King of the Dwarfs

Posted: July 14, 2015 in Ramblings
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I grew up on a steady diet of Dr Who and Star Trek and these shows fuelled what would turn out to be a lifelong fascination with space. I would read anything Astronomy related that I could get my hands on. I can remember when I first realised that the stars in the night sky were just suns like our own. Did that mean they had planets like Earth orbiting them? Could there be Vulcans or Klingons out there looking back at me? If only.

We now know that there are thousands of known planets orbiting distant stars and while I’ve given up on meeting Spock, I can’t accept we are alone in the vastness of the cosmos. I still get that sense of childlike excitement each time I look skyward on a clear night. It’s hard to escape that feeling that somewhere out there there is a being staring up at our star and thinking the exact same thing.

This is a golden era of space exploration and we are privileged to live through it. In my lifetime there have been some incredible achievements. I was just an infant when Neil Armstrong took that “one small step,” but there has been plenty to inspire and enthral me since.

In particular the Voyager missions in the 70’s and 80’s had me gripped. The sight of such detailed images of the planets on TV and in the papers blew my mind. The colours, the distances involved and the details uncovered about their orbits, moons, atmospheres and temperatures made them more interesting than any fictional universe I had explored before.

Of course, as mesmerising as the Voyager odysseys were, there was one glaring omission. They went on a galactic grand tour of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and sent back the most magical technicolour postcards, but they never reached Pluto. This only served to intensify the mystery surrounding this distant object

Back then of course Pluto was considered the Solar system’s ninth planet; a lone sentinel at the outer limits of the Suns influence. We knew it had a moon and a funny orbit, but we thought it was just a tiny snowball. Thankfully though science would never settle for the near perfect Voyager missions. NASA may have missed out on Pluto over 30 years ago, but they would be back.

Sadly in the ten years that New Horizons has been hurtling towards our distant neighbour, at a mind boggling one million miles per day, Pluto has been stripped of its planetary status. We no longer have nine planets and school books and children’s rhymes have had to be rewritten. As strange as it may sound, I was actually quite disappointed by the move and I still can’t really explain why.

However, there is at least some consolation in the fact that now, once again, we stand on the threshold of yet more exciting discoveries. New Horizons, a machine the size of a grand piano and powered by just enough energy to light a couple of electric bulbs has reached its destination. It’s been an unbelievable ride, clocking up an astonishing 3.6 billion miles.

The science involved in getting there is staggering. When the craft blasted off a decade ago, the true nature of Pluto’s orbit wasn’t known and at one point there were serious concerns that the mission would miss its target completely. However, in an incredible feat of engineering, mathematics and science, New Horizons today rendezvoused with Pluto at a distance of just eight thousand miles from its surface. This is the cosmic  equivalent of hitting a hole-in-one from New York to Los Angeles.

Once again Science has brought human-kind closer to the heavens than any religion ever has. The discoveries being made today will change our understanding of how the solar system was made. It may even inform us as to how the Earth and ultimately ourselves came to be. In just a few hours we will be treated to the most amazing photographs of Pluto and its family of moons.

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Already we have discovered the planet is bigger than we had originally thought. In fact it is larger than any of the known objects in that region of space. It seems that, rather than demoting Pluto, astronomers have actually crowned it King of a new category of ‘Dwarf Planets’. It turns out these objects are by far the most populous. Already we know of ten and there is good reason to believe that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of them in the far reaches of the solar system.

Science is constantly rewriting our understanding of the Universe, and it is likely that one day we will find an object bigger than Pluto, but for now it rightly basks in its new found status.

There is though an even greater cultural significance to this mission. Think of that decade long journey. Consider the vast distances covered and then imagine yourself on that ship. Close your eyes for just a second and picture what the Earth would look like from that distance. How petty would our quarrels and concerns seem, when blessed with that degree of perspective?

While the worlds nations and religions compete for some illusory superiority; they would do well to reflect upon this fundamental lesson and what it teaches us about our place in the cosmos.

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The nineties were a relatively barren period for the Reds. It began with the departure of a true great and the arrival of the wrecking ball that was Graham Souness. I have lauded Souness the player, but as a manager he did the footballing equivalent of paving paradise to put up a parking lot. The consequences of his demolition of the boot room reverberated throughout the decade and it wasn’t until 2001 that the club re-emerged. So it is sharp contrast to the previous two decades glory and triumphalism that I begin the next chapter of Liverpool’s hardest goodbyes.

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Kenny Dalglish (1991).

Kenny Dalglish was, until very recently, the clubs greatest ever player. To The Kop he was King, to me he was God. My bedroom wall was a shrine to the man and he could simply do no wrong. I would have gladly walked a million miles for one of his goals, but fortunately I only had to walk a few to Anfield. I feel blessed to be able to say I saw him play regularly.

His smile lit up the ground when he scored and you had the feeling that, like Shanks before him, we were made for Kenny and he was made for us. When Joe Fagan chose to step down after the ill-fated European Cup final against Juventus, I was delighted that they decided to anoint the King as player-manager. Bob Paisley joined him for a while as special advisor to Kenny. It was a match made in heaven and under Kenny Liverpool played some of the best football of my young life.

With Barnes and Beardsley, Rush and Aldridge Kenny masterminded the Reds dominance of English Football for the remainder of the 80’s. It wasnt easy for him either. In the aftermath of Heysal, the Reds were banned from Europe and Kenny had the job of picking the Club up off the floor and restoring it to greatness once again. He did it magnificently, winning three League Titles and two FA Cups in just six years.

He famously completed ‘the double’ against our city rivals and came agonisingly close to a second on two occasions, losing the FA cup to Wimbledon in ’88 and that agonising title decider against Arsenal at Anfield in ’89.

In February 1991 Liverpool sat 3 point s clear at the top of the table. They had just fought one of the most titanic battles ever, against our neighbours from across the park. Four times they had gone ahead, only to be pegged back each time. The game ended 4-4. As a performance it was unrecognisable and so to was the Kenny Dalglish who sat in the dugout.

History had caught up with the man we call The King. The pressure of carrying the club and city through not one, but two stadium disasters had proved unbearable. He looked a broken man in his goodbye press conference. We have only learned the full extent of the mental turmoil he was suffering since, but at the time it was truly devastating news.

I was in work when the news broke. I remember I was sat at my desk when the supervisors phone rang. I heard her say “you’re joking!” and there was something about her tone of voice that made you sit up and listen. I looked around the office and notice everyone else had heard it to. She hung up and with a look that you normally see in someone about to announce the death of statesman. Then, to the whole office she said “Dalglish has resigned”.

I was dumbfounded and as I looked around I could see everyone else was too. Even the blues looked genuinely gob-smacked. I can remember leaving work and walking past the ‘Echo’ billboards and still not really believing it. Looking back I still believe that, had he just taken a short break instead of resigning, we’d have won many more titles under Kenny.

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Roy Evans (1998).

They called it the kindest sacking in the club’s history. It was anything but for me and it marked a sad end to a glittering coaching career at Anfield. Evans was part of the Anfield Boot-Room tradition and for me he fully deserved to follow in the foot-steps of the great men who preceded him. Perhaps had he followed Fagan in 1985 instead of Kenny…who knows? For Roy its all ifs, buts and maybes.

Under Evans Liverpool played some of the most fluid attacking football in the league. The likes of Fowler, McManaman, Owen and Collymore burst onto the scene and at times showed they could tear teams to shreds. However, in an odd parallel with the Rodgers side of 2013-14 his Liverpool team just couldn’t defend. He would describe the famous 4-3 victories over Newcastle as ‘Kamikaze football’ and he was right. Sadly he never managed to fix the problem.

Thankfully Roy didn’t finish his managerial stint without a trophy, winning the League Cup against Bolton in 1995. He also took us close to the title in 1997 and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup-Winners Cup. It will be for the ‘men in white suites’ that Evans reign will be most remembered sadly. The pain of that FA Cup final defeat to United will linger for many reasons. As Evans left the club in ’98, I remember there being a piece about it on the telly. It was one of the local news shows and they ended the clip by playing “Walk Away” by Cast. Heart-breaking.

Liverpool's coach Rafael Benitez, holds the trophy after Liverpool's victory in the UEFA Champions League Final between AC Milan and Liverpool at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in  Istanbul, Turkey,Wednesday May 25, 2005. Liverpool won the match 3-2 on penalties.(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Rafa Benitez (2010).

Rafa replace Gerrard Houllier in 2004. The Frenchman had endeared himself to Liverpool supporters by solving the club’s defensive woes and ending their trophyless run. The treble season was one of the best years I have experienced as a Red. Perhaps it was made sweeter by the fact it had been so long since we had seen such success, but it was a tremendous achievement in its own right. However, by the time the man from Spain was saying yes to Rick Parry, Houllier had exhausted much of the esteem in which he was held. It was a sad end to his spell in charge, but while I had never called for his head, it felt that his time had run its course.

The same can not be said for the way it felt when Christian Cecil Purslow dumped Rafa in 2010. It really hurt to see Rafa leave and the appointment of Roy Hodgeson as his successor was like salt in a gaping wound.

Rafa embraced Liverpool from the moment he walked through the door and The Kop loved him. I remember singing his name relentlessly during one game, I swear we sang that ‘La Bamba’ song for a whole half. Their was a tremendous sense of optimism in 2004, despite the clubs decline in Gerrard’s last season in charge. It turned out we had every reason to believe things were going to get better.

While our league form failed to pick up, Rafa took us first to the League Cup final and then famously to the summit of European football in his first season and that’s where we remained throughout his reign. His detractors need to remeber that at one point Liverpool were ranked number one in Europe under Benitez. His achievements are bewildering when you consider the mess the club was in throughout his tenure.

The team he had assembled so meticulously barely had time to realise its full potential. Steven Gerrard recently described them as a ‘team of men’ and bemoaned the fact that they didn’t stay together longer. “It kills me because I know we would have won titles” he said and he was dead-right. The fact that the Liverpool team of Reina, Hyypia, Carragher, Alonso, Gerrard, Mascherano and Torres broke apart had nothing to do with Rafa and everything to do with the clubs perilous financial position.

Benitez was forever at war with Hicks and Gillett, but I always felt he fighting for us. Rafa still keeps a home on the Wirral and it’s widely believed he would have swam the Mersey for the chance to return. Rafa has gone on to win things at every club he’s been at since Liverpool. It was nothing short of insanity to let him go, but back then the lunatics had well and truly taken over at Anfield. He’s at his boyhood club now and I wish him every success.

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Sami Hyypia (2009).

Signed by Houllier for a ridiculous £2.6 million, Sami Hyypia was the bargain of the decade. Liverpool’s defence were a shambles before the Fin joined us and he rightly went on to captain the club. Hyypia’s trophy hall would be the envy of all but a select few in the Premier League. FA cups, League Cups, Super Cups, UEFA and European Cups. The only one missing was the League Championship.

Sami was to come agonisingly close to winning that one under both Houllier and Benitez. His departure was another of those strange decisions we’ve become used to over the years. For me we should have offered him whatever contract he wanted to stay. Instead we allowed him to move on.

Who can forget the site of him hoisted into the air by his team-mates after his last game, desperately trying to wipe the tears from his eyes. Yet another player who joined the Reds from foreign shores only to fall in love with the place. The feeling was and still is mutual. After ten magnificent years in the Liverpool back four Sami Hyypia deserves his place in Anfield folklore.

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Jamie Carragher (2013).

He may have started out as a blue, but few would doubt his red credentials now. Carragher has been the embodiment of The Kop on the pitch for the best part of his career. It wasn’t always the case and in his early days he wasn’t everybody’s cup-of-tea. Even under Houllier he seemed to struggle to nail down a position, playing all across the back four and even as a holding midfielder.

Under Rafa he was transformed him into one of the best Centre-Backs in Europe and for me it’s a miracle that nobody came in for him during that period. I can only assume that clubs underestimated him. Maybe they thought he was a local lad playing above his level. Perhaps they thought he couldn’t replicate those blood and thunder performances anywhere else. Thankfully we will never know.

When The Kop dream of a team of Carraghers it is his work ethic they sing about. There is no player in recent history who has worked harder than Jamie to get where he did. His seminal performance will always be Istanbul. With every muscle screaming for mercy Carragher pushed on. He threw himself into tackle after cramp inducing tackle and kept Liverpool in the game long enough to reach penalties.

It was a sad day when Liverpool allowed him to leave for a career on TV. Jamie may not have cried after his last game, but those of us who had the privilege to be at that match struggled to hold back the tears. He almost scored in that game too. What a fitting tribute that would have been. When Jamie Carragher looks back on his Liverpool career he can do so with his head held high. It will be along time before we see his like again.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19:  Steven Gerrard of Liverpool thanks the support after  the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on October 19, 2013 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Steven Gerrard (2105).

So we come to the present and perhaps the hardest of goodbyes. With the departure of Gerrard, Liverpool have not only lost a tremendous player, but they have lost their heartbeat. For any club to have a player of his quality is a rare blessing. For that player to be a local boy, brought up in the academy, who lives and breathes the club can only be described as priceless.

Steven Gerrard is quite simply irreplaceable. He has been as important to Liverpool Football club over the last 17 years as Shankly, Paisley or Dalglish were. That may seem a huge exaggeration. Maybe it is, but before you dismiss it out of hand ask yourself this question. How many trophies would Liverpool have won in those 17 years without him?

For much of his career Steven was Liverpool Football Club. Only once or twice in all that time was he surrounded by anywhere near the talent his genius deserved. It breaks my heart that he never won the Premier League. His last season was not a fitting finale for the captain, but he is still the greatest player to ever wear the Liver Bird on his chest. I may never see his likes in my lifetime. No more heroes any-more!

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

The Kop of Liverpool FC

It’s been said many times, perhaps most poetically by Joni Mitchell. It’s a cliche now, but it’s usually true. You often don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. While that might not be exactly true of the global Kop and their relationship with our former number eight; the sight of him being presented to a capacity crowd of Los Angelinos yesterday certainly rammed home the point. The Gerrard shaped hole in our midfield will take some filling, but at Anfield we have been here many times before.

As I sat watching the various clips and reading reports of Stevie’s inauguration across the pond, my mind drifted back to the many greats who have left us wanting more down the years. It’s a mark of how blessed we are as fans to have watched so many true heroes wear the famous Red or grace the Anfield dugout. It’s a testament to their talent that each of them left us heartbroken when they left. Here are my most memorable from 1970-1990.

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Bill Shankly (1974).

I was 7 when Shanks left Liverpool. In all honestly I don’t remember the now famous Tony Wilson vox-pops on the streets of Liverpool, when he broke the news and the hearts of an adoring public, announcing that the great man had retired. Of course I have watched them countless times since and they always bring a tear to my eye. How utterly irreplaceable he must have seemed back then. How hollow and crushed must the people who worshipped him have felt in 1974.

Obviously Liverpool were able to replace Shankly. They did so by appointing a man who would go on to become the most successful English manager of all time; but they could never replace his charisma, wit or the connection he had with the supporters. I was too young to feel the impact back then, but it’s a mark of how big a loss it was that many of us still feel it today.

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Kevin Keegan (1977).

I regard it as a great shame that Keegan isn’t held in the same regard as other Anfield greats by Liverpool fans. To the younger generations of The Kop he is probably seen as a Newcastle legend, but not to me. Forget George Best, Kevin Keegan was the first football superstar. As a kid growing up it felt like he was never off the telly. Maybe that’s not a good thing, but he contributed massively to the mystique surrounding both the club and the city for me.

As a young Scouser there was evidence all around me that my city and the team I supported was special. Liverpool had given birth to the greatest band of all time, the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, represented the Huyton constituency (birthplace of Steven Gerrard), we had Bill Shankly, the best football team in the world and Kevin Keegan. It was paradise.

Keegan won two UEFA Cups and a European Cup. He won the FA Cup and League Titles. He scored spectacular goals and he had the crowd on their feet every time he burst into the box. They said his partnership with Toshack was telepathic. Of course it wasn’t. That would be to insult his talent. Keegan was just a great footballer.

I simply couldn’t believe it when I found out he had chosen to leave us for some team in Germany. Hamburg? Who the hell were they? The cynics, my Dad included, said “It’s all about money these days lad”. I was crushed and the sense that the magic was coming to an end felt very real. Shanks had gone, the Beatles had split and we had some fella called Callaghan in number 10.

My mate Dave threatened to stop watching football altogether now that Keegan was gone. Fortunately we managed to talk him down off that particular ledge. The arrival of Dalglish from Celtic the following season eventually helped us all move on, but that was one difficult summer.

A European Tradition That Goes Back To the 70's

A European Tradition That Goes Back To the 70’s

Bob Paisley (1983).

Quite simply the most successful manager in the English game. He was never Knighted, but he didn’t need such a meaningless trinket – he had three European Cups; a feat never bettered. He won those three cups in a glorious period for the club that started in Rome in 1977 and ended in Paris in 1981. Liverpool were Kings of Europe and we owed it all to Bob.

Paisley famously stood in the dressing room and told a shell-shocked team, still recovering from the loss of Bill Shankly, that he ‘didn’t even want the job’. Just imagine what he might have achieved if he had. Six League Titles and and three European Cups in just 9 years. Always thought of as a quiet man (his old headmaster had told him, if you speak softly people will try harder to listen to you) Paisley was just as witty as Shanks. When referring to his glorious spell in charge, he would quip It wasn’t all good times you now. One year we finished second.’

Bob was an Everyman and for me he is summed up best by this quote, “There are those who have made more money in football than me, or who are more famous than me; but none have enjoyed it more than me.” Under Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish Liverpool fire smouldered on for the remainder of the eighties. However, the years since have shown that Bob Paisley was truly irreplaceable. We will never see his likes again, but we can dream of what might have been if he had carried on a little longer.

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Graham Souness (1984).

For six years Souey was the heartbeat of the Reds midfield. At times he was imperious. Occasionally he was brutal, but he always gave everything in a red shirt. He could create and score goals, but he could also act as the destroyer. He would frequently snuff out the opposition before they could get into their stride.

His team-mates nick-named him ‘Champaign Charlie’ and Alan Hansen famously stated that if Souness was chocolate he would eat himself. This was a man in the peak of his powers, a great in the making and he knew it. His arrogance off the pitch drew only friendly fire from his team-mates because they knew t was the rocket fuel that drove him on it.

In 1984 we knew he was going. I remember there had been rumours flying around that Europe’s elite were looking at him. There wasn’t the movement between continental clubs that there is now, but Liverpool were huge and the giants of Europe looked on enviously at the talent on display at Anfield. Keegan had already taught us that, while it was unfathomable to us, Liverpool’s greats could definitely be persuaded to go.

I remember a game at Anfield in his last season. If it wasn’t his last at home, it will have been one of them. I was on The Kop and I can recall us singing ‘Souness must stay’ throughout the game. Of course he went on to lift the European Cup that season, our fourth and the fifteenth trophy of his Liverpool career, before joining Sampdoria in Italy. Souness wasn’t a home-grown idol, but he commanded as much respect and admiration from Reds fans. His loss was a bitter pill to swallow.

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Ian Rush (1987).

When Ian Rush left for Juventus in 1987 many of us felt we would never find anyone as prolific. Rush’s departure was hard to take, but there was a sense that football politics was at work here. The despair for me was tempered a little by the fact that this was part of the healing process between Liverpool and the Italian giants following the Heysal stadium disaster. These were dark days for the club.

Rush had been incredible for Liverpool. When he scored Liverpool didn’t lose (apart from one game I can’t bear to mention). He was to put it quite simply a goal machine, but that doesn’t seem to do him justice. It was the range of goals he scored that set him apart. He could score from all angles, with both feet or his head. He could score on a rainy night in Luton and on the biggest of occasions. He was fast and powerful and his slender frame made his ability to track back, defend and hold the ball up all the more miraculous.

I was devastated when Rush left Liverpool. We have never had a striker like him in my lifetime, in terms of sheer cnsidtency over many seasons. Fowler was a great, but his flame flickered all too briefly. Torres and Suarez were equally gifted, but weren’t here long enough to come close enough to Rush’s legend. He scored an incredible 139 goals in 224 appearances for Liverpool during his first spell. Fortunately for us us there was to be a ‘second coming’ and he was back after just one year in Italy to plunder another 90 goals in a further 245 outings.

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John Aldridge (1989).

In coping with the loss of Ian Rush Liverpool not only sought to replace his goals, but they actually went for a look alike. He may not have had the pace of Rush or his ability to defend from the front, but Aldridge was the supreme poacher. He plundered an unbelievable 50 goals in just 83 appearances. It is hard to imagine such a tally in the modern game. It is Messi and Ronaldoesque.

To Kopites of all generations John Aldridge had everything it takes to become an Anfield favourite. He was a Scouser born an bread, he absolutely adored Liverpool football club and he scored goals for fun. Aldo was affected badly following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.

I’ve seen interviews where he talks of thoughts he had about quitting the game. Thankfully he didn’t and he played a key role in getting Liverpool back to an emotional reunion with blue half of the city at Wembley. The Reds, of course went on to win the FA Cup that year.

Aldridge never wanted to leave Liverpool and at least on The Kop the feeling was mutual. His last game was one of the most emotional ever at Anfield, with the player throwing his boots, sock, shorts and shirt into the famous terrace he had stood on a child, before running off in is underwear. I still find it hard to decipher why Liverpool could ever contemplate selling such a prolific goalscorer in the peak of his powers, but that’s exactly what we did.

Over two decades Liverpool Football Club had delivered unprecedented glory. Silverware poured into the trophy cabinet and the homecoming parades were as regular as Christmas in any Scouse calendar. During that spell we have met and fallen in love with some genuine legends and icons of the game. In my life I have loved them all.

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

Liverpool FC: My Lifetime XI

Posted: June 22, 2015 in Family

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As a Red born in 1967, I have been truly blessed. I can boast that I have seen many of the true greats in the flesh, but that only makes the task of selecting my lifetime eleven all the more difficult. I am bound to leave out some true legends. All I can hope for here is to squeeze as many of my heroes into the eleven as I can.

I have gone for a rock solid defence with attacking full backs, a midfield of real hard men, all of whom could score goals and what, in my opinion, would be the most prolific strike-force of all time.

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Goalkeeper: Ray Clemence

Signed the year I was born by the great Bill Shankly, Clemence went on to become an ever-present for Liverpool making a massive 665 appearances for the Reds before departing for Spurs in 1981. He must be the most decorated English goalkeeper, winning 3 European Cups, 5 League Championships, 1 FA Cup, 1 League Cups and 2 UEFA Cups.Back when I actually gave a toss about the England national team it used to really annoy me that Shilton ever got a start of Clemence. I would later grow to love Grobelaar, but Clemence will always be our greatest keeper for me and I will always remember him for  the 78/79 season when we won the league and Ray only conceded 16 goals.

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Right Back: Phil Neal

Nicknamed Zico by the Kop, Phil was ice cool from the spot and often waded in with important goals. He narrowly pips Steve Nicol in my list. He is also the clubs most decorated player having collected eight league titles, four League Cups, five Charity Shields, four of our five European Cups, one UEFA Cup and one Super Cup in just eleven years. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea these days, but Neal is undoubtedly a club legend. I went on a stadium tour recently and met the man himself. I always knew he had a record for the longest spell of consecutive games (365) but I learned that he had played a number of them with a broken foot. He was so scared of losing his place he would stuff his boots with newspaper. An incredible servant for the Reds.

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Left Back: Alan Kennedy

I did see Alec Lindsay play, but I really can’t remember much about him. Kennedy, nicknamed Barney Rubble will always hold a special place in Liverpool history for Reds of a certain vintage. He only scored 20 goals for the Reds but many of them helped us clinch trophies. Who can forget him walking through the Madrid defence late in the game in Paris to deliver our third European Cup, or his wild celebrations after he scored the winning penalty in Rome in ’84. I always got the impression he was a big character in the dressing room and very much part of our success during that period.

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Centre Back: Alan Hansen

Without doubt the greatest centre back to wear a red shirt in my lifetime. Consummate in defence, he could also carry the ball out and set up attacks and putting the opposition on the back-foot. Hansen played a key role in the Reds record breaking season in which they only conceded 16 goals, a feat made even more remarkable when you consider the league was 42 games back then. Like all the players of that generation Hansen’s love affair with the club remains as strong as ever and the feeling is mutual.

UEFA Champions League Final - AC Milan v Liverpool

Centre Back: Jamie Carragher

This was tough. Hansen’s position was guaranteed, the role of his side-kick could have one to any number of contenders. Phil Thompson, Tommy Smith, Mark Lawrenson, Emlyn Hughes and Sami Hyypia. In the end I have gone with Carragher because for me no Liverpool player has ever worked harder to get to the top that this lad. No defender before him has single handedly carried the back four the way he did. Hansen and others had the luxury of playing alongside sheer quality. Jamie at times was Liverpool’s last line. His performance in Istanbul alone is deserving of a hall of fame place. A team of Carraghers wouldn’t score many but no team would work harder.

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Right Midfield: Jimmy Case

Another hard working Scouser who knew how to tackle. Jimmy left nothing on the pitch and could score the type of goals that only Riise would dream about. He scored 46 from midfield in 269 appearances. His is a Roy of the Rovers story that starts with a career playing for South Liverpool and ends with him winning the European Cup and many other honours. With Jimmy in the middle of the park the opposition would get no peace.

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Centre Midfield: Steven Gerrard

Quite simply the greatest player ever to pull on the red shirt. A captain, a Scouser and a genius. I’ve lost count of the amount of times Gerrard saved Liverpool or lifted them to victory. For a good decade he was Liverpool Football Club. Steven had everything. He could tackle, shoot, score, pass, defend and create. He played everywhere except in goal and his performance in the Ataturk in 2005, a game where he covered every blade of grass in the cause of his team was legendary. Gerrard scored in every major cup-final. Many will point to the fact that he never won the title, but given the squads he played in over the years he can be rightly proud of his trophy haul.

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Centre Midfield: Graham Souness

I just had to get Souness into the team. His managerial career may have been a bust, but as a player he was untouchable for Liverpool. I remember his last game at Anfield and the Kop refusing to leave after the game until he came back onto the pitch to receive an ovation. “Souness must stay” they chanted, but the deal with Sampdoria was already done. Before Gerrard came along I would have had this tough tackling Scot down as Liverpool’s greatest ever midfielder. Souness had an astonishing passing range, a terrific shot, could score goals and nobody would argue with him on the pitch. He was a genuine hard man and you’d have to say he would spend most of his playing career serving bans if he played today. Nevertheless he is up there with the greats and would have to be part of any Liverpool eleven in my opinion.

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Left Midfield: John Barnes

When Kenny signed Barnes from Watford for a bargain £900,000 it was to signal some of the most exciting football I have ever witnessed at Anfield. With him in the team the Reds simply blew the opposition away time and again. He was irresistible and when he got the ball the sense of anticipation in the crowd was palpable. He could dribble, shoot, score and create goals. Possibly the most exciting player to play for the club in my lifetime. Many will say Suarez deserves that title, but Barnes stayed with us longer and won trophies. I firmly believe had he had the chance to play for us in Europe, he’d have brought another European Cup or two.

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Striker: Ian Rush

Quite simply a goal machine. I remember him returning from a prolonged spell out the side with a broken leg only to score a hat-trick. Many say Fowler was the most natural goalscorer to pull on the shirt, but Rush did it over a much longer period. His strike rate was astonishing, 345 goals in 660 appearances. When  Rush scored Liverpool almost always won.When Liverpool sold him to Juve it broke my heart. I remember finding out that he was coming back on Ceefax! (that was just a crap internet for the younger readers among you). I was delighted and phoned everyone I knew. He has to be one of the best strikers in the clubs history.

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Striker: Kenny Dalglish

As a kid growing up, this man was a God to me. My bedroom was like a shrine to him. He was unbelievable to watch and the sight of him, arms held a loft a great big grin on his face after he had scored became one of the most iconic images in football. I was privileged to see him play and he was every bit as good as his legend says he was. In particular the partnership he struck up with Rush was exceptional. Dalglish was a goal scorer and a creator. He came to the club a relative unknown as I remember. He was replacing a superstar in Kevin Keegan. He didn’t take long to become a Kop favourite though and his goal against FC Bruge to win the 1978 European Cup Final capped a memorable first season on Merseyside. He will forever be The King and he is definitely cooler than The Fonz.

So, that’s my lifetime eleven. Everyone of them is a world-beater. However, you only really get a sense of how blessed with talent our club has been, when you consider those I left out.

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

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Informed sources suggest that the Club’s search for a new back-room team are coming to an end. The highly rated Dutch coach Pepin Lijnders’ name has been mooted for several days and speculation is rife that another more experienced assistant joining Brendan’s team soon. These may be the most significant appointments in the clubs recent history and they simply cannot afford to get them wrong.

Even before John W Henry’s posse rode into town it was clear things were going to have to change. Few of us expected FSG to buck the trend in football and hand Brendan a reprieve. Even those who wanted to see him given one final sip at the last chance saloon held little hope he would get a chance to take it. Managers seldom escape such a slump these days. Brendan may still be holding a dead man’s hand but for now he’s still at the table.

So with no new Sheriff in town attention has turned to his deputies. From the outside it seems a highly unusual step for a club to retain faith in their manager but show his faithful assistants the door. Many have suggested that Rodgers should have followed them on principle. Loyalty is a precious commodity in all walks of life, but in a team setting it is priceless. When you go to battle you have to know that each and everyone of your people are right by your side.

This was the ethos that underpinned the famous old boot room, summed up with classic understatement by the great Bob Paisley. When asked by Brian Reade to explain the mentality at the club during his period of unparalleled success, he replied that when you’re lost in the fog you find your way home if you all stick together. Liverpool find themselves in the mother of all pea-soupers right now and it looks like we are all wandering off in different directions.

It may have been a move calculated to show faith in their man, but the net effect has been to weaken him severely.  It appears to be yet another example of the owners confused and at times worrying approach to managing the football side of the club. We may yet see a method in their madness, but for now they are doing little to convince us that they have worked out what it takes to lead Liverpool back to the top. They came to win, but right now they are on the canvas and referee is counting them out.

So we meander through another summer transfer window. Social media is full of sarcastic and divisive attacks on the club and the manager from our own fan-base. You sense a groundswell of negativity that threatens the season before it has even begun. Camps are already deeply entrenched and my fear is, that when the season finally gets under-way, nothing short of perfection will prevent all out war.

If FSG truly believe in their man, then they have a very cock-eyed way of showing it on the current evidence. If they are to avoid further undermining the manager, then they have to get almost every decision right this summer and that includes their handling of back-room appointments.

Whatever you think of Brendan Rodgers you surely want him to succeed right? If you are a supporter of his then that seems obvious, but even if you don’t rate him, as a Liverpool fan you must want him to prove you wrong – no? Of course I am being deliberately provocative here. In truth I am speaking directly to Rodgers fiercest opponents.

You may have kidded yourself that it would be painful, but ultimately for the greater good to sacrifice next season in order to force a managerial change. How many times are we going to say this? Are we going to become like Newcastle supporters, chanting “You don’t know what your doing” at Brendan from behind the dug-out? If so, then we are going to make his ultimate demise the greatest self-fulfilling prophecy in the history of….well prophecies.

Surely if he get’s it right, then we all win. If he doesn’t despite the full backing of the club and the fans, then it will be justifiably the end for him. The owners may have fudged the end-of-season review, but we can’t. If Rodgers is to start the season as manager, then he has to be given complete support from the Board, the dressing-room, The Kop and crucially the back-room. This is the only way out of the fog for us now.

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In reality the changes to Rodgers supporting cast has the potential to become a double-edged sword. If FSG get them wrong they will further undermine Rodgers; get them right and it could spark an unlikely turnaround for the Irishman.

With the departure of Marsh and Pascoe, the appointment of Lijnders seems fairly a fairly uncontroversial one. He is a young rising star and highly regarded. His methods are perfectly in-sync with those of the manager’s  and at 32 he represents little threat to Brendan’s authority.

However, the second appointment needs careful consideration if we are to avoid the impression of a ‘manager in waiting’. Surely if they wanted someone else in post, then they should have acted decisively and made a complete change. They haven’t done this, so they now have to act in such a way that gives Brendan every chance to succeed. If he fails then there should be no doubt where the blame lies.

If they get this right, then there may be the smallest chink of light through the fog for us. No club in this country can match the template Liverpool produced for Boot-Room excellence in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.The Reds boasted one of the greatest dynasty’s in football and their legacy was silver-ware by the shed-load. It spurned five managers and dozens of trophies.

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All of this success was built on a rock solid team ethic, both on and off the pitch. These men were like one mind acting in concert to achieve success that, at the start seemed unimaginable. Anfield was the biggest toilet in Liverpool when Shankly arrived. It had the biggest trophy cabinet in English Football by the time Graham Souness demolished the Boot-Room in the 90’s. All of this was built on a great back-room team, who bought the best players they could afford and collectively marshalled them into a machine that would dominate both home and abroad.

There will be much debate over the signings Liverpool make this summer. On the transfer front it is yet another tediously make-or-break window for the club. Of course we must invest in quality. However, for all their importance, changes on the field may be far less significant than those off it.

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

Originally posted on Jeff Goulding:

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The Night Bus

Stop #3

The Driver’s Tale

I never rode the bus, never. Sharing a ride with anyone else was an anathema. My life to that point had been all about me and as far as I was concerned it always would be. Believe me I’ve had a lot of time to mull over my decision making that night. It tortures me sometimes, but I still can’t fathom why I chose to climb aboard. I can only assume that somehow I was meant to.

Just a matter of minutes earlier I was being vomited into the night through the doors of a bar. The staircase to the street had been steep and dark. I remember the sensation of being on an escalator, driven forward by the pressure of bodies behind and lacking any control over pace or direction. What a great metaphor for where I find myself now.

The…

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The Night Bus

Stop #3

The Driver’s Tale

I never rode the bus, never. Sharing a ride with anyone else was an anathema. My life to that point had been all about me and as far as I was concerned it always would be. Believe me I’ve had a lot of time to mull over my decision making that night. It tortures me sometimes, but I still can’t fathom why I chose to climb aboard. I can only assume that somehow I was meant to.

Just a matter of minutes earlier I was being vomited into the night through the doors of a bar. The staircase to the street had been steep and dark. I remember the sensation of being on an escalator, driven forward by the pressure of bodies behind and lacking any control over pace or direction. What a great metaphor for where I find myself now.

The air outside was crisp and it froze the sweat on my forehead and back. The feeling was glorious and I sucked it in, allowing the night to fill me up. It was so good to be alive and I felt invincible. Of course, I now realise how fragile such delusions can be.

Amy was just behind me. I ran into her and her friends earlier in the evening. I had been stood alone at the bar and she had made a bee-line for me. The two guys she was with didn’t seem to mind, so I tagged along with them. I had been bored and they seemed like fun.

She was laughing as she stumbled into the street. I don’t even remember what she was so amused about. I had said something that tickled her. I was funny back then, always the entertainer and not even an unpleasant but necessary run in with a heckler had silenced her merriment. I could ignore him interrupting the act. That was an occupational hazard. Besides putting pricks like him in his place was part of the fun.

Problem was he kept it after I’d left the stage and followed me into my dressing room. I still had blood on my shoes and pants. Amy had shrieked as my foot struck his face, but I actually thought it turned her on a little bit.

I could have stayed with her for the night, or joined the others on a tour of city’s pubs and clubs. Instead I chose to leave. Always leave them wanting more, or so the saying goes. I was full of that narcissistic bullshit in those days. Sometimes I wonder how I stayed upright, given the weight of my bloated ego. Having said that, it was a happier and stronger me and that me never saw the tiniest glimpse of what was to come.

Besides I had Beth waiting for me back at the house. Truth was, after the exertions of that night, I had nothing left to give anyway. It had been a tough crowd and the after-show ‘party’ had left me spent.

Matthew Street was awash with bodies, each of them soaked in beer and cheap cider. I remember a scuffle erupting outside Flannagan’s. Two teenagers who could barely stand, let alone fight, were doing their best to look hard. I put my arm around Amy and pulled her close. She pressed herself into me and it felt good.

“You act like a tough guy,” She said “but you’re more than that aren’t you?”

“Nah I’m really not.” I smirked.

“You can’t kid me funny man.”

I looked down at her upturned face and immediately wanted to kiss her, but Jeff and Karl put paid to that.

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“Get a fucking room.” They were on top of us now and their laughter made my stomach knot.

I flipped them my index finger  without looking back and walked on. They had no idea I was letting them off lightly. Without even thinking about it I had released my hold on Amy. I’d already started to let her go.

I think she sensed the separation and it all got a little awkward for a bit, before finally she broke the silence. Her voice was all nerves and embarrassment and I realise now that her obvious vulnerability probably fuelled my arrogance.

“You want to share a cab?”

“We’re going in opposite directions aren’t we?” I knew what she meant. There was no need to add to her unease, but that was me back then. I always had to be in control and I got off on making people squirm.

“Well, yeah, but you could come back to mine for a coffee or…..” She smiled and I remember being overwhelmed by the sense of power.

“Sounds great,” I said allowing just enough of a pause to watch her smile grow, before ruthlessly wiping it away. “But I’ve got to be up early tomorrow. You don’t want to see me in the morning without my beauty sleep, believe me.” I laughed, but she didn’t reciprocate.

Sometimes I go back to that night in my head. I watch that scene play out in my mind and I scream at the idiot playing games. I’d be out there free now if only I could tell him what was coming. It would have been useless though, because even if I could go back there and grab him by his stupid Pierre Cardin shirt and tell him what a fool he was, he wouldn’t listen. Him and me you see, we’re altogether two different guys.

Jeff and Karl were stoned and couldn’t stop giggling. I told Amy she should stay out with them. No need for her to go home just because I was. Then I started spouting some pretentious bollocks about the night being ‘pregnant with possibilities,’ before calling out “I’ll call you” as I walked away.

I actually wasn’t lying. Beth still had plenty of life left in her, but I’d eventually grow tired and have to let her go. It was always good to have a replacement lined up. It would save me going to the effort of hunting down another plaything.

It was around two in the morning and Town was just getting started. Half naked girls teetered across Whitechapel, dodging cars and pretending to be offended by the cat-calls that came their way. The smell of spice and grease filled the air and I drank it all in, the sights, the sounds, the aromas of the night.

It was all magic to me and for a moment I thought about heading back into the bars and clubs alone. There was adventure to be had, conquests to be made, but I really didn’t like to leave Beth on her own too long.

Our paths collided about three of four days earlier. I found her crying in the doorway of a bar on Slater Street. She had a black eye and her lip was cut. It had been so easy to get her back to my place and she’d been there ever since.

As I turned the corner into Williamson Square I almost tripped on a loose shoelace. A couple of drunks laughed as I stumbled and I quelled an urge to chase after them. My shoes were badly scuffed after my earlier run-in with the idiot in the club. I hadn’t realised I’d kicked him so hard.

By now you will have realised I’m not a good guy. There’s a darkness behind all comedians right? Well I don’t really know about the rest, but it’s true for me. I take no shit from anybody and if that means people get hurt, then that’s how it goes. I told the others he was still breathing when we tossed him in the rubbish skip at the back of the club; he probably was.

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The guy was an arse-hole anyway. He was a big drunk one at that and he seemed to be on a mission to humiliate me from the start of my act. I was furious, but I probably would have let it go until he chose to follow me back-stage. I couldn’t have him showing me up in front of my new friends, so I put him down. He’d clearly been on the ale all day and his reflexes were shocking. It really wasn’t a fair fight. I remember chuckling to myself as I approached the terminus on Roe Street. The look on his stupid face when I hit him; he really didn’t know what hit him.

I was aiming for the taxi-rank that night. It wasn’t my way to travel with the masses, but I had to go past the bus-stop to get there. It was empty apart from some tramp slumped against the shelter. The taxi rank was just across the road and a crowd had already begun to assemble there.

I was on the verge of stepping off the kerb and running across the road to join the queue when I spotted a poster someone had pasted onto the perspex next to the routine bus schedule.

‘Night Bus. New Service.’

It looked like someone had taken exception to the sign. There had been an attempt to scratch it away. It actually looked like there were claw marks across the poster and I wasn’t sure if there was just a faint tinge of blood too. Actually it was probably just nail-polish, but vodka shots and strong lager bring out the dramatist in me.

Despite the vandal’s best efforts, I could make out that the service was due to start tonight. I checked my wrist-watch and realised it was just a actually only a few minutes away. I wondered how it all worked. Did the driver just take you where you wanted to go? Was there a set route? If so, did it go anywhere near my house? The bus service was bound to be a cheaper option and it could be interesting. In the end I just shrugged and said to myself, ‘What could it hurt?’

The guy on the floor was starting to stir and when he caught site of me he started to get agitated. I did my best to ignore him and lit a cigarette. The temperature had dropped and my shirt was offering little protection from the cold. I could feel myself getting irritated and checked my watch again. The bus was late, only by a couple of minutes, but it was enough to set in motion a spiral that usually ended with violence.

I had begun to recognise the signs. I even knew what sort of stuff would trigger an outburst, but I’d never managed to use that knowledge to stop myself. Truth is I’ve just never cared enough to do anything about it.

The tramp was getting noisier. He was pointing at me and was grumbling something unintelligible. I hissed at him to shut up. The filthy bastard made me sick. I had no time for these fuckers and their sad pathetic sob-stories and this one just wouldn’t let up.

I flicked my cigarette at him, but it made no difference. It must have hurt because I could see the mark on his face, but he just went on. In the end I couldn’t stand it any more and I lunged at him, grabbing him by the throat. His breath reeked of strong cider and tobacco.

I’m not actually sure what I was thinking, because just across the road there was a crowd of potential witnesses. I guess the truth of it is that I wasn’t thinking at all. By the time my head reached this point I was rarely capable of thought. I was like Chernobyl and I was in full meltdown. It didn’t matter how many alarm bells were ringing I was going to blow and he was going to shut up one way or the other.

Then he just stopped. His eyes widened and he pulled away from me, scrambled to his feet and began to crawl away. I watched, heart thumping as he staggered to his feet and broke into a run of sorts. Part of me was relieved he was gone but there was that other side, the dark side that burned far too near the surface most of the time, that wanted to run him down and retire his miserable arse.

Fortunately for him the hiss of hydraulics woke me from my fugue and I spun around. The bus stood next to the kerb, lights blazing and engine purring. As far as I could see it was empty and I looked around expecting to see recently disembarked passengers wandering off into the night. There was nobody. The drivers seat was empty too.

How long had I been distracted by the tramp? It really hadn’t seemed that long. I’d have surely heard the chatter of people getting off the bus, surely the driver or someone would have tried to intervene. After all I was really raging. I stepped back and looked up to the windows of the top deck, but there seemed to nobody up their either.

I remember muttering ‘…this the fucking Twilight Zone or something?’ Then the doors opened and nearly stopped my heart. ‘Fucks sake!’ I almost screamed, but instead started laughing. I admit I was getting a little hysterical. I wasn’t too drunk. I’d certainly had heavier nights in my time. There was the line I did in the dressing room after I sorted out the heckler, but that was hours earlier.

There was someone on this bus and they were trying to mess with my head. At least that was my thinking. I felt the anger again. It wasn’t as bad as before, but it was enough to energise me. If someone wanted to play that was fair enough by me.

There was nobody on board at all. I looked behind and under every seat. Back downstairs I checked the drivers cab. Reaching through the glass partition it was easy to unlatch the door and climb into the seat. The keys were still in the ignition. I felt a rush of excitement and a brilliant but stupid idea occurred to me. Maybe I’d get that door to door service after all. Why follow someone else’s route when you can carve out your own.

It was time to go home. Maybe I’d wake Beth and have a little fun. I was feeling pumped and pressed my foot on the accelerator. The engine revved and I tingled all over. Then the door swished shut. I looked down at the door release, thinking I had accidentally activated it. There was no way.

“Who’s there?” I shouted, but nobody answered.

I admit I got a little scared at this point and decided to get the fuck out of here, but the door was jammed. No matter how much I struggled with the catch it wouldn’t budge. Panic started to set in and I hurt my hand trying to wrestle with it.

Then the engine roared and I was moving. The bus veered towards the central reservation. It looked like it was going to hit the railings and I grabbed the wheel steering it into the centre of the road. Then I attempted an emergency stop, almost putting my feet through the floor. It just rolled on regardless.

That’s what I have learned about the bus you see. It goes when it wants and it stops when the mood takes it. I can steer it this way and that, but otherwise I’m just as much a passenger as you. I have no idea what it has planned for you tonight, but you aint getting off until it’s finished.

Why don’t you take a seat. If you’ve got alcohol or anything stronger take it now. You won’t want to be sober on this ride. Sometimes, it let’s people go. I’ve seen a  few over the years. Not many though.

If it does see fit to spare you, could you do me a favour? Go to the police. Tell them there’s a house on Hallow Hill they should check out. Specifically, they’ll want to look in the cellar. There’s a girl called Beth tied up in there. She’ll be long passed by now, but her parents are going to want to know where she is.

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