priory Road. Feeling like your a man now, because you’re going on your own and joining in with the songs on the coach. Having a sly bevy when your under-age and feeling pissed after one can. All of that is part of the magic.

There’s no twin towers any more. The cost is astronomical and somehow it seems wrong to hold a semi-final at Wembley. Such an occasion should be reserved for the finalists only.

It does stick in the craw that we are being fleeced to pay the FA’s stadium mortgage. But for all of that it’s still Wembley, it’s still the Reds competing for the right to get there twice and I won’t have anyone telling me this competition doesn’t matter.

I’ll be older and a little bit wiser as I make that journey again in a week or so, but I’ll be no less excited. I won’t sleep the night before. The hairs on my neck will stand up when I see that pitch and hear our song sung in the capital. Liverpool Football Club should be playing in that stadium every year, just like we did before. It matters far more to me than fourth place and you can tell that to yer ma!

2007 Homecoming

2007 Homecoming