Out there on his own: Mario Balotelli

Out there on his own: Mario Balotelli

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

Some decisions in life are easy, like when you wake up with a slight hangover and contemplate whether you actually want to go the match, given the gloom hanging over the club right now. You open the blinds and see that the whether matches your mood, but the pre-match butterflies dancing in your gut tell you to grow a pair and you realise there’s really no decision to make. Before you know your wrestling with the next big decision Fanzine or beer before the game. That’s easy too – you do both.

Then we come to the really big decisions. Those, that when you get it wrong, you find it really difficult to understand what was going through your mind in the first place. I am sure that the management team in the Flat Iron thought it was an excellent idea to hire a rock band to serenade supporters as they traipsed in after another less than satisfactory result. It really wasn’t. To be honest I felt more sorry for them than us.

Even harder to fathom, in hindsight, was the decision to persist with Mario Balotelli as a loan striker. The appearance of Ricky Lambert in the closing stages demonstrated that, if you are going to play him at all,  Mario needs a strike partner. To continue to ask him to lead the line is placing unnecessary burden on the lad and giving his critics even more ammunition.

All of the chat before the game had been about Balotelli. I had convinced myself that he should be taken out of the team, and had gone for a front three of Lallana, Coutinho and Sterling in the false nine role. I was surprised that Rodgers decided to start with the enigmatic Italian, but I wasn’t too bothered. Many have questioned the managers decision making around the striker. Some suggest he was unfair to be critical of the player in the aftermath of the Madrid game, others are critical of the fact he signed him in the first place. Such is the polarising effect of Balotelli.

I can understand both sides of the argument, but on this one I am prepared to bow to the boss’ judgement. Rodgers has always struck me as an excellent man manager. He sees the players on the training field everyday, talks to them, listens to them, and therefore he is ideally placed to decide whether a star needs a comforting arm or kick up the arse. On Wednesday he opted for the latter, at full time yesterday he chose to champion the strikers work ethic. This is the managers prerogative.

On whether we should have signed him in the first place, I argued it was far too early to judge. I wanted to see a bit more of the Mario that partnered Sturridge against Tottenham before I rush to any conclusions. Mario dominated the conversation and as we downed our glasses and left the pub,the debate continued into the ground, halted only by a discussion on the relevance of the excellent Black Flag protest against ticket prices. It was only a brief respite though, and as the game got underway the debate continued.

Rodgers man management

Rodgers man management

The first half went by in a bit of blur for me, and it wasn’t the beer. Liverpool were rarely threatened, but then we did little to set the pulse racing ourselves. For us this was frustrating. For Hull they must have thought Christmas had come early. With a squad devastated by injuries their game plan was understandably to leave with a point. The reds offered nothing in the first half to suggest they would leave disappointed.

It was far too easy for them. Steve Bruce felt sufficiently relaxed to exchange a bit of banter with the Kop. As one the old terrace belted out an ode to the Hull Boss’ unusually large noggin, and he responded by hiding it under his suit jacket. The Kop responded with laughter and applause. It was all too nice and sportsmanlike. Others have bemoaned the fact that we lack a nasty streak, or to quote an overheard snippet on the way home, “Liverpool need an ‘arl arse’ in the team”. I am proud of our reputation for recognising the qualities of the opposition. That’s how it should be. I was happy the Kop applauded off Madrid’s substitutes on Wednesday, but there are limits. I wasn’t happy that Glen Johnson was laughing and joking with Ronaldo during the game. The fact that we didn’t have a single player booked in that night says it all.

Bruce banter with the Kop

Bruce banter with the Kop

What happened to us making a visit to Anfield the toughest 90 minutes of an opponents lives? On Saturday, just like on Wednesday, for a good seventy minutes Liverpool rarely made their opponents sweat. We just didn’t get under their skin, and I doubt they ever thought that anything other than a draw was on the cards. All that did change with a flurry of late substitutions. Lambert and Coutinho replaced Lallana and Allen just on the hour mark, and Henderson entered the fray on 75 minutes for the impressive Emre Can.

The arrival of a foil for Balotelli, the inventiveness of Coutinho and the energy and drive of Henderson finally gave the visitors something to think about. Frustration and fear gave way to hope, as wave after wave of attacks crashed against the Kop goal mouth. The noise level ratcheted up at last, gone were the sporting niceties the Kop were now baying for blood. It was all too little too late though. The toiling Balotelli looked a frustrated and dejected figure as each chance went begging. It seemed easier to score some of them than miss. However, when you want something so bad, when the eyes of the world are on you, and you feel the pressure of  the chattering classes willing you to fail, sometimes the easy becomes the impossible.

There can be no doubt that Mario Balotelli wants to do well for the Reds. To see him crest-fallen and crumpled on the turf at full time was as heartbreaking as the result. There is also no doubt in my opinion that he is a quality player. He will have been glad of his managers words of encouragement after the game. He will have also taken comfort from the Kop’s continued chants of Mario Magnifico! Just like with Peter Crouch before him, who failed to net until December in his debut season, the roof is going to come off Anfield when Balotelli eventually, inevitably breaks his duck. Until then he shouldn’t walk alone.

Dejection and despair filled the air on the way back to Flat Iron, Unsurprisingly our moods hadn’t been lifted by George Sephton’s news that Bournemouth had beaten Birmingham 8-0 in the Championship. Passing conversations were a mix of the philosophical and the apoplectic, I was silent. Could things get any more miserable? Over to that poor Rock Band.

A dejected Mario Balotelli

A dejected Mario Balotelli

Dreams of Golden Skies

Dreams of Golden Skies

This article by me was first published prior to the Real Madrid game at Anfield on http://www.thisisanfield.com

If you’re scraping around for a pre Real Madrid match metaphor on which to hang your article, an impending storm, with a Spanish sounding name, isn’t a bad one. So I have to thank the weather demons for delivering Hurricane Gonazalo just before Real Madrid blow into town. Let’s hope our back four can cope better with the ‘Galacticos’ than my fence panels have with the wind currently battering Liverpool.

It’s fair to say that on current form the omens are not good. We are hardly going into this game in confident mood. Things just haven’t clicked for us yet. There are some mitigating factors of course. Any team would struggle to replace Luis Suarez goals and creativity, let alone deal with losing his strike partner to injury too.

With Champions League qualification delivered, the recruitment team were always going to buy in bulk. The squad was desperately thin last season and couldn’t have coped without significant additions. This has meant a relatively large number of recruits having to adapt to Brendan’s way of working and each other.

However, we don’t seem to have learned the lessons of last season in terms of our defence. It is fair to point to the fact that this is virtually a brand new back four. There is bound to be a period of adjustment, but for me these are all quality players, and they all cost a premium. If they’re not the most expensive back four assembled, then they are certainly up there.

The problem seems obvious to me. Many will disagree with me, but we don’t lack quality in our back four. What is badly needed is leadership and organisation. You don’t need Alan Shearer and ‘Match of the Day’ to tell you that, you can see it every time we concede a set piece near our goal. That strong vocal leader was what we lacked last year, and we haven’t found him yet on current evidence.

It was suggested that Dejan Lovren would be the answer, but so far he has struggled to deliver. The keeper also has to carry some of the responsibility. On Sunday his shot stopping was exemplary, but his decision making is poor at times, and he appears passive at times when he should be organising the players in front of him. This is particularly apparent at corners and free kicks.

In addition our decision making in terms of striker recruitment seems suspect with hindsight. I’m not knocking Mario Balotelli here; I would still like to see him paired with someone else. We are not getting the best out of him as a lone striker. That’s never been his game as far as I can see.

For me it’s just surprising that we haven’t added another quality forward, and the loss of Sturridge to injury highlights that. I know the club tried to get Sanchez, but it all seemed too little too late. If it was true that they knew Luis was going as far back as last Christmas, then why didn’t we have a plan B and a Plan C in place. You wonder how much of an impact the collapse of the Borini to Sunderland deal actually had on our striker recruitment.

So it is against this back drop that we go into arguably the biggest game of the season. Failure to get a result against Madrid will leave are hopes of qualification hanging in the balance. In reality we could end up scrapping it out with Ludogorets for a Europa League spot. Wednesday’s game is that big, in my opinion.

For Liverpool to prevail we will need to see a complete turnaround. As Brendan himself said post QPR, “Everything needs to improve.” In total contrast to the Reds, Real Madrid looks a team at the peak of their powers. After a shaky start, which saw them fall to two defeats in three, they appear to have got their acts together.

They currently sit third in La Liga, having won their last five games, which include three five-nil results and an 8-2. Their goal difference stands at plus 21 after 8 games. Given the way our back line struggled against Zamora I feel like going the toilet every time I think about Ronaldo and Rodriguez up against Skrtel and Lovren.

Fortunately for us, Football doesn’t always pan out the way the form book tells us it should. Paul Tomkins hit the nail on the head recently when he pointed to the peculiar football law, that  teams often play ten times better against teams that are ten times better than them (if that makes sense). There can certainly be no complacency against Madrid, and I feel there won’t be.

If we are to upset the form book we are going to have to battle for our lives. We just didn’t seem to give a damn against Basel, we were similarly lacklustre against Ludogeorets and against QPR on Sunday we were out-muscled and bullied by a team that looked like they wanted to get off the bottom of the table.

That will need to change, and we will instead need to see the same team that harried and pressed so well last season. The key will then be what we do with the limited possession we have. Against QPR there were few positives, aside from the pace and sharpness of Coutinho and Sterling. Liverpool will need to break quickly and in these two we have speed in abundance. Both have also shown they can finish off opportunities.

I have been concerned about the pair lately. They have each suffered dips in form and consistency, but on Sunday both looked like they were getting back to their best. I can only imagine how they are both feeling today. They must be buzzing with anticipation. Wednesday’s game is exactly the type of world stage these two will relish. I can’t imagine there will be any fear, both have shown they can be big game players already. They are young; they have the world at their feet. They just need to go out and steal the show.

There is a storm coming, but we all know what usually follows. We have been there so many times before. The crowd will rise to the occasion; we just need every man in Red to do their bit and maybe, just maybe we will see in that golden sky together.

The Kop of Liverpool FC

The Kop of Liverpool FC

This article by me was first published on the eve of the Real Madrid game at Anfield on http://www.thebibtheorists.com

On the eve of battle it is normal for the troops to be a little nervous, even fearful. This is especially true when they are facing a superior foe. In such times armies often look to their leaders for words of inspiration. Picture Mel Gibson’s famous, albeit wildly inaccurate, scene in Braveheart and you get my point.

In the world of sport it is no different. The New Zealand All Blacks have the ‘Haka’, which is designed to strike fear into the hearts of opponents. Of course we have the Kop and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. As anthems go you could say it’s a multi-purpose song. We use it to inspire and lift our boys, and to strike fear into opponents. It is used in triumph and also in defeat. It’s served us pretty well down the years.

Think of Olympiakos, Chelsea and Milan. These are all games where the power of our battle cry saw us triumph where we had no right to. There have been those who doubt, or even mock its power. Who can forget Marca’s famous “This is Anfield – So What” headline in 2009. I’m sure Rafa didn’t. He probably pinned it to the dressing room wall. In such games you can feel each note in your bones as every Kopite, Main Stander, Anny Roader and even those in the posh Centenary seats belts out the song with gusto.

We’ll need that same power and passion on Wednesday night if we are going to get anything from the game. This is a different Real Madrid, and we are a different Liverpool to the sides that contested the 2009 battle. Yes Madrid will be without Bale, but when it comes to superstars, they have talent in abundance.

In complete contrast we are a team struggling in all departments. In defence we have been a shambles, and up front we lack any sort of cutting edge. It took two own goals and a chaotic last nine minutes to see off bottom of the table QPR on Saturday. In talking to fellow Reds since that game I can really sense their fear and trepidation. On current form it is hard to see anything other than a Madrid win.

I know what you are thinking, these are not inspiring words. I can’t help it; it’s just how I feel. In such moments it is us, the supporters who look to our heroes for words of comfort and, well inspiration. Cue Stevie in his post-match interview at Loftus Road. As the interviewer finished asking him about our chances in the forthcoming titanic encounter, I sat stomach in knots and eagerly awaiting his battle cry.

“They are the best team in the world right now. If we play like that today there’s no chance of beating them.”

Well Stevie that wasn’t exactly the blood curdling ‘they may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom’ cry I was looking for mate. Having said that I don’t he was aiming his comments at the supporters at home. After all, our performance on Wednesday night is not in doubt, is it?

 

 

Regardless of how poorly we have defended, or how blunt in attack we have been, and irrespective of the fact that too often this season the players just haven’t turned up, Anfield will. In our tens of thousands we will bellow out that famous old song, and all of the others. We will boo every time a Madrid player touches the ball, and shout our appreciation of every red tackle. I expect, no Anfield expects that everyone in that ground goes home hoarse and speechless.

Stevie knows this all too well. He is after all a veteran of such battles. I suspect his words were instead aimed at the dressing room not the terrace. His tone may have been matter of fact, his words merely statements of fact, but you can bet he will be more forthright off camera, and so he should.

This squad needs to understand that if they are lucky enough to be granted the awesome privilege of playing on the hallowed turf this week, they will do so not as passive tourists admiring the view. The natives will not be putting on a display for the cameras. It’s not about enjoying the spectacle, it’s frankly far more important than that.

Every song we sing will be a battle cry, a call to arms and nothing short of total commitment will do. Aston Villa is gone, West Ham is but a fading memory and QPR belongs to the history books.  All sins are forgiven. On Wednesday night every man in a red shirt and golden bird on his chest will be carrying the hopes and dreams of a city, and of a fan base that spans the globe. They will be given nothing short our total devotion from the first whistle to the last. This is our historic duty.

Theirs is only to rise to the challenge. To be bigger, faster, stronger and sharper than they have at any time this season.

 

Roy never thought this day would come

Roy never thought this day would come

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

Friends and family of beleaguered England boss Roy Hodgson (67) will tonight hold a round the clock vigil for the national team ‘supremo’,  after it emerged he is at the centre of a row over a rare gaffe. The news follows reports that the self styled ‘King Roy’ has been forced to acknowledge that he made a mistake.

The F.A. is yet to issue an official statement, but an unnamed source has appealed for the Hodgson’s to allowed time and space to come to terms with the disaster, and made it clear that there would be no immediate moves to oust the England boss.

Residents of the small village of Owlville, Croyden have greeted the news with a sense of shock and bewilderment. A woman named locally as Beryl, a regular at the ‘Gala Bingo’ frequented by Roy’s wife Sheila, spoke of her dismay.

“Roy is a lovely man,” she said “I live just across the street. He always waves a cheery hello as he drives off to his office each morning. We are all in shock. This is such a quiet neighbourhood, and to think something like this can happen here, well it’s just awful.”

Another man, who agreed to speak on the promise of anonymity, expressed his complete disbelief. “We all know, because Roy tells us, that the man is always right. The fact that it now appears he got something so terribly wrong makes me question my entire world view.”

So what actually happened? The facts remain sketchy, and there has been a wall of silence surrounding the Hodgson family home until now, but at last some of his closest advisors are finally breaking ranks. Last night a man I met in a bar, claiming to be Hodgson’s agent, told me that the incident had happened in early summer.

“Roy had got home late following an England training session,” the man explained “he was tired and his body ached from the exertion. His wife immediately asked him to go into the garden and prune the rose bushes. They were growing wild and Sheila is very house-proud. The last things she wanted was for their garden to let the side down.

“Roy told her he was tired, and probably wouldn’t be able to do the rose patch justice, but I want to make it clear that at no time did he refuse to do the garden”. It now appears that he probably should have, because what happened next was nothing short of disaster.

His agent continued, “It appears that tired and confused, and worn out by the pressure of carrying the hopes and aspirations of the England squad on his shoulders, Roy made a catastrophic human error. Instead of pulling up the weeds he inadvertently destroyed Sheila’s prize azaleas.

The awful truth sinks in

The awful truth sinks in

Even Sheila admits she probably should have let him rest for a couple of days, but hindsight is twenty-twenty.” The incident, according to Hodgson’s ‘agent’ has place a great deal of strain on the couple, with Roy failing to wake Sheila up with her usual morning coffee ever since. For her part Hodgson’s wife is said to be beside herself with guilt over the incident.

Professor Cyril Bodgitt of popular science website nobodysperfect.com feels that Sheila need not beat herself up too much over the incident. “There isn’t much evidence that you can’t do the garden immediately after a training session,” said Bodgitt (88) pointing out that in his day everybody was tired and it didn’t stop them doing the garden.

Attempts by the Hodgson camp to prove that somehow Liverpool’s poor start to the season may have played a role in the gardening disaster have proved fruitless. It appears that no Liverpool F.C. employees were anywhere near Croyden at the time.

Brendan Rodgers, lamented the issue at a specially convened press conference at Melwood. “Okay look, we have searched our souls, I have fought for my life to explain and to justify, but I can’t,” Said the Ulsterman. “We are left with the uncomfortable, but inescapable truth that Roy was wrong. Okay.”

A shocked Harry Redknapp added his voice to growing calls for calm after the news broke. Speaking from the driver’s window of his car, the QPR boss said, “Roy’s a triffic bloke.”

What next for Roy Hodgson? What next for a grieving nation, who’s whole belief system, has been so cruelly shattered? After all, if such a pinnacle of perfection can be found to be so wantonly lacking, what hope is there for the rest of us?

However, we need not fear as sources, high up in Roy’s inner circle, have confirmed to me – It was actually all Sheila’s fault anyway.

Team Spirit

Team Spirit

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

My daughter has a habit of asking me searching questions. You know the kind, the ones where intuitively the answer seems obvious, but you just can’t find the words to do it justice. It was after the Ludogorets game and she just couldn’t get her head round why I was buzzing at the late drama that had unfolded at Anfield. I wanted to tell her about the highs and the lows, about the incredible bond I feel with the team, about the history of the club, and about how drama is a byword for Liverpool Football Club. I wanted to explain that all of that had been crystalised in that one perfect moment, as the ball nestled in the back of the net in the dying embers of the game.

I obviously spent too long trying to formulate an answer, because she was immediately onto the next. “Dad, do you think the Loch Ness monster is real?” Well yes, obviously, but that’s for a different column. To those who don’t get footy, the way we feel about it seems ridiculous. There are, after all, far more important things going on in the world. Why do we invest so much energy, passion and, lets face it cash, into a bloody game?

All I know is that I couldn’t have been more despondent as I made my way to the game on Saturday. The agony of the Derby, and the last second Jagielka thunderbolt, still lingered and I couldn’t even think about the abject display in Switzerland. We were facing a ‘must win’ tie against a team in form. Worse still they were the most adept in the league at scoring from set pieces. I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence.

It got worse in the pub as I overheard conversations about relegation zones, and fearful conversations about Madrid drubbings, and other apocalyptic type scenarios. Like I say, Liverpool is synonymous with drama. So, you can imagine that I wasn’t in the most upbeat of moods when I finally took my seat on the Kop. It may have been my imagination, but even the ‘You’ll never walk alone’ seemed flat.

The first half had done little to lift the mood, until Adam Lallana put the reds in front right on the stroke of half time. It was a great time to score, yet you sensed there was still a long way to go. Much of the first half had been uninspiring. Rodgers has spoken of the Liverpool shirt being a heavy one, and Ricky Lambert looked like his was lead lined. I desperately want it to work out for Ricky, but he looks like he is struggling with the pressure of playing for his boyhood club. This is a player who scored fifteen goals for Southampton last year. If he can regain a little of that for us, we may yet see a fairy tale ending for him.

Ricky toiling against the Baggies

Ricky toiling against the Baggies

We did see a faint glimpse, as he latched on to a neat through-ball from Skrtel. His first touch was sublime, but the shot was easily dealt with by Foster. As was the case against Everton, Liverpool were doing a decent job, until they reached the final third. The final ball was lacking and the finishing poor. The reds had managed just two shots on target. In truth it was all too easy for West Brom and they would have felt they deserved more going into half time.

From my vantage point our goal looked magical and Match of the Day confirmed I was right. Adam Lallana has been one of the few positives about our season so far, and it was good to see the goal meant as much to him as it did to us. Then came the second half, and usual piece of trade mark madness we have become accustomed to, and this time I’m not solely referring to the defending.

From over one hundred yards away, my fellow Kopites and I felt that Lovren had fouled the player outside the box. “He dived right in there,” said the lad next to me. Inexplicably Michael Oliver and his Linesman, who were much closer than us, awarded a penalty. I’ve watched it since, and it was a very poor decision. Another penalty decision had gone against us. The sense of ‘here we go again’ was palpable.

The Kop wilted and to my shame, I lost belief. We are so anaemic up front, I just couldn’t see us getting a second. Fortunately Brendan and the team had other ideas. Rahem Sterling found himself in the box, there were shouts of handball. I joined in the way you do, even though you saw nothing. Then he looked to have been fouled, I shouted penalty, this time with more conviction. Of course we weren’t getting one.

Sterling had laboured through the game thus far. This is a player who, at nineteen, looks like he is carrying the weight of the team on his shoulders. He badly needs a break in my opinion. However, against West Brom, he added one more tool to his belt. Great players can have bad games, and then in an instant they make one telling contribution that makes up for the mediocrity. Raheem went down, he could have stayed there and appealed in vain for the penalty. It would have only resulted in yet another hard luck tale for the Kop, and added to the growing sense of despondency around the club. Instead he got straight up and squared it to the magnificent Henderson, who confidently beat Foster.

I’ve seen his celebration since, and there is no denying this lads passion and drive. He is a future captain of our club. The remainder of the game was not without nerves. We are Liverpool after all. You can never rule out more drama. Enter Brendan Rodgers. In my opinion the boss has taken some undeserved stick from a vocal minority of late. Against the Baggies he got things spot on in that second half. First bringing on Johnson for Manquillo. I’ve been impressed with the loanee, but he was toiling a bit yesterday. The introduction of Johnson mad a difference, and he actually looked sharp and started to influence things.

Rodgers tactical masterstroke

Rodgers tactical masterstroke

Then came a master stroke. Rodgers took off Coutinho and sent on Lucas. My initial thoughts were that he was looking to shut up shop. Lucas alongside Gerrard hasn’t worked in my opinion, with both trying to do the same job, and usually getting it wrong. There was a sense of unease at the move. We needn’t have worried, It soon became clear that Brendan had something else in mind.

The addition of Lucas, this time, released Gerrard to get further forward and join in the attack. The benefits were immediate and suddenly the Baggies defence had something else to worry about. Even Balotelli seemed to benefit from addition of the skipper to the forward line. Stevie still has a lot to offer in an advanced role, and let’s hope Rodger has seen that.

Oliver somehow found it in his heart to grant us a little more drama, inexplicably finding four minutes of stoppage time, but the reds saw it out. After the gloom of the Derby and the despondency of Basel, once again all was right with the world. That’s why I follow Liverpool, because they can take me on a slalom of emotions like nothing else in life. From the gut wrenching to the glorious. It’s like a bad romance. I wasn’t speaking to them last week, but now they’ve brought back that loving feeling. How long will it last.

Supporters of SOS on the Kop

Supporters of SOS on the Kop

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

Football fans are in revolt. In recent months we have witnessed marches, petitions and campaigns on social media. The game we love is no longer affordable for many of us. Ian Ayre recently gave a speech on ‘how to run a football club effectively’. Everton fans will find out what that means at this seasons derby, paying more than fifty quid to sit in the Anfield Road end.

When I was a kid, It never occurred to me that football had anything to do with politics. I spent my adolescent years in Liverpool, a city perpetually under attack from national government, so I was political. I joined the Labour Party, supported Militant and campaigned against the Poll Tax. Football, though, was a place to escape from all that. It was a place where dreams came true, and, at least in this arena, my city often triumphed. Footy was my favourite waste of time.

A string of stadium disasters, and a botched attempt to introduce ID cards for football supporters, put paid to all of that. Even in my last refuge from the real world, I had become the ‘enemy within’. Class politics was evident everywhere. Football fans always with indifference for much of my life, now we were viewed with contempt.

The post Taylor stadiums brought safer conditions, and multi-billion pound TV deals have seen cash flooding into the game. When I was a kid you never knew who your media moguls and captains of industry supported. Now we know Piers Morgan and Alan Sugar are a pair of cringe-worthy Arsenal and Spurs supporters. Football is the new rock and roll. It’s fashionable to be a fan, you only have to look at the VIP section of the directors box, in the main stand, to know that.

Surely, with the rich and famous on board, we can all sit back and enjoy a golden era of supporting our clubs, right? Well not quite. Liverpool supporters know, more than most, that along with the millionaire sunshine, there’s going to be a bit of rain sometime. Hicks and Gillette dragged our club to the brink of extinction in their quest for profit. They left a bitter legacy, but they also spawned another political movement, Spirit of Shankly (formerly Sons of Shankly).

Some would have you believe this organisation is a clique of hard-line Scouse supporters, who hate ‘out of towners’, and love causing trouble. For the former Fernando Torres of finance, Christian Cecil Purslow, they were a remnant of the old Militant tradition. He famously branded them the ‘Sons of Strikers.’ Could there be a more class laden statement than that? The reality is that Spirit of Shankly was and, albeit to a lesser degree, still is, a mass movement.

Far from being a local affair, they have branches throughout the country and supporters internationally. They are of course political. Why wouldn’t they be? The game is all about politics after all. Are they militant? Some will be, so what if they are? A hero of mine back in the day, was an MP who refused to pay an unjust tax, and went to jail. The late Terry Fields was once asked, “are you a militant?” He replied that he was, but added a definition. “A militant is just a moderate who got off his knees.”

Spirit of Shankly, Among others, played a key role in ridding the club of the two American hucksters. Without them, who knows where we would be. John Henry even admitted as much in the early days of the takeover. However, I get the impression that the relationship between the club and the Union has cooled somewhat since those heady days. All attempts at communication from SOS are brushed aside by the club. For the club, you sense, it’s a case of ‘who will rid us of these troublesome priests?’

Liverpool have established a supporters committee. They would prefer to channel all communication with supporters through this group. For its part the committee is made up of supporters who care passionately about their club. But, should they be the only conduit to the hierarchy? I’d argue there are many voices within the clubs fan-base, SOS are one, and they should be heard alongside the committee.

The committee may well have challenged the club on many issues, such as pricing, but the outcome of this is lamentable. The current pricing policy at Anfield is light years away from affordable for many of us.That’s why Spirit of Shankly continue to speak for me.

In the shadow of Shankly, but would the great man recognise the club?

In the shadow of Shankly, but would the great man recognise the club today?

Ian Ayre, argues that the club are doing all they can to make football affordable for fans. The club, according to him, is a business. Their budget, he says, is set for the next twelve months. There is no more cash in the till for fans. The measly sum of two hundred thousand pounds, set aside to help make away support affordable, will have to do. O.K. Ian, well what about next year? Why not budget for more, next season.

Ayre’s response to the current ‘affordable football’ campaign is nothing but a brush off and, for me, it stinks. The Liverpool I grew up supporting was special. there was an iconic bond between club and supporter. At times it bordered on the mystical. Together we were greater than the sum of our parts. Sadly, for us, our club now seems to be disappearing over the horizon,and there are attempts to marginalise the ‘troublesome priests’. This is a huge mistake. When you are irritated by your critics, Ian,  it usually means they are right.

It is time for Ian Ayre to recognise that there are other voices out there. They are angry and loud, but that’s only because they care. There are buisnesses out there who would kill to have ‘customers’ as passionate about their ‘product’ as that. They would harness them, listen to them, and do all their power to ensure that they continued to be ‘repeat customers’. That the club don’t do this, in the case of SOS and their constituency, leads me to assume that their support is taken for granted. After all, for most supporters, you can’t switch your club allegiance, in the same way you can with a power provider.

Liverpool Football Club is, in my opinion, making a huge mistake. They are missing a golden opportunity to do something unique, to be the first in England to put supporters at the core of it’s business. In doing so they would enhance their reputation globally. Imagine if going to Anfield was within reach for the majority. What if students, the unemployed and the low paid could afford a ticket? Just close your eyes and dream about a day, when I could afford to take all four of my kids to the game. What a world that would be.

The depressing thing is that it is all possible. There are vast riches in the game, there is no need to milk the supporters. yet our club continues to bleed us dry. Bill Shankly never advocated the overthrow of  capitalism. However, he did talk of a socialism, that was all about everybody sharing in the spoils of success. As far as I can see, his vision didn’t involve emptying our pockets in the process.

Half a century on we are still told the club is a ‘family’, yet many of us are being priced out of it. Surely it is time for them to reconnect with the old ethos, that saw this club rise to to the pinnacle of European football. Surely it is time to embrace the Spirit of Shankly.

Penalty Kings

Penalty Kings

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

Rival fans branded us ‘Penalypool’ for all of last season. Strangely, to me, they meant it as an insult, or at least as a way of diminishing our achievements. Of course, those attacks reached hilarious proportions, when we were awarded three penalties in the same game against United at Old Trafford. The fact that it was Mark Clattenburg, who pointed to the spot, only served to fuel the conspiracy theorists claims.

What our critics fail to realise, is that you have to get in, or sometimes barely inside, the opposition box to win a penalty. Then you have to score the damn thing. People who claim the Reds were only successful last time out because of the unusually high number of penalties they won, ignore the fact that many of those penalties were very high pressure situations.

Take Gerrard’s winner against Fulham, as a case in point. What must have been going through his mind, as he stepped up to dispatch the spot kick? His legs must have felt like lead weights, his thoughts scrambled and fragmented. If he misses, the title is gone. If he scores, then there was every chance the Holy Grail would be coming to Anfield. To maintain composure, and score, under those circumstances, takes incredible skill.

The same was true against Ludogorets in our Champions League opener. Here we add the fact that the team had just conceded seconds earlier, after leading. The game was almost up, and Liverpool were staring at a draw that would seem like a defeat. Again the skipper showed he had ice in his veins, and the unerring skill to put the ball away.

So is there anything particularly special about Liverpool and penalties? Or, is it all just sour grapes and bitterness? History suggests that, actually, when it comes to penalty shootouts, our club seems to have, either been leading a charmed life, or has this skill honed to fine art.

We have actually maintained our superiority in this area for forty years.  Last night, as the players raced from the centre circle, to embrace Simon Mignolet, they were probably unaware that this was the 12th time in 14 penalty shootouts, since 1974, that Liverpool had been victorious. Think about how many times the squad, or the manager have changed in that time, and you can’t help but be impressed, at how we have maintained that record.

What a remarkable achievement. How can we explain this? Does the team practice penalties? Do our penalty takers have unique qualities, that separate them from their counterparts? Are we just jammy, as the Blues and Mancs would suggest? Whatever it is, you can be sure they would like to get their hands on it, as would every England manager in the last half century.

Far from being a source of embarrassment, our superiority, in the field of the penalty shootout, is something to marvel at. We are leaders in this area. The German national team are rightfully proud of their prowess from the spot. We should be too.

Alonso levels from the spot in Istanbul

Alonso levels from the spot in Istanbul

Top three Liverpool penalty shootouts of the last forty years

Number One: Istanbul 2005

For the sheer importance of the result, Istanbul will always eclipse all other penalty shootouts for me. The reds hadn’t won a European Cup since 1984. We had stood on the brink of annihilation, and had clawed our way back. Then with legs like liquorice, and tired minds, the boys lifted themselves one last time, to vanquish Milan from 12 yards out. It was the stuff of legend, and will be forever more.

Number Two: Rome 1984

This was Liverpool’s fourth European Cup final. By this stage Reds like me were becoming a bit spoilt. We, or at least I, kind of took success for granted. Of course we were in the final, and why wouldn’t we be, we were Liverpool. However, there was an edge to this. This was Rome, and we were up against Roma, on their home turf. It was a tight game, and when it went to penalties my heart sank.

Would our lads have the nerve to see this out, in the Italians own backyard? When Stevie Nicol missed the first, it felt like our fate was sealed. What Grobbelaar did on the line that night, would later inspire Dudek in Istanbul. The sight of the utterly mad Barney Rubble, doing the craziest celebration ever, after tucking away the winning penalty, will live with me forever.

Number Three: Anfield 2014

This will be controversial. Let’s face it the game, in terms of importance, doesn’t rank highly in the grand scheme of things. A League Cup game, in the early rounds, can hardly compete with a cup final, like say the 2006 Stevie Gerrard Cup Final. I could have gone for sentiment. I took my son to his first cup final against Cardiff, at Wembley in 2012. The look on his face when Gerrard, the other one, missed the last spot kick brought a tear to my eye. Sometimes you can miss the truly remarkable, by focussing on your own narrow perspective.

That’s why for me, what happened last night, has to rank as one of the greatest penalty duels in the last forty years. Regardless of what was at stake, the sheer drama, tension and skill on show, deserves to be recognised. It was like a great rally at Wimbledon. As each of our penalties went in, you prayed that ‘Boro would miss the next. They didn’t, and the pressure was straight back on. I was sick with nerves, and the sense of relief, at the end, was every bit as palpable as any of our cup final victories.