Category Archives: Liverpool FC

Reality Bites

In a week where it seemed every discussion on football concerned off-field matters, it was nice to see the game come back yesterday with a healthy dose of realism. Whether it be lunatic plans to turn the Premiership into a U2 tour, or hyperbolic panic over whether lost legends would be appropriately commemorated, it seemed to have slipped everyone’s mind that it is what takes place on the field that keeps us, as fans, so attached.

I experienced a slight feeling of surprise that a match actually took place at all in yesterday’s Manchester derby, such was the speculation surrounding it’s unique preamble. Yet once the whistle went, it didn’t take long before I, as a football fan, and a neutral on this most partizan of occasions, was back in the place I know best, a place I could feel comfortable again.

Having taken in the parades, the mascots, the adapted kits, and the wonderfully observed (much to my surprise, I must admit) minute’s silence, this match, far from being weighed down by any emotional baggage, instantly became a classic tactical battle that could have been played out in any era of the game – one that was won, hands down, by Manchester City’s Sven Goran Eriksson.

Manchester United could probably have been forgiven for believing that things would go their way in this match, given the massive wave of sympathy that flowed in their favour, but City turned up with a spot-on attitude and a classic underdog’s gameplan, and upset both the script and the odds.

It took around ten minutes for the game to settle into a pattern that was never really broken. All of a sudden, Manchester United found themselves banging their heads against the brick wall that was City’s five-man midfield, expertly marshalled by man-of-the-match Dietmar Hamann, a realist’s footballer if ever there was one. Any thoughts of the occasion were lost, as suddenly United found three crucial points in the Championship race drifting away from them.

Immediately afterwards, over at Stamford Bridge, the worldwide audience got a timely taste of just what could be coming in their direction in 2011. If they’ve got any sense or taste, they’ll be writing their letters of opposition in Kuala Lumpur right now.

Quite why Chelsea and Liverpool even bother to fulfil this fixture is a mystery to me, neither of them ever has any inclination to win it, so they might as well just take a point each and save us all the misery of sitting through the worst 90 minutes of the season. As dull, turgid, pointless, meaningless 0-0 draws go, this was up there with the best of them.

Between them the two sides mustered one solitary goalbound effort in the entire match – and that was a Peter Crouch header so tame that the big man could have picked himself up, made his way to the goal and saved it himself if he so wished.

My initial thought was that new rules ought to be brought in to enable these two to be docked points for this display. My second thought was that if some yank wants to walk on at the end of this, and insist the game be settled by a session of “added-time Multiball!”, then I for one would be in favour. Bring it on, it would actually be better than this.

Then I paused for a third thought. I realised that this was great. I had endured 90 minutes of total crap, but in a silly way that only hardened football fans can understand I had thoroughly enjoyed it. This was football reality, the game brought down to it’s bare bones, and a match that will bring absolutely no new converts to the game.

After this week’s insane proposals, it was exactly the sort of game that needed to be showcased to a worldwide audience. After all, if you’re going to market a product, then you must be honest with your customers about exactly what they’ll be letting themselves in for, so well done Premier League for not keeping the truth locked away.

Anyone watching Chelsea v Liverpool in one of the exotic locations the Premier League has lined up will surely now feel feel far more threatened by English Football coming their way than we feel by the idea of losing it.

A day that, if Sky Sports and the Premier League had had their way, was meant to be full of emotion, passion, and excitement ended up being dominated by arch-professionalism and heavy strategy. Good. It reassured me that you can take the football out of England, but you’ll never take England out of the football.

Jamie.

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Filed under Barclays Premier League, Chelsea FC, Comment, England, English Premier League, FA, Football, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Munich Air Disaster, Opinion, Sky, Soccer, Sport, Sven Goran Eriksson, Television

Munich: A City Fan’s View

Something about the Munich air crash has been brewing within me for some time. In fact, I suggested the idea of writing up on this site a controversial City fan’s view around a month ago.

I’ve avoided actually doing it because wasn’t sure what it was that I wanted to say. Did I want to point out that United arguably exploited the disaster to create a kind of club founding-myth (something that was suggested in the Manchester Evening News as early as 1959)?

Did I want to say something about the hypocrisy of some of the things coming out of the club and its sympathisers in the media, given how little respect fans of United (and every other club, including City) give to the memory of the Hillsborough disaster? (I always find a good test of how offensive something is, is to remove the word ‘scouse’ and replace it with ‘black’, and think about whether a “respectable” broadsheet paper would publish it. But that’s another issue.)

On the other hand, did I want to write an apology to United for what some City fans might do – or for what they might have done without the sustained pressure from inside and outside Eastlands? Did I want to muse on the rights of football fans to say what they like inside the ground, given what Sol Campbell said earlier this season about abuse?

I don’t know. There are too many issues I want to explore and I don’t really think, on reflection, that it’s appropriate to base a discussion of them around the anniversary of a tragedy.

National newspapers don’t necessarily like complexity, so for most of them this week has been about one young man – Duncan Edwards, who died at the age of 21 and a few months, younger than I am now. His death has been made to stand for the whole Munich crash: the end of a great team, and the cruel way in which youthful promise was taken away. Not many events in football have this kind of symbolic power.

Generally, it is football itself that inspires us. So although a moment of silence on Saturday is only proper (and I sincerely hope it is observed), the best way to honour those young men, many of whom were from the very city whose two great clubs are meeting, is to play a great game of football.

“To say that these men paid their shillings to watch 22 hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and catgut, that Hamlet is so much paper and ink… for not only had you escaped from the clanking machinery of this lesser life, from work, wages, rent, doles, sick pay, insurance cards, nagging wives, ailing children, bad bosses, idle workmen, but you had escaped with most of your mates and your neighbours, with half the town, and there you were, cheering together, thumping one another on the shoulders, swapping judgements like lords of the earth, having pushed your way through a turnstile into another and altogether more splendid kind of life, hurtling with conflict and yet passionate and beautiful in its art.”  — JB Priestley

Harry.

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Filed under Barclays Premier League, Comment, England, English Premier League, Football, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Munich Air Disaster, Soccer, Sport

G14 is now no longer

The G14, the group of the fourteen biggest clubs in Europe (although technically there are… or should I say were, eighteen clubs), is to be disbanded after UEFA and FIFA agreed to listen to their bones of contention.

Instead, a new body called the European Clubs Association, will represent clubs of Europe at European and international level. The intention is to make this new body the sole independent organisation representing over a hundred clubs throughout Europe.

One issue, the payment of compensation to clubs whose players compete in World Cups and European Championships is set to be resolved, with the clubs finally getting their way.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, as you’d expect, is putting a positive spin on the announcement, believing that “clubs… are at last to become a part of the pyramidal football organisation.”

I can’t help but feel that this is finally an acknowledgement of the power big clubs now hold; an admission that they can no longer be ignored – full stop. We shall see.

What do you think? Tell us!

David.

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Filed under Arsenal FC, Barclays Premier League, FIFA, Football, G14, Liverpool FC, Manchester United, News, Sepp Blatter, Soccer, Sport, UEFA, UEFA Champions League

Match Report: Liverpool 5-0 Luton Town

Liverpool 5 – 0 Luton Town

FA Cup: Third Round Replay

Anfield, Liverpool

Att: 44,446

This was a game with a spine of survival, albeit of two different kinds.

After the revelation that Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillette were chasing the Bayern Munich bound Jurgen Klinsmann, Rafael Benitez decided to start Steven Gerrard; Fernando Torres; Peter Crouch and Jamie Carragher, who claimed his 500th Liverpool appearance, in a bid to arguably extend a stay of execution, and avoid one of the biggest FA Cup shocks ever witnessed. In the end, it proved more than ample.

For Luton, whilst their time in the FA Cup is now over for another year, they’ll at least return to compete again. The 2020 consortium and this valuable replay have offered a pardon for its sixteen remaining players and the soon to depart Kevin Blackwell, who was forced to play the injured Dean Brill (who struggled to even kick the ball); and the former Liverpool playing Scot Don Hutchinson, who was given the unfamiliar position of centre-back, and forced to deal with the threat of Gerrard.

The experience of Hutchinson, who called for composure before half-time, almost kept Luton right in the game until a fatal lapse in concentration by his fellow players led to Ryan Babel’s neat finish in the 18-yard area in first-half stoppage time.

Prior to that, Hutchinson was there to close down Gerrard and throw himself in front of his long-range efforts; while the Luton back-line was managing to cope with the threat of Torres and Crouch.

And, when able to go forward, Luton did occasionally threaten. Dean Currie and David Bell were useful; and Calvin Andrews’ effort and determination was undeniable, coming close to being clean through on goal after 37 minutes, only to be judged just offside – that was as close as Luton came.

The increasing pressure from Liverpool was telling, and the Babel goal was almost inevitable. To go into half-time all square would arguably have outdone the result at Kenilworth Road. After the break, you could sense that more goals were due. This was confirmed seven minutes later, when Gerrard slotted in a close range header after a neat lay-off from Crouch.

This finally broke Luton, who were almost embarrassed when confusion between defender Keith Keane and Brill lead to the ball having to be swept off the line. Sami Hyppia added a third moments later after his header was deflected inwards; an astutely placed Gerrard strike inside the area added a fourth after 64-minutes, and Gerrard completed his hat-trick eight minutes later with a sweetly struck long-range effort of which he is only capable of.

Although the scoreline will please Benitez, it was to be expected considering the current plight Luton are in. What will not please him is the form of Babel and substitute Dirk Kuyt, who were occasionally wasteful and, in the case of Kuyt especially, looked increasingly desperate. This over-reliance on Torres and Gerrard could be the difference between Benitez keeping or losing his job.

The Sight is in End’s Man of the Match: Don Hutchinson

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Filed under Don Hutchinson, FA Cup, Football, Liverpool FC, Luton Town, Match Report, Opinion, Rafael Benitez, Soccer, Sport, Steven Gerrard

Sod Newcastle, a real football team needs saving

So we’ve been hearing all week about football’s crisis club. An ongoing story of failure and disaster, which now appears to have reached breaking point, caused by continued mismanagement and a desire for quick success being allowed to override the need for long-term foundations to be laid.

Well actually, no, we haven’t. Instead the column inches have been clogged up with the latest renewal of the pantomime called Newcastle United. So lets quickly recap what everyone, interested in football or otherwise, now knows: A staggeringly rich football club, and its latest in a long line of staggeringly rich owners, keeps failing to use their staggeringly vast resources sensibly enough even to bring just enough decent football to keep the fans quiet. Oh how my heart bleeds for their plight.

Or to put it another way, who gives a toss? More importantly, who gives a toss when there is a case out there more deserving of our sympathy? A case for whom the kind of press coverage Newcastle have received this week could mean the difference between footballing life and death.

For Luton Town, the game is nearly up. Already in administration, a situation which has cost them ten points that currently make the difference between a place in the relegation zone, and being within shouting distance of the play-offs, Luton yesterday lost their manager. Yes, they lost their manager. You don’t hear it put like that very often do you?

For Kevin Blackwell, his job had become impossible. In making his final preparations for Luton’s home game against league one leaders Swansea on friday, Blackwell discovered that five of his players had been sold by the administrators. Having already endured the administration and points deduction, along with FA enquiries into the dodgy dealings of the club’s previous owners, and not having been paid for two weeks, you can begin to understand how Blackwell reached the end of his tether.

Yet, despite all this misery, the team has continued to show the most incredible spirit in it’s performances on the pitch. Luton’s home record has been one of the most consistent in the country this season. Promotion, not relegation, would be uppermost in their mind without the ten point penalty, and even since it was imposed, Luton have shown enough good form to suggest that survival would not have been a problem. In fact, before yesterday, Luton had lost only once in 13 games, an extraordinary performance by players who, of course, are also not being paid right now.

In addition to this, they knocked Nottingham Forest out of the FA Cup in the second round, before trumping that by earning a magnificent and improbable draw against Liverpool (should that be crisis club Liverpool?) in the third. The latter result has earned Luton a potentially life-saving replay at Anfield, but unless a new owner can be found for the club with some speed, this could prove to be a short reprieve.

Salvation for Luton is currently forming in the shape of a consortium led by (former) TV celebrity Nick Owen, a lifelong fan. Everyone in football should be hoping that Owen succeeds. Firstly, he is exactly the type of owner that a football club like Luton should have; a genuine fan, someone who would perform every action with the best interests of the club in mind, someone who would genuinely be in touch, and have sympathy, with the thoughts of the supporters, and someone who would leave the running of team affairs to the manager and his staff.

More importantly though, clubs like Luton simply must not be allowed to just disappear out of the league. They are part of football’s history, were a trophy winning club in the recent past, and are a hugely important institution in their local community. For clubs of Luton’s stature to suddenly cease to exist has massive implications for football, threatening even to the Premiership royalty that so sadly, and with blinkers firmly fitted, ignores their situation.

Lest we forget, Luton currently find themselves in such dire straits largely thanks to the allegedly illegal transfer activity of the clubs former owners – activity which was brought to the attention of the FA, The Football League and the national media by their then manager Mike Newell. Newell was admonished by virtually everyone in football, he lost his job, and has not worked since. The courage he showed in speaking out, with no support whatsoever from within the game, has been rejected and forgotten. This tale tells us everything we need to know about the way football is being run.

If the takeover goes through at Luton, and stability can be restored, Blackwell might be persuaded to change his mind about leaving (he’s decided to keep working with the players until February). Considering the job he has done with the team in such trying circumstances, this must be regarded as a necessity for Luton.

Although even if they hang on to Blackwell, the depleted squad is going to find it tough going for the remainder of the season, and bringing in new players is a fast-disappearing possibility with the days of January ticking by. Another example of how the smaller clubs are punished by the ridiculous transfer window rules, which were of course imposed in an attempt to curb the spending power of the super-rich.

The owner, directors, caretaker manager, players, and fans of Newcastle United should open up a newspaper today, wade through the ten pages of headlines about their own club, and seek out the small print. Hidden in there, they might find a football story that will make them sit up, take stock, and put their ‘problems’ into perspective.

Lets look at the facts: They will have no problem finding a manager, that manager will have millions of pounds to spend, they will continue to get 50,000+ gates for every league game regardless of how the team play, and they have no chance, repeat no chance, of getting relegated.

Could be worse couldn’t it? Newcastle, if you’re listening, you can’t continue to enjoy the luxury you do without the help of clubs like Luton Town. I suggest that the very least you could do is stop whining for five minutes, and wish them luck in their bid for survival.

Jamie.

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Filed under Alan Shearer, Barclays Premier League, Comment, English Premier League, FA, FA Cup, Football, Football League, Liverpool FC, Luton Town, Next Newcastle Utd Manager, Nottingham Forest, Sam Allardyce, Soccer, Sport, Swansea City

Here to save us all – The FA Cup.

Here we are once again in the first week of the new year, a very appropriate time for football’s annual shot at redemption: The FA Cup, to begin in earnest with its third round.

These are dark days for football. Greed is a necessity for success; rampant violence, criminality and generally vulgar behaviour amongst players are tolerated by the biggest clubs; the rich/poor gap is wider than ever, and trophy winning is reserved for a priveleged few. In addition, satellite TV continues to saturate the airwaves with an insane number of matches, and erode the atmosphere at grounds by bamboozling the already over-fed supporters with its bizarre range of kick-off times.

It’s all a far cry from the days that this particular weekend in the football calendar always reminds us of. Yet it is surely the FA Cup that provides the rest of the footballing nation with its one chance to get their own back; to redress the balance; to turn back the clock and yet dream of a brighter future, even if only for a day.

This is of course because anything’s possible when the Premiership megacelebs and the part-time cloggers get thrown into the mix together. In truth, giant-killings, which in the past were almost inevitable, are now very few and far between, due to the increased professionalism of the bigger clubs (at least on the pitch). But there’s always a chance, and my goodness how football needs someone to prove that to us this weekend.

Nowadays, that chance tends to present itself as the big clubs increasingly treat the early rounds of the cup as an annoyance, and large amounts of first-teamers get dropped. Whether you call it arrogance, or a panicked desire to wrap players in cotton-wool with that we-dare-not-miss-out-on-all-that-cash Champions League fixture on the horizon, it still provides David with the chance of a lifetime to slay Goliath.

Some may argue that it rather takes the shine off a giant-killing when the famous team appears to have announced with its team selection that it doesn’t care. I disagree. Firstly, you can still bet your life that the favourites don’t want to lose, and secondly it makes no difference to how good the score sounds in the classified check.

Manchester United‘s adoption of this risky strategy has seen them involved in a couple of spectacular near-misses in recent years. They could surely have fielded a 5th team that could beat Exeter City in 2005, and yet back to Devon they all went after a 0-0 draw. Having failed to learn from that mistake, United promptly made it again 12 months later at Burton Albion, where they once more escaped humiliation in a replay.

Another such near miss brings us nicely onto this years fixtures. Two years ago, when Luton Town were 3-1 up and playing Liverpool off the park, live on the BBC, the classic cup upset appeared to be on the cards. Liverpool spoiled everyone’s fun by storming back to win the game 5-3. The two clubs meet again on Sunday, with Luton now in a far worse position; threatened with relegation to League Two, and finances in a mess. Yet their impressive home record this season demands respect, and with Liverpool‘s manager appearing to think that the aim of his job is to get his best players on the pitch as rarely as possible, who knows what set of misfits The Hatters might come up against?

Let’s look at where else we can pin our hopes for a dose of footballing equality:

The other three members of football’s royal family all have fascinating draws. It says a lot about the state of football today that if Aston Villa, currently plumbing the depths of 7th in the Premiership, were to turn Manchester United over at home, it would be regarded as a major giant-killing. It would probably come as an almighty shock to Villa fans as well, given their team’s abysmal recent record against the champions. Nevertheless, it’s by far the best chance we have of seeing one of the big four sent packing early.

You can bet that Burnley is one of the last places Arsenal would fancy spending a sunday afternoon. Yet however intimidating an atmosphere the Turf Moor fans create, it’s difficult to see the Premiership leaders slipping up here. The new Burnley manager Owen Coyle once famously helped a second division Bolton dump Arsenal out in a replay at Highbury, but is yet to get his side going in the short time he’s been in charge, despite being dubbed ‘the new Bill Shankly’ by his chairman.

No game this weekend quite encapsulates football’s plight like Chelsea v QPR. This one is fascinating for all the wrong reasons, as it brings together football’s two richest clubs. Chelsea, the cup holders, have earned their status thanks entirely to the riches of Roman Abramovich. Poor west London relations QPR are now making an attempt to catch up with the Joneses; not content with the billions of Formula 1’s hierarchy, Rangers have recently brought on board an Asian businessman with even deeper pockets. They are however yet to spend any of this loot, meaning their chances of winning this local derby are still extremely remote, but their surging league form of late suggests the players may be playing with a greater incentive (I wonder what that could be?). Couple this with Chelsea‘s injury crisis, and maybe it’s not so clearcut.

The remaining non-league sides Chasetown and Havant & Waterlooville have seemingly impossible tasks against in-form welsh outfits Cardiff and Swansea respectively. In fact you could say they Havant a prayer. Sorry.

Realistically, we will probably have to settle for slightly smaller potatoes, in the shape of mid-table Premiership sides slipping up. Here are the third round fixtures I think have the best chance of producing a surprise result:

Bristol City v Middlesbrough – This is a repeat of a fourth round tie from last season, when Boro needed penalties to see off the league one version of City after twice narrowly escaping with a 2-2 draw. Since then, City have been promoted and are finding the Championship a breeze, where as beleaguered Boro edge nearer to the Premiership trap-door. Southgate is a sitting duck.

Huddersfield v Birmingham – Huddersfield are yet again failing to meet expectations in League One, languishing in mid-table. Which leaves them in a perfect position to put all their energies into this. With no promotion on the horizon, The Terriers’ large following, in their excellent stadium, will be desperate to make the most of the big occasion. Alex McLeish‘s side, with a must-win relegation battle in the league to fight, will not appreciate this distraction.

Ipswich v Portsmouth – A tie in which something has to give. Ipswich unbeatable at home, Pompey saving all their best for the road. If it goes to a replay, we’ll be no nearer sorting it out, given Harry Redknapp‘s side inability to find the net at home, and the Tractor Boys still searching for a first away win. The Premiership quality should be the difference, but anything can happen here.

Stoke v Newcastle This is the ‘you-wouldn’t-want-to-be-in-his-shoes’ game of the weekend. Sam Allardyce needs this game at the moment like he needs, say, his best central midfielder to get banged up for a fortnight. Surely it’s too soon for Joey the jailbird to make an appearance here – if he does he will be a brave man, because the Britannia Stadium, both its players and spectators, will be merciless. If Newcastle escape with a draw they’ll be absolutely delighted.

Jamie.

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