Footballers should be professional enough at this stage not to be fazed by the burdens of history. Yet Newcastle continue to spooked by travelling to London, and Liverpool’s lamentable record at Stamford Bridge, while baffling and inexplicable, continues to hang over the Reds like a nuclear mushroom cloud.
There was a time when it was oh so different. The last time we won in Ken Bates’ chamber of horrors was in December 1989, and it featured a virtuoso performance from the Reds, goals from Beardsley, Rush (2), Houghton and McMahon hammering Chelsea into the ground. 5-2 didn’t do justice to a spectacular display from Liverpool, which I was fortunate enough to see on the box in those pre-Sky days. We could even afford the luxury of a missed Jan Molby penalty, the save by Dave Beasant giving jaded hacks an opportunity to remind us all about his penalty save at Wembley a few year earlier. Pity it wasn’t a gift we could spurn twelve years later . . .
With memories of that win overriding the horrors we have experienced since then, I set off down Souf in the best of form, eagerly anticipating – nay, expecting – a reversal of the tide of history. The initial experiences probably should have served as a warning that all was not going to go well. The £35 ticket for the match had left me slightly leery about taking the train, so I planned to take the bus. Surfacing at 5.30 on Saturday morning, I wearily hauled my ass into Norton Street where the National Express station is located, only to discover that the earliest bus that morning that wasn’t booked out would be at 11.45. Sod that, what would be the point of going down a day earlier if I was going to arrive in the dark? After all, ghouls and goblins come out in London at that time of night (according my It’s Grim Up North Guide to the Southern Ponces.)
A quick dash across to Lime Street to see what the notorious Virgin Rail had to offer was required. To my relief, there was a train leaving in three minutes. To my bowel-loosening amazement, a return ticket was going to cost me £48.40! Making a mental note to move to Tristan del Cunha before my credit card bill arrived, I took the hit and just got to the train in the nick of time.
London. Call me crazy . . . you thought I was going to do one of those lame ‘you’re crazy’ asides that are the staple of all truly bad writers, didn’t you? Call me crazy, but every time I walk around the sights of central London, whether it be St Paul’s or Tower Bridge or the Palace of Westminster, I can’t help but think about the 80’s cartoon Danger Mouse. For those of you who don’t remember, it chronicled of the adventures of the world’s greatest super hero, a one-eyed mouse, and his bumbling sidekick Penfold. And it always – ALWAYS – began with a pompous voiceover expounding on the glory that is London. Something along the lines of “London, shining jewel on the back of the mighty Thames. And home of the world’s greatest super hero (etc.)” Perhaps Danger Mouse was a prescient metaphor for Liverpool, with Colonel K (Ged) advising Danger Mouse (Thommo) and Penfold (Sammy Lee) about the nefarious doings of Baron Greenback (Demento Ferguson)
I’d get my coat, only I’m already wearing it and the sleeves are tied behind my back.
Never mind. Having crashed at my uncle’s pad for the night, and spending at least half the night trying to explain to his slightly bemused family why anyone would drop everything to follow a football team, it was time to head off to Chelsea and the match. Except Chelsea FC is actually in Fulham. The explanation for this is only understandable to the truly demented, so any contributions to the corpus of human knowledge from supporters of Everton FC (former location – Anfield; present location – Walton) would be greatly appreciated.
A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Bridge. While on the tube to the game, a man beside me, with a suitcase clearly labelled “Kenyan Airway”, turns to me and asks me if I am a Liverpool fan (duh). It turns out he is a Liverpool fan as well. From Zimbabwe. Proof once again, if ever it was needed, that the greatest export the city of Liverpool possesses is the football club that takes its name from the city.
And then there was the game itself. Oh dear. It could have been worse, but only if Graham Le Saux had scored. Damn it, he did. The positive spin is that this being only my fourth away game, I still thrive on the novelty value of being one of the hardy few, especially cheering and singing in the face of utterly overwhelming odds. The superb Allez Allez song was sung for the first time at a game, and surely it’s only a matter of time before this one has us all bounding up and down, swinging our scarves in the air like an army of sling-wielding Davids. Heck, even Liverbird got an airing. There was also the satisfaction of watching the game from the grottiest part of the ground. The sheer vindictiveness of clubs like Everton and Chelsea in charging top dollar for such a disgraceful view makes me feel better about being a Red. You can imagine Kuddly Ken instructing the staff at the ground to allocate the very worst spec to the thieving, cheating Scousers. If we committed crimes like statutory rape, we’d get seats in the dugout.
The fact that having crap seats is a ‘positive’ shows just how truly wretched it all was. Many have tried to justify our performance, saying that we had plenty of chances, we missed a penalty, Chelsea’s goalie was inspired, their goals were spawnier than tadpoles yadda yadda yadda. Reality check folks. The only time that pressure or chances or set-pieces count is for the golden goal result after a 0-0 draw. We are Liverpool. We shouldn’t be using such limp excuses to explain away a 4-0 hiding. When we beat Arsenal 4-0 last season, I was irked when Alan Green said it was “harsh on Arsenal”. Stuff Arsenal! We were able to do the bread ‘n’ butter of football i.e. score goals, much better than they were. And Chelsea did the same to us. It won’t make much difference in the long run – I’d bet my brain against Ken Bates’ that we’ll finish ahead of them – but we should be sensible enough to take it on the chin.
So that was London and Stamford Bridge. Like the face of a beautiful woman, scarred by a throbbing boil. It was a relief to get away in the end, talking for four hours on the train back to Liverpool with a Red who seemed to echo all my innermost concerns regarding LFC. Yet I’ll be back to London as soon as I can. It’s a pretty happening place, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let those Cockneys get one over on me. Roll on Highbury.