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.
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.
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.
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.
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!