Lament of the Eternal Optimist

ShanklyGates.co.uk

The ultimate sign that we are cursed to live in interesting times came right on half-time in the derby just before Christmas. The Blueslime began chanting “Rooney’s gonna get ya, Rooney’s gonna get ya”.

Now, one of the pleasures (sic) of sitting in the Kop is seeing which set of opposing fans can be the least original with their chants. Lahndahners never let you down with chants of You’ll Never Get A Job, and there was an unofficial competition to see which shower could get to Sit Down Pinocchio first – I think Southampton fans ran out the winners, singing it before Tommo had even walked down the tunnel. Yet here were the Evertonians singing something original, and something funny as well.

That bears repeating and emphasising: THE EVERTONIANS WERE ORIGINAL AND FUNNY. Strange but true. To make things even more bizarre, it was the second occasion that the Liverpool branch of the Manchester United Fan Club had made me laugh that day, and I don’t mean laughing at them. When the human equivalent of a 747 decided to taxi onto the runway in preparation for take-off (AKA warming up), he ran as close to the Kop as it’s possible to do without leaving the playing surface. This he did on three occasions, each time bringing a ever-more vociferous volley of abuse from the assembled Reds, which in turn only served to make him strut his funky stuff with increased vigour. He did everything short of baring his backside to us, although the proximity of the corner flag probably persuaded him against doing that.

And you know what? It was funny. You had to admire the chutzpah of the lad. How many of us would absolutely love to have the entire Stretford / Gwladys Street End looking at you while you marched up and down wearing your Liverpool colours with pride? Well, he lived that dream, this boy who was the Premierships youngest scorer for all of a few months – the only thing he’s the youngest at now is getting sent off. Well done that lad.

Now that Everton are officially good-humoured, so many other certainties don’t look quite so certain. Perhaps Iain Duncan Smith might be the next Prime Minister. Maybe there won’t be roadworks on Queen’s Drive tonight. And it’s possible that this particular Liverpool tailspin is one we won’t be pulling out of. At least not to our satisfaction.

The statistics alone are horrifying enough. No wins in ten games, four points out of thirty. The last time Liverpool had a run that bad, footballers wore jerseys made of jute. We’ve gone from being seven points clear at the top of the table to twelve points adrift in seventh place. Fifteen hours of football has yielded six goals, only four of them from play. I maintain a spreadsheet in work which lists all the Reds results over the last couple of seasons, comparing them to the same result the previous season. How anally-retentive can you get? You don’t want to know how anally-retentive I can get. Therefore when we beat Southampton in our first home game of the season, we picked up two points on last season when we only drew with them. By New Year’s Day, where we dropped three more points at Newcastle, we were twenty-one (21) points worse off than last season. If we were to win our remaining sixteen games this season, we’d have 82 points, which means one more draw and we can’t eclipse our total haul from last season. It’s enough to drive you to drink . . . more.

Ah, but there is more. Statistics are all very well, but they can’t capture the ghastly flavour of the concoction we are consuming. Watching the previously invincible Dudek being reduced to a cack-handed incompetent, Owen ploughing the loneliest of lonely furrows up front (he didn’t play against Newcastle, so someone clearly decided to do the ploughing for him), enhancing the reputation of a no-mark like Jurgen Macho – twice, enhancing the reputation of a no-mark like Diego Forlan – twice. The list of infamy goes on and on. If the Boy Rotunder had seen his shot go under the bar rather than onto it (kudos on the ever-so-subtle handball), the sky in Liverpool would have been red with people flinging themselves from a very great height.

Since it became clear that this was more than a mid-season blip, unless not winning for over quarter of the season counts as merely a blip, it’s become difficult for the cheerful brigade. I’m not normally someone who would qualify as one of life’s optimist. I always assume the worst and consequently find myself ready (sort of) when the worst happens. The image of me huddling in my room, cutting myself off from all forms of electronic media while Liverpool are playing, has earned me the description of “you’re weird” from a person whom we shall return to in a moment.

It’s not a description I have any problem with, but it’s certainly no more weird than people giving themselves gas over a matter that’s entirely beyond their control. Perhaps it’s weird to resolutely enjoy being a Liverpool fan, even if absolutely everything is going the shape of a soft, greenish fruit which rhymes with fair – never noticed before that ‘pear’ is a daft spelling for a word pronounced that way; now that is insight – yet I really do enjoy being a Liverpool fan even when everything is going pair-shaped. The Evertonians are giving it large at the moment, but their satisfaction is heavily blunted by regular reminders of where they were when they were sh*t. Blues, Gooners, Mancs et al can crow all they like, but the idea that I’d rather be a Liverpudlian boot black than the greatest citizen of any other club never seemed more fitting than it does now.

Which brings me back to that “you’re weird” geezer. He’s a good Red, going to most games and regularly hauling his wrinkled (I assume – he’s no spring chicken) butt across Europe. What he is not, however, is tolerant of anyone who deviates from what his vision of a Liverpool fan should think / do / eat. The raison d’etre of Liverpool Football Club is to win absolutely everything, score three hundred goals in a season and never concede a thing. Anything less than that that is a letdown. Consequently, when an out-of-towner like me – did I mention his poorly concealed contempt for OOT’s? – comes along with a please-leave-me-alone shrug of the shoulders after yet another humbling, I get treated to a spittle-coated tirade of abuse that would make Ian Paisley blush.

It’s not as if I fundamentally disagree with his denunciation of the present state of affairs. I know it isn’t good enough. I also think that unless something radical happens in the short term, like us getting back to winning ways, then something even more radical might happen, perhaps involving a wooden structure with a very large blade that rhymes with huillotine. I do remember him saying that he thought we were rubbish when we were top of the league. I accept that Bruno Cheyrou couldn’t produce tackle in a bait shop. However, I remember him saying how brilliant we were when we were top of the league. I also remember him saying that Bruno Cheyrou was a class act who needed to start every game. You won’t see me reminding him of that though. A lifetime of seeing Ian Paisley’s mug filling the screen is enough to induce anyone to silence.

These are difficult times for us optimists. When things are going wrong, the chorus of I-told-you-so’s fills the air like a Welsh rugby crowd. But when things are going right, like they did so spectacularly in 2001, the optimists are too busy enjoying the moment to gloat and the moaners get to piggyback on the success that they considered so fanciful not long before. The consolation for optimists is that no amount of crap can destroy your spirit. The thought that you could be an Evertonian, hero-worshipping a teenage Troll doll, should be enough to put a smile on even the most careworn of Liverpool faces.

I’m wearing blinkers, or so I’m told. But maybe I’d rather keep the blinkers on. There’s nothing I can do to make the Reds play better, so it makes more sense to me to sit back and enjoy the ride. For those who can’t get any enjoyment out of things anymore, I’ll happily take your season ticket. You can’t say fairer than that.

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