It seemed extremely unlikely a year ago, but Fate has a habit of grabbing hold and beating you over the head when you least expect it – although some might say that it’s self-evident that Fate surprises you, because if it didn’t surprise you then you’d have been expecting it, and if you expect it then it wouldn’t be Fate because you’d be able to anticipate it, right? The bottom line after all that metaphysical musing is that I’m still in Liverpool, and likely to be here for the rest of my life.
Hip hip hooray. Now I can look forward to about five decades, heart disease and the number 46 bus at a zebra crossing not withstanding, of Blackburn folk finding my accent hilarious. It may not be normal to pronounce the number 33 as “turty-tree”, but then again it isn’t normal to say “ay-up lassie”, snarl violently at the very mention of Yawk-shy-ah or be mortally offended when the manifest superiority of Liverpool over Blackburn Rovers is pointed out to them. But at least one of us has the good manners not to point that out to the other persons face.
Still, there are advantages to being in Liverpool in early August, apart from not having to pick potatoes for a living, drink Guinness all the time and get into pub brawls which invariably end with buckets of water and bags of flour being thrown into the mix, all to the sound of fiddles being vigorously sawed at in the background (for that seems to be the view of Ireland from Blackburn). Watching the close season merry-go-round was a source of endless fascination. Who can ever forget the gentleman who wrote into the Echo after Liverpool looked likely to sign Lee Bowyer, pompously declaring that he had been a Liverpool fan for forty-plus years, as if he should get a gold star for not dying. He could not be a fan of a club with a violent, racist player in its ranks, so now he was going off to support Manchester City. Hopefully he’s stayed at Maine Road, where he could be put to productive use shovelling food into the bottomless pit that is Richard Dunne’s belly. Anyone whose love of Liverpool is so shallow that the signing of one player who, no matter how objectionable, is likely to be at the club for no more than a decade deserves to support a club whose existence is the footballing equivalent of watching footage of people jumping out of the World Trade Centre over and over again.
(If anyone senses a little antagonism in my tone, they’re right. The Waterford hurlers, so haughtily eulogised the last day, let me down badly last weekend. I’m upset.)
It’s those little bits of colour that makes the life of a Red living in Liverpool so much more immediate an experience than following it on the telly or even commuting to the game on a regular basis. You just can’t escape football in general, and the Reds in particular. Even a trip to the shops for a pint of milk invariably becomes dominated by some banner headline in the Echo. A recent gem had an ‘exclusive’ from Robbie Fowler about the REAL REASON he left Liverpool. Expecting to read that a vengeful Phil Thompson secured Houllier’s agreement to the sale while Le Boss was addled off his head on post-operative painkillers – a theory spread as gospel fact by a member of my inner circle – I eagerly/fearfully grabbed a copy of the paper. Not that I’d pay for that Blue rag. Imagine my surprise to find out that there was no surprise. He left to boost his chances of appearing in the World Cup. No doubt those 45 minutes against Denmark made rooming with Lee Bowyer, now restored to his position as Public Enemy Number One, all very worthwhile.
Speaking of Bowyer, everyone spent nearly three weeks speaking about nothing but Bowyer. That incident was the most turbulent of a wild corkscrew ride of a summer, made all the more stomach-churning by merely being in Liverpool, where everyone is utterly convinced that they possess the secret to transforming Liverpool into the kings of Europe once again, and is only too happy to share the ‘secret’ with anyone willing to listen, or anyone unwilling to listen but unfortunate enough to be conveniently close by.
The crests and troughs seemed to be never-ending. We went in to the World Cup not having made any Zidane-type purchases (trough), only to discover that we had signed the sensation of the tournament in Diouf (crest). Then the arse fell out of the transfer market after the tournament, leaving his c. £10 million tag looking a little less of a steal (trough), but at least the Mancs had spent £30 million on a player not fit to rub lemon juice into Sami Hyypia’s hair (crest). The whole Bowyer thing was a series of vigorous crests and troughs, and once it was finished we looked like we were going to sign Duff (crest), then didn’t (trough). As the season approached, we were the only team that had invested heavily in talent (crest) and I was cock-a-hoop about the return of the League title to Anfield after a length of time longer than what most criminals get for murder. Losing so comprehensively to Arsenal in Cardiff, of all places, has sent confidence into a nosedive, and that’s before you factor into account losing to Chester. So we’re in a trough deeper than the Marianas Trench at this moment in time.
Not that optimism unbounded is necessarily a good thing. Over in the Blue 41.3% of Liverpool, confidence rages through the ranks like a bout of bubonic plague. “We’ve bought a guy called Yobo, with a name with that much headline potential he can’t fail! And Kevin Rathcliffe gives him a huge thumbs up, he’s an expert on some-time-international Nigerians! Hey, we’re not going to have shirt sponsors for our 100th year of surviving in the top flight, isn’t that class! Wait, we ARE going to have shirt sponsors, some Chinese outfit no one has ever heard of, that’s class too! And we’re getting the best player in the world’s biggest country, he must be the best player in the world! Although not as good as the guy that we’re really getting, who is even better than the best player in the world! Hang on a sec, we’re getting the best player in the world again, so we’re getting the best player in the world and the player who is even better than him! Brilliant!”
The start of the season is always a traumatic period for big clubs. It’s the only time when everyone has the same amount of points, and early league tables can have a perverse look. Last season saw Everton win their first game against Charlton, before drawing with Spurs two days later, leaving them top of the league, everyone else other than Spurs having played only one match. This led one Bluenose in my then local to announce that “that’s the only time you’ll see a Merseyside team there this season.” He was wrong as it turned out, but when the Reds went to the Pit on the back of two straight defeats, already four points adrift of Everton, you could see where he was coming from. By season’s end we were thirty points to the good – that’s fully ten extra victories, Blueslime – but memories of that wobble at the start of 2001/2 will still be fresh in people’s minds as the new season begins.
So it begins. Nine months of the most exquisite torture ever devised. And if at some stage of the season you’re feeling at your lowest ebb – lost the derby, out of Europe and the only people who think we have a chance of winning the league are paranoid schizophrenics and Chris Bascombe – remember this: the lot of a Liverpool fan is inherently more enjoyable than all but a handful of other clubs around the globe. It’s a sobering thought, but Liverpool are as good as it gets.