English foot­ball is much the poorer without a strong Liver­pool team

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPASTIMES -

IT WAS over 20 years ago now when I first saw Liver­pool in the flesh. The oc­ca­sion was the 1988 FA Cup fi­nal at the old Wem­b­ley sta­dium and the sur­prise op­po­si­tion on the day, long-ball spe­cial­ists Wim­ble­don, were ex­pected to be swept away by a red tidal wave. Af­ter all, Liver­pool had just wrapped up their 17th top-flight League ti­tle and were gun­ning for their fourth FA Cup.

The ex­pected didn’t ma­te­ri­alise and the “Crazy Gang” from south west Lon­don se­cured a fa­mous 1-0 win, with even their goal­keeper Dave Beas­ant adding his name to his­tory by be­ing the first goal­keeper to save a penalty in an FA Cup fi­nal.

A lin­ger­ing mem­ory is of the Liver­pool mid­field hard­man, Steve McMa­hon, be­ing chased and kicked all over the pitch by Vinny Jones, who had bragged in the tabloid Sun news­pa­per that he was “go­ing to rip off McMa­hon’s ear and spit in the hole”.

The sta­dium it­self had been filled to ca­pac­ity, with around 90% of the fans wear­ing the red of Liver­pool. As sport­ing sights and sounds go, it made for a flesht­in­gling ex­pe­ri­ence. Still, Liver­pool lost.

At the time we had all heard about the hooli­gan­ism that was rife among English fans; many of them would go to a fight and watch a game of foot­ball break out. And, as the fi­nal whis­tle blew and the stunned ma­jor­ity be­gan to make their way out of the sta­dium and file to­wards the tube sta­tion, the po­lice were out in force, pre­pared for trou­ble.

I’m not say­ing that I be­came a Liver­pool fan but on that day I re­alised how much their sup­port­ers loved the club.

Grown men were cry­ing, kids were in­con­solable. One guy breached the se­cu­rity lines (the sort of no­man’s land which sep­a­rates the two groups of fans af­ter a game), but the po­lice did noth­ing.

The sup­porter couldn’t see through floods of tears, he was stum­bling in a crooked line singing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

What was buried there and then was the myth that Liver­pool fans are “scum”, that they are a bunch of foul-mouthed hooli­gans.

Over sub­se­quent years I saw dozens of live matches and not once was there an air of in­tim­i­da­tion or dan­ger – de­spite their rep­u­ta­tion gained from the 1985 Hey­sel Sta­dium dis­as­ter which led to English clubs be­ing banned from Europe. In fact, if you want in­tim­i­da­tion then go to Mill­wall, West Ham, Cardiff City or even Ply­mouth Ar­gyle.

Liver­pool made amends for their FA Cup de­feat the fol­low­ing year be­fore winning the First Divi­sion ti­tle for an 18th time in 1989-90. Which is, ladies and gen­tle­men, the last time this proud in­sti­tu­tion has laid its hands on the sought-af­ter tro­phy.

De­spite be­ing a com­mit­ted Chelsea sup­porter, I am not one of those who share in the mis­ery of Liver­pool, if only be­cause their fans de­serve bet­ter.

The own­ers of Liver­pool FC sim­ply don’t know how priv­i­leged they are to have a full sta­dium week in and week out, brav­ing wet and icy win­ter nights.

Rafa Ben­itez might have de­liv­ered the Euro­pean Cup and a soft “Tre­ble” but he hasn’t brought the English Premier­ship tro­phy to An­field and it’s not go­ing to hap­pen this sea­son ei­ther.

To add in­sult to in­jury, Liver­pool were elim­i­nated from the group stages of the Cham­pi­ons League this week.

It’s stag­ger­ing to think that in the Manch­ester United-dom­i­nated era of the Premier­ship, even Black­burn Rovers have won the League, while Liver­pool have now gone 20 years without do­ing so.

Their fans are won­der­fully faith­ful and pa­tient. Each sea­son there is height­ened ex­pec­ta­tion but now, per­haps the only way to wake up the own­ers to en­force a change would be to vote with their feet.

English foot­ball is weaker without a strong Liver­pool.

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