A brief review of some of the places I have visited since I came back to Ireland.
Upon my return to Europe in November I harboured desires to take in some of the Bavarian hinterlands and possibly Mürren in Switzerland. I wanted to visit the Adidas museum and Piz Gloria in quick succession.
The fact that it didn’t happen was mainly down to travel restrictions rather than cash flow but anywhere I do choose for travelling is usually based on planning for any future artistic endeavours. The Adidas trip might have been useful for my long -threatened football kit project. The trip to the Alps would have been a Lourdes like -pilgrimage to the location of my favourite Bond film. Anyway, they didn’t happen, so Plan B it was. I’d stay local.
Staycationing has become a buzzword in Ireland for the past 5 or 6 years. Often used incorrectly, it is meant to describe a holiday within your own home, or at a push, your own town. It doesn’t mean going to the other side of the country. So I didn’t ‘Staycation’ in Galway, nor Mullingar, nor Limerick or even Portlaoise. I visited them. Probably against Tony Hoolahan’s wishes but c’est la vie.
I could justify these trips by saying that I was location scouting for my next film project. Or my next pulpy crime novella. A knowledge of two-star accommodation and cheap eateries is usually a prerequisite for these things.
In truth, I was just getting out of my parent’s hair for a night. So what I hear you cry, did you do???
My first trip was a few days before Christmas. I decided I would head for Salthill. The pubs were all closed at 8pm so a night on the sauce was not a goer. I arrived into the city and took some snaps of the winter fair in Eyre Square. At my leisure, I then walked to my hotel in Salthill. I passed the iconic Hooker boats en route and might have even taken in a film in the Palace cinema if the selection had been better.
I checked into The Continental and was quite happy with what my 62 euro got me( though I regret not staying in The Rio, the exterior is amazing). The room was snug but clean with decent heat coming off the rad. There was a fridge, kettle and a TV that worked. The bed was a twin too. So far so good.
I went into the early evening to try and find some grub. After being tempted by a number of Asian joints I opted for cheap and cheerful Pizza. The casinos were still operating but I thought better of it. After the pizza I had a decent Smithwicks in PJs, the bar next to the hotel. It was about half seven and they didn’t look like they were closing any time soon. My heart was set on watching Pulp Fiction though and that’s what I did. Good aul TG4.
Great films always offer something new on repeat viewings. What I figured out was that while Vincent was the one obsessed by Amsterdam it’s Butch who ends up with an impromptu Ajax jersey.
It was a bit cold in the room. I probably didn’t help matters by eating a HB Maxi Twist. But they could have provided an extra blanket. In the weeks to follow I soon realised that if you don’t ask, ye don’t receive!
Next morning I walked back to the city, took a few snaps and tried to find somewhere that sold pancakes. I hit the jackpot at Esquire’s Coffee on Eyre Square. Very friendly service too. I went to the bus station quite happy with my stay. The coach itself was packed. Going to and from. I kinda regret not spending the extra 16 odd quid on the train.
The following week I decided on the Treaty city. I booked into The Old Quarter townhouse which is about a 15 minute walk from the train. I think it was just over 60 quid and for that I got a room with two singles, a decent TV, kettle and a lovely bathroom with shower.
There was also a rad, and I love rads, especially when I can turn them on and off by myself.
The 8pm rule was still in place regarding pubs so I was expecting it to be less noisy than usual, despite the warnings of boisterousness in the email. My gamble paid off and apart from a few lairy guests around 2am it was grand.
My chief complaint, if I could call it that, was in a nearby Italian bistro. I ordered pasta with some garlic bread. The pasta was cooked ‘properly’ in an Italian fashion, meaning it was quite hard. I prefer the traditional soft Irish style. I mentioned it after the meal and they welcomed my feedback. But I’m guessing that they thought me a right fool.
My entertainment for the evening was a double bill of film on rte 2. Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol and Entebbe. A film about Jewish hostages in Angola. I preferred the Cruise vehicle but Rosamund Pike is always watchable.
That particular part of Limerick has a real British vibe in its layout. Maybe it’s all the redbrick or the stores; Superdrug, Next, Topshop etc. Can’t quite put my finger on it.
The next week I went to Mullingar! I initially was going there because a well-known German supermarket chain was having an open day in a hotel. That’s what happens when I have too much time on my hands. I start planning alternative futures. Anyway, it was too far out of the city to go by foot. So I didn’t go.
I stayed in Kerrigans on the corner, quite near the main street but about ten minutes walk from the train. The pub is quite nice and it has a small cafe attached (for the early morning commuters I assume).
For 50 quid( the cheapest I visited) I got a nice room. It had a good double bed with a lovely armchair in the corner. Also, a fridge whereby I could keep a few cans from the off licence( i duly bought some Macardles). The TV wasn’t working great and the shower was a bit weak but overall not bad. There was central heating but this went off around midnight and the room wasn’t exactly roasting after that. Still though, friendly staff and that price would have included breakfast had I not slept in.
As for the town itself, you can see why it’s popular with workers based in Dublin. The train is about 75 minutes back into the big smoke, which is doable. The Turkish Grill restaurant was very decent. For about a tenner I got a scrumptious chicken shish meal that was as good as many I had in Zaytoon. They had Midlands radio on. 90s night. Toni Braxton, En Vogue, Inxs. In my head, I was writing a great chapter about a boy having a night in with a girl. Netflix and chill in a pre Internet age.
I bought a shirt in O’Sullivan’s gentleman outfitters. Wow, this place is a rare treat. Classic layout with the garments all stacked and in their packaging on the shelves. A nice lady doing her books behind the long desk, but no less attentive to the customer’s needs. I was chuffed.
I think this was the beginning of the end for me. I never really minded Portlaoise before. It wasn’t on my old work route as such so I often bypassed it in the past. I decided to give it a twist here. I stayed in the Town Hotel which cost about 64 Yo-Yos. The barman was looking after things and he was a nice man. He explained that the kitchen was temporarily closed but that I could get a complimentary drink at any stage. The room itself was a bit of a letdown. Skinny single bed, a rad that never came on, average shower and a telly that didn’t work at all. This was a real ‘drop yer bags’ stag party type of deal. Alas, I just wanted to watch a film and relax but the WiFi was useless too. Very poor all round.
I ate out in a local Indian restaurant which really wasn’t worth the twenty-seven quid I paid either. The next morning saved the trip with lovely crepes and bacon in the restaurant above Supervalu. But yeah, wouldn’t be rushing back as they say.
next up: Tralee?
With the start of the GAA national league now upon us, I am due to head down south to support the boys in blue. They are in a weird place at the moment. Getting written off by many, including some so-called fans like myself. League football is not for fair-weather fans. I’ll struggle if I engage with any experts down there. But it should be a good trip. My first one not flying solo so that will help.
So overall what is there to say about my adventures. Not very much! Probably quite dull even. But I had no greater ambition than to get out of the house and potter around. It’s a tough time for hoteliers and I don’t like being critical (or unrealistic) but it is a bit of an eye-opener to see what some places charge.
Anyway, when I get back to Asia I might do something similar and share those titbits with you. Until then…
Here is the first part of a series about the Irish football team.
Where were you when we were f*ckin’ shite?
This refrain was popular around the turn of the millennium with Man City fans. Gradually it has been phased out but it’s always something I think about with Ireland and their international teams. We are a nation of bandwagoners. But every successful team has fair weather fans.
Of course, the age of Big Jackie Charlton started in controversial circumstances. He wasn’t the FAI’s first choice and was maybe eight minutes away from leaving had Gary Mackay not scored against Bulgaria. But as elderly Leeds United fans will attest, the man from Ashington was made of stern stuff. ‘Union’ Jack was here for the long haul.
I don’t know any of my era who would have been able to avoid the green machine of the late 80s and early 90s. An unprecedented era of success for our national football team. Success by our standards. We aren’t Germany. Hell, we’re not even Denmark. But over a couple of summers, we bragged about having the greatest football team. And well, some days we truly believed it.
This is old ground, well traipsed and relived over the years, with the legends growing stronger every year the modern version of the team come up short. We will get to those less successful moments in due course, but I will start here with what I can remember.
The Boys in Green
The first match I can vaguely recall is arguably the greatest of all time from an Irish point of view. England. Stuttgart. I was doing something else I’m sure. Maybe playing with Mask action figures or Matchbox cars. I was seven years old and just after my first communion. I want to say that it is time that has faded my memories or that perhaps Ireland hadn’t fully gotten on board with Jackie’s Army yet. Maybe both are true. Either way, I wasn’t fully aware of the football but that changed rapidly over the next week.
Wednesday came around and I didn’t even know we were playing the Soviet Union. I didn’t understand the concept of playing again and again! Surely we won ‘football’ against England and we were the best…forever!
But I definitely watched a bit of the USSR game. And I am pretty sure half the estate spilled out onto the green to try and replicate Whelan’s goal rather than watch the remainder of the actual match.
Then Saturday. Well, I was in town with the mother for that. I remember stopping at the TV shop on O’Connell Street and seeing a few moments of it. I learned later that we hadn’t got the draw needed to get through to the semi-finals.
None of this was really computing just yet. But it would. That summer was the beginning of football in my life.
By that Autumn I had fallen for the Merseyside Reds. John Barnes and his twinkle- toed brilliance. But for Ireland, well I began to learn that the matches in the summer had been great but now wanted to go to the World Cup, whatever that was. This was all happening so fast. I understood that Ireland had to go to Spain with only 8 first- choice players. But I heard 8 players. Surely that wasn’t fair. Eight versus eleven!? Inevitably we lost.
We didn’t play for another 5 months in the qualifiers. I thought we were playing Spain one evening in February 89 but it turned out that was just UTV calling their team Ireland instead of Northern Ireland. Maybe there was an ‘N’ before Ireland. But I was suitably confused.
I watched a bit of the Hungary away game and was chuffed to see the boys in white wearing the same jersey as me. I loved that one. We almost won the game with a spectacular overhead (Kevin Sheedy maybe?) but the search for our first goal and first win went on.
I was learning about football very quickly. Shoot magazines and Sunday’s News of the World were essentials for my study. At this point, I was immersed in all things Liverpool. They were hunting down Arsenal and going well in the FA Cup. Ireland simply didn’t play that often so it was difficult to form an attachment. From what I could see in the group tables, we had a lot of work to do and nobody I knew seemed too optimistic. Then April 1989 came.
In the space of a few weeks, I had seen the horror of Hillsborough play out. Then watched news bulletins as Liverpool players attended funerals. Millions of flowers on the pitch near the Kop.
Life went on from the comfort of our sitting rooms. The Ireland match seemed to sneak up on me. It was all or nothing. The campaign needed a kickstart. Spain at home. Butragueno et al. We needed a goal. And we got one! An own goal! Michel!
We were up and running. The swirling winds and pockmarked Lansdowne Road pitch would become a fortress that summer. All but one of our away matches out of the way meant we could settle in with home comforts. Four wins in a row. And then the win in Valetta. We were going to Italy. The greatest football team! Deadly!
1990- Ciao World!
The early part of the year seemed to be last call for fringe players and maybes. Bernie Slaven, Gary Waddock. Would Frank Stapleton make the plane to the World Cup? He did of course but didn’t feature.
The tournament started and like anything you’re experiencing for the first time, it was amazing. In later years purists would call it a horrible show but for me, the aesthetic was so comfortable. The stadiums, Italian TV scoreboards popping up. The Adidas Utresco. Pavarotti. Lineker’s diarrohea. Such days!
I think Euro 88 had been a pleasant surprise. For a GAA nation there was little expectation and arguably many wouldn’t have known there was any tournament ’til the team did their song on the Late Late Show.
Italia 90 was very different. These were the burgeoning years of football flowing into the mainstream. Corporate sponsored tie-ins the order of the day. Music cassettes, Tea tins, plastic footballs from Maxol, the chance of winning match tickets to Italia Novante on Know Your Sport.
The Team that Jack Built
In the end we came, we saw, we drew a lot. England did a little bit better but we had done enough. Top 8 in the world.
I watched England, Romania and Italy in O’Dwyers bar in Dunboyne. Egypt at home (TSSA!). Holland at home. I bet my dad was happy he didn’t waste his hard earned cash on going out for the Egypt game…ooh wait did we go to Batterstown for it? Hmm maybe. Definitely watched Holland at home.
After it was all over I was fluent in how football fixtures worked. My expertise in tournament football was aided by World Soccer magazine and other newspaper pull-outs from the likes of the Star. I didn’t go for World Cup 90 Stickers. Too much commitment.
By the time the European Championship Qualifying came round, I was ready. And so it seemed, did the team. Vitally England had changed manager. We might catch them cold.
Alas the 5-0 hammering of Turkey promised much but was about as good as it got. The wind was up again in Lansdowne for England but they were ready for the fight. A draw again, just like Cagliari. McCarthy almost scoring from sixty yards. We watched this in school. Or at least the first half.
The Wembley rematch is probably second to the USSR Euro 88 game in terms of legend. The game where we announced ourselves as football artisans. Rose-tinted a little bit in my view though we definitely outplayed both. Not everything changes in the game and winning your 50-50s has always meant something. Still another draw against them. With Houghton somehow refusing the offer to have even more lifetime pints bought for him. I watched this in Hanlon’s pub and remember the barman coming over to warn me about throwing beer mats at the TV during Taylor’s post match interview.
In Warsaw months later we contrived to blow a two-goal lead and sales of Packie Bonner rosary beads presumably dropped. My abiding memory of this game was just how good Andy Townsend was. Many Ireland fans are often tougher on players born outside the country. Always felt Townsend never got his full dues. We looked good for most of that game, until we didn’t.
Anyway, after the Poland draws, we had blown it. The result in Turkey was academic. Lesson learned. Swagger was not for us.
1992 A Missed Opportunity
While Europe’s top 8 ( sans Italy, Spain, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and, of course us) went to Sweden for the Championship Ireland headed over to America. A bit of a fact-finding mission for the 94 World Cup as well as a potential jolly up. Mixed results. Defeat against the US and Italy with a win against Portugal. A never seen since goal from a Staunton corner kick. I’ll die happily, if I ever see it. Oh and Mick and Roy on a bus together…to be continued.
Of course, before the American trip and even before the Euros, our World Cup journey began. At home to Albania. The Albanians, playing in a gifted set of new jerseys proved a tough test but the win was got. The team had evolved a little bit over the previous two summers, though maybe not enough. Irwin and Keane were now very much part of the first team and would remain so for a decade. Aldridge continued to run his legs off at the front and surely welcomed Tommy Coyne’s arrival into the squad.
Post US Cup 92, Charlton had again carefully planned the fixtures so as to get the tough away fixtures out of the way first. Two scoreless draws followed against Denmark and Spain. Oh boy, these were huge nights in Irish sport. With Sky taking over from ITV for English league football, Ireland was the biggest box office. We were competitive in Copenhagen but Seville was another step up but we should have won. They finished with ten men after all.
1993 The Road To America
This group felt a bit more epic than the 1990 version. It had an extra team and the break up of the Soviet Bloc meant we had two unknown quantities. Latvia and Lithuania. Big Jack embarked on scouting trips with Billy Bingham which, you can imagine would be unheard of nowadays.
The year opened with a confident victory over said Billy’s boys. Staunton again scoring from a corner. All looked great heading into the Denmark home game.
The Danes had perhaps been not quite at it in the first game. Maybe still hungover from their championship win in 92, they arrived in Dublin and fancied it. Brian Laudrup was a right nuisance. In the end another draw with a rare mistake from McGrath who redeemed himself by winning a corner for the equaliser. I watched this on a big screen in The Mill House after school, almost certain.
The ship was steered adequately enough into October 1993. Wins over Latvia, Albania and Lithuania again. But this was when we all grew up, my generation’s first real brush with the reality of modern football. Alan Kernaghan had performed reasonably well up to this point but this was not a good day for him. Espana caught us cold and raced into a 3-0 lead before an hour. John Sheridan’s goal seemed academic but in the final count proved vital for goal difference.
As Ireland headed to Belfast by plane there was an air of fear from most fans. Nobody felt it a foregone conclusion. A win would do it but a draw might be fine if things went okay between Spain and Denmark.
November 17th was a days of days for international football. Really surprised Netflix haven’t jumped on it yet. France, England, Portugal and erm, Wales fell at the final hurdle in a huge day of drama. Going into the snakepit of Windsor Park we had a fight on our hands. My main fear was how Kernaghan would respond. He had got a right schooling from Julio Salinas and I worried he might carry that over against the country that he’d represented as a schoolboy. In the end, he did well but it was a frustrating game. Houghton, who really should have scored more in this era, missed a couple of decent chances and Jimmy Quinn scored a beauty for them. Their lead was short-lived as the now late great Alan McLoughlin popped up and arrowed a beautiful half volley past Wright.
Post-match and Seville was still in the melting pot. Spain one-nil up about to k.o the European Champions. Schmeichel up for a corner. But no, that was it. They were out. We were in!
The RTE panel happily celebrated afterwards, but there was definitely less of a triumphant air that night. In all likelihood Charlton might well have walked away that night had things not gone right. Giles and Kinnear in the studio suggested that new blood would be needed for the tournament next summer.
Enter Gary, Phil and Jason ( insert love hearts here)
1994 The Last Stand
Get the Neil Diamond record out. Get the Irish Permanent savings account. Get a Callcard. Get a new Opel Astra! Ireland back on the World Cup trail. Before all the hotel room match ticket selling could kick off in earnest we had two away friendlies to get us ready (and turn the hype machine up to 11) Wins over Germany and Holland (and Bolivia!) were fine and why would you ever refuse them? But surely we couldn’t go and beat a major football powerhouse in the real thing. Right?
Well, the doubters were silenced that fateful day in New Jersey. Perhaps the second last great Irish performance under Charlton(Portugal a year later?). We got Italy on a day where they weren’t right. Jack’s plan to overload and overrun in midfield worked a treat. It was a great day. One we had to enjoy at home due to a barman’s strike!
It was as good as it got in America really. The Orlando sunshine melted away our hassle and hurry tactics, though Ireland ran much harder any Colombian or Greek that summer. World Cups are full of opinion and many might disagree with me but another ten minutes against Mexico and we might have got a draw. As it was Aldridge got another vital consolation goal.
The draw vs Norway meant another Dutch fixture. We obviously hadn’t got too far into their heads with the friendly victory. Again it was a struggle in the heat but we weren’t all that bad. Packie made another boo-boo but Overmars outrunning Phelan was a worrying feature.
Could we go to one more tournament with Big jack? The group offered possibilities and we started well enough with away wins over Latvia , Liechtenstein and Northern Ireland. And then came nineteen ninety-five.
1995 Combat 18 and all that
There was a sense of wary optimism heading into the new year. The younger players were showing signs that they settling in while players such as David Kelly, who had been on the fringes for so long, began to get more playing time.
He is probably best remembered for his goal against England in the abandoned game at Lansdowne. But thanks to numerous sticker albums and subsequent facebook clips, I remember his hat trick against Israel in 1987.
The England game really broke Jack’s heart. It was clear to see in the aftermath how ashamed he was of his countrymen. But in the time we did see some action, Ireland had looked good against Venables’ side. Arguably more tournament-ready than England themselves.
Time moves on quickly in football. That will never change. One week Liverpool are laying down a marker for a league title (in October) the next they are an ageing side with big problems in midfield.
Likewise in the Euro 96 qualifiers, Ireland went into the draw as top seeds. The opposition of Portugal, Austria and Northern Ireland again, didn’t seem at all unbeatable. But while we were evolving slowly beyond the passback rule Portugal were building steadily. Costa and Figo were coming of age as Couto looked a tough presence at centre-half.
Again the Lansdowne wind came into play in March. Charlton bemoaned it but perhaps the North were just a bit more determined after the earlier hammering. The win under floodlights against Portugal seemed to get us back on track and I was never convinced with Vitor Baia in nets, but nonetheless. Then summer and the principality of Liechtenstein.
I watched this in my gran’s on the North Circular Road. She was soon to move to the countryside and this seemed a tribute exercise in agricultural football. Fine for us who were never too particular about how our goals looked so long as they went in. But they didn’t. Not that day. Not even one of the 29 attempts.
Could we get the momentum back? Four days later in Dublin, Austria arrived. We should have been fine. We looked stronger overall and took the lead. But then the stomach cramps set in. The fish suppers still undigested from the day before. Toni Effin Polster. Ireland fans never had much of a sense of entitlement and it was only very recently that the majority would begin to turn on this squad. Austria were poxy, and it hurt.
Then they went and did us again. Another three one, with a beautiful McGrath header rendered meaningless.
In the muck and rain of Oporto we arrived with injuries and little optimism. The Portuguese took an hour to break us but break us they did.
Second place meant we would have to beat Holland in a play off. We didn’t and that was it for Jack. The last few months a tough watch for the public who generally adored him while recognising that we had lost our way a bit.
In the end, there were no tears. Just a serenade from the Kop and a now traditional post-match RTE interview where a team’s manager has his future employment questioned.
Reviewing football in this way can be quite reductive. And what more can you bring to this era that hasn’t already been said? The cruel grip of nostalgia constantly dragging one back to a time they will never have again. Did I peak as a human before I was ten years old? Possibly. But what a run it was. And yet, it wasn’t really all that great on the face of it.
But you must remember this wasn’t just about football. It never is on the international scene. It brings out a part in us many try to hide most of the time. A rampant chest-thumping, almost embarrassing pride that shows itself every time the egg chasers start chanting Ireland’s call. That is now though, that was then, when we were young, unspoiled and hearts like unopened scrap books, eager to paste in memories. What a time it was.
Ole Ole indeed
NB: Links to Major championship highlights are usually taken down so I avoided posting them here. But there’s gold in them there ‘Reeling in the years clips’ as well as the aforementioned Road to America video on youtube, The Van feature film is underrated, The Boys in Green RTE programme here and of course the recent FINDING JACK CHARLTON
Still listening to old tunes. Comfort food for the ears.
This is a great upbeat song from the late 70s. My mate said he played it on repeat the day Alex Ferguson left Man United. That’s good enough for me.
Funny thing I thought Arianna was Australian for ages. But she’s not! Anyway, she’s racking up the hits rapidly but I always liked this. Motorcyles and motels, the cornerstone of any good affair.
I think this is the only 2021 song on here. There’s certainly other good music out there but I’m a Lana stan. I don’t even know what a ‘stan’ is. I’m not hip.
Two really cool things together. Daft Punk and the chap from the Strokes. But it could easily be The Strokes with Daft Punk. They are perfect for each other.
This song was originally an epic soundscape of 80s keyboard trickery. Stripped down here with Morgen getting some help with the high notes, it has a haunting quality. You almost look out the window for a Volvo and the Sky Atlantic ident.
I watched a fine documentary on the Ballymun flats earlier in the year and this song got a mention (it did not get a spin, however because U2 royalties are $$$) Anyway, really nice. Far less ambiguous than a lot of their output.
I played this to death in the summer. Cooking away in the apartment, trying to take myself to some higher plain. Or at the very least forget about having pasta four days in a row because the restaurants of Saigon closed during lockdown.
How did I get to 40 years without watching this excellent mini series? Or the even better novel? This song became a staple of Irish TV over the years, used in so many news review shows.
I only re-listened to this by chance. It was on some RTE programme about the Ireland football team. I blasted up the whatsapp group and John Cushens put a name to the tune in no time at all. Top tip, join WhatsApp groups where there are lots of top trivia buffs.
This was my ‘hum to myself’ tune for ages when I was walking back to the apartment from school. Conditions on my street meant it was suicidal to use personal earphones while walking. So I hummed on those not to so lonely streets…
Added to the list of ‘why did it take you so long?’ music appreciation, here are The Charlatans. They tried to rope Sharon Horgan into singing with them but instead she just appears in the video, moping around, being Irish…Sorry Giles, I know they’ve better ones.
Very underrated tune here. Because of Irish radio’s business model, many band’s top one or two songs get played to death and gems like this are forgotten. But don’t sleep on this as the kids say. Watch the whole concert if you can. Christy wears a bleedin’ rapih Celtic jacket.
This song is the epitome of The Seahorses. Shortlived and in a hurry, they threw a lyrical if not literal kitchen sink at this tune. Damn shame they couldn’t keep it up.
Poor Sarah. It really made me sad to see the girl from Stockport pass away earlier this year. Only a year younger than myself. Is there an argument to say they were one of the best things in the 2000s? It’s not even an argument, they were. Even the Arctic Monkeys covered them. No thanks to Louis Walsh, the dzope!
A song that perfectly encapsulates the way Westerners often speak in cliches about Vietnam as well as their never-ending patience for our guff. I got this stuck in my head while on a ferry to Vung Tau. Lovely stuff!
‘To have lived through those 12 or 13 years. It had excitement, it had drama. Skullduggery, loyalty, disloyalty. It had everything. And it can never and will never be repeated again…’
The above quote by Padraig Flynn. And boy, did he have a way with words. For those of us born after say, 1977, it is hard to have a personal view of Charles J Haughey. Too young to put the puzzle together. Then again folks much older were not necessarily wiser. The enigma of Haughey continued for all his political career, with many secrets and lies getting buried with him.
It would be unfair to criticise the journalists who worked these stories. It was a different time of course, and Fianna Fail were still in the midst of a modernisation that many would say they have yet to attain.
Irish folks have an awful gra for nostalgia and old footage is of itself a massive comfort, almost to the point of an aversion therapy, as someone else once said.
He shaped a modern nation, not for the better, most would say. But then everyone had an opinion on CJ. What little I can recall is pieced together by the chats my elders had in the kitchen as well as what I saw on TV. I have posted a few of these YouTube greatest hits below.
Haughey ( broadcast in 2005)
Put simply this is an excellent piece of work. Both balanced and compelling, it provides a linear structure from Haughey’s roots in Derry right up to his final denoument in Dublin Castle. Flynn’s quote is heard in the last episode. By then you will have witnessed the whole journey and it’s hard to disagree with him.
Haughey: The Money Trail ( Broadcast in 1997)
If Niamh Sammon’s 4 hour epic( above) is Francis Ford Coppola then this one is maybe Sidney Lumet. Concise and fascinating, it is created within the typical RTE prime time layout. P Flynn was obviously busy in Brussels ( in his second of three houses?) so it comes down to Seamus Brennan and Willie O’Dea to stick their heads above the paraphet. Well worth a watch, though the picture quality is not great.
Note there is a two parter from TV3 called GUBU but because of the station’s obsession with pop music, you’ll have to put up with frequent dead air during your viewing. Some excellent photos used in the Ken Burns style montages mind you
Charlie ( 3 part Drama Miniseries)
A lot of what you see in the documentary is attempted in this following re-inactment by the Love Hate boys. This is not a particularly well made programme and it’s a shame because Aiden Gillen certainly looked the part. The lack of cinematic scope is disappointing. Compared with something like The Treaty (1992) the three parter suffers from production unable to work within budgetary limits. Despite that, it has some occasional good moments ( Timotei! )
Election Debate 1987.
A long long time ago, politicians used to wait until the other person was finished speaking. They also used to get their point across without shouting. This is a pleasure to watch. Two educated men, jousting thoughtfully, a mutual respect quite evident.
The Dubliners Tribute Show
A short clip here on the Late Late Show. Byrne manfully tries to disguise his political leanings as the special guest star appears. Haughey makes a handful of gold plated puns before exiting stage right, as ever looking for a seat.
Charlie Haughey’s Ireland
While in opposition in the mid 80s, CJ was desperate to maintain a relevance with the world outside Leinster House. This self produced travelog around the country retains a certain charm. Haughey appears comfortable in his own skin, extolling the virtues of a country on the rise, while occasionally giving himself credit for some of its success. No more of that, for now. (excuse the poor quality)
Arise and follow Charlie
This little ditty was taken from an old Jacobite song. Journeys are shortened from southern glens to western shores, but the blind loyalty is no different. The song is a perfect toe tapper. You can almost taste the chicken and chips. (Honourary mention for ‘We’ll be There’. Alas, there is no decent recording of that one online but the old election paraphernalia on the youtube clip is charming )
So there you have it. There is a little more I could add to the list but overall it is quite disappointing to think this collection is as limited as it is. When you compare it to the modern age of tweets and Instagram videos that Haughey’s modern counterparts use now, well it’s like comparing Sam Smith to Elvis really, isn’t it?
I am all for fairness and would love to one day do a Fine Gael companion piece. Alas a lot of their stuff is unavailable at the time of writing. Could it be a case of the Irish media’s favourites being more aware of the dangers of posterity? Who knows? All is for certain that on either side of the house, nobody has come close to matching Sweetie’s infamy. Not even Bertie.
I guess a lot of the subtext here is about my being a spoilt brat with commitment issues. I can’t say for sure if Liverpool were any way the cause of my life’s disappointment heretofore. Some of the most depressed people I’ve ever met in my life were United fans, even after their 20 odd years of success. Is the journey better than the destination? Maybe, but I certainly don’t want to drive that road again.
Despite my moody episodes and temper tantrums, I’ve always thought of myself as someone who is in or around the Europa league places of life, better than most though a bit off Champion material. Besides, it would seem a bit lame to blame your failures on strangers who kick a ball for a living.
Going into Klopp’s second full season the odds of a league title were hard to place. Other teams were still in transition and it just seemed like there might be a possibility, but only if others made mistakes. But there was always that hope. Hope that maybe they could put something strong enough together. A decent title challenge.
Outside of Anfield’s bubble, the map of English league football had been notably redrawn . The top 4 of the 2000s was now a fully fledged top 6, not even counting Leicester. Despite their 2017 league win, Chelsea were quickly descending into chaos. An ageing dressing room and the rapid turnover of coaches was finally beginning to wear thin. A lot of people hate Chelsea. For me they were a necessary evil in the 2000s. Who else was going to put it up to United? Arsenal? Oh please!
The aforementioned Man United were in the midst of a bizarre decline since Ferguson’s retirement. Despite some cup success, Mourinho arriving and millions spent they never looked like the swashbuckling team of old. Elsewhere in Manchester however Pep Guardiola was in his second full season, building on the respectable work done by Pellegrini before him. Sky Sports and other media friends ran out of superlatives by Christmas while more cynical viewpoints of how the operation was being financed were put to one side for now.
Who knew what would happen as the ball game started up again in August?
Our 2017/18 season had begun moderately. A 3-3 draw at Watford was positive in that we saw the league debut of Mo Salah, who scored. Less comforting was the ongoing goalkeeper issue. Mignolet had endured a mixed four years and the previous year’s signing Karius had not convinced either. Centre halves still looked terrified under the high ball. Liverpool fans feared another Roy Evan’s style era. Klopp himself must have lost some sleep over a solution.
In the September match at the Ethiad, Liverpool fell behind early but worked their way back into the game before mane was sent off for a high foot. It was 50-50. Not a complete disgrace of a decision. What worried me was Klopp remonstrating with the fourth official for five minutes instead of working out a plan B. We lost 5-0 and that old familiar feeling was setting in again.
It is said it’s more important to be a lucky general rather than a good one. Ideally if you can be both, so much the better. Watching a 3-3 draw against Arsenal showed the good and bad of his team. The Fab Four of Mane, Salah, Firmino and Coutinho was enough to launch an industry of bootleg t-shirts but the logic of playing all four was fatally flawed. Shankly style piano carriers were all too few.
The summer itself had been something of a merry go round. Neymar’s move to PSG set off a chain reaction which seemed irrelevant to Liverpool initially. We were bullying Southampton again for players and maybe deserved a bit of the hardball we got for the ensuing months. Virgil Van Dijk wanted to come but the Saints wanted more money. We didn’t have it..yet.
Come Christmas and with the World Cup coming on the horizon Philipe Coutinho’s agent started to weave his spell. Coutinho began to imagine visions of a victory for Brazil in Russia, with him taking centre stage in a team that may not have had the injured Neymar. For all this to happen however, it was apparently vital that he make the move to Barcelona early. Many felt a Suarez situation might come to pass. That he would stick it out ’til the summer and then move. But no. He wanted to go. Claimed a fake injury to avoid playing. It was a decision that has not been forgotten or forgiven.
Personally I was relieved so long as the money was used more wisely than in 2014. Let him be sold I said. Let’s reinvest, but with quality.
Come January. They spent some of the Coutinho money wisely. Oh boy did they.
And a few months later, despite the league being out of reach for another year, the Champions League was looking like a maybe. A definite maybe.
Liverpool 3-0 City
It always seemed like the two great cities of the North West will be competing against each other for eternity. But at the start of the 2010s who would have thought it would be a non United battle? Yes the league table shows that Mourinho had guided his team to second while we finished two places back but even the staunchest Red Devil couldn’t claim bragging rights. For one thing City had finished in triple figures. A feat never achieved by United.
As I mentioned, everything changed for us during the winter transfer window. The team started to look a bit more realistic after the Ossie Ardiles style Autumn formation. Andrew Robertson was beginning to find his feet, and not a moment too soon (Somehow Alberto Moreno was still first choice left back at the start of the season) and on the other side Trent Alexander Arnold had nailed down the right back slot, dethroning the very decent Nathaniel Clyne. The team had a shape that wasn’t a million miles away from the heady days of 2014. By this time the midfield guile of Gerrard had been updated with brute strength and energy. Interchangeable elements with the likes Fabinho and recent signing Alex Oxade Chamberlain with Wijnaldum, Milner and Henderson still in situ.
Heading into the new year Liverpool couldn’t keep up with the phenomenal Man City. Nobody could. Much like ourselves two years later they broke the spirit of the competition well before Christmas. Domestically they were dominant but what about Europe? Well…
This game was foreshadowed by the league result in January. A 4-3 win ensured Arsenal’s ‘invincible’ record remained (though with the points totals in recent seasons, that record looks more and more ordinary in my view) but in reality Liverpool were devastating and should have won by more.
Come March and Liverpool’s chips were all on Europe again. Most felt this game would be cagey, with the Red’s main mission to keep De Bruyne and Silva quiet and maybe grab a sneaky 1-0 win.
The result that did come shook the foundations of European football. Another result that ground away at Guardiola’s reputation. It was a remarkable display of physical superiority, with the likes of Kyle Walker been made to look not only ordinary but downright amateurish.
In the semi finals Liverpool blitzed Roma in a spectacular 35 burst of that now famous heavy metal football. Our defensive frailties were still visible however with the Romans almost catching us in the second leg. Henderson’s remonstrating with Karius in the aftermath didn’t go unnoticed. Some felt he was giving it the big one. Others felt the young German keeper was a bit of a fancy dan who lacked focus if not the ability to make big decisions in a game.
As we know this season ended in disappointment in Kiev. Though try telling that to the legions of fans who had made the pilgrimage. Liverpool were rocking again. It was an unstoppable momentum of positivity on match days, with the manager being at the forefront of it. Did Jurgen Norbert Klopp have blind spots? Was he ruthless enough to get rid of players who weren’t up to it? As he sang songs with the fans after the Real Madrid defeat those questions would have to wait. All that was known was we that we had the fucking soundest fella in the world as our manager. He deserved a birra luck. Que sera sera. Or maybe Allez Allez Allez.
Heading into this season there was a little bit more belief. The undeniable truth however was impossible to hide. Maybe Karius had a concussion in the final. But was he really a keeper who you could depend on? Klopp was at a crossroads in his own career. He didn’t want to be known as the nice guy who never won trophies anymore. There was still a bit of money left from the Coutinho sale. Yes, it was now or never. A once in a generation chance to buy a top 5 goalkeeper. I thought it might be Oblak from Atletico. And it could have been very fine with him. But again we went Brazilian. Step forward Alisson Becker.
He had last been seen in Anfield picking the ball from the net five times though nobody in attendance suggested it was any of his doing. In the World Cup in Russia he had shown signs of his quality too. It was decided that he was his our man. A few days later Chelsea gave it the Billy Big Balls by signing a keeper that was even more expensive than our £69m man. All it did was relieve that 1% of pressure Alisson might have had upon arriving in England. The man was and is, ice cool.
Of course that Roma game at Anfield cannot be mentioned without acknowledging my hometown of Dunboyne. An attack on Sean Cox that night has left him with life changing injuries that will affect him and his family for the rest of his life. Having heard the news that evening before the game I couldn’t get my head around it. Despite the love, respect and affection that the club showed to him since then it is a horrible and unfortunate connection of two places very close to me.
Heading into the new season the team looked like the business. But the spectre of Manchester City winning the previous league by 19 points( 23 ahead of us) was hard to ignore. As ever I was working out the maths. It wouldn’t need 100 points to win it again I felt. Nah, 96 would be grand.
Southampton 1-3 Liverpool
This season was relentless. 30 times the league places 1 and 2 changed hands between us and City. Who would blink first?
By the time this rolled around Liverpool were far more of a study in caution and control than in previous years. There was quality all over the pitch now. Fabinho, yet another member of the Brazilian community within the club, was a standout purchase. So much so that he was still keeping Henderson out of the team for long spells. Injury prone Naby Keita gave the number 14 a pathway back into the side later in the campaign, but this night they both shun briefly. It was however another one of those Mo Salah games.
If the time comes that I write about these season’s in more excruciating detail, King Mohammed’s 2017-18 will have to be documented extensively. His 44 goal salvo was nothing short of phenomenal. And all from a right wing position, cutting in on his vicious left peg. Watching him sometimes it felt like that total should be at least double. Liverpool were perpetually working that wing. And if they weren’t Mane was getting his fair share on the other side. And if that didn’t work we had the magic of Firmino unlocking teams at closer quarters.
In this game however, doubts were been raised about the Egyptian. He had gone six games without scoring a league goal. This included two nil all draws against United and Everton that ultimately proved very costly. The match at St. Mary’s he needed to reach his own lofty standards once more. And he certainly did.
I watched this game at the Lotts with the brothers Hoey and a shit stirring Gooner in Paul Halpin who was absolutely loving the Dante like hell that his Liverpool friends were putting themselves through every week. Maybe the trip down to the South coast had done the team a favour. A nice sea air coming in from the Channel? Or maybe it was those marvellous purple shirts.
Either way it was a night of near euphoria which signposted yet more ultimate despair.
The league would again be unattainable and after a disaster in Camp Nou it looked like nothing would be gained this year despite standards of results having never really been much higher. Life just wasn’t fair.
At 0-3 in Barcelona I howled in frustration as Salah hit the woodwork. I insulted my friends to high heaven for having the temerity to acknowledge Messi’s genius. I shook in incredulity when I saw Klopp beckon the keeper up for a last minute corner. Klopp had finally given up logic but Alisson thought better of it. Thirty seconds later and yet another one of Barcelona’s background artists had let their lead actor down. Dembele. God bless him. Liverpool lived to fight another day. And the rest as they say…
Liverpool 2-0 Man United
Don’t mind him Sean, it’s the league we want.
These words I had shouted across the Brady’s car park after the 2018 Kiev final. My piss had been well boiled that night. And it wasn’t just the United fans who decided to turn up and shout for Real. Neither was it the egg chasing Leinster fans who insisted the Challenge Cup stay on the TV until the presentation was over. No, It was seeing that man, walking back to his car disconsolately. Sean Neilon, the manager of Dunboyne’s best boozer, was a long term Red just like me, having to take another slagging off a non red. I had parked myself in the middle bar of his fine establishment for most of the decade, a decision made by my local pals and ultimately endorsed by myself.
When possible we had watched just about everything there since Euro 2012. I shudder to think how many pint glasses of Lucozade I downed when I wasn’t skulling far more appealing Smithwicks.
The reason of course I mentioned it is that this was a season like no other. And not just because I jumped on the plane to Vietnam in October 2019. When the C word finally caught up with the rest of the world in February 2020 it seemed like the most unlikely of causes was going to halt our near perfect procession to the throne.
I thought about home a lot during these dark days. There were many reasons to, as is normal for faraway travellers. But few things hurt more than the knowledge that thousands of pubs around Ireland and the UK were closed during Liverpool’s ultimate coronation. It seemed so unfair that after a generation of waiting to finally do it, fans had to be satisfied with celebrating at home. I did so myself at roughly 4.30am in my apartment on July 23rd 2020, with nothing stronger than a bottle of cold water. It was hardly the party I had dreamed for all those years.
And if it bothered me, can you imagine the feeling of the players? Celebrating in an empty stadium is never going to be as good, despite all the fireworks.
But those are a young man’s dreams. The kind of hopes that shouldn’t alter a life’s plans heading into your 40th year. My long threatened promise of not getting married until we win the bloody league may now be questioned. Oh dear.
So in this season of purgatory I often doubted what I was seeing. City had virtually surrendered by Halloween. Unable to cope with the retirement of Vincent Kompany they had endured a miserable run while Liverpool just kept winning and winning. It was more like an Arsenal ’91 style grind than a Liverpool ’88 style festival. But 1-0s and 2-1s kept coming with alarming regularity. Stand out performers had been the ever willing Mane and Jordan Henderson, enjoying a career best period of form. Even a trip to Qatar to win the World Club Cup for the first time did little to hinder us. We enjoyed Christmas by battering Leicester away after many had said they’d be keen on revenge after an earlier Anfield robbery.
Heading into January 2020 I still strongly believed but doubts remained. Paranoia borne out of years of near misses and despair. The United match glowed brightly from the fixture list. January 19th. For me it was not on too late either. 11pm Saigon time.
Solksjaer has had his critics but one thing can be said of his teams is that most of the time they try very hard. Motivation for a Liverpool game you felt would not be hard to find.
And indeed they fought tooth and nail that day, despite often coming off second best in challenges. Liverpool were imperious however. Van Dijk’s first half header putting us on the front foot and closer again to Valhalla. As the dying moments of the game ticked away, there was still more doubt. United however couldn’t do anything with the set piece and Alisson launched a ball into the left channel. Soon it became apparent why.
Salah was all alone. United had fully committed to the free kick and when it fell apart so beautifully they had nobody home except the keeper. Young Welshman Daniel James put on the after burners but Salah would not be denied his first goal against the old enemy. Seconds later as the ball passed under De Gea and into the net the Kop embraced it all. This was the moment. This was when it felt safe to say it.
We’re going to win the league.
I don’t know if there was a point to writing this. If many people will enjoy it or agree with the matches I chose. I am quite sure there will be many who remember things better and had the benefit of being in the stadium while I poured over instant replays.
I have regrets of not seeing the team play more often in the flesh. The pub and the house certainly have their merits but nothing replaces the real thing and the possibility of making new friends. In this age of the internet I hope it can help refresh the memories of fellow fans and we can reminisce about graveyard shifts on the right wing, Steve Staunton playing in goal and other assorted horrors.You can’t have the good without the bad after all.
But the 2019/20 season is in the books now and we’ll start afresh soon enough. Week after week Irish Reds pile onto coaches and planes destined for Merseyside and that intoxicating atmosphere. I love the hush of the city centre and the citizens going about their daily chores, as fans from far and wide gradually make their way across town to L4, hoping for more unforgettable moments on the pitch.
It has been a thrilling three years at Liverpool. Breathless, unbelievable stuff. A standard reached that has never been sustained for so long. A treble of leagues was won in the early 80s but the points totals never got close to today’s requirements. This team, built on the blueprints of Jurgen Klopp but only functional because of the never ending graft of his tireless players. It is a team that’s easy to love.
But what of those less loveable sides? 1992/93? 2003/04? 2009/10? Well even in the darkest hours there was always light. We’re not City and god knows we’re not Everton. It has been an easier ride than most. If fans like me entered into it on the pretence of guaranteed success then maybe we got what we deserved but most of us put the time and love in after that. It feels bleedin’ good now.
All I can hope is that the wait for the next one is not so long and that the wonder that is Anfield is soon filled again with the best fans in the world.
2014 was probably the most exhilarating year Liverpool Football Club ever saw. Some older fans could plump for either 1988 or 1979 but for me it was this one. For about three solid months Liverpool played football at a speed few have ever seen. History books might one day refer to it as one of the starting points of ‘transitions’ in play; a method used to get the ball to your striker as soon as possible by way of a deep lying midfielder or a ball playing centre half. Given Skrtel’s and Sakho’s limitations as well as Agger’s unfortunate injury problems it was all about Messrs Gerrard and Suarez.
Of course the ribbons on the Premier League trophy were once again sky blue but there’s no doubt Liverpool had won over the neutrals. It seemed like destiny was welcoming us to take the throne, until cruel fate swept the legs from under us. The usual narrative is the Gerrard slip. For me it had more to do with playing Victor Moses while his parent club were still in the title race.
He looked like a man who was conflicted at best when he gave Henderson that hospital pass against City. The number 14 was sent off and missed some vital games in the run in. Blame too could be held against Kolo Toure for a bad decision that cost Liverpool 2 points against West Brom. Heck, even Lucas, who eventually won me over by sheer grit, almost cost us against Norwich. It was Gerrard who saved us at Craven Cottage while other’s still seemed high on the fumes of trouncing Arsenal. Alas we know all this now and the memories still hurt when dug up.
For me it was a year where I managed to put out a feature film to little fanfare. I had gone on a Gerrard like solo run with it for a year and a half, hoping if nothing else that it might convince some production company to trust me with making coffee if not a few edits. I aimed too low and listened to the wrong people. Never recovered. Watching Gerrard in the 14/15 season I felt a certain empathy for him. A childhood dream that would never come through after years of trying. Anyway, a new season and all that. Things could only get better right??
Liverpool 1-Basel 1
By the time this game came around Liverpool had amassed a paltry 21 points from a possible 45 in the league. Rodgers was still trying to figure out a way of playing that didn’t involve the departed Suarez or the injured Sturridge. Balotelli was nothing short of a disgrace. And yet the twenty or so minutes that he and Sturridge had at White Hart Lane back in August was tantalizing. What might have been.
By the time our Swiss nemesis rolled into town the manager had incurred the wrath of the fans by playing a weakened side in the Bernabeu. It never bothered me as much to be honest. Yes it would have been great to see Gerrard there but there wasn’t much evidence the first choice players would have changed the score. What bothered me far more was the away games against Ludogorets and Basel. We were hopeless.
And so if there was any hope of Champions League football post christmas we would have to beat Basel at Anfield. Any score would have been fine. It didn’t happen. Almost ten years to the day of beating Olympiakos we were still relying on Gerrard to get us out of jail. And with another pearler of a free kick ten minutes from time he almost managed it. Alas to no avail. And with that we came ever closer to closing the book on Gerrard’s Liverpool career.
Rodgers was hoping that the players he currently had could fill the void and for a while it looked like Coutinho could take centre stage. Into the new year and Rodgers had happened on a 4-3-3 system that worked a lot of the time. He went on a run with it and suddenly a top 4 spot looked on. Momentum came to a crashing end against United at Anfield however.
And so what could have been an unforgettable season became a season we all wanted to forget. Our greatest number 7 since Dalglish sold at short notice after more biting madness, with scarcely enough time to replace him. The resulting transfer fee spent on the likes of Lallana, Lovren and Rickie Lambert who was fulfilling a childhood ambition that in hindsight probably should have been fulfilled in an over 40s charity match instead.
Gerrard walked away for the last time after a hiding against Stoke. Many say Rodgers should have gone too. But at that time all I could think of was how much our number 8 had given of himself. And how little success his efforts had amounted to post Istanbul.
Life is not supposed to work like that. Hard work and loyalty within a top ‘brand’ usually guarantees glory. Promises were made to him so often. Guarantees of world class teammates being signed. And yet so often it was he who was rolled out for another brow furrowing press conference, explaining the ire of Benitez or the madness of Luis Suarez.
He was remarkably consistent for ten years, often rushing back from injury because no replacement could be trusted to have even half his influence. Now with his pace and energy diminished it was up to others to step up.
I think many people started to feel like Liverpool Football Club was no longer an institution, that we were turning into just another club. How could you blame them after seeing this half hearted season? We needed to believe again, even if Superman was now dead.
Liverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund
A new way had to come. I wasn’t convinced Rodgers was capable of finding it and I don’t think he was either in truth. After signing Benteke it felt like he was again going back on a philosophy he believed in. The Premier League will do that to a manager. Believing in a certain way is fine but results are basically everything. Come October 2015 it just wasn’t happening.
So it was bye bye Brendan but who could take his place? There was no guarantee it would be anyone high profile. Rodgers himself had pipped Roberto Martinez in 2012 after Pep politely sniggered at the suggestion while on sabbatical in New York.
In the end it came down to two people everybody was pleasantly surprised by. Carlo Ancellotti and Jurgen Norbert Klopp. How close the Italian came is anyone’s guess. And maybe it would have been good. But it would have had to go some to be better than what was. What is!
The German arrived with the usual flashbulbs and red scarf pomp. His words were well thought out. It felt like he knew exactly what he was letting himself in for and he was up for it.
More sniggers came after the 2-2 draw at home to West Brom. And yet within four months we were back at Wembley for a League Cup final. A month later we were in the Europa League quarter finals, against of all teams, Borussia Dortmund.
In the early days of this era it could be seen how much had changed. This was Rodgers original philosophy done properly. We could pass all day. The 2nd leg gets all the dramatic headlines but in the first game in the Westfalenstadion we were matching Dortmund pass for pass. It was a beautiful game of football.
Of course I have to choose the second leg. The mayhem of it. Me, in the Carpenters pub screaming my head off in delight. What a night!
But it all was made possible by a collective willingness to try and play football. New signing Firmino had looked lost in the first few weeks but Klopp knew exactly what he wanted from him. Sturridge was off the doctor’s table and beginning to put some form together. Lallana and Joe Allen, two very early disciples of the new way put in serious mileage often sacrificing the niceties of their own game for the team’s greater good. Lucas Leiva too, who had performed heroically at centre half against City in the League Cup Final. And of course, James Milner. With apologies to Gary McAllister the greatest free transfer in the club’s history.
Unlike Arsenal in 19/20 our efforts weren’t immediately rewarded with silverware. The season would end with two disappointing final defeats. Some scoffed at Klopp’s Cup Final misfortune. Others knew better.
West Ham 0-4 Liverpool
Heading into this season everyone was curious about what would happen in the transfer market. Klopp had been as polite as possible about the Benteke misfit but he knew that selling him was the key to everything. In what became a very happy habit, he was sold for an unexpectedly high price and proceeded to do very little for his new club once he got there.
With the incoming lucre, three key members were added to the squad. Sadio Mane from Southampton, Joel Matip from Schalke and Gino Wijnaldum from Newcastle.
With Danny Ings soon sidelined again as well as Sturridge’s ongoing injury troubles, Klopp endured a frustrating time but there was a sense that everyone was positive and happy to play the long game. With the main stand now fully renovated Anfield never looked more like a theatre. A vast sloping roof let everyone knew that the club were beginning to see themselves in a greater light. In the opening few games it took the TV cameras a bit of time to get used to the new dimensions. The first game against Leicester looked like it was filmed from the Radio Merseyside tower.
The season was coming along very nicely by the end of the calendar year. An excellent header by Wijnaldum against City had put us top of the table. Alas a loss of form, perhaps not helped by Mane’s commitments in the African Nations Cup, saw us fall away quickly. What might have been.
Heading into May, Liverpool were looking okay for a Champions League place. It was vital they got it. Two disappointing exits in the domestic cups had brought an end to a miserable spring. If they didn’t get that 4th spot, heaven knows how miserable we’d all be now.
There was no need to fret. As so often has been the case in recent years, the fixture computer offered a trip away to West Ham just when we needed it. It was always tricky playing in the tightly knit Upton Park but playing in a spanking clean Olympic Stadium would be a pleasure.
This looked every bit a Klopp team. West Ham fans surely groaned every time their team won a corner kick for it gave us the opportunity to launch 80 yard counter attacks at will.
Resplendent in toxic green that I felt was unfairly maligned, Liverpool looked vicious again. They closed out the season in style at Vicarage Road with an excellent Emre Can overhead. He was assisted by Lucas Leiva who wouldn’t see the fruits of his labours the next season. A final day win over Middlesboro’ confirmed what we all wanted. Liverpool were back at the top table of Europe.
It occurred to me in the last instalment that I was falling into the trap of documenting far too many events and memories in the Rafa Benitez era. A massive, indulgent word count that probably failed as entertainment but perhaps helped me cathartically.
In September 2008 I returned to Ireland from Indonesia and much like Gillett and Hicks I hadn’t a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of. Alas, my credit ranking at the local banking institutions wasn’t as strong as theirs. Either that or I wasn’t as good a liar.
I spent a lot of my initial return period trying to find employment. It was a futile exercise for the most part. But it did give me a chance to enjoy, or endure my new hobby. Posting comments on football web pages.
Though it was a relatively new phenomenon, it also reminded me of the distance I had from the club. At that point they were still my favourite TV show. My knowledge of the game remained limited to what the hard camera would show. Truly it is a vastly different experience to being in the stadium.
What I could see though was Xabi Alonso was going into 2008-09 like a man possessed. With a World Cup on the horizon and his place in that starting eleven by no means guaranteed, he had bulked up on muscle to add to his mesmeric passing game. The occasional anonymous away day showings were all but gone. He was one who had a point to prove.
Little did fools like me know how serious the fall out had been with Benitez. Rafa is rightly adored by Liverpool people. He did more for the city than many elected officials. That said his bedside manner was pretty poxy to say the least. Rumours abound that he was willing to listen to offers for Alonso in the summer of 2008. This was on the proviso that Gareth Barry came in. Which in itself was a caveat to signing Robbie Keane. Rafa had figured out a way to make us more of an attacking threat and if Keane was to come it would only work if Barry came.
Barry of course never arrived. He is often held in little regard by us Reds but he did go onto win two league titles. A very different player to Alonso. Being so left footed Barry would have certainly changed the entire shape of the team.
My ignorance gave the Americans a little too much credit at this stage. To me they had invested a decent amount thus far (well they had signed players but not with their money) so I couldn’t fully understand Rafa’s position on things.
Of course the world went and had itself a huge recession in the middle of this season and the Hicks Gillett dream ticket was soon exposed by a media still educating themselves on the intricacies of mortgaging football teams with a bank loan.
A part of me still refuses to absolve Benitez fully however. Yes, it was probably done to free up some cash but Robbie Keane should’ve been given until the end of the season. Surely nobody can say he was an inferior option to David Ngog. Anyway that didn’t happen, and the rollercoaster ran on without the boy from Tallaght.
Fulham 0-1 Liverpool
It’s the hope that kills you. For about 22 hours, between April 4th and April 5th 2009, Liverpool looked like they were going to win the league. United had fallen apart in the previous three weeks, with defeats to us and Fulham. With about ten minutes to go against Aston Villa on April 5th they were staring at a third defeat until well…you know the rest.
This season which had been already operatic in its levels of drama, had just reached new heights. Remember it had been 21 years since these two teams had finished 1st and 2nd. There were a few close calls in the 90s but we generally fell away by March. This time we were still very much in it heading into April. The rabid away support believed.
This result did not come easy. Fulham were horribly stubborn all day, resolute with Hodgson shaped banks of four. We tried everything on this day. Babel, Gerrard, Torres. Nothing worked. But yet they kept at it. Grim determination, trying to find a gap somewhere, anywhere. In the 91st minute it arrived. A broken ball in the area and Yossi Benayoun’s nerveless finish.
You might notice the above clip is not from Youtube. Couldn’t find one. The foreign commentary though paints a thousand, indescribable words.
What a season this was. Again, similar to the 2000-02 era, drama seemed to be on every diary page between August and May. Sky Sports News did little to expose Tom Hicks but managed to find new and not very interesting ways of asking if we could win the league and deny United the chance to draw level with on titles. A specific camera was focused on the gods of the old main stand, as Dalglish, Rush and others willed us on to bridge the gap. While the long promised new stadium remained nothing more than a few pretty 3D images Anfield remained our home. An unofficial water feature on the roof above them, visible when a replay of a cross came in from the right hand side, showed a place short on funds, high on hope.
West Ham 2-3 Liverpool
What a difference 4 months makes. By the time of this showdown in early Autumn Liverpool had already lost twice in the league and looked a shadow of last season’s team. Torres, at this stage still trying to find form after a frustrating calendar year of fitness, looked like he was starting to hit his stride again.
This clip is actually a short highlight reel of his own contribution at the Boleyn Ground that day. Upon watching it again, it is pretty amazing to see the amount of work he got through in a game. And the expectation Benitez had on him. Every time he tumbled to the floor I can remember the groans in the ground and the nervousness of our fans. At this point, the American dream in the boardroom was falling apart and Rafa was already manning the barricades on all sides, spreading himself far too thin to ever consider a title run.
We were done for about a month later. First place was already out of the question and the rest of the season played out with a half hearted attempt to qualify for the Champions league which we had already so meekly gotten eliminated from. This was in essence the last time he was in a Liverpool team that looked capable of winning something. And even that’s a lie because we had surrendered a lead twice this day to an average Hammers team.
Our Spanish influence was dwindling rapidly. First Xabi went to Madrid that summer. Albert Riera soon disappeared after showing initial promise. Benitez of course would leave acrimoniously in May 2010, just over a year after bringing us ever so close to the promised land. Where had it all gone wrong?
Liverpool 3-1 United
Again this game goes to show just how non exhaustive this blog is. Between this match and the last one I wrote about, Rafa had gone, Hodgson had come in, Torres had gone, Joe Cole had come in. Mascherano had gone. Christian Poulsen had come in. Hicks and Gillett had gone. John W Henry had come in. Oh and then Hodgson had gone. Guess who came in!!!!
A few paragraphs couldn’t really sum Liverpool Football Club between June 2010 and January 2011. While I battled trolling rival fans below the lines of the Guardian football articles, the real battle was taking place in function rooms of hotels. A group of true supporters had assembled, determined to oust Gillett and Hicks from their post. I can’t exaggerate how little this was covered on Sky. To this day I find their output is only ever going to be a version of the truth, a whitewash of history determined not to upset friends in high places.
On the pitch Dalglish had been installed as a kingmaker by the new(temporary but what an impact) club chairman Martin Broughton. It was up to Kenny to find a new manager to succeed Rafa Benitez. Kenny looked around and saw nobody better than himself. They laughed politely. By January they laughed no more.
This was a momentous few months. Seeing Fowler return in 2006 was a treat but this was something else entirely. The return of the King. As the new year arrived he had taken over the side for a third round FA Cup encounter at Old Trafford. Despite losing, the team had battled bravely with ten men for most of the game. Gerrard again still shaking months and months of frustration out of him.
A few months later and United would come to Anfield. At this time we were still wondering how exactly Torres was going to be replaced. By the end of the game we were barely able to remember his name.
Luis Suarez had come to the club in the January window. For a couple of days it seemed possible that he might link up with Torres and we would go on to dominate the world. Unfortunately that didn’t come to pass. But Andy Carroll would come in. More of that anon.
There had already been a few glimpses of Suarez in earlier weeks but this was his first box office debut. United came to town looking like a slightly jaded version of years past. A Dirk Kuyt hat-trick scored with a maximum distance of 2.5 metres covered and Carragher almost decapitating Nani. The old ground was bedlam, stopping for a couple of moments to sing happy birthday to the King. Oh for days like this.
Liverpool 2-2 Man City
Confession time.The one I wanted to show you was the 3-1 win over Bolton in August. We had returned to the top of the league for the first time in 2 years. Everybody was happy that day. Watched it in Ringsend for some reason. It looked like we were going places.
Fast forward five months and we were nowhere in the league. Looking like an outside bet for 4th with only the cups to think about. Vitally however, new TV deals and the subsequent interest of billionaire owners had finally managed to make Manchester City competitive for the first time in 30 years. By the time this League Cup semi final came about there was no doubt who the better team was, who had a better squad and who had the better future prospects. We needed this, Kenny needed this. Not quite a famous old night in Anfield but it was a small mercy in another difficult campaign.
Dalglish had been getting a bit of stick in the media for the past few months after Suarez had a moment against Patrice Evra. He looked like a man who needed some help on the bench. For me it seemed bizarre that just he and Steve Clarke were basically running this massive club on their own. United had multiple coaches by then, City too. Without even comparing ourselves to them, Dalglish had Evans, Moran and well at least six captains on the pitch back in 1991.
But the cups offered some respite. Bellamy here was excellent. He seemed determined to pay back the faith Kenny had in him for giving him another chance at the club. Always a feisty character, I think the Welshman can look back on his time with some pride. A League Cup medal followed after this aggregate victory in the semi. A footnote here too for Dirk Kuyt who finally managed to get some silverware after 6 years of herculean effort.
In the FA Cup, we got to a final thanks in no small part to Andy Carroll. It certainly didn’t justify the £35m fee as Jamie Carragher suggested. That said, he had got us there and almost saved the day against Chelsea. He was a flop though, despite his best efforts. The wrong man at the wrong time.
Alongside Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson it seemed like Kenny was trying to recreate the hard working British style that had served him so well at Blackburn. Unfortunately a combination of what was there before and the new signings not having much luck in front of goal finally did for us. I remember watching the Swansea game in The Arkles (went to Liverpool with Robbie and couldn’t get a ticket, Dalglish remained box office) and if Carroll had scored with that bullet header, maybe just maybe that would have been the turning point. Alas no. And with that Sir Kenneth Dalglish was gently moved upstairs to an ambassadorial role. Our future would soon look bright. Pearly white bright. Almost unnaturally white…
Man City 2-2 Liverpool
Every season feels like it’s a new beginning. But this actually had a lot of firsts. Adidas deserted us again, blaming our lack of Champions League football. A lot of Liverpool fans are supremely loyal to the brand but I always like to remind them that we’ve never won any European trophies in Adidas. Anyway we’ve moved onto a new label ‘Warrior’. This was an offshoot of New Balance. It seemed like a nice idea though in truth John W might have been doing a favour for a business friend.
Of course the jerseys were secondary in terms of what was happening with the team. Brendan Rodgers arrived from Swansea. He divided opinion early and probably never truly won everyone over but amid the bluster the players were beginning to put occasional patches of brilliance together. Rodgers philosophy was death by football. Play it out from the back and kill teams with possession. Unfortunately the personnel weren’t quite at the required level for this; more of a mess than La Masia.
In the first game against City earlier in the season we had enjoyed a wonderful ding dong battle against the now Champions of England. Charlie Adam rose to the challenge in a rare enough good performance. Others including Skrtel mixed the sublime with the ridiculous. The big Slovakian was always a threat at set pieces but less so with his foot on the ball.
It was too an early indicator of what Luis Suarez could do for a Rodgers team.
In the return fixture Daniel Sturridge had been at the club for two months and was settling in very well. His partnership with Suarez was soon bearing fruit and with either Sterling or bargain buy Coutinho behind them Brendan looked to be onto something.
Sturridge’s first goal was a vicious drive into the bottom corner. There is nothing like seeing a new striker do something like this. Every fan starts letting their imaginations go wild. No more Jonjo Shelvey up front for a start.
The second from Gerrard was not quite venomous but equally well placed. It was good to see him back playing well and enjoying his football. His performances had suffered slightly due to recurring injuries and uncertainty at the club but he had warmed to Rodgers and this next part of his career would go on to provide some fine moments.
Less fine was the continuing downfall of our goalkeeper Pepe Reina. His role in City’s second equaliser that day was beyond laughable. He was not long for Liverpool after this.
Overall though, another draw against the Champions was greeted with positivity. We were buying into the Rodgers philosophy, though it certainly hadn’t developed into possession based dominance he had promised.
Tottenham 0-5 Liverpool
This is when I started to believe. I had been keeping an eye on the table since the opening day when we beat Stoke. I watched that in Carrick on Shannon and was convinced our goalkeeping problems were solved thanks to Simon Mignolet.
We had not been fully convincing since then with a couple of defeats to Southampton at home and an unlucky loss at Arsenal. But the little foals were going on about their business.
As always I was keeping one eye on the left back position. The previous few years had seen a number of potential successors to Riise but nobody ever quite stuck. Aurelio was injury prone and Enrique soon followed the same path. By the time this season rolled around Jon Flanagan was in situ. He would even step up and get a goal on this day against the Spuds. On the other side Glen Johnson remained, still dividing opinion four years on from joining the club.
This was a proper bullying performance. Tottenham had battered us 4-0 at the Lane the previous while Bale was still there. As the summer of 2013 rolled on it looked a lot like we might have to start making plans without our own star man, Suarez. In the end enough was said to secure him for another year. And in doing so, an unlikely pursuit of the title began.
He was captain on this day in place of the absent Gerrard. It was a captain’s performance in the sense that he was clearly the best player on the pitch but in truth Spurs just had one of their very Spurzy days.
An amazing season and one where I could have chosen at least 15 other games. But this is the one I remember. I think I was watching this in Dwyers, grinning to myself, dreaming of red ribbons in May. Sigh.
Not everyone will admit to what they actually bought first. But I will.
Homer: I realised that being with my family is more important than being cool.
Bart: Dad. What you just said was powerfully uncool.
Homer: You know what the song says. “It’s hip to be square.”
Lisa: That song is so lame.
Homer: So lame that it’s…cool?
Bart and Lisa: No
Marge : Am I cool kids?
Bart and Lisa: No
Marge: Good, I’m glad and that’s what makes me cool. Not caring, right?
Bart and Lisa: No
Marge: Well how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we’ve tried everything here.
Homer: Wait Marge. Maybe if you’re truly cool, you don’t need to be told you’re cool.
Bart: Well sure you do.
Lisa: How else would you know?
The winter of 1994 it was a bleak time for many I’m sure. Albert Reynolds gold rimmed spectacles were about the most glamorous thing people saw on Irish television and many of us were still bitter about the pubs being on strike during the summer’s World Cup.
I can’t remember my exact frame of mind but I ain’t the rose tinted type so I’ll say it was better than most, not as good as some. The biggest local drama I faced? Well we were still having issues with the ‘pipe’ television in Beechdale.
I had never been much of a music enthusiast up this point. It would be fair to say that I am not one now. You probably wouldn’t want me on your pub quiz team for the pop music round. Though like many there’s probably some muscle memory that recalls stuff I thought long forgotten.
My first interests in music were basically what my parents were listening to followed what by my schoolmates were into. In those terms it was the Christy Moore songbook, American Country from the likes of Willie Nelson, Jim Reeves, Merle Haggard, Don Williams, The Eagles and Billie Jo Spears. Closer to home it was Big Tom. My Ma also had more British tastes which she would reveal to me later. Maybe I wasn’t ready for the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and T-Rex by then.
When I left primary school I was walking out of there a serious square. Unlike David McEnteggart (who claimed to have been in attendance for the Use Your Illusion tour in Slane 92 aged eleven !), I wasn’t even going to the local disco yet. Neither had I jumped on the smiley t-shirt Nirvana bandwagon(I knew they were good but didn’t like the dirtiness of it all) or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. As for Pearl Jam, no, missed them too. The sad realities of not having a big brother I suppose.
In addition, I was roundly mocked for my continuing interest in WWF. Maybe it was a blessing that we temporarily lost Sky One in our estate though subconsciously I might have been missing lycra and heavily lacquered hair tinged with toxic masculinity. All those roads lead to two bands. Aerosmith and Bon Jovi.
The former never made a huge dent in Ireland historically though I later learned they had visited Dublin during the Get a Grip album tour. Bon Jovi as we know are still beloved in our wee nation.
So it was my Birthday and Christmas requests were quite simplistic. A personal stereo and a few good tapes to listen to. Dustin’s battery warning had not surfaced so I had to learn the hard and expensive way the price of AA batteries. As I remember it I was buying up vast quantities in the of likes Apollo 1 in Moore Street. I think I might have bought the cassette player there too actually. A Memorex Bass Boost! A Nissan Sunny to Sony’s Walkman /Honda Civic.
Both albums tipped the scales at over 70 minutes each and to be honest I probably spun them more on my Dad’s old Hitachi stereo.
I feel like I liked Aerosmith a bit more at the time. Their trilogy of Alicia Silverstone music videos were getting regular air play on MTV with Liv Tyler making a cameo in the last one. I would later learn that this output was quite tame in comparison to previous work. Apparently Aerosmith had normalised transgenderism long before it was a political football and had also championed coitus in a lift. A great bunch of lads.
I knew this album was a greatest hits of sorts but I was also smart enough to know that I was missing out on the full story of the band. The reviews were polite but generally viewed it as a typical cash grab.
Similarly I had taken to Bon Jovi. Their faux cowboy chic went down well with outlaws in far flung towns like Oldcastle and Nobber. I had actually heard Bad Medicine for the first time in Rorys of Ratoath. Pretty certain of that anyway.
What sealed the deal for me apart from that was again, the MTV show: Music non stop. It was on at maybe 4.30 every day and Dry County was in their top 5 for a good few weeks. I liked this ode to water shortages in the American West.
Other ones I enjoyed were the sickly sweet Always: a staple of Asian karaoke bars ever since. Bed of Roses enjoys similar popularity to this day.
After a few months of these I was a little bit bored and borrowed a couple of tapes from Pat McK to copy. A-ha and Duran Duran. I fit both of them on a TDK 120 min tape I had relieved my dad of. I was quite hasty in choosing this particular cassette though. After playing both the Brummies and Norwegians I discovered a Canadian was still there and I had taped over most of him. Gordon Lightfoot. If I could have read his mind I’m sure he wouldn’t have thought much of my taste in music.
So there you have it. Further proof, if ever it was needed that I’m not cool. I never was cool. And just like Marge Simpson says ‘I’m glad. And that’s what makes me cool…..right???’
The one great law of life is that it usually ends up going to form. Occasional glitches in the matrix are eye catching but rare enough to ignore. FC Porto winning the Champions League felt like a little glitch. Greece winning Euro 2004 felt seismic. Surely nothing like that would happen again any time soon.
The ‘Euros’ had been a shop window for the continent’s best. Rooney joined United for 32m. Chelsea were busy again with Carvalho, Robben and Cech coming in. Exciting signings added to proven quality. Arsenal were much like ourselves in trying to repel interest from others.
Liverpool’s involvement in said tournament had been moderately successful. Baros was excellent for the Czechs. Hamann figured in a disappointing German team. Gerrard played well for England, his mistake against France notwithstanding. Owen did okay too, despite not scoring until the fourth game. Meanwhile back in Liverpool Rafael Benitez signed a contract to replace Houllier.
‘Rafa’ came with a very well respected reputation. He helped to break the Classico monopoly in Spain, with his side Valencia becoming La Liga champions in 2002 and 2004. In addition he had also won the UEFA Cup. This had been done on a modest budget, with a chairman unable to tell the difference between a lampshade and a sofa, or something.
His first weeks in office were spent dismissing speculation on Steven Gerrard. It seemed that despite our qualification for the Champions League( preliminary round anyway) Gerrard was eager to leave, most likely for Stamford Bridge( less likely for Man United, though he did admit to wearing a United jersey as a kid; I did too, and an England one!)
Benitez insisted that Gerrard remained a Liverpool player and he looked forward to working with him in the new season. For Gerrard’s part it seemed that he was trying his best to focus on England at that moment. The story ran for weeks on the red tops, probably because the Rebecca Loos & Beckham scandal had run out of steam(or the tabloids realised they couldn’t keep pushing against the golden-balled goose) Either way, it ended typically for the three lions. A quarter final exit on penalties. The players came home to little fanfare, but the Gerrard rumours went on.
Owen gossip was much less audible. The Boy Wonder was undoubtedly a worthy talent, though the electric pace had diminished and injuries were becoming more common. Vitally for many people, his goals column for Liverpool had never creeped above 20 league goals in a season. To put it succinctly, he had dropped a level or two since 2001.
In the last game of 2003/04 Gerrard put him in for a great goal against Newcastle in front of the Kop. It was a tidy finish but the pass was truly special. As I remember the common consensus regarding Owen was ‘if he goes, he goes, but please God don’t sell Stevie’.
Gerrard had come off a so-so 2003/04. As mentioned previously it was a non entity of a season. We looked shorn of ideas and the team was scarcely functioning as a whole. Gerrard was occasionally in midfield with Hamann and had begun to hone his long passing game. He had also finished off the season with a nice variety of strikes. It was the final stages of his boyish adventure, before he evolved into a man with almost the whole team in his backpack. In my mind I wasn’t at all confident of him staying.
The Preliminary round of the Champions league 04-05 was not expected to be a formality at all. A trip to Graz in Austria and the whole conversation was about who Benitez had available to him.
The positives were the signings that were coming in. Steve Finnan, our first genuine Irish senior player in a few years. Djibril Cisse, a flamboyant striker from France replaced El Hadji Diouf (it’s no mistake that I haven’t talked about him) Luis Garcia, an attacking midfielder who came in to replace Danny Murphy. And one chap from Sociedad called Alonso who’d apparently played GAA in Navan in his youth.
The negatives were the current players and rumours surrounding them. If Gerrard or Owen played they would be Cup tied in Europe, thereby lessening their value. If they wanted to leave then there was no way they would play this game. And if they didn’t play there was no guarantee we could win without them.
In the end Gerrard played and Gerrard stayed. A legend began an unlikely quest and unlike so many before him his zenith probably came sooner than he liked, but we’ll get to that. Owen left and with it his career gradually declined to the point of retirement and virtual anonymity aged 31. Sliding doors indeed.
For me this has a strong case to be the most important, noteworthy match of the season. Just the second week in August and not yet had a Premier League ball been kicked. It was just the start of something incredible though, something that will probably never happen to us again.
Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal
So yes I went for this. One of just a handful of respectable performances from us League wise. It was late November and Arsenal were just recently shorn of their Invincibles tag. Chelsea had had a blistering start to the campaign and looked unlikely to be caught but the Gunners were still a very worthy yardstick to measure ourselves by.
Xabi Alonso had been showing signs of quality up to this point, particularly at home. He was still adapting to the rough and tumble of the league and given the quality around him it was little wonder that there was so much drop off once we left the comfort of Anfield. Home matches were no banker at this stage mind you. Certainly not against Arsenal. I remember beforehand just hoping that we could perform well.
I watched this in my folks’. It was one of those great Sky Sports occasions. The much maligned Martin Tyler had just the right amount of pathos in his voice, perfectly encapsulating the struggles of Liverpool and their stoic determination to get back to the top. Gerrard was relentless all day, thundering around like a man possessed. Comparisons with Scholes and Lampard were completely irrelevant from this point on. Brilliant players both but neither had ever to shoulder so much responsibility at such a young age. And now as captain too, aged only 24. Had he been given the armband as part of his new contract? Was there any animosity with Hyypia because of it? Yes and almost certainly no. Sami was a gentleman and knew it was part of a greater good.
But the key thing I remember was the link up play with Alonso and Gerrard. It seemed like for the first time since McAllister had been there, SG had a dance partner. Someone who finally understood him. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
After we took the lead with a brilliantly crafted goal, Arsenal hit back with their own touch of class. It looked all the world like a creditable draw until someone who looked a little bit like Gerrard’s slightly chubby brother decided to have one last lash at goal. Neil Mellor. Cue bedlam.
The season as we all know would pan out into something of a fairytale. Myriad books have been written on 2004/05 and I’ve no doubt season DVDs have been played to death too.
It came along at a point in my own existence where I needed a win. I was still working in the Corpo and had moved on to making music videos in my spare time. Local bands with ideas far beyond their financial means and my creative ability. Todd Haynes I was not. Overall though it felt like that side of things felt like a work in progress. That if I kept doing stuff I’d naturally improve.
Our lives do often seem to be running parallel to our favourite football teams. For some the bad results will mean not leaving the house or cutting themselves off from the sledging of friends ’til the next game. I didn’t really feel like that at the time. I saw something in this team that I liked. On their good days they could really play.
It did seem like we were struggling for a source of goals however. The January signing of Fernando Morientes (Cup tied in Europe) did not quite lead to a glut of goals and Cisse’s horrific injury had put heavy pressure on Baros upfront. He was often miles from goal, furrowing a lonely plough. Occasionally Sinama Pongolle or Mellor would come on late to save his weary legs from complete burnout. Garcia looked light early on. Well he always looked light but again he didn’t have the engine to survive in the English game yet. With him still adapting Gerrard had been put in the free role. Benitez moved him out to the left wing and let him at it. There wasn’t much else he could do.
It didn’t work out. Stevie G became frustrated. We got knocked out of Europe before Christmas, Alonso was sold to Arsenal the following summer for 12m and the rest of the motley crew of Traore, Biscan and Carson led us to relegation two seasons later. No wonder Sliding Doors never got a sequel.
Liverpool 2-1 Chelsea
From about 1998 onwards I had harboured thoughts that Liverpool FC were not a very well run organisation. This was not just comparing them to the PLC in Salford. The situation with Roy Evans’ leaving had been messy. Previous to that was the Collymore signing that although broke our transfer record couldn’t be considered a success. But I think it went further than that.
There were a couple of issues that were dominating matters off the pitch. It was clear that Chairman David Moores was keen to find new investors to help take the club to the next level. He had done what he felt best for so long, coming up with funds for players for the previous 15 odd years.
We had often been the league’s highest spenders but others had caught up and left us for dust. It was difficult to separate finances off the pitch with the effect it had on it. The teams that were spending were, more or less, getting quality. The next shelf where we now shopped was less of a guarantee.
The previous season had ended in heaven as we all know. A trip to Valhalla that had begun with a swing of a Norwegian’s boot onto the noggin of a Whiston boy’s head. So much has been said, better than I. It had also been a seismic shock to the system for the boardroom. Pleasant as it was, winning the European Cup with that team was not on anyone’s agenda.
The days that followed were a gradual climb down from cloud nine. I later read that the club shop was closed the day after Istanbul. Potential revenues of tens of thousands. And then worse. Apparently Gerrard was going to leave! Another summer long saga began. Many of us innocently believed the incredible victory would be a catalyst to go out and spend 50 or 60m on players. We all waited for the cliched picture of 4 to 5 players holding scarves and wearing the smart new away kit.
The second issue was Anfield itself. It seems like an appropriate time to bring it up because this was the first season I was there. Far too long to wait but better late than never. I visited for the Everton league game in March 2006. On the Kop for a Merseyside Derby. Finally I would get to see my hero Steven Gerrard. Yes, yes! Ye…..wait he’s been sent off. What???
It was a nice 8 minutes.
Not to worry though. Everton had one of their usual off days and Harry Kewell put the finishing touches on a 3-1 win after another Philip Neville masterclass.
What I noticed when I got there was the modesty of the place. I am no judge of architecture but my frame of reference at that point was Croke Park which looked twice as big. Football dimensions aside it seemed like the main stand needed work. Walking past the abandoned terraced housing I felt a lot of emotions. I had seen houses like this in Dublin but the sheer volume of boarded up windows compared to home was enormous.
Liverpool began to fascinate me in far more ways than just what was happening on the pitch. I began to read up more on it. What had happened over the past twenty years to create these empty shells. The majority of it made for bad reading for both Tories and neo-liberals but when I heard the club itself had been complicit and even guilty of buying up properties at cut price, it didn’t impress me at all.
Conversely the old school atmosphere around the stadium was really good. Hot dogs, The Albert, the old Hillsborough memorial store. I had gone with my pal from work Robbie. I felt like a big kid! I have since been to Liverpool about eight times. Mostly for football but a couple of times just for the craic. In the past 15 years I’ve seen the main city centre’s gradual regeneration improve upon what were already some classic landmarks. The friendliness of the people working there is also notable. Plus, the police I have met and chatted to are very approachable. If the stars align someday I’d love to do a Houllier and teach there for a while.
On the pitch things improved league wise after a slow start. The 1-4 Chelsea loss at Anfield showed many how far we had to go. But again, once Benitez had a full hand to play from things began to click. New signing Peter Crouch had come in to replace the workmanlike Baros. Milan will always remain a favourite of mine. He had an excellent international career to dispel any doubts of goalscoring prowess. Crouch himself had a long wait to break his Liverpool cherry. But in time he proved his worth.
This team was immensely likeable in my view. The first eleven were making the absolute most of what they had. I have always been a fan of endeavor over flair, but we weren’t completely ugly with the ball. Far from it. We just needed a real goalscorer.
And then news came in February 2006. Rumours like wildfire. Robbie Fowler was coming back. It was a fairytale come to life. In this welcomed second chapter he looked determined to give it his best shot. That overhead kick and the heartbreaking linesman’s flag! Fowler did end the season with a few goals.
The league was essentially over for us by then with Chelsea again looking worthy winners. We had become very familiar with them both in Europe and the league. And as fate would have it the FA Cup would throw us together again.
The game at Old Trafford was classic Rafa Benitez. High intensity, effort. Creating two on one situations on both the left and right. Anything that could give the ever lively Gerrard a sliver of opportunity. Luis Garcia had grown massively in confidence since Istanbul. So many of them did in fact. Carragher had turned into a formidable centre half alongside Sami. Both had looked like they weren’t at all up to it in the dark days of the 03/04 season. Riise too was getting back to the respectable goal scoring numbers he had in his first year. Ah jaysus, I loved this bunch.
We would go on to lift the FA Cup in Cardiff. Pepe Reina almost signed off his debut season in disaster. I was overly harsh on him throughout the years but he certainly wasn’t in the same class as Clemence, despite many people’s insistence.
On the plus side his distribution was generally excellent, plus he had solid reflexes and was quick off his line. My trouble with him was that much like De Gea nowadays his judgement on high balls into the box wasn’t always great. Nonetheless he redeemed himself brilliantly in the penalty shoot out.
It was the last great Cup Final. The change of venue had been very good to us. But it was time to look forward. Optimism abounded at Anfield now. The bird was beginning to stretch her wings.
I was living in Kilmainham at this stage after a brief stay in my folks’. It was nice to get back nearer to the city, even if it meant living with an Arsenal fanatic, Keith.
I was seemingly surrounded by Gunners fans. I met another lad Paul during a TV show that I’d gotten ‘extras’ work in. It was a right rogues galley if ever I saw one. We found that we shared a mutual love of Escape to Victory re-runs and lovely creamy pints, often ending our nights with fiery quarrels on how shite everything was or wasn’t. Again my cynicism did me few favours, but my debating skills arguably did improve.
Liverpool 0-1 Barcelona
Two years on from the appointment of Benitez and he had delivered four trophies. He was making it look easy. God knows what he could do with some real investment. Nobody wondered louder than Rafa himself. By the end of this season, his point was maybe proven.
Our title pretensions didn’t make it past Christmas in all honesty. Such was the standard of the Premier League if you weren’t hitting 45 points by Christmas you had no chance. We were mid thirties by December 25th. Still though, it was nice to be back in Adidas
The season had started slowly. Robbie Fowler was getting the odd goal but it felt to me like Benitez wasn’t convinced of his ability to lead the line. Granted Fowler was never the most athletic but he retained a gift for clever movement which a more positive manager could have exploited. Crouch became slightly more prolific than the previous season but I guess the main hope we had going into that year was new signing Dirk Kuyt.
After a couple of games it became apparent that he would never be found wanting for effort. He was the type of workhorse that any team could find a place for. Perhaps it was his all round toiling that caused him to lose that ice cold poise you need to put the ball in the net, even if he still got a fair share. Rafa eventually converted him to a very effective right winger where he became the epitome of a cult hero.
Bellamy was never more than a 15 goal a season man either and so Rafa still a piece of his puzzle missing. He wouldn’t find it til the next summer.
After getting past a sticky Autumn and securing a place in the Champions League round of 16 it was obvious that we had but one chance to save our season. All we had to do was beat Barcelona over two legs.
In early 2007 more rumours spread that Liverpool were being sold. These kinds of stories had popped up a few times before but this one actually had some substance. The Moores family had been advised to sell to two American owners; Tom Hicks and George Gillet.
At first it seemed promising. They had a background in working with large U.S sports franchises and understood the need for modernisation. They said a lot of the right things and most of us were satisfied with their m.o. The general feeling was great. Let’s see how much they spend in the summer but we’ve still got a Champions League campaign to finish.
The first leg was in the Nou Camp. As everyone knows, the weather there is quite mild in February, ideal for a game of golf. Appropo of nothing Craig Bellamy got the first goal and John Arne Riise got the winner. The softly spoken Scandanavian wasn’t one to make a song and dance about these things though. And nothing else happened on that trip.
The return leg was a different kettle of fish. White hot. Anfield. The songs. The flags. The pride. Goosebumps. Fans were beginning to sense a possible path to the final was again emerging. Notably in the ITV commentary above, Tyldesley states that Liverpool would be moving to a new stadium in Stanley Park. More of that anon.
I watched this in Inchicore with Keith. His Arsenal loving self was happy to cheer us on against the team that broke his heart the previous May. Around this time both myself and him were staples of the ‘Whelans’ scene. I liked nothing more than wearing my retro red and white scarf while failing miserably with the ladies out in the smoking area. Our co conspirator Gav, was a United fan who humoured our defiant promises of future success for our respective teams. I was drinking three nights a week and when the bars closed I went to the casino for bets and bizarrely enough, toasted sambos. I felt like Henry in Goodfellas.
The first half was pretty even with Riise and Sissoko both hitting the bar. Then it seemed Barcelona had suddenly woken up and realised their title was in jeopardy. Messi, who had been so well marshalled by Alvaro Arbeloa moved into a more central position as the game wore on. The Catalans seemed to have about 90% of possession. This was the night where Jamie Carragher went from the warrior-like last ditch man in the trenches Carra, to a general marshalling his troops, urging them to push Barca out of the penalty area again and again. He was at his absolute peak in these few months. Another similar performance came against United a few weeks later though with a less fortunate result.
Carragher had a very decent career at Liverpool. There’s no doubt that the good far outweighed the bad and that you don’t play 730 games and win 10 trophies by being average. He was though perhaps in some bad teams that exposed him at times.
This however was a very good team. A team in every sense of the word. Eamon Dunphy was in pen pointing, accusatory mood on RTE. Gerrard was a nothing player. Rafa had a serious negative streak. We were terrible! And yet, and yet.
The aggregate victory secured a quarter final against PSV where we played like royalty; seemingly insulted at the suggestion Eindhoven were in our class. Recently signed Mascherano had dislodged the promising Momo Sissoko in the previous weeks and never looked back. Chelsea were beaten on pens in the Semi, with thanks to a buddha wearing lucky socks.
At the start of this season it was expected that new signing Daniel Agger would gently move Hyypia aside but it didn’t pan out that way for another few years. He had undoubted quality and his tidy finish in the semi got us to said penalty shoot out. Unfortunately he was another blighted by injuries over the years but remained a strong fan favourite throughout his time nonetheless.
And so then another final against Milan in Athens. Despite a defeat we actually played well. Fringe player Zenden was selected and did okay but it was not a popular decision amongst the rest of the team. Crouch was more than unlucky not to start, having scored 6 goals to help get us there. Pennant had also justified his inclusion and played well for about an hour before a namesake from Nottingham was called out over the P.A. He barely got a kick after that.
Rafa had ended the season with what would become a familiar refrain, an interview criticising someone not directly involved in the game. The owners. One couldn’t help but keep an eye on that ongoing situation.
Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool
Liverpool had seen their hope rekindled in the previous three years. Rafa was pretty much a deity now as he was not only leading the team to success but also was helping the Hillsborough protest groups maintain their momentum. The man had fallen in love with the city just like Houllier before him. They loved him right back.
All it needed was a striker. Just get a good one. Jermaine Defoe? Yeah maybe. What about David Villa? Hmm, don’t think he fancies cold wet England. Darren Bent? Ah heor! What about that blonde lad at Atletico?
It was the summer of sun-in love, alice bands and Nike total 90s. The ownership team of Hicks and Gillett had passed their first big test and come up with the funds. Roughly twenty one million pounds. El Torro was on his way to Anfield.
But to take the next step we needed those goals. Would he deliver in the Premier League. I tuned into the opening day game at Villa Park to find out. I am pretty sure I watched this in Quinns in Drumcondra after a Dubs game.
Liverpool had been notoriously slow starters for the past few years and as mentioned earlier you really had to shoot out of the blocks if you wanted to be considered title contenders. Torres was signed as the final piece of the puzzle. Almost instantly he had an impact, terrifying defenders with his close control, pace, marvellous swivelly hips. Oh Fernando.
Alas this one almost got away from us. Our new hero wasn’t quite able to get a winning goal. So we turned to the old hero instead.
A few months later I moved to Jakarta. It was a decision based on logic but made on emotion. The job in the Corpo had ran its course. I made some good friends but the job didn’t make me happy. It was tough to work in a place where you spent most of the day apologising.
I decided to give English teaching a try instead. It was tough. I actually forgot how tough until last year when I got back into it. The time difference in Asia didn’t really affect my LFC viewing pleasure back then. I usually started work at 2pm local time and this was manageable. It’s tougher nowadays.
I had been very late to the internet party and didn’t even have an email address of consequence until 2006. But when I got started I never looked back. Like so many things now, football is intrinsically linked with the world wide web. I opened an account on The Guardian where I was free to vent my spleen after every result. For a few years it was really good. The sledging with rival fans was great as I continued to dream of a world without Alex Ferguson.
A lot of the club’s fortunes were increasingly being decided by matters away from the pitch. The Wall Street crash had a huge effect on the world, not least on our owners. Before you could say leveraged buyout more stories came to light.
It seemed that Liverpool FC was basically just an asset on a spreadsheet. No different to a block of apartments in downtown Miami. And it would have gone unnoticed if not for numerous local journalists like David Conn and James Pearce. Not to mention a real backbone of the club’s support ‘The Spirit of Shankly.’
In this era of 24 hour sports news it is remarkable that these stories never came to light beforehand. It showed me how important traditional print media still remains. And how vital it is to have fans who constantly ask the big questions.
It would be worth an article on its own but I will recommend the book ‘An Epic Swindle’ by Bryan Reade as well seeking out archived material on the Liverpool Echo and The Guardian.
Anyway I have burst through any socially acceptable word count here. More next week.