To Lose Is Hard, To Win Is Harder*

[The scene: a man goes home to his wife after a hard day’s milking the social security system. He flops into his comfy chair in front of the television]

“Woman!” says the man to his wife. “Get me some food before it starts.”

The wife chooses to ignore such cheek and gets him his dinner. When he finishes his dinner, the man pushes back his plate, belches thunderously and clicks his fingers in an imperious fashion.

“Woman!” he says. “Get me my fags before it starts.”

The wife is beginning to get annoyed now. She gets his smokes and waits for the next instruction. The man watches TV for a while, puffing on his ciggy. Eventually he speaks again.

“Woman!” he repeats. “Get me a beer from the fridge before it starts.”

The woman snaps. “You lazy so-and-so!” she barks. “All you do all day is sit at that telly, eating, smoking and boozing, you never take any exercise, you never take me anywhere, you never even talk to me, I’m sick to death of your slobbish ways, my mother was right, I never should have married you, what I ever say in you, I’ll never know!”

The man emits a low groan. “It’s starting…”

Yep, it’s starting. As the season begins to hot up, you can sense the temperature reaching boiling point. If you had said three months ago that we would still be involved in the FA Cup, the Worthington Cup and the UEFA Cup by the middle of February, most people would have volunteered to sacrifice you to the God of Stupidity. Yet here we are, resolutely refusing to acknowledge footballing gravity.

Optimism is becoming contagious. And it’s not hard to see why. We’ve had so many thrilling results since we throttled Man Ure back in December that it’s hard to even know where to start. Sweeping Palace aside in the Worthington Cup semi-final, gleefully flicking Leeds’ nether regions with a wet towel in the FA Cup and, of course, that awesome win over Roma. Chris Smith, writing in The Liverpool Way, described it as “probably the best day of my life and I was so proud to be there and wouldn’t swap those memories for the world.” Anyone who travelled to that game is bound to have seen a fair few games involving the Reds, so to say that game was the best ever is an incredible testimony to the immensity of that performance.

I’ve said it before, but I’m a repetitive old get, so I’ll repeat myself once again. The reaction of the fans was what made it ultra (no pun intended) special. The King of the Paddock put it best: “I thought that the celebrations for the games at Old Trafford and Elland Road couldn’t be beaten but how wrong could I be, I went absolutely wild and ended up about 8 rows ahead of were I was standing.” I know I went out of control when Michael got that second goal, and I was watching it from the comfort of my living room. Those of us who were not there can only imagine the ecstasy experienced by the travelling Kop that night in Rome.

In a way, the sheer scale of the delight expressed only serves to emphasis how far we have fallen. That we should consider beating a crowd of overrated no marks like Leeds United to be worthy of mosh pits in the stands is a sign of the poverty stricken nature of recent seasons.

This is not a dismissal of all the Gerard Houllier’s Red Machine has achieved this year. I don’t think that we should be champions yesterday otherwise it’s a disappointment. No, what best represents Liverpool’s impending return to greatness is not the euphoria of great victories like any of the matches mentioned above. The best indication of our comeback is the quiet satisfaction we get from the easier wins.

Over here in the Land of Saints & Slurpers, we had the best of both televisual worlds when we last won the title. Saturday matches were shown on RTÉ, and Sunday matches were obviously available on ITV. What was most noteworthy about the crowd’s reaction after a goal in those days was the casual nature of the celebrations. Everyone got on his or her feet, cheered for a few seconds, then settled into a rhythmic round of applause. Nothing over-the-top, just satisfaction with a job well done. And you can see it coming back now. Manchester City score a goal against us in a cup-tie? No bother, we’ll just score two for every one they get. We go 1-0 up against West Ham? That’s game over, because they couldn’t score against our defence if the goalposts were stretched from one corner flag to the other.

We’ve been here before. We’ve flirted with success several times in the last decade, but the flirtatious old cow was only winding us up. Maybe this is just another false, £70 million dawn. But the signs are there. We look like winners again and the demeanour of the fans is no longer one of exasperated nervous tension, but of quiet expectancy. Sunday will tell us a lot. Come on you Reds.

*I know the original phrase is “To win is hard, to lose is harder”, but quite frankly that’s rubbish!