How many Mancs would make it into the LFC team?

I’ve just finished reading a very well written article about Man United and how the Glazers are stripping the club of money (link is at the bottom of this) while still not putting in a single penny of their own money. While I interrogated the article, I recollected how close we had come to armageddon under our very own Cowboys and then thanked our lucky stars for sensible Yanks (step forward, FSG) and a gentleman manager (Brendan). I also remembered back to when I would argue with a pal about what Liverpool players would get in the Manc side and vice-versa. It took me back to the Dark Ages of Uncle Roy and the closing years of the Manc’s supremacy (spit in the bucket and go to confession).

It was a game of sorts. One that, for a very long time, had me angered and upset that my Mighty Liverpool couldn’t get more than 3-4 players into their side. I did it against other sides too. Chelsea, Arsenal and, for a laugh (and proof things couldn’t get so bad), Newcastle – although that statement in itself says an awful lot. However, with The Guardian article recently read, it seems worthy of exploration to have a look at the Mancs. At Rafa’s peak, we could have pushed to possibly 5-6 players pushing to get into their team, but – for the most part – it was a game used to prove that Liverpool needed to go some way to improve upon their squad.

Let’s go back to August 2011 and the Dark Ages. We’d played Arsenal and the Mancs had just played Newcastle. Here are the sides that played on August 15th and 16th.

Reina Van Der Sar
G Johnson J O’shea
D Agger J Evans
M Skrtel N Vidic
J Carragher P Evra
J Cole Nani
J Mascherano D Fletcher
S Gerrard P Scholes
D Kuyt A Valencia
M Jovanovic W Rooney
D Ngog D Berbatov

There are two Liverpool players who the Mancs would have killed for: Gerrard and Mascherano. However, that’s probably about it in terms of players who would have got into their side. Carra may have had a good fight for a back-four spot, but even then we wasn’t the most mobile. Dirk would run all day, but Valencia knew how to pass it forward. As for Jovanovic and Ngog… don’t. Just. Don’t.

Look at how things have changed now. Here are the teams from the weekend just gone:

Mignolet de Dea
Manquillo Lingard
Lovren Smalling
Skrtel Jones
johnson Blackett
Lucas Fletcher
Gerrard Herrera
Henderson Young
Coutinho Mata
Sterling Hernandez
Sturridge Rooney

Man for man, I don’t think one Manchester United player would make it into the Liverpool side. Mata and Rooney would be the only ones who would threaten, but then we have players who would likely edge them out. Play the same game with Chelsea, City and Arsenal and perhaps the results may be different, but it would be in the range of 5-7 of our team making it into their teams and only 3-5 coming the other way.

What does it mean? Nothing. It’s a game to amuse while on long car journeys or to strike up a conversation at a party where you know nobody and want to break the ice. It’s just… quite interesting.

It’s quite interesting in terms of the Mancs. Especially with the prediction, pre-season (before their game with Swansea) that they would romp to a top four finish above us. However, having played this game – I would beg to differ. It’s also quite interesting when you consider the points within the article in The Guardian. They are a club on the precipice, but there’ll be no sniggering from this writer. We’ve walked that path and we know how dark it can be. To stoop as low and laugh as loud as they did back then when we were holding on with our finger nails would bring us down to their level.

We go to City on Monday. Play the game with the starting elevens and we’ll see how close we are. Closer than we were last season. And we finished second last year.


Watching on radio: an exile’s Anfield view

I can’t afford a subscription for pay-TV. The local pubs don’t ‘do’ football and certainly wouldn’t show a Liverpool game. I’m not smart enough to find a ‘jarg’ website so I can’t watch Norwegian telly either. So, all I have is the radio.

I’ve been listening to Liverpool games since I left the city over two decades ago. Sometimes all I’d get was the post-5pm Sports Report review of the game. The hairs on the back of my neck would rise when I heard the brass of the Sports Report theme tune on BBC Radio Five. I asked my wife if we could feature it in our wedding to stop over anxious football fans of different colours disappearing half-way through the wedding breakfast to check the scores. I’ll not give you her response, but she still married me.

The day Everton managed to stay up thanks to a packet of Swan Vestas, a burnt out Wimbledon team bus and the mini-arms of Hans Segers I singed an iron through my shirt in disbelief thanks to the radio. I even started running when listening to the match so I could at least manage the twitching of my shooting foot although in the year of The Miracle I nearly died at a busy junction in celebration thanks to Stevie G.

It all depends who’s talking you through the game; Alan Green, Mike Ingham or Graham Beecroft. Like them or loathe them for their opinions, their skill in bringing the match alive is a gift. I can close my eyes and be watching Raheem – just like I have done with Walters and McManaman in the past – fly down the wing or jumping with joy as God, St Michael or Sturridge bury the ball in the back of net.

I’ve not stood on the Kop in well over a decade, but all the memories come back thanks to the radio. The noise is immense from the crowd, I can begin to smell the eccles cakes (can you still get them?) and heat of the Kop as the songs are sung and emminate around my room and echo off the walls. Goose pimples rise as I hear the Kop choir in full song. I even ask my Dad to “Sing yer heart out for the lads – I might just hear you”.

Radio can bring the match to life in ways that TV can’t. It lets your minds eye wander around the ground and pick out things from your memory; like The Penguin shouting out his terrible insults (“Pass it you crab-apple”) or the loss of footing as the ball got closer to the Kop. The scraping of my knees on the back of the seat or the intense pain as the fat fella in front leans back in disappointment after another Redknapp missed tackle. All these memories come alive thanks to radio.

So, here’s to Sunday. Mark Saggers and Talksport will take me on a journey for the first game of the season. In the mind, the grass will be freshly cut, old scarves worn and new songs sung. I’ll take every corner and bang in every goal from over hundreds of miles away – thanks to radio.

National narratives: how United are back and LFC are fifth

This time last year Moyes had just taken the reins of United and Liverpool were beginning their quest for – what most people agreed would be – a difficult step up into the top four and a possible Champion’s League spot. Long before revisionists rewrote their opinions on the Moyes era, there was lots of talk about continuity at United and how it would be more of the same if they could be forgiven for a slow start.

It seemed that there was a ground swell of opinion that gained momentum and became the accepted view of the majority: a national narrative had been formed around the two stories. With United, in particular, the surge became so great that when the wheels fell of their open top bus the back-pedalling and revisionist writing was obvious. While, in hindsight, journalists mock the “Chosen One” poster that emblazoned the Stretford End, at the time the majority heralded Moyes’s appointment. Or, were at least influenced and persuaded to by argument supported by this national narrative.

By May, United had Giggs in charge and Liverpool came close to winning the League. The consensus, on TV, online and in print, was that United needed an over-haul with over 7-8 players needing replaced because they were not good enough quality. Liverpool, meanwhile, battled hard, sometimes won ugly, but were – the majority of the time – being lauded for their performances as a team with one or two outstanding individuals. One in particular being Suarez who has, as we know, left the club. Prior to the Suarez departure, Liverpool’s place amongst the top four teams of England was being cemented and we’d returned to the ‘big time’.

In the weeks prior to the Crystal Palace game the national narrative had been about Liverpool on a run that would see them win the title and then, practically over night, there was an about-turn. Momentum of the story had shifted. The national narrative became that Liverpool couldn’t win, won’t win and that their run must come to an end. They were right, but an honest fan – despite daring to dream and hoping that we could do it – would also have pointed out that even without any distractions beyond the league our squad was still wafer thin. The loss of Henderson proved that more than anything else and yet few attempted to push against the tide and write about it.

More recently, there’s been one man out and one man in that has changed the national narrative again. Suarez leaving has left Liverpool, one is led to believe, with only a slim chance of success this season. Van Gaal arrives at United and they’ve gone from seventh to potential Champions again. Who were the journalists that said last year that Liverpool couldn’t go from seventh to challenging? It seems that one man’s arrival at United has restored the status quo and has turned a squad that needed an over-haul into potential Champions-elect.

How does the national narrative form? Is it more prominent now because of social media? Is it because we share only the views and opinions we want to believe? That unique democratic consensus fuelling a national narrative that is then repeated through out churned out blogs and websites. The sheer volume of stories then forming a tidal wave of one-way opinion that becomes a nationally understood and recognised belief. Should we be concerned that even the casual uninformed observer can be swayed by the national narrative?

There is no conspiracy against Liverpool. Only a one-eyed blinkered fan would believe that. This isn’t a moan about how Liverpool are being predicted to be also-rans (it’ll be good to be under the radar for a little while) or how there is a media bias to United, but instead a request for those who push the stories around to sit and think before they write or churn. Give us an honest opinion. Don’t be swayed by the majority who, energised by social media and quick-fire reactions and retribution, dominate the national narrative. It may take more energy and thought (possibly risking your twitter following) to swim against the tide, but give us that honesty of opinion.

Jan Molby nearly ran me over and my kecks changed colour

It was the fastest I’d seen Jan Molby move. I’d only been going the match for two or three years. I’d seen him spray passes like laser guided missiles. I’d even watched him score against Norwich from what seemed to be the touchline (it was never on TV so I can’t prove that). But I’d never seen him travel as fast as he did down our road.

He was in his red Audi Quattro and doing 20mph (if that – sensible driver, built up area, kids on the street). My brother said it was the fastest he’d ever seen me move. I could hardly have been described as athletic in build. I was in my yellow Umbro LFC away kit that was so tight around me it left marks on my arms and waist. I was roughly the same shape as the Wembley5 fly-away football I’d just ran into the road.

When I wrote, “Jan Molby nearly ran me over”, that’s more how I remember it. My memory reads like this: I used my substantial Dalglish-like rear to manoeuvre myself around a Gary Gillespie-like neighbour four years my junior before accelerating through the gears – Barnes-like – and finding space in the middle of the road for a Steve McMahon-like pile-driver. My brother’s recollection, and the apparent universally agreed version of events, is some-what different. I’d pushed the ten-year old over while attempting to keep my balance, stood on the Wembley5 football and began to fall over. The acceleration was more to do with my legs trying to keep up with the upper-body that was dropping to the ground. I lost my footing as I stumbled on the kerb before regaining composure and possession of the ball as it rebounded from the wheel of next-door’s brown Maestro.

The “nearly ran me over” bit is when I looked up. In my memory, my head was a matter of inches from the polished bonnet of the red Audi. The screech of brakes waking the quiet suburban street from the late evening slumber. I’ve been told since that what actually happened was slightly different. I stood in the middle of the road with the ball slightly under control. Apparently I was attempting to control the ball like a man who had only his nose to stop a newly peeled boiled egg from rolling down a greased slope. Twenty or so touches later I had the ball at my feet and the goal in my sights. As I pulled my foot back a car had dutifully slowed and stopped to let me enter the ‘hall of street fame’ for the best long range goal (well, from at least from 15 feet). As I unleashed the shot my shoe loosened itself and crashed into the side of neighbour’s blue Cavalier. I connected with the ball with power and a lot less accuracy. The unreliable flight of many official World Cup balls can not come close to the unpredictable nature of the Wembley5. A freak combination of me putting my toe through the Wembley5 football, the light breeze (something you always had to consider when using this particular ball) and the unpredictable nature of the plastic ball sent it sailing just over the top of the goal (white, painted, cast-iron drive-way gate), between two trees and into the single paned front window of the football-hating house of our next door neighbour.

My brother, a City Champion sprinter, like Billy Whizz, ran from the crime scene at a pace and dived behind the bushes of another neighbour. The other nine young lads also ran for the hills. Leaving me and my brain slowly computing that I had masterfully rattled the window of our nemesis on the road (it didn’t break the glass, but it rattled like a high-hat hit by Ringo). As I stood in the road trying to get my legs to move I remembered the car. I turned to see a face I recognised behind the wheel. It was Jan Molby. He’d watched me. He’d be going back to Melwood to let them know of the footballing genius who lived up the road from him. From the bushes, my brother recalls he could see the Dane’s head rock back with laughter before pushing the accelerator slowly down and passing over our street-pitch. Despite my hopes and dreams to the contrary, it was then that reality bit… I was never going to be a footballer. Jan Molby’s witnessing of the skills changed the direction of my life.

The kecks changing colour came about 13 seconds afterwards when, with her window still vibrating and my shoe sitting on top of her car, the neighbour came out of her front door and, with more pace and mobility than Jan Molby on match-day, she leapt the drive-way gate and charged towards me. It seemed that not only could I not control my legs and command them to move, but I also lacked control else-where too.

As I watched the red Audi disappear around the corner I could hear laughter coming from within the bush where I last saw my brother disappear. I thanked Umbro for the tightness of the kit and it’s ability to prevent moisture loss.

A new season

And so it begins. All over again. Were-as the previous seasons had started with an optimism founded on wishful thinking, this season’s belief is built on more solid foundations of finishing second in the league. However, despite the heroic result – against the odds and against most neutrals predictions for last season – Liverpool this year are not expected to be champions.

Usually, as a Kopite in exile, the glass is only ever half empty. Although preseason also usually means that I was drunk on a optimism borne of our past glories, the first couple of games of the season brought a reality check. By Christmas we were usually done. The hopes of the summer dashed by the cold reality of the mid-season slump. And by April, I would be looking forward to the best part of the season… the dreaming and fantasising of amazing signings in the summer transfer window. No matter who was at the helm, the cycle was the same. It was as if it was something that was being evolved into the new LFC DNA.

Outside the bubble of Merseyside, there was persistent talk of Liverpool becoming a big sleeping giant. A sleeping giant who’s hangover from the the 2005 Champion’s League win kept the big bear lying in bed, turning over and going back to sleep. Scared to wake up in case it had all been a dream. There was every chance of LFC slipping into a Newcastle United, Spurs or – at the greatest extreme – a Leeds United. With the Cowboys in charge, I think we came closer to that than any of us ever imagined.

However, FSG and Brendan have not just woken the giant. It feels like they’ve injected adrenalin deep into the heart. Last year was the result of a tangible footballing philosophy that is now seeping into the evolving DNA of the club. It’s not like the boot room ideas of old, instead it’s new and respectful of the traditions of the club. Brendan is creating a organisational culture and a belief within everyone at the club: a winning mentality from the canteen to the pitch. What we witnessed last year showed that LFC was preparing itself for something great. We may have all slipped with Stevie G and missed out on the League, but it was dreamland while we were there. For those of us who had grown accustomed to complacency and expecting little more than a decent win against a rival, this was the time to begin to believe again. Could we do it? Could we actually win it?

We didn’t. However, ordinarily, had we kept the core of the team and added one or two quality players Liverpool would be being talked up as title contenders. It would seem that we’re favourites for fifth or fourth spot after the loss of one of our great players to Barcelona. Suarez was undoubtedly a catalyst to some of our victories last season, but it feels like that those who were so surprised at our success last season are too keen to right us off for the season coming. It’s a little bit insulting that a team who produced some of the best football last season has been so easily dismissed for next season.

There is little doubt that next season will be more difficult. Expectation brings a pressure, but is it really a pressure that the players have not felt before? That expectation was always there, it’s just that this year it is foundered on the success of last year. It’s also going to be different without Suarez, but the team is maturing and- according to Brendan – a year ahead of schedule.

I believe that next season is incredibly open. Chelsea have done OK in the transfer market, but there’s signing big Didier seems like a retro-grade step than a step in the right direction. Arsenal will always look pretty on the eye going forward, but play with one eye when they defend. Manchester United’s new manager may bring them a little optimism, but they’ve got a gaping hole in the defence and midfield. City would appear favourites, but they seem bored. Everton will make the top-six interesting – and continue to be happy to get quietly better and better under Martinez – and Spurs, with their kamikaze Chairman, will do well to keep a manager in post for an entire season.

Top four would be great. Champions would be amazing. It may be time to begin to believe. My cups half full.