The Last Team on Merseyside to Win a Trophy

Wilkommen, und wie gehts? It’s incredible, but prior to heading out to Bavaria for a week of bratwurst-eating and having my bratwurst eaten by…um. I’ll leave that kind of thing to Dino. Where was I? Ah yes. Before I went out on one poxy weeks holidays to Germany I could have happily written a dissertation on the effect that the temperature of the Anfield Bovril has on the performance of the groundstaff. Or something. The point is, I’ve never needed an excuse to spout rubbish. Like Al Gore, it’s a question of winding me up and watching me go.

Perhaps the Muse of Fire that has guided me through the hazardous straits of creativity had abandoned me, deciding to bestow her gifts of the loquacious upon others more worthy and/or needy. Or perhaps living among a bunch of dour automatons who speak a language that produces a bucket of phlegm in your gob when you ask for a drink had eroded my ability to drone on about nothing in particular.

Whatever it was, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say in the last three weeks. All that passed through my inspiration-starved brain was this: the Germans have no rhythm. Dancing isn’t really my thing. Being a non-drinker, the sheer absurdity of the gyrations involved in dancing has always been obvious to me. Without alcohol, you see it for what it is – a mating ritual. A sophisticated fin de siecle form to be sure, constructed by modern homo sapiens to portray a veneer of subtlety. But it’s a mating ritual nonetheless.

But in Germany, you can be as big a gobshite on the dancefloor as you like, because Germans have less rhythm than Miles Davis’ trumpet after it has been vigorously massaged with a steamroller. Every one of them will perform John Travolta’s dance in Pulp Fiction as if they are the person who discovered it. As a result, a flatfooted Mick like me can feel like a combination of Travolta, Nijinsky and Nureyev. Although I can get by without the tights.

Having said all that, most Germans would no doubt have been amused by my lack of rhythm as I strove to discover the result of the Worthington Cup final. I had planned to find some Irish pub in Munich on arrival, but the lovely people in KLM, in a counterattack that would have impressed Johann Cryuff and William of Orange, left my luggage in Amsterdam. I briefly toyed with the idea of letting the luggage go to hell. But the hope that some overzealous drug pusher had placed some prime Dutch weed in my bag forced me to wait until it arrived.

Sadly there was no organic produce in my bag when it turned up later that evening. Did I say sadly? I meant luckily.

But back to the Reds. The challenge now was to find out the result. My host is a complete technology freak. He has all kinds of cybertat, ranging from the Nokia e-Phone NextGen WAP Reversed Polarity 3431 handset to a kettle that boils when you imagine it to be boiling – the helmet you have to wear weighs half a tonne, but it’s worth it. Yet his bloody Internet connection wasn’t working! And his television is on his computer, so simple commands like teletext took an eternity to configure. Eventually I realised that you could update a page by clicking ‘Update’ (it’s a lot more cryptic that it sounds) and all I had to do was find the relevant page on CNN and click ‘Update’.

When the result flashed across the screen…I was like a puppet which had had its string’s cut. I literally flopped to the ground, relief oozing out of every pore. I had been spared the turmoil of watching that awful, awful game. But I had also missed out on the sheer animal euphoria of a penalty shoot-out victory. Which was a pity, but you pays your money…

Inevitably you get to pondering the value of such a victory. In quiet moments out in Bayern – not that there were many – I wondered what was the worth of beating Birmingham City on penalties in a trophy that is a distant third out of three in domestic terms. People will eventually forget about the manner of the victory, but in the short term it was a major embarrassment to fail to utterly bury the Brummies. I know a win is a win is a win, but there ARE different levels of satisfaction with a win. Beating Man Ure was all the sweeter for the robust manner in which we did it than if we had, say, stolen it after being hammered off the pitch for ninety minutes.

I’m not saying I wasn’t glad we won. But it was more a case of feeling relief that the cataclysmic humiliation we would have endured had we lost to Birmingham was avoided. I wasn’t walking around Munich all week grinning like a maniac like I would have been had we won the FA Cup. Even talking to a Red I bumped into in a pub over there wasn’t tremendously inspiring. Relief was the emotion he admitted to experiencing as well. No matter what way I turned it, I couldn’t bring myself to draw anything positive in the long term from our first trophy in six years.

It wasn’t until I returned to Ireland and got back online that I finally extracted the really good vibes from the win. While perusing the Shankly review of the victory, one simple picture gave me the warm glow inside that I had been seeking – seeking, no less; this had been a crusade! The picture in question is the one of the players immediately post-victory, and particularly Nick Barmby’s reaction. There’s nothing unusually noteworthy about his reaction in itself, but in that one moment is total validation of his decision to haul himself out of the Pit, hose himself down and join Liverpool.

No matter what the bitter Blueslime might say, he joined Liverpool to win things. And within eight months of joining Liverpool he had eclipsed everything that he had achieved in more than eight years of poncing around with the likes of Spurs, Middlesbrough and Everton.

It’s not just Barmby. Of the eleven that started, only Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey had ever won a trophy in England. And Heskey had won twice as much with Leicester as Fowler had with Liverpool! The players would not be human if they were not to have enjoyed the feeling of getting their hands on a silver pot and waving it in front of 35,000 delirious fans (I rather think that Steven Gerrard is superhuman, but that’s another story.) They’ll want more. They’ll want to do it in Cardiff again, they’ll want to do it in Dortmund and – heaven help me for thinking such optimistic thoughts – they’ll want to do it at Anfield with that bizarre trophy with the tacky crown perched atop. With the confidence and the hunger that success undoubtedly engenders, they’ll hopefully move on to bigger and more exciting things.

So let’s hear it for the Worthington Cup, the cup that cheers. It may only be a doorstop as we (re)enter the Hall of Myriad Trophies, but having had the door slammed in our face so many times in recent years, it sure is a beautiful doorstop.