While reading one of those worthy novels that I periodically force myself through to counteract the intellectual candyfloss of fantasy novels, Internet chatrooms and, er, base urges, I came across the rather sage observation of one of the characters which struck a chord with me. This character was asked whether it was better to be a Hindu or a Muslim – a suitably pompous subject for all those Far Side bashers out there. He replied that had he (a Hindu) been born a Muslim, then he would worship Allah with the same level of devotion that he now offered to Vishnu, Krishna, Shiva et al.
He was damn right, of course. Had I been taken from my home at birth and raised by a Protestant family, I’m sure I would be a card carrying Billy boy. And the same could be applied to football. My dad has less interest in sport than a Luddite has in a Pentium III, but had he been a Manc, then I’m sure I would have been a . . . oh God, don’t make me say it! You know what I’m getting at. As it was, both my brothers were Reds, and Liverpool were the most successful club of my youth, so it wasn’t exactly a leap of faith to become one of the chosen many.
But now, I’m going to completely contradict myself. I do that quite a lot. The thought struck me while watching the Rapid Bucharest game that Liverpool is not quite like any other club. I’m sure most of you saw Ray Stubbs walking around at half time looking for a vox pop and selecting three fans at random from the crowd. Can you imagine if he had chosen three fans at, say, Spurs? The manager would have been abused, the chairman harangued and the PLO condemned (according to Mark Bosnich). You can be sure there wouldn’t have been any insightful football analysis. Yet the three randomly chosen Reds give thoughtful and coherent views on what they have just seen. Fancy that: you don’t have to be an ex-footballer to know your football! All TV companies, take note.
The thing is, Liverpool fans are generally a more knowledgeable bunch than other fans (where do you fit in then? – Chris Mc/James). This may seem preposterously overblown, but the evidence of my relatively short lifetime confirms this. I don’t remember it at the time, mainly because I wouldn’t have been allowed stay up to watch Match of the Day, but hopefully you’ve all seen the images of Ray Clemence’s return to Anfield after his transfer to Spurs. Here we were, 1-0 down, needing to win to take the title and fervently praying that he would have an absolute stinker. But everyone on the Kop gave him the thunderous ovation that his many years of great service deserved. It gives me goose bumps every time I see it, because it demonstrates that Liverpool fans have a level of class that no other group can even aspire to.
It’s not even the great players who get such a reception. David James got a warm greeting upon his return and it wasn’t as if he was a stunning success. The real disasters e.g. Graeme Souness, are quietly ignored. Only Stan Collymore ever got a truly hostile welcome, and I think we’re still a little embarrassed that we were not a little more sanguine about that affair. While I’m open to correction on this, I’m convinced no other set of fans shows such a high level of generosity.
Some might argue that the respect shown to returning goalies had a self-serving edge to it. After all, Clemence, James and Bruce Grobbelaar all reciprocated the generosity by letting in three goals. But the sense of satisfaction with Liverpool Football Club doesn’t just stop with the fans. There is an ethos around the club that makes you nod with approval when you see how things are done. Liverpool don’t charge truly extortionate prices for tickets, Liverpool don’t sack managers because a soothsayer has read it in a pile of goat entrails, Liverpool don’t tolerate players dragging the club through the manure pit of every tabloid rag in Christendom, Liverpool don’t cosy up to the incompetent establishment of English football or to the media…in so many ways, Liverpool are different to the lesser clubs that surround them.
As I’ve already referred to, this could all be dismissed as an exercise in self-justification. Some might say that you could present any club in a positive light given a big enough lampshade. But there are many times when I can say that I have puffed my chest out with pride at the words and the deeds of Liverpool FC. And it is those little things, on the margins of success and failure, that make me feel proud to be a Red.