English football is much the poorer without a strong Liverpool team
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.