“There, good sirs, in the galleries above us, lies the Fourth Estate” – Edmund Burke (or maybe it was Jeffrey Archer)
The Scene – a darkened room somewhere in Fleet Street. A group of shadowy figures sit around a table, which has a pentagram etched into the centre. The man (although with horns jutting out of its forehead, perhaps ‘woman’ might be more appropriate) at the head of the table rises and clears its throat.
Thing: People…[sniggers all round] . . . yes, I know, but the truth is so impolite. People, I call this latest meeting of the Federation Against Red Terrorism to order. Speak up, those who come among us today.
Brian Glanville: Here
John Sadler: Here
Brian Woolnough: Here
Harry Harris: Here
Peter Smith: Here
Heads swivel in curiosity at the new arrival.
Thing: we welcome our newest operative, Peter Smith, who is the Old Trafford correspondent of RTÉ across in Ireland. It will be a great day when EVERY broadcaster has an Old Trafford corr, but we’ll have to make do with one in Ireland for now.
Brian Glanville: how about a Leyton Orient corr?
Harry Harris: or a Terry Venables one?
Thing: [sighs] whatever makes you happy. Sadly most of our members can’t be here today because they are busy throwing £50 notes around Liverpool city centre and accusing everyone who picks one up of being a thief. But they are with us in spirit today as we co-ordinate our efforts to finally rid ourselves of the scourge that is Liverpool Football Club!
All [rubbing hands together]: Bwa-ha-ha!
Okay, so I’m exaggerating. I don’t really believe that there is a group in Fleet Street where hacks get together with a demon to discuss the creation of stories designed to do Liverpool down. All the newspapers are based in Wapping now. But I know I’m not alone in thinking that the media has a slight anti-Red bias, and this doesn’t even exclusively include obvious targets like The S**. Red All Over The Land (or it could be Through The Wind & Rain; I’m always confusing the two) runs a regular article called Hackwatch, detailing the ludicrous Red bashing alongside the mildly hysterical hagiographies of Man Ure that fill the English media. The most germane observation is the constant use of ‘Reds’ to describe the Mancs. Excuse me? How can a team wearing red, white and black, with ‘The Red Devils’ as their nickname, be called The Reds? It might be intellectual laziness, but it could also be something more sinister (see above).
And it’s not just the fanzines. Eddie Cotton, writing in his excellent diary of life in the press box for the 94/5 season, Back Where We Belong (bit premature there, Eddie), wrote of his irritation with the Southern scribes and their obsession with ‘Leyton bloody Orient’ (see above – I don’t know if it was Brian Glanville, but that is whom I have taken him to mean). I’d love to know what Dave Cottrell, editor of the Liverpool matchday magazine has to say. His life working in the Lahndahn magazine scene must have been a real eye-opener, especially when you consider that his colleagues affection for their respective clubs was a mere puddle in the Sahara compared to his Pacific Ocean of devotion to LFC.
You may think – if you are in a very Old Bailey-esque frame of mind – that I haven’t produced much hard evidence of this. But talking to a work colleague recently helped to crystallise these thoughts. He may be a Manc, but his generally casual attitude to his team – quelle surprise – meant that I could be relied upon to bludgeon his arguments to death with ‘facts’ (“ah yes, but did you know that Bob Paisley is the only manager ever to win three European Cups?; beat that Demento!”). He refused to budge on one nugget of information though. He insisted that Bruce Grobbelaar was, in point of ‘fact’, a crap goalie.
You can imagine that this went down like a hedgehog and porcupine cocktail. Brucie may have been prone to the odd gaffe, but for every cock-up there were a half-dozen death defying saves which no one in existence could have performed. God Himself would have struggled with some of the efforts that he somehow plucked from the jaws of the goal. Yet a generation of football fans will grow up thinking Brucie was a total donkey because of the media’s fixation with his blunders.
Pushing the goalie metaphor a bit further, look at David James and Sander Westerveld. The parallels between the career development are looking unnervingly similar. Both hit the ground running and look to have settled in well, but a few clangers mushroom into incidents worthy of capital punishment, and before you can say ‘dropped cross’, their confidence lies in ruins and so does their Liverpool careers – at least Sander hasn’t reached the latter stage, but he might yet go that way.
Now, you might argue that it isn’t the fault of the media that Liverpool’s goalies couldn’t catch a cross in a graveyard, but how come the repeated faux pas of David Seaman are ignored? The pony-tailed one hasn’t been a top goalie since George W. Bush was merely a menace to the people of Texas, but this is seemingly never commented upon. Dietmar Hamman beats him with a daisy-cutter from 35 yards, yet the wall and the wet Wembley surface get the blame, not the geriatric goalie whose arthritis prevented him getting down fast enough.
The truth that the media don’t ever want to admit to is they are like sheep. Witness the fuss in the US presidential election. Fox decides that Dubya has won Florida, and within seconds all the networks have followed. None wanted to be second, and consequently they all ended up looking more foolish than those Blues who booed Nick Barmby. And with the goalie thing, none is willing to stick their head above the parapet and say that Sander Westerveld’s shortcomings are exaggerated, that no goalie in the Premiership is truly happy under high balls and that David Seaman saves with Barings. Because that would separate them from the crowd. And we can’t have that.
I’d love to be a journalist. Someday I might actually pluck up the courage to follow this desire through. And rest assured, if I got a column in one of Fleet Street’s/Wapping’s finest, Liverpool would get a ‘fair’ crack of the whip. Start sending those demands for The Far Side to go into ink, folks.