‘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.
My ongoing reminiscing of a recently ended journey. Part 1 and Part 2 available here.
Note: I have updated Part 2 to include Jack Charlton’s last stand at Anfield in 1995. RIP to the great man.
And so into the new millennium. I will try to keep the catharsis to a minimum but these days were tough in many respects. Let’s get to it.
These were the rock and roll years, for me at least. Even U2 provided the theme for ITVs coverage as they took over the Saturday night highlights show for the following season. Bono and Co. had capitalised on their inoffensiveness to become the soundtrack to the new millennium. This music was everywhere. But at least it wasn’t owned by Louis Walsh.
Not that Irish based Premiership fans had to worry about all that. We had our own show, a full two hours before English TV. Coupled with a recent return to deferred coverage of Saturday 3pm games on RTE and the early part of the new millennium was looking good overall.
Full disclosure on my part however, I recall very little of 1999/2000. I started August as a trainee manager in my local Spar and ended May in Randolph, Massachusetts, working on occasional demolition jobs for cash in hand. While many of Ireland’s sons can lay claim to building America, I can take pride in pulling a bit of it down for roughly 60 dollars a day.
Liverpool 3-1 Leeds
Liverpool FC themselves were once again attempting another rebuild, as Gerard Houllier set about improving a club he had fallen in love with during a short time as a French teacher in the UK back in the 60s. In his first full season he set about his task with relish. In what was to become an almost cliched picture of new recruits sporting the new season’s kits GH looked as if he’d bought half a new team.
Eric Meijir! Westerveld, Henchoz, Hyypia, Camara, Smicer (Heskey had arrived in March) all came in. They were to replace a host of others. Among them were Rob Jones, Steve McManaman, Paul Ince and (YES YES YES you fuckin beauty!!!)David James to Villa. My relief was vindicated in that season’s FA Cup final, your problem now Villains!
Also, I haven’t probably paid due credit to Vegard Heggem who was an accomplished right back during the previous seasons. Like so many others around then his Anfield career was also blighted by injury . He remained in the squad until 2003.)
The biggest thing in club football to happen this summer was the restructuring of the Champions League. England, Spain, Germany and Italy were to be awarded an additional place in the competition. This didn’t sit well with United fans who felt it should be a competition for domestic league winners only. Ironic when you think that they finished second in the 1997/98 season.
But either way Liverpool had a very tangible, very attainable target in this season. And our biggest rivals for it were going to be Chelsea and a Leeds side coming along very nicely under David O’Leary.
Some eye catching goals in this one. Not least the last one by a young Danny Murphy. What might catch your eye even more is a cherubic Steven Gerrard sitting down with cramp in the dying moments. His growing pains were to be a hindrance in the first few years of his senior career but this season was to be a very fruitful one for him. A splendid solo goal against Sheffield Wednesday as well as two goal line clearances against Everton in the derby gave Keegan enough justification to put him in the England squad for the summer’s European Championship. Mr Gerrard was putting himself about all right.
It looked very good for the Reds after this, Europe wise. Alas Bradford City had a little something to say about that on the final day. I wasn’t as gutted as I should have been because I’d missed so much of the season for various reasons.
It was a crazy year. It took a few months to realise I had blown it in school big time, spending most of my time writing stories instead of getting to grips with Pass Level Maths. Hindsight is a hell of a drug though and I’ve OD’d on it far too often by now. In between the two jobs mentioned I worked in Roches Stores in Blanch, an 8pm to 8am night shift in 3-Com in Ballycoolin and a few months in Elvery’s Sports. I also joined a drama group in the YMCA in Aungier Street for a while. My old English teacher Mick Stanley even arranged work experience for me in The Gate Theatre but I didn’t know what I was at. Or maybe nobody explained it. Anyway, c’est lá vie.
I applied for a filmmaking course in Ballyfermot at the start of 2000 but despite having my first movie ‘Balaclavas in the Sky’ as part of my application the interview did not go well. I guess I had some far flung ideas in mind. Maybe I could work in America for a year or two, get some money together and buy some more camera equipment. Nothing worked out. I had no patience and no determination. Just a face full of acne and low self esteem.
Why is this important you might ask? Why indeed. While I struggled to find my place in the world and came to terms with the fact I had made the single biggest academic fuck up of my life, the only constant was football. And when I got to the States even that wasn’t available without much of a struggle. I was still only 19 and legally too young to be hanging out in the bars all the time. We watched a couple of the EURO 2000 games but that was about it. Even if it had worked out I don’t think I would have stayed much longer there. Work was increasingly rare without a social security number and I figured I might be back in a few years to take over the place anyway! Better to come home and try again with better preparation.
(note audio is out of sync here. Duplicate it, mute the first one and start the second with audio two seconds after it, go back to the first and watch it!)
Liverpool 4- Arsenal 0
I came back to Dublin with the tail slightly between my legs. The good folk at Elvery’s took me back in. I got to liking the place. I was in charge of the jerseys and took pride in having my section look spick and span.
We occasionally had some celebs in. Ronan Keating, Keith Duffy and erm, Meath’s Tommy Dowd. He asked for a discount on a golf bag one evening but I was still bitter about the Leinster final in ’96 and charged him full whack!
Liverpool had changed their kits again and I invested in the gold and navy away jersey a few weeks after my first pay packet. There was a nice mix of football fans working there and the chat was always good. Ireland’s new found success in rugby did our overall sales no harm either.
I don’t think I was cut out for retail long term mind you. The days dragged on like billio and I craved the idea of having more free time to do something meaningful. Notions Ray, notions.
On to matters LFC and Houllier was in his second full season. He had enjoyed another spree in the summer. Barmby, McAllister, Babbel, Ziege and future cult hero Igor Biscan among others. Nobody expected a title challenge. It was United’s to lose, with the Gunners expected to offer some resistance.
Arsenal were quite depleted on this day, while we were spoilt for choice. At this point Fowler was no longer undroppable, far from it in fact. Transfer rumours had dogged him during this time, with a muted move to Chelsea even mentioned by Alan Parry in the above clip. Other whisperings of training ground arguments with Phil Thompson could also be heard.
For me Fowler deserves so much praise. And yet when something comes so naturally to someone you can’t help but feel a bit annoyed that he might have wasted his chance. On one hand he was ultra reliable for us for four years, often winning games single handedly scoring a range of goals that only he could. In a team where so many often lost their heads he was coolness personified from all angles and both feet. He had always maintained a strong bond with the fans too, particularly when he supported the local dockers strike in 1997 with a T-Shirt reveal.
The injuries when they did come took away some of his confidence however. And in turn some of his aura. The twenty five goal seasons were never to be seen again after ’97. For a natural goalscorer who also supplied many assists, Robbie’s game was all about being in the final third when it mattered. Unlike Rush before him he was not our first line of defence and so to get the best out of him he needed willing assistants. Houllier’s philosophy we would come to learn, did not entertain such innocent notions of attacking football. And in the end, no matter what all the other stuff was, whatever was said to whoever, Robbie Fowler was destined to leave. His legacy remains untainted by the red hordes however. Rightly so in my view. For a few seasons, GOD was a wee lad from Toxeth.
I had a great day watching this in any case. I arrived at the lounge of O’Dwyers at 11.30am and left some 13 hours later. I had a nice sirloin around 6 o’ clock and kept her lit all day, even managing to turn up at James Connolly’s house for a few cans.
In all honesty I could have chosen at least fifteen other games this year. The imagination had been truly recaptured. You could sense that there was a buzz about us in the media. There was still inconsistency but from about February onwards we were battering teams with ease. Derby away sticks out, United at home and away, plus of course Everton away. Gary McAllister was salvaged from a Coventry scrapheap and became the best free transfer in our history( only Milner would later rival him)
In Europe the archetypal performance in Rome was exquisite. 0-2 with an Owen brace. The kind of grown up game plan Bob Paisley probably whispered to Souness and Neal twenty years previously. I was back in O’Dwyers for the Alaves Final; a display that was slightly less tactical to say the least. And then of course the two Cardiff finals. A great three months. Other fans working so hard to diminish that Cup Treble spoke volumes.
This new, less pretty Liverpool were extremely effective.
Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea
This season was going to be the one right? Ooh man just thinking about it, we were looking really bloody good in the spring of 2002. United were falling away and overcoming Arsenal appeared eminently more possible, psychologically if nothing else.
As it came to pass Wenger had actually built very well the previous summer. After seeing Owen outrunning Adams and Dixon in Cardiff he had to think about breaking up the famed back four. Tony Adams made it easier for him by announcing his retirement at the end of the season. A few key signings in Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure saw them looking far more mobile. Plus their midfield was pure class; Vieira especially( this was far more his season than the ‘Invincibles’ year). In times to come we would realise that Gerard and Arsene only had passports in common. They couldn’t have been further apart in tactics.
Houllier’s strength was the squad game. Rotation and vital substitutions. Similar to Fergie in 1998/99 the penny had dropped that making in-game switches in key moments was not just to rest players but to knock out weary opponents after seventy odd minutes of battle. We were experts in late goals during this time.
The squad itself had been tweaked since the previous year and would be tweaked during the season too. John Arne Riise came in at left back and would eventually be the most successful Norwegian we had. Milan Baros was signed but work permit issues delayed his debut considerably. In addition Houllier took the decision to sign two goalkeepers (Dudek and Kirkland) to compete with each other after Westerweld was unceremoniously( and unfairly imo) dumped after a couple of errors. It still keeps me up at night wondering how many chances his predecessors had been given.
Jamie Redknapp finally succumbed to his injuries and found a club more accommodating to his body’s needs; joining Spurs on a free later in the season. Younger fans might only know him as an eager to please pundit. Certainly his stint on Sky Sports has left them wondering how many teams one man can support. Nevertheless he was a beautiful player to watch and not only for Liverpool. His cameo for the Three Lions against the Scots in ’96 ensured that the bandwagon could actually start moving. Twenty odd minutes of metronomic, soothing passing had calmed the nerves of his teammates and got them to start playing again. It was so disappointing that afternoon ended for him like so many others; in the treatment room.
Also, ‘God’ officially left in the Autumn for rivals Leeds. It was seen by many as a power move in the dressing room and Houllier had won it. One of Robbie’s last acts was to score a hat trick at Filbert Street. It looked all the way like he was getting back to very good form. But GH saw it differently. As some kind of consolation Nikola Anelka arrived a few months later and looked very tasty indeed. Jari Litmanen too had come in January 2001 but it became apparent that similar to Riedle before him we were getting a class act slightly past it.
Our team was very strong but the Gunners were stronger still. Perhaps the experience of 97/98 told in the end but we made very few errors. It didn’t feel like our tilt in 1997 when we were just letting ourselves down every few weeks. To my eyes the effort going into each game was hugely admirable. Of course, the players were no doubt taking inspiration from Houllier himself. After being taken ill in a match against Leeds in early October, it was reported GH had suffered a heart attack. Thommo took over and went on a seamless transitional run. When Houllier returned for a key European game against Roma, Anfield erupted again. It was a misplaced gesture in a way. Houllier needed a little bit more time off according to many at the club. He had lost weight and was still poorly.
Still though I fondly remember this Chelsea game. I genuinely felt the Premier League Trophy was in touching distance. Within weeks I was leaving Elvery’s for a new job. But I’ll always remember Kenny Cragie singing in the shoe section the morning after this.
Out of the Champions League a few weeks earlier after another almost famous night in Switzerland, the Reds couldn’t buy a league win either. Our fall was dramatic and took everyone by surprise.
After a year and half of virtually relentless good form, the hope in our collective hearts dropped to the floor. Jerzy Dudek, a man who I learned to love, had to suffer the pain of a clanger against the old enemy. It was December 2002. United had won 2-1 in Anfield, their first victory there in three years. Houllier’s team never recovered.
This was a hard hard season. I watched the Charity Shield in Belfast with my pals Johnny and Pat Mc. Arsenal had comprehensively beat us 1-0. Again it looked like we were after missing a trick.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time but looking back on it, the reasons were simple. Just look at these transfers in: Cheyrou, Diouf, Diarra, Luzi and Diao. The training must have been so pedestrian, so average. Diao was arguably the best of the bunch here and the biggest faint praise I’ve ever damned on anyone.
The decision to not meet Anelka’s wage demands ( they were high but not Alexis Sanchez levels) proved to be the beginning of the end for GH. It’s important not to overstate the player’s ability but he was perfect for a Houllier team. Strong, fast and happy to play on his own or in a front two. The decision still baffles me.
So the bad transfers, strikers who simply couldn’t score and a defence who looked jaded at times. We went on a horrible run of form before Christmas and by the time February came around there was very little to cheer.
Once again, like so often in the fabled history of the club, a League Cup victory provided hope and consolation at the right time. The 2-0 over United was a great one-off type of day. The type the Red Devils themselves used to specialise in during our pomp. Dudek redeemed himself after the horror show earlier in the season and once again Cardiff proved to be a Xanadu for Stefan Henchoz. I watched in O’Dwyers and enjoyed it for what it was but remained unconvinced about GH’s future. We wasted another bite of the European cherry against Celtic in the UEFA cup a few weeks later.
In the end it came down to a billion dollar game against Chelsea. Winner take all on the last day of the season. Stamford Bridge hadn’t been a happy hunting ground for us for many years my scepticism proved correct. A few months later, Abramovich got his cheque book out and Chelsea never looked back. Meanwhile heading into a new season Liverpool looked to have missed the boat again.
Personally I was enjoying life a bit more. I moved into Dublin City about two weeks before the World Cup in Korea/Japan. Naturally I was caught up in the Roy Keane madness just like everyone else. I got a job in the City Council and my morning commute took in Kevin Street with his huge 7up banner hanging over the flats.
We all knew how it turned out but I always felt that while David Beckham had built a personal industry on selling underpants Roy would have to be more creative. After many famed stories of his furious temper had surfaced over the years he eventually decided that monetizing his bad moods rather than seeking professional help would be a better option. In this era of endless football punditry one can hardly blame him but while it’s often still entertaining I can’t help feeling he’s long fallen into caricature.
I also got back playing 11 a side myself and was enjoying a season with Fairview Celtic when my landlord in Harrington Street inconveniently decided to die. I had to move back to Funboyne for a few weeks before another short lived sublet came up in Rathmines. The commute proved too tricky without my own wheels and I retired with a David Speedie-esque record of five appearances and one goal with one assist. Myself and Paddy O’Reilly finally found a place in Phibsboro’ but by then the season was over in a real sense. It seemed like a good time to roll some spliffs, watch the box set of Friends and look forward to next season.
Arsenal 4-2 Liverpool
By the time this match took place Liverpool were traipsing along well after the Lord Mayor’s show. It was Easter weekend and we were grimly trying to stay in the hunt for 4th. It had been a season of ego damaging reality. One positive sign was Gerrard’s range of passing was becoming laser like. He put Owen in for a beauty here and would do so again later in the season against Newcastle.
It was sad to see that others around him seemed unable to rouse themselves at times in this season though nobody could really be faulted against this Arsenal team. It was one of those days where Henry was on it. He had a few against us.
Overall though, the writing had been on the wall early doors. Chelsea had to come to Anfield on the opening Sunday and won 2-1. They might as well have done it wearing diamond encrusted Umbro Specialis and Nike Tiempos dipped in gold leaf. It was an obnoxious display of wealth. Their new galaxy of stars versus us and new signing Harry Kewell.
Liverpool eventually qualified for the Champions League in what appeared to be the most anticlimactic goodbye ever seen for a manager of our side. The Anfield crowd generously applauded Gerard Houllier for his efforts and in time history was good to him.
The last game against Newcastle at home also proved to be Michael Owen’s last as he moved on to Madrid. I don’t know if I’m inclined to write as much about him as I did Fowler or McManaman. Yes he was a European player of the year but ultimately for me he was a phenomenon who turned out to be completely reliant on his pace. Thanks for the Cup Final memories all the same and credit where it’s due. Very hard to respect a man who doesn’t like films though, never mind his later career choices.
Also the much maligned Emile Heskey would leave the club. He had a very respectable first couple of years and was a key part of the treble team but the final two seasons were a real struggle. He was linked with moves away as early as the summer of 2002 and would fail to get 10 league goals in one season after 2000/01. Every time he drew a blank you could sense the weight of the world bearing down on his powerful shoulders. But it doesn’t paint the whole picture.
He made the game very easy for Michael Owen both at club and international level, occupying defenders and making a general nuisance of himself while the Boy Wonder thrived. It is amazing to think that any player who reaches his level in the game constantly has to prove himself to ‘experts’ both at the stadium and watching at home. It is a results business of course but I can’t help thinking he was singled out for particular criticism, mainly because his original signing paved the way for Fowler’s departure.
I cannot remember much else of this season. Danny Murphy got his third winning goal in four seasons at Old Trafford. I was still living in Phibsboro’ and I was busying myself with projects outside of football. I wrote the first draft of a novel that I might actually follow up this year and I also managed to talk my friends into helping me make a movie in the Wicklow mountains. The Unpaid Spies! Little did I know how much time and money that opus was going to set me back.
I also started driving. I bought a 1992 grey Mk3 VW Golf sans power steering and used it to commute to work every day. If only I could segway that into some kind of metaphor for Liverpool’s prospects for the following season.
I hope you enjoyed Part 1. I will keep the introduction to Part 2 a bit shorter this week, perhaps only allowing for some choice scene setting.
I was still madly in love with the game in the summer of 94. And why not? The national team was beating Italy in the World Cup and RTE had the rights to Champions League coverage for another year. If Liverpool weren’t doing the business in reality, no matter. I played numerous Sensible Soccer games at home that I could play until a fictitious result was created to my liking. Coupled with my ongoing efforts in football kit design I was happily living in dreamland.
The Shoot and Match magazines were less prominent now. Replaced by 90 Minutes and later Match of the Day. I wasn’t a big Four Four Two fella.
I kept up my own playing a little bit. Myself and my Beechdale pals out on the green after Football Italia on a Sunday afternoon. Emboldened by my efforts in heads and volleys I joined the local teams, with very mixed results. Looking back it was just simple, Ventolin fueled, pre internet times. It was all football. At least until I was 16.
I then remember getting a job in 4th year of school and beginning to notice the rest of the world around me.
I had a lot less time to play football now that I had cigarettes to be smoking and snooker games to lose to Alan Dowdall. I also had a first sip of lager in the middle of England’s inevitable defeat to the Germans in Euro 96. Within a year I had become something of a hardened drinker, enjoying a few pints after a lounge boy shift in The Mill House. Shelf stacking in Spar came later and more academic irresponsibility.
With each passing day I dreamt about a life outside the cold walls of Riversdale in Corduff. I still have fond memories of the break time tennis ball games in second and third year. But transition year ruined a lot of our collective momentum. Many left never to return, while others were already bargaining with repeating the Leaving Cert even though they hadn’t done the first one yet. Still there was always the football. And if Ger Power and me had anything to do with it, we would ensure that Liverpool could get back on our perch*.
*note United didn’t knock us off it to begin with. It was actually the emotional effects of Hillsborough, an ageing squad and to a lesser extent Arsen…
Liverpool 2-0 United
Time moved on quickly and progress was swift under the leadership of former boot room stalwart Roy Evans. This season I recall as being filled with optimism. An opening day ass-whoopin’ was dealt to Palace at Selhurst and there were numerous other good away performances in the early stages, without getting the result we wanted. Highlights included a Barnes overhead in a defeat at Ewood Park and a fine performance by the boy Redknapp at Old Trafford in a two nil loss. We had also drawn at St. James Park which was a marked improvement on the previous year’s drubbing.
Evans enjoyed a lot of good will from the faithful this year. Much like the new Kop the team was in a rebuilding phase. We had gone in big on Babb and Scales and while neither would ever make their way to the Mount Rushmore of the club’s centre halves, Scales in particular looked quite promising initially.
A personal favourite of mine was one of the many Norwegians we would sign; Stig Inge Bjornbye. A solid left back with an ability to cross early. The rebuilding phase also had a lot to do with the evolution of the old youth team graduates. Redknapp and McManaman as mentioned earlier alongside a diminutive local magician called Fowler. I had heard first about him the morning after an impressive 5 goal haul against Fulham in the previous season’s Coca Cola Cup. He had built on this with a few goals that season before Souness got his P45. By the time the next season came around he was virtually undroppable. The one scarily good performance people still talk about is the 5 minute hat trick at home to Arsenal. I was very tempted to make this my favourite match of the season.
Ultimately though, the two nil win over United in March went a long way to denying them the title and that was my shout. We were gearing up for a League Cup win by then ourselves and looking like a team ready to go to the next level.
I remember the Anfield pitch wasn’t looking too healthy but apart from the grass everything else was suitably rosy. It had been a season of ‘pride restored’. We were really purring at times. Often it looked effortlessly easy and this is a theme I will return to in later years. Alongside Barnes or Redknapp, another unheralded signing from the Souness era remained. Micheal Thomas, the villain of May ’89 would probably never be able to shake off that memory but he was a very classy operator. Our midfield was the best in the league when it wanted to be.
On this day we looked the equal of a United side who looked a little out of ideas at times. Little did I know that this game was to be a wake up call for Ferguson. ‘Big time Charlie’ Paul Ince would be gone by the summer and a bunch of kids came in instead. I think I watched this in the Grindon’s gaff three doors away. I was quite chuffed with myself after it.
Another more obvious choice for fondly remembered games would have been the final day encounter vs Blackburn.
Anfield was packed, with many locals actively wishing us to lose. I fondly recall a Rovers man in glasses mouthing ‘fuckin hell’ as Redknapp sweeped in an admittedly brilliant last minute free kick into the Anfield Road goal. But thanks to Ludek Miklosko, United hadn’t done the business at Upton Park so that was that. Dalglish, manager of Blackburn for just over three years, had taken them from the old second division to the top of English football. What a man.
Aston Villa 0-3 Liverpool
By the time April 1996 rolled around we had rolled over Aston Villa twice in the league and there was a feeling of nervousness(certainly for me) that they would have figured us out by now. Alas no, we went and battered them again in the FA Cup semi. I remember watching this ‘somewhere’. It was a Sunday anyway, before the Junior Cert so I wasn’t working.. Hmm nope can’t remember. Anyway…
By now we had pretty much evolved into what media would dub the Spice Boys era. I never went in for it myself, at least not while Mark Wright was still there. That man looked 55 when he was 25. Anyway, alongside the earlier signings Jason McAteer and of course Stan Collymore had come in this year. With one swing of his size 14 red Diadora Stan the Man scored a pearler on the opening day against The Wednesday and he did pretty well for a while after that .
He was an awkward phenomenon was Stanley. Excellent pace and power when given space, prone to frustration and indiscipline when tightly marked. He wasn’t sent off while with us but there were enough signs that year that he was unusually moody for a guy who was being provided with excellent service nine times out of ten. Later it would be established that he is a manic depressive so to have had any career in the game deserves praise. See also Paul Stewart.
McAteer however was definitely a popular figure at the club. Scouse born but capped by Big Jack, it was nice to have an Irish connection back. There was him and Babb as well as very rare sightings of Mark Kennedy. Their presence always provided a chance of an extra Liverpool column in the Evening Herald.
Unfortunately though this season ended as it started. Brondby had sucker punched us out of Europe by Halloween and Cantona did us with eight minutes to go at Wembley. I was bitterly disappointed and searched hard for the answers.
In the end it was nothing more complex than just a lack of consistency. We weren’t tough enough in the head. A bit too fond of ourselves. While United had put together a run of 10 wins in 11 games we couldn’t even muster more than 5 in a row.
EDIT: I didn’t know if there was much point in adding this in but I wanted to acknowledge it. The Republic of Ireland and Liverpool have had a very symbiotic relationship over the years, none more so than in the 80s and early 90s. Numerous players have decked out in both green and red and Bob Paisley even came within a whisker of the Irish job in 1986. Of course everyone knows what happened next. I’ll happily relive it all some day in word form but in November 1995, Jackie’s Army was approaching its last stand. Could we defy the odd one last time and book our ticket to the European Championships the following summer? Heartbreakingly no. We were outplayed by a Dutch team who had woken up on the right sides of their bed for once. But nonetheless, the Irish fans remained unbowed, serenading Charlton at the end of the game. The Kop, Ireland, Jack Charlton. All part of the magical story weaved over those glorious nine years.
Liverpool 2-0 PSG
In the following season Liverpool went even closer to the title but there was something that never felt right. I’ve put it off for long enough. We need to talk about David.
I have always fancied myself as a bit of a keeper (though previous girlfriend’s dads would differ boom boom) I actually only played two games in nets for Dunboyne AFC. Around 1994 I’d say. An unfortunate 8-0 pre season loss in Straffan when I let a 5km/h daisycutter trickle through my legs due to stagefright. I played another on the Summerhill Road, though that might have been a First vs Seconds job. Either way that was no less horrific. I think I brought Paul Fitzpatrick down for a pen which I didn’t save. On reflection I can’t dispute Big Jake’s decision to bench me. I gave it another go the following year with St. Mochta’s in Clonsilla. It was equally ignominious. The trouble I had at this point was that I was still quite small. I hadn’t filled out at all and I was afraid of getting broken up when a high ball came in. The reflex saves were actually less of an issue for me. In the end I had a few games for St Peter’s Gaelic team and clawed back a bit of dignity though the wind did play havoc with my kickouts up in St Paul’s pitch one Saturday evening. Look, I was a shite teenage goalkeeper alright!!!
Anyway the reason I brought it up was that I knew ‘shitness’ when I saw it. And I took absolute exception to anyone who suggested David James was anything but shit. I was probably being unfair. He was talented certainly. Even dabbled in drawing during his Watford days. But a lack of judgement and a mind scattered by playing too many computer games had did for him. The United Cup Final was perhaps his crowning glory. The vanilla Armani suits were conceived by him and then the chap decided to come for a corner he was never going to get. His sequel ten months later put paid to our league chances but I have to say it wasn’t just him. The communication between a keeper and his back four is vital. Nobody was talking to each other there, and if they were, nobody was listening.
We’d end the season with nothin. Collymore would be sold and despite heartthrob Paddy Berger arriving it was beginning to look like we were being left behind on the big money transfer side of things.
This season and last were to be the highpoints of our decade, league wise. Barnes would pack his bags at the end of this year. Understandable, despite another very decent showing in midfield( with some great goals along the way) Rushie had gone the previous summer and it was looking very uncertain and unfamiliar heading into 1997/98. I had a feeling watching us that we were on the slide. Fowler remained a goal machine though certainly didn’t look any more athletic in the baggy Reebok kits and Redknapp was now in the middle of a heartbreaking decline due to injuries.
I chose an almost famous European Anfield Night. A game where the impossible nearly became reality. Another French team, PSG. Led by the likes of Patrice Loku, the Brazilian Rai and goalkeeper Llama. It was difficult for us to retain our aristocratic reputation in that company, particularly with Harkness and Carragher in the squad.
Nonetheless it was a brave attempt at a comeback. Not that we should have been in that position to begin with.
Liverpool 4-2 Chelsea
More change, with similar results. In transfer business Karl Heinz Riedle came in with a shiny new champions league medal but at aged 32 it wasn’t quite going to set the heart racing. He was certainly worth a punt and YouTube will confirm some golden moments. Perhaps his most sizeable contribution was to take another young whipper snapper under his wing. Enter the Owen era.
Young Michael was a freak of nature. Weighing about 9 stone wet and only about 5ft 7″, Owen had natural biological gifts which gave him a ridiculous turn of pace. It meant that Liverpool were able to play more directly at times, a tweak that suited us given the departure of Johnny Barnes. In his stead came another Norwegian, Leonhardsen from Wimbledon. And yes, The Guvnor Paul Ince.
I was working most weekends at this stage and even watching Match of the Day was often not possible. I do recall watching a few live games namely the Chelsea one.
We had shared a couple of big score lines the previous season and after many years in the doldrums Gullit and his black book of Serie A contacts seemed to have them on some kind of journey. For all their Latin infused elan however they didn’t reckon on a one footed wizard from Praha.
A hat trick perfectly encapsulated what this infuriating team could do at times.
Berger’s legacy is a respectable one. Like Redknapp he was dogged by injuries but when he was on form and that trigger was pulled back, it was all she wrote. He had to wait 5 years before winning a trophy but helped play his part in the 2001 treble.
In the end we finished 3rd but it wasn’t as impressive as it sounds. Roy Evans had given it his all but whether he was too nice or some of the players were too fond of a breakfast roll, the writing was on the wall sadly.
United 2-1 Liverpool
So I have to do this yeah? Right then.
This season coincided with my goodbye to secondary school. By the summer of 1999 I was relieved both were behind me. I had spent the previous two years seeing my general optimism on life descend in some far more cynical. Whether it was Liverpool’s contrasting fortunes or my having very little success with the girls up at the local disco, I couldn’t see a reality I liked. Instead of hauling out the Mega Drive to settle scores, I had gotten back into WWF in a big way. Watching Bret Hart and Stone Cold win their pre-determined fights was infinitely more satisfying than watching Bjorn Tore Kvarme lose out in a physical duel with (insert John Hartson/Clive Mendoca/ Duncan Ferguson here.) I also rediscovered another lifeline; writing.
In school both myself and Ger had spent most days standing up for this team of good time boys, usually defending them by criticising our opponents instead. It wasn’t easy. And in time I began to doubt my own propaganda. Negative folks like me don’t keep a team going in the lean times. Ger was always far more positive than I.
What really worried us during this season was not United’s pre-eminence. For most of the year they looked very good but vulnerable. They never looked like the outright best team in Europe. Not in the group stages, not against a Juventus team slightly past their best and definitely not against a Bayern side with a 39 year old Lothar Matthaus. See I’m not bitter.
No, what was on our mind were the rumours of McManaman’s departure.
By the summer of 1998 Liverpool were at a crossroads. Other clubs were beginning to modernise as the Bosman ruling was beginning to change the shape of European football. And those who weren’t going on free transfers were being sold by fees only going one way. With our continuing absence from the Champions League we were not the destination we once were.
McManaman had been at the fulcrum of all our attacking endeavours for most of the decade now. If he clicked at all Liverpool were usually in business. He was a wonderfully balanced player, strong with both feet with an underrated ability of heading the ball. One early warning on our over-reliance on him had come in 1994/95 when The Owls had put on a man marker on him. Peter Atherton’s attention had paid off and perhaps shown others the way. Despite those occasional frustrations he was generally top notch for us. Which made the later criticism of him hard to stomach.
It had long been said that he was refusing to put pen to paper, waiting for a free transfer and more options to sign with a big team abroad. In years to follow there was a lot of ill-feeling directed towards him. It was true Liverpool could’ve done with a big transfer fee. But that would’ve meant him leaving earlier. In the end it was a moot point. This team, that started the year with two managers and ended with the sole leadership of Gerard Houllier, were rebuilding again.
Evans, ever the gentleman, had to resign in the Autumn. Liverpool had neither the heart or the courage to fire him. So the Frenchman became our first foreign manager.
It was soon clear that this wasn’t his type of squad. Too much flair, too many luxuries. In time his pragmatic approach would glean success but initially it wasn’t smooth sailing. One case in point was the FA cup 4th round at Old Trafford. After an early goal by Owen, the Red Devils laid siege to our goal. We hung in grimly for over 85 minutes. A future template for Houllier to follow when playing the top sides. I can still recall this game vividly. BBC One on an early Sunday afternoon. My Dad was gracious as always, a trait I wish I could inherit. We had our dinner and talked a little bit about it. Liverpool were far far back in United’s rearview mirror. A lot had changed in a decade.
Another year of transition then. What would the new millennium bring?
My life as a ‘longish’ distance fan of Liverpool Part 1 (1988-94)
Write about what you know some say. What about what you love? What sometimes seems unrequited love. Until you remember that a football team is under no obligation to love you back. The lessons of not only unrequited love are to be learned, but unconditional too; a love that humans do not give easily.
I have some kind of marriage with Liverpool Football Club. I’m like an uncle who you rarely see back at the family residence, instead preferring to observe matters from afar. In the early days the temptation was there to go out for the proverbial pint of milk and never return but something always kept me coming back.
Yes, that’s right I’m one of those fans. The long suffering Liverpool fan who’s never seen his team finish worse than 8th in the league and seen his team lift 14 trophies since their last title coronation. Charges of being insufferable rarely register on my side of the Irish Sea however. Certainly not with any substance.
My current place in the scheme of things is far away, watching on a dodgy laptop stream or nowadays maybe in an empty cafe if the time difference allows. Heading into my fourth decade with a routine steeped in well-being and sleep(the latter at least) I don’t know how often I’ll be getting up at 3am for matches. But this current crop of players are so damn exciting it’s hard to resist.
How I connect is usually through social media forums. An often unfriendly place where I am as guilty as anyone else of being too partisan, engaging in long duels of ‘whataboutery‘ with trophy counting Paul Scholes’ lovers and Gary Nevillites.
Ah Manchester United. Like Batman and the Joker, it seems one club can’t exist without the other. Despite only finishing 1st and 2nd in the same season about 5 times since the league began, the rivalry goes beyond football with the city’s economic interests actually what started all this enmity. A port town turned into an international city versus a landlocked metropolis with a canal dug out of the damp Mancunian soil. If football isn’t your thing the history itself could fascinate for hours. The fact that Man City and Everton can seem to get along pretty well would indicate a flaw in my theory. Maybe like two single women at a wedding wearing the same dress, this could be simply a battle over the colour red.
For me the white hot hate of a M62 derby is not a direct part of my life. I have neither had to endure the austerity of Thatcher or witness the rebuilding of Manchester following an IRA bomb. So it is quite upsetting to see both sets of so-called fans engaging in songs of hate. The tragedies of Hillsborough and Munich greatly damaged not only both clubs but also both cities. Dublin was largely free of that, though we must remember Billy Whelan.
This is football. See Buenos Aires, Athens, Glasgow or Moscow for much worse. In the Sky Sports Universe however this is the one. Armchair fans are drawn into the phony war a couple of times a year and for a few moments you actually think this ‘one’ will actually settle everything for ever. You wonder if they’ll run out of ideas for promoting the fixture. The game itself inevitably disappoints mind you. There hasn’t been a stone cold classic between the pair since September 1999.
In Ireland at least, fans co-exist peacefully, many with a nodding wink that above all else this is an English problem and they can go to work normally the next day without much fuss. The most significant arguments usually relate to annoying barmen with demands of increased TV volume and being annoyed by the occasional appearance of an unhelpful ‘neutral’ (insert City, Tottenham, Chelsea, Everton at your pleasure. Arsenal fans, thin on the ground, always seem to have something else much bigger going on in their lives) League Of Ireland fans are largely ignored or compromise by having an ‘interest’ in the English game.
And that’s how it’s pretty much been for the past two decades. In a perfect world it would be a beautiful cacophony of sound and colour every weekend. Instead it becomes a wasteland of ripped up betting slips and crisp packets. I can only endure that from time to time which leaves me pretty much where I want to be. At home, in peace, not wanting to miss a second of the action, replays, angles, VAR and all.
I digressed from my analogies of marriage with the distraction of ‘them lot up the road’ and the culture of viewing football in Ireland, so let me get back to where I was.
My love affair is many people’s definition of marriage. It started off happy, followed by some years of bitter, harsh, ill-chosen words with occasional glimpses of light. There was never a trial separation though the 1998/99 season was rough going. Right now I feel like it’s a second honeymoon.
Like most marriages the television plays a big role. Many say a key to a good union is to have two TV’s in your home. I was satisfied with one. And my armchair. For the past three decades I have contorted my body into some kind of position to watch my favourite long running soap opera. The travails of this magnificent club. Am I a real supporter? Not in the sense that I’ve ever had a season ticket for L4 0TH nor will I probably ever have one. But the hours spent reading, listening and watching must count for something right? While I mull over that rhetorical question let’s go back to the very start.
This story begins a few months after the birth of my footballing awareness. It is not exhaustive nor is it a list of the best performances we ever had. Instead I want to recall some of the matches and memories that stick out to me after 32 years with the same ‘bird’.
My earliest memories are a bit of a blur. I know for certain that my football rumblings didn’t really begin to stir until the Summer of 1988. Ray Houghton, Stuttgart and all that. I have some vague recollections of the season before. My Manchester United supporting dad cursing at the TV as his side disappointed yet again. Some crowd called Liverpool were just too good and wouldn’t let United win at all. I think my initial reaction was one of distress and then something approaching defiance. I was not going to have my day spoiled by a team that didn’t make me happy. The generational baton of supporting the same team was under threat in the Hyland house.
Into the following season and really my fascination was beginning to take shape. The magazines started to come thick and fast. Again, my long suffering dad returning from late work on a Thursday with a copy of Shoot or Match from Tuthills in Clonsilla. I was immediately taken in by the colours of those wonderful jerseys. Nobody really wore Irish green except for the goalkeepers. And if you looked quickly enough all of the Adidas keepers looked similar to the Ireland players. So I knew I was going to latch onto an Adidas team.
The next parameter I was unknowingly adopting was again the Irish factor. United and Liverpool both had contingents at their club. And when I saw United draw at Everton I was immediately impressed by a Welshman, Mark Hughes. A fine number 10. He was surrounded by little else it seemed but then again I was only putting the pieces of a 90 minute puzzle together. It would take a few more weeks and ITV camera’s next road trip of consequence. Some place called Highbury.
In between that I was making my first steps towards my own footballing anonymity. On our big green around the corner from my house. A true field of dreams. A quick head count among my peers saw Candy and Crown Paints out numbered Sharp four or five to one. Goals were being recreated with questionable accuracy and it seemed like those who wore Candy had a lot of glory to recreate. Those older boys were advising me on my decision without realising it. But I still wasn’t quite there.
A few weeks later and on a cold winter day I settled in to Elton Welsby and Brian Moore’s latest broadcast. It looked rough enough. The pitch was not yet the carpet we’d come to appreciate at Arsenal Stadium. Certainly nothing like the immaculate turf seen in Germany during the summer. That wouldn’t matter much 40 minutes later.
Whatever about United’s number 10, Liverpool’s counterpart was seemingly on another plane. John Barnes. Digger, named after his namesake from the Dallas TV show. Watching him in glorious grey-silver slalom in from the left past an Arsenal back four I knew I had my mind made up. I was a Liverpool boy.
The season ended with the corresponding fixture. Again Barnes and Houghton involved in the final denouement as the Gunners grabbed glory after an epic battle. I was in tears watching from the bar stool of the Grapevine in Dunboyne Village. As we went home, the wise old man promised that Liverpool would win it again. It wasn’t just the comforting words of a father to his son. He’d been putting up with Anfield based success for the previous 16 odd years at this point.
On reflection I should have been grateful that the team had kept going at all. Hillsborough had been less than six weeks before. This group of men had gone back to work, perhaps still shellshocked by that fateful day. Even won the FA Cup. As a stupid kid I couldn’t appreciate that.
Liverpool 1-0 Tottenham
The new season started with a neighbour having lovingly printed out a full photocopied journal for me to keep track of the season. I wish I still had it now( sorry Fiachra) but I remember watching the highlights on UTV that first Saturday of the season. Liverpool had easily beaten City. It wasn’t really newsworthy however. The biggest story was Man United’s potential new owner. Michael Knighton came onto the pitch not in a black Pontiac Trans Am but instead with a full kit( actually a half kit and fetching German-esque Adidas sweatshirt) and proceeded to play keepy uppy before knocking one into the Stretford End. I didn’t know it was called the Stretford End. I probably called it the Wonderfuel Gas end at this stage.
United won that day 4-1. An impressive result against the champions. I remember watching the report on BBC and being utterly confused and impressed in equal measure. There appeared to some detente between the two terrestrial giants. BBC 2 news carried it on their seven o clock bulletin.
The more I read, the more I was fascinated. Arsenal had come from nowhere to win their first league since 71. My initial fears of Gunner dominance had apparently been unfounded. They were a flash in the pan. I studied all the league tables in the years previous and they had barely bothered the top 5 since 1971. They’ll slip away, I thought. Besides half the team are alcoholics, whatever that means.
Indeed for one season I was half right, Arsenal did put some form together in the autumn but never really threatened to retain. That season the real rival for Liverpool was the team after the Gunners in the sticker albums. Aston Villa.
But rewind to October 89 when Spurs rolled into Anfield for another episode of the ITV’s Big Match. We’d just come off a shellacking at the Dell and Villa were going along nicely.
I was intrigued by the regard in which Spurs were held. Many had them on the same level as Liverpool. Imagine my outrage. But they did have Lineker returning from Barcelona. No matter. Liverpool dispatched them. Houghton and Barnes. I remember thinking on the day that Ray H didn’t get enough credit for the assist. I was right. I also remember thinking that Barnes was a little bit greedy at times and he missed a lot of chances. I was wrong. This was his season. And in turn, our season. Our last at the top for many years.
Forest 2-1 Liverpool
A lot changed very quickly between the summer of 1990 and the following year. King Kenny had abdicated the throne. It was quickly becoming clear to me that Liverpool were nursing many wounds. As a city as well as a club. The players looked a bit older with only a few maintaining the standards of that already legendary 87-88 season.
As a lifelong pessimist I could see what we no longer had. In the previous season’s FA Cup semi, Palace had shown the world we could be got at. Ablett and Hysen were not going to be able to cover for the madness of Bruce like Lawreson and Hansen did. Nicol was struggling to stay fit from the waist down and didn’t appear to be getting any slimmer from the waist up. Beardsley who had mysteriously fallen out with Kenny, was rumoured to leaving in the summer. He had been in and out of the team despite an early season hat trick against Man U. David Speedie was signed from Coventry and even an equaliser at the Wonderfuel Gas end did little to convince even me he was the real deal. Barnes too, worryingly showing signs of being human after a long run without injuries.
What we did have now was a literal tugboat in Jan Molby, trying manfully to steer his teammates around the pitch. The man who Liverpool had brought in to replace Souness on the pitch was now the same said Souness’s leader on the pitch. He had been brilliant in late 1985-86. But now was different. He was still nerveless from the penalty spot and poised on the ball. But to borrow Shankly’s parlance there weren’t enough piano carriers in the team to accommodate him. We were brittle. And Forest proved it.
The Tricky Trees would have one more hard slap to give us at the start of the ‘whole new ball game era’ . 13 years after knocking Liverpool out of Europe, they knocked us out of our stride on the opening day of the 1992-93 season. We had some bad days at the City Ground. Blew a 2 goal lead in the title winning season too. But Forest, like so many other Midlands and Yorkshire based sides, would not survive the new dawn with any kind of prosperity.
Another league title for Arsenal then. While they were more imperious than in ‘89, they operated without the brilliant Rocastle for much of the season and the team does not seem to be as fondly remembered. George Graham had built from the back. Seaman, Winterburn, Bould, Adams, Dixon. If Liverpool didn’t sort themselves out, they looked set to be THE team of the 90s. Though a shock in Rotterdam in the European Cup Winners Cup final proved to be more prescient when discussing the decade’s possibilities.
The Reds meanwhile, faced an uncertain 1991-92. Allowed back into Europe, we all hoped ‘Souey’ could bring us back to the top. And to be fair, maybe a lot of us assumed it.
November 91 and by the time this match was played Liverpool looked a mile off the top of the English first division. Though we had the most expensive player in Dean Saunders we didn’t look anything like United who looked like they were playing a different sport. The Red Devils now had an imposing (and annoyingly loud) goalkeeper as well as two speed demons on either wing, Giggs and Sharpe. Three if you count Kanchelskis. I remember almost gasping in awe as Schmeichel arrowed a 55 yard throw towards Giggs in Bramall Lane. Grobbelaar could barely manage that with his right boot. Other additions to the back line included Torben Piechnik with Nicky Tanner getting more first team action
Much like Adidas’s efforts with the new kits we were trying to evolve. Hansen was long gone now as was Hysen, Beardsley too, sold to Everton. Barnes a long term injury. It was all doldrum stuff, with little to look forward to post Christmas. One ray of light did break through however. Mike Marsh. Well he scored a great header. But I’m talking more about Steve McManaman.
This was one of the first occasions to see him in full flight. And oh how he flew. In an era where wingers built like welterweights was now en vogue we had ours. Trouble was United had three of them. In the end this season brought us the solace of an FA Cup. Officially the end of a great era, the last knockings of a proud generation. By the time we’d get another trophy only a few from this season remained.
Souness had seen the squad needed to be refreshed but made some bad judgments, arguably staying loyal to those he played with almost a decade earlier ( Nicol, Whelan, Grobbelaar) when the slightly younger players might have been a better bet ( Houghton had a solid three years at Villa, Beardsley excellent at both Everton and Newcastle). It was not all his fault of course. Player contracts can be tough to sort out, especially if there are seven or eight players all around thirty years old. Either way we had not seen the changes coming in time.
Still though, this was a nice show of defiance. One of the last great nights at the old Anfield, with the Spion Kop still in situ. I watched this at home. Judging by a three quarter full stadium so did a lot of other people.
Aside from Liverpool the season ended with Leeds winning the last traditional 1st division, thanks to an assist by us. Much had been rumoured about the forthcoming Premier League but many just assumed it was a rebrand a la Canon or Barclays in the 80s. Maybe a new trophy and that’s it. People wouldn’t be arsed getting satellite dishes and it would be back on normal telly after a year. Right? RIGHT???
Spartak Moscow 4-2 Liverpool
Watching football was getting trickier for me at this point. Our household hadn’t yet gone all in with Sky and that wasn’t really surprising. It was expensive for one thing. But there were still one or two trips to Caffrey’s in Batterstown for a Super Sunday. Title wise, Liverpool were very much a bit part player. It was United now, facing down a 26 year wait for a title, with their only resistance coming from Norwich and Aston Villa. I had yet to reach the levels of resentment history obliges me to have and so I wished them well on their success. Just like so many United fans have done with me recently (haha…If only)
BBC did have a contract for Liverpool’s European games and it was on a weekday afternoon I recall rushing back from Corduff to watch us get educated by a wily Russian outfit. Speaking of outfits Barry Davies actually had to clarify we weren’t in red. Spartak having a virtually identical kit.
The green away didn’t bring much success for us. Bar a fine Old Trafford debut by Rob Jones and a delicious Barnes backheel against Crewe the previous year, it was witness to tonkings at Highbury, here in Moscow plus of course the infamous Rosenthal miss at Villa Park. Another notable incident from this game was David Burrows ending up in nets. Though a league medal winner, for me he was more part of the rot setting in than a nice new coat of left back paint. He wasn’t much use as a keeper either sadly.
Swindon 0-5 Liverpool
These are tough days to look back on. United were imperious in this season. Though the foreigner rule did for them nicely in Barcelona. Who in turn were even more nicely cooked against Milan. European football was showing me all I needed to know about life. Sometimes staying in your bubble is the safest, least embarrassing option.
Of course it started so brightly for us. An eye-catching new away kit and a hammering of Swindon Town that had many pundits giving us the ‘contender’ kiss of death. Ronnie Whelan had managed to avoid the Souness cull and scored a rare goal. New signing Ruddock bludgeoned another into the net and would repeat the feat later in the year against United. Another new signing, Nigel Clough would score that night too but neither men’s careers are recalled with much fondness sadly.
But in early Autumn it looked promising. I remember watching this in either Collinstown or Castlepollard. It was a nice road trip with the folks. A late summer break, before the school term began. By season’s end Souness would be gone and I had finished my first year in Secondary school. I just assumed things were going to get better.