Thursday, October 10, 2013

We are all Liverpool fans again

I’m a Liverpool fan. Again. Why? Because we’re  a couple of goals allowed from the top of the table. I know what you’re thinking. I’m a sunshine boy.  A fair-weather fan.  I only watch when we’re winning, and I only sing when they print the words to the songs on a karaoke feed.  Well, you’re right. And you wish you were one, too. Admit it.  That way, instead of spending the last 25 years hoping, in vain, that Everton would return to their Andy heyday or pretending that Aston Villa had never Peter Withered, you could have been sneakily watching Manchester United or Arsenal play some decent football.

Why is it considered such a footballing sin to pick winners?

Would thousands follow Novak Djokovic down to Court #25 if he put in five rubbish seasons in a row?  Do golf fans studiously avoid Rory McIlroy so they don’t miss a shot from onetime great Bernhard Langer in the group ahead?

I first became a Liverpool fan around 1982. I was conflicted from the start; my cousin Phil made me renounce QPR, who my Dad and I had picked out of the league table at random.

I was just in time for the first reign of Ian Rush. I wasn’t allowed watch telly on Saturday afternoons so I mostly experienced the exploits of Mustacheses II through my classmates’ postgame bragging.  Rush was so great that for years I thought strikers were shit if they only scored once a game. The only time I watched the Reds play before Kenny Dalglish took over as scowler-in-chief was the 1984 European Cup Final against Roma.  This game taught me the turgidity law: the more you look forward to a match, the more boring it usually is.

Mid Dalglish was my Liverpool period.  My mum relaxed the Saturday rule between 1987 and 1989, and I gradually fell for Bruce Grobelaar, Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Craig Johnston, John Aldridge (Mustacheses III), Kenny Dalglish (with his hybrid player-manager tracksuit-overcoat, always ready to Special Guest Star in a game, and still useful at 5 mph) and, yes, even Gary Ablett.  For a couple of years, I understood why the word fan was short for fanatic.  I loved this team, and I deluded myself that they were reciprocating this love by beating almost everyone twice a year. These were the years when Liverpool fans felt unlucky to narrowly miss out on League-Cup doubles.

It felt like the beginning of a thousand-year Reich. My classmates talked about the team missing Rush, but, as far as I was concerned, Aldridge was just as good – from his mustache down to his first touch. Of course, I made this judgement without seeing Rush play. But Aldridge could score at will.  He could never reprise his Liverpool form for Ireland, but have you ever seen the clip where the linesman stalled him on the sidelines while Jackie Charlton was trying to throw him on as a sub during a group game against Mexico at the 94 World Cup?   Aldo, one of the world’s most unflappable players, got into a flap. When he finally got on the field, I knew he was going to score. Sure enough, he sprinted up field a few moments later and almost headered the ball through the net.  He could score at will.
I felt somewhat conflicted when Rush returned to take back the mustachioed striker role. But I kept faith with my team.  

Until that team disappeared. In ’91, Dalglish quit, and Graeme Souness took over.  Souness’s first act was to sack half of my favourite players. Liverpool clearly didn’t love me any more.
The only thing Souness, Moustacheses I, had in common with Dalglish was being an ex-great Liverpool and Scotland international player from Glasgow. OK, that’s a fair amount. But Souness was the Drago to Dalglish’s Rocky. The man was a brute. Anyone who saw the legbreaking tackle he committed for Rangers as I did (on Saint and Greavesie, where sunshine fans went to get their 30 minutes of football a week) could never love Souness.  Halfway through that season, Liverpool and I broke up.

For a couple of years, I was a closet Blackburn fan.  In three years, Shearer and Dalglish took them from 19th in the second division to premiership champions.  Nobody’s done it since.

Then I thought I’d go the Sleeping Giant route. Sleeping Giant fandom is more romantic than Sunshine Boy fandom.  Some football fans believe there is more honour in supporting their team when it’s shit. I spoke to a Boca Juniors fan once who scoffed at the league-leading season the club was enjoying. ”Two years ago, we lost every single league game at home. Every. Single. Game. And it was packed. Every week. And everyone sang, at the top of their voices. That’s Boca,” he said, sounding like a doting father.

I chose Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Wolves. They had a great chant (“We are Wolves, We are Wolves, We are Wolves” repeat x infinity, really fast); a great striker (Steve Bull, who could score hat tricks at will), and, most importantly, an illustrious history (they had won just as many league-cup doubles as Liverpool, and more than Man United at the time). 

But the Giant Wolves never really woke up. They were always tipped for promotion into the premiership, but very seldom made it. Even when they did make it, they immediately ruled themselves out of contention and started flirting with relegation.  They never even had a cup run to speak of.  Non-league Stevenage had cup runs to speak of.  Plus, pre-Internet, to find out what Wolves were doing took a lot of work. I told people I followed Wolves but then couldn’t name any of their players. It was embarrassing for both of us. Our relationship was going nowhere.

I spent several years unattached, just following games that I thought would be decent.  I was happy.
I signed on as a Liverpool fan again for a day in 2005.  One of the other Geezer contributors and I watched the European Cup final at a mate’s house. We almost switched the channel at half time, but after Liverpool got their first one back, I had the same feeling about Stevie G as I had once had about Aldridge in that Mexico game. Milan had been too cocky, and Gerrard was up for it.  Only the greats can carry a big game on their shoulders like that.  

You see it in games on the green in the housing estate, where one player just pushes their quality to a higher plane than everyone else  on the field. You seldom see it in a professional game and never in a big final. Pity Gerrard gets shirty about not getting his Phil Collins requests played, and apparently once chanted his own name like a scouse cuckoo…but you have to separate the artist from their art.
Luis Suarez seems to be that kind of great.  The much hyped “double threat” of him and Sturridge seems to be living up to the hype. And Brendan Rodgers seems to genuinely want a bit of style.  

I’m falling in love with Liverpool again. But if they start wasting leads against West Brom and fecking around in fifth place again, it’s off.

-Rob Curran