During the early days of college life, an era so far removed from the present that it seems like it should be referred to only in Gothic script, the joys of multi-channel land proved to be extremely, er, joyful. One of the most memorable programmes on the new stations was on MTV, a manga-style cartoon called Aeon Flux. The cartoon followed the adventures of the eponymous hero, a predictably scantily-clad action woman, in some manner of futuristic universe. The plot was non-existent, she being a maverick mercenary-type in a world run by a sinister corporation bent on turning everyone to their will (a bit like Sky Sports).
What made Aeon Flux compelling was trying to work out what it was all about. Every episode would feature the apocalypse-of-the-week, like a virus spawned in the labs of evil conglomerate that would threaten to engulf the planet (a bit like Sky Sports). Sometimes Aeon Flux would save the world, sometimes the seething love-hate relationship with the hilariously-monikered antagonist, Trevor – would anyone take Gandalf or Aragorn seriously if they were called Trevor? – would cause the whole thing to go pear-shaped. What happened every week, without fail, was that Aeon Flux would be killed. And next week, everything would resume as if the previous episodes events never happened. Make sense of it? You might as well try and beat Arsenal.
I was reminded of the deranged logic of Aeon Flux when trying to piece together the recent history of Liverpool FC. Bluntly put, there’s a total mismatch between what has happened and where we find ourselves now. You can live with the more glaring examples – we were great then, we’re not-so-great now. It’s the little things, natch, that make you feel like crying.
– Surely there was a point in the not-too-distant past where we seemed destined for greatness? When Gary McAllister was chaired off the pitch after we had hammered Ipswich into the ground at the end of 2001/2, did anyone doubt that we were on our way to the top? Watching Arsenal stumble past Ipswich a few weeks previously, we had all been cheering for the wurzels, a result which would open the door to the dreaded Man U winning the title instead. Why? Because it would have improved our chances of winning the title, that’s why. It’s hard to believe that we were that close, but that was the way it was. Okay, Arsenal never really looked like slipping up so it was perhaps a false hope, but there were other items of evidence in favour of us regaining our place at the top. Heading up to the ground for the Champions League match with Roma, you just knew, with the certainty of some Nostrodamus-like figure who actually could see into that future, that we were going to beat them. We proceeded to give them a beating the like of which no team managed by the great Fabio Capello has ever received. This was barely two years ago. Hard to believe now.
– Whatever happened to the five-year plan? Even Stalin introduced a second (and third, and fourth) five-year plan. We seem to have the forget-I-mentioned-it five-year plan.
– “The worst thing that happened was winning the treble.” This is a very popular point of view, based on the idea that it lulled us into a false sense of confidence with regard to our prospects of winning the League Championship. Ignoring the fact that we went even closer the year after the treble (see above), the idea the winning things is actually a defeat is a curious one. It’s predicated on a few of Bill Shankly’s more choice bon mots, e.g. first is first, second is nowhere; winning the league is our bread ‘n’ butter. Now, it may be heresy to even contemplate this, but Bill said a lot of things that should not only not be taken seriously, but were probably not taken particularly seriously by the great man himself. Anyone who thinks that Bill Shankly meant that football was literally, as opposed to figuratively, more important than life and death deserves to spend an evening with a Bluenose in the coffin of their choice. With that in mind, the idea that there is nothing past the league title should be taken with a Siberian harvest-worth of salt. Shanks only won the title three times in 14 seasons at Anfield, which means that if we take his quips at face value, his career was 78.57% worthless. It is unlikely that he would take kindly to the belittling of his triumph in the Uefa Cup, our first European trophy after nine attempts, or the two successes in the FA Cup. The first FA Cup win, allied to the thunderous victory over Inter a few days later, represented the dawn of a footballing superpower, and not a league title in sight. In case you think it might have been the league victory in 1964 that made Liverpool great, just check out who won the title in the previous four seasons
1960 – Burnley
1961 – Tottenham Hotspur
1962 – Ipswich Town
1963 – Everton
So of the previous year’s winners, not one created a legacy that has endured. It was that week in May 1965 that separated the Everton chaff from the Liverpool wheat, yet now we have the casual dismissal of a season when we won every cup that was going and even squeaked back into the European Cup. Perhaps all those people on the streets of Liverpool were protesting, not celebrating.
– Michael Owen’s only interested in England and isn’t arsed about Liverpool. This is the US dollar of currencies, extremely common yet still valuable. Yet watching Thierry Henry rattle in a hat-trick against us only three days after he had gone AWOL in the biggest match of Arsenal’s season, it was easy to wonder whether it was a different Thierry Henry who so spectacularly bottled it in the 2001 FA Cup final, and a different Michael Owen who won that same match on his own, to the everlasting happiness of the fans of that team that he supposedly doesn’t give a fiddlers about. Maybe the 31 goals I’ve seen Michael Owen score – more than one-quarter to the total for all Liverpool players, and over three times more than his nearest rival for that honour – was part of a series of episodes of Aeon Flux.
– We weren’t lucky then yet we’re unlucky now. Or we were lucky then and getting what we deserve now. Take your pick (how do you confuse a Bluenose? Present him with three shovels and tell him to take his pick), because they seem to be the only options in town. But how about a third, really iconoclastic, option? We weren’t lucky when the Reds showed tremendous pluck and a steely nerve to win two cups and a Champions League place in the space of eight gruelling days. We deserved it. Three years on, as we contemplate losing one-third of our league matches during the course of the season, luck – or the lack of it – has nothing to do with that state of affairs. We deserve it.
– At what point did finishing fourth become our target? Listening to Ged talk about our target of Champions League qualification, a neuron is fired in the back of my brain carrying the information that, at the start of the season, the goal was to win the league. It seems preposterous now that we languish umpteen points behind Arsenal (and Chelsea and Man U), so it must be a figment of my imagination, I guess.
This is doing my head in. I’m going to stop before I cry, and you wouldn’t want to see a grown man cry. Again.