That Was The Season That Was 2010/11

The other player to transcend greatness to the status of myth and fable is Kenny Dalglish. This is certainly more justified than the [Billy] Liddell legend, as a fair proportion of present day Reds saw him weave his magic. Four different locals have, without any prompting from me, detailed their first memory of King Kenny. None of them speak of the same incident, but the story is always the same. The summer of 1977 saw much fretting about how Liverpool were going to replace Kevin Keegan, and everyone feared that the mulleted Scotsman wouldn’t be up to the job. But once eyes were clapped on Kenny, and he had produced some moment of football genius that would leave Pele or Puskas gasping with admiration, the refrain would be: Kevin who? A star was born, and eight championships and three European Cups later, the glow hasn’t dimmed one jot.

Return of the God, 2 May 2003

Liverpool’s season has all been about one man. This man dragged the club back from the abyss and restored its pride, receiving the adulation of all Reds wherever he went as a result. I refer, of course, to Martin Broughton.

Tributes to Kenny Dalglish are almost superfluous at this stage, but another laurel wreath you can add to his honours is that we’ve forgotten just how close the club went to the brink. The appointment of Broughton by George Gillett and Tom Hicks is an example for the ages of how you should be careful what you wish for. Selected with the remit to sell the club at all costs, they couldn’t have imagined that he would sell the club at all costs. The ins and outs of corporate law are beyond me, but the way events unfolded makes it appear that the robber barons expected Broughton to define ‘the club’ as its owners, whereas he saw it as an entity with a separate life of its own. Given the manner in which the world has become prisoner to the corrupt and shameless needs of Gordon Gekko-types, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Gillett and Hicks appointed a different man whose view of The Club dovetailed with their view and not that of the fans. If that happened, we would have been utterly screwed. As it was we got a man who was possibly swept up in the romance of it all – the smile on his face as he emerged from the High Court to the adulation of the travelling Kop suggests he was enjoying a moment that few businessmen can ever expect to experience. Or maybe he was just a sober suit who felt he was doing the correct thing. Whatever it was, 2010/11 should go down as the season when Liverpool flirted with oblivion – and survived.

It won’t though. Football is changing, and Liverpool’s place in football is going to change with it. It seemed to inevitable to me that any change was going to be downgraded. Look at the populations of those cities that have produced more than three European Cups (source: Wikipedia):

  • Milan (10 wins) – 1.3 million
  • Madrid (9) – 3.4 million
  • Liverpool (5) – 435,000
  • Amsterdam (4) – 1.2 million
  • Barcelona (4) – 1.6 million
  • Munich (4) – 1.3 million

As you can see, we’re not in the same league, and that’s even before you consider how much richer all of the other cities are per capita. Liverpool, God bless her, is a provincial kind of place by comparison. Once it became clear that Gillett and Hicks did not have the kind of money that Chelsea or Manchester City had, it was important that we cut our cloth to measure. The appointment of Roy Hodgson was perfectly consistent with such a mentality. Given the resources he could look forward to, no one else was going to be daft enough to take the job.

Yet such pessimism brings with it the power of self-fulfilling prophecy. You can’t do any better than what you aspire to, but you can do a hell of a lot worse. Google ‘roy hodgson magic wand’ and you’ll see just how determined Roy was to suppress expectations. At the time I would have agreed with this assessment and it wasn’t until I saw the shambles against Wolves, a team we should be beating with a feather duster, that I realised just how bad things were. Beating Bolton a few days later only confirmed that the team weren’t anywhere near as bad as Roy was making out. He had to go.

Next up, his replacement. There was much media scoffing at the rage of Aston Villa fans at the appointment of Alex McLeish as their new manager. How dare football fans allow themselves to be so irrational! And at the start of 2011 I probably would have agreed with the media. Managers needed to be cool, calm and collected. Appointing them in a spirit of nostalgia would be a recipe for disaster. And yet here we are, making the ultimate sentimental appointment in Kenny Dalglish and thriving beyond what would have been our wildest dreams at the turn of the year, and the same hack who was so scornful of Villa fans in June for being so irrational was burbling with delight in January at how “Kenny Dalglish reminds Liverpool who and what they are“. It’d probably enrage Villa fans even more were they to see how Paul Hayward was making the assumption that Liverpool could somehow tap into something intangible – Whacker, the Spirit of Scouse? – to improve results.

And while Villa fans would be right to be upset, there’s no arguing with how Liverpool have blossomed under the King. It does present the slightly unnerving prospect that there is a man who is bigger than the club, and the rational part of me thinks much of the credit for Liverpool’s revival can be attributed to Steve Clarke, a suggestion that the club seems to agree with as evidenced by their easing out of Sammy Lee in favour of the Special One’s former henchman. But if the fans are happy, why worry? The most entertaining aspect of the second half of this season was not any individual win, although the obliteration of Fulham was particularly memorable. It was Kenny bouncing up and down the sideline like a puppy on acid, behaviour that provided positive feedback to the fans doing exactly the same thing thus raising that special-at-the-worst-of-times feeling you get from a goal to stratospheric heights. The kids reading this may not recall his demeanour when Liverpool would score in his first stint as manager. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now could have been written for him. As with the owners it is all changed, changed utterly. And I claim my £5 for referencing Morrissey and WB Yeats in successive lines.

Things may still end badly with Kenny, and perhaps I should maintain a strict neutrality on the subject so that I can revert to my previous position, i.e. that if  we “were looking for someone called Dalglish with knowledge of football in the 21st century, you’d be better off giving the job to Kelly“. But lovely and all as the sight of Mrs Cates in the dugout would be, I have to yield to my friend – big shout-out to Ryan! – who demanded for years and years that Kenny be brought back and considered the limp draw with Wigan to be a success because it had the privilege of seeing her father prowling the touchline after being denied it the first time around. Aprés M Hayward, it’s impossible to put a value on the feelgood factor he has brought back to the club. Let us have an end to rationality, and let the good times roll.