Poor Leicester City. When Martin O’Neill jacked in the Filbert Street hotseat for the dubious pleasures of Parkhead, chairman John Elsom was quick to sneer at the curly-haired ones choice. Why, he wondered, would Martin O’Neill want to go to a non-entity club like Celtic when he could conquer entire worlds at Leicester? Even those of us who spread the rumour that Leicester was rejected for twinning by the citizens of Beirut must have wondered whether O’Neill had taken one too many blow to the head from a Gaelic football – in case you don’t know, they are slightly lighter than cannonballs. Leicester had established a firm niche in the Premiership and even won a couple of League Cups. Celtic, in the meantime, were the second club in a one-team league, yet still had fans who expected to win every game they played. As poisoned chalices go, this was that fake Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
How times change. As Celtic crush all in their path in Scotland – they’ve lost four domestic games in nearly two years – we now know that Leicester’s place at England football’s top table was entirely down to wee Martin. A generous person might feel some measure of sympathy with Leicester’s plight, but comments like the aforementioned one from Mr Elsom demonstrate their descent into hubris. And they are not coping with their decline in the football hierarchy with much grace. As their fans chanted “you’ve only got twelve men” during their recent game at Anfield – surely their last for some time – it would have been more fit of them to dwell on the reason they were penalised so often. The Leicester players kicked anything that moved, which due to Liverpool’s glacial pace wasn’t often the ball. My advice to Leicester City fans would be to get used to it. Your time at the summit was fun, but for most clubs such glory is but fleeting.
The same advice could have been given to the Red one row ahead and one seat to the left of me at that Leicester game. I’ve often raged impotently at not having a season ticket, but while seated in a friends seat during the game, I was grateful that I wasn’t landed with such an odious neighbour. He was simply insufferable, shaking his head at everything that went wrong, and shaking his head at much that went right. His view of football was governed by the binary system. All stimuli were a function of what he saw on the field. When something occurred on the field, it produced a neural reaction, an electrical charge sent from his brain to the rest of his body to indicate his reaction to what he has just seen. A goal caused a signal of ‘1’ to be emitted, allowing him to get to his feet and cheer. A signal of ‘0’ was sent by everything else. Anything which failed to produce a goal would produce a shake of the head and/or some other reaction, such as “effin’ hell Reds” or “nice clearance Heskey” when Emile failed to send a bullet header to the net. My own personal favourite was when Stephane Henchoz sent an inch-perfect pass down the right wing to Stephen Wright. “First good ball you’ve ever played, Henchoz!” was his way of saying well done. It is to my eternal credit that I kept my cool, and I might not have done but for his daughter (I imagine) sitting beside him, letting him know just what she thought of his blatant negativity.
To be fair to him, he was entirely consistent. You could see the struggle as all those ‘1’ signals were fired along his neural pathways upon Liverpool’s goal, but they were being swamped by all the ‘0’ charged messages along the lines of “Heskey touched the ball, jeer him!” The ‘1’ signals triumphed in the end, but only in a rather desultory fashion. And as if to prove his muppet status beyond all doubt, he left ten minutes before the end. Yep, muppet sounds about right.
Some will no doubt think that I’m saying that all criticism is off limits, and they’d be partially right. It does upset me when people kick off with impunity without any obvious regard for the waves of depression that sweep around Anfield. But my problem is with the sheer lack of joy in the likes of him. Going up to the ground is meant to be fun, for Christ’s sake. It’s not a chore. No one is forcing you to go, so why bother if you’re going to be so miserable all the time? Watching that goon go through the motions on that chilly Wednesday night infuriated me beyond belief, that someone’s love for Liverpool FC was so clearly dependent on them winning all the time.
Following this team is not a conditional thing. We’re wedded to them with ties that bind more strongly than any marriage ceremony. Through sickness and in health, ’til death do us part. And when I see the gimps who have been abusing all and sundry of late coming on the message board and expressing ‘delight’ at the Reds walloping Leeds at Elland Road, after they had been confidently predicting Armageddon at the hands of Robbie Fowler…I will say no more. I refuse to let them come between me and the joy that that result engendered. Because we – us fortunate few – deserve that result, and the nay-sayers are not going to take it away from us.