Another installment of the eerily accurate Being: Liverpool courtesy of Mr Miles Shackley.
Joe Garston : Things have improved since the last time we spoke. There’s finally smiles on the faces of folk. A home draw with Stoke, and 1-0 v Reading. Onwards and upwards, the direction we’re heading. A win in Europe is always nice, a derby next Sunday should serve up some spice. The Bitters, we call them, they reckon they’re sound. We’ll grind them to sawdust in their own wooden ground.
Narrator: The fruits of Brendan Rodgers’ recent toils are finally beginning to bloom. After a shaky start to their Premier League campaign, Rodgers team have managed to hold a gritty Stoke side to a goalless draw at Fortress Anfield, and seen off Reading’s strongest side with a 1-0 win. The points tally clocks up and, with it, Liverpool’s position begins to soar. The club is now nestled in 12th spot and averaging more than a point per game. It is comfortably placed to begin its assault on the holy grail of fourth place in the Premier League, a position which will ensure qualification for the qualifying rounds of football’s greatest trophy, the European Cup. It’s a trophy that the club is no stranger to, having won it five times – once when they were the second best team on Merseyside, the third best in the northwest and the fifth best in England. No wonder it is a trophy upon which so much stall is set.
Brendan: Stuart. Glad you could make it. Don’t be fazed by the cameras, they’re just here to get a feel of the club members behind closed doors, so to speak.
Downing: I know boss, I’ve seen them around here the last few weeks, and I’m a professional footballer, so I’m used to a bit of an audience!
Brendan: OK son, some of that is debatable so don’t get lippy. OK. I’ve called you in here today to remind you of a discussion that we, as a team and as a family had together a few weeks ago, OK? At the start of the season. OK?
Brendan: OK, so – you remember the chat we had with the three envelopes, when I said each one contained the name of an individual that would let us down this season? Well, I want you to take this envelope. OK?
Brendan: Open it up, son.
Downing: OK, although I’m really not sure where… Oh. I didn’t think they’d actually have names in them. I, errr… I thought it was motivational. A rhetorical device, a tangible realisation of the intangible, ethereal potential for disappointment. Something to ensure that we, as players, or coaches or backroom staff – because you didn’t specify whether it was constrained merely to players and, as a club, we stand as one and if one fails, we all fail – don’t let our standards slip below the required levels that are inherent when you join a club of the stature and traditions of this football club.
Brendan: No son, we don’t deal in arbitrary rhetorical statements and questions in this family, OK?
Downing: I’m a bit hurt you thought… well, you thought I might be one of the people who’d let you down. I mean – is Jordan Henderson in one of them?
Brendan: Irrelevant. Doesn’t matter. Two points, OK? First point [uses thumb] – I’ve had my reservations about you, but after that goal against Anzhi, I’ve seen the player in you. OK? Before then, I was thinking I should have sent you to West Ham and kept Andy, OK? But it’s destructive to think and behave like that, which is why I’m sending out a message to the players I think might let me down that, when they don’t let me down, OK, that I do value them. That’s why I’m giving you the envelope. You’re no longer Stuart Mightletusdowning in my eyes. You’re Stuart Downing again. Footballer. Professional. Reliable.
Downing: Nothing, it’s just you said you had two points.
Brendan: Good. You see? A good player is… a good listener and a good learner. OK. Second point – well played, son. Don’t take my previous criticism of a few minutes ago to heart. Learn from it. Live it. Love it. Be it. Develop from it. OK? Good. You’re a new player. Now let me look at you. OK, good. Let’s shake hands for a lengthy period of time and treat this as a new dawn, a new day, a new life for you. Are you feeling good?
Downing: er… to be honest, I’m still reeling a little bit.
Brendan: OK, good. Well played, Stuart Downing, come ON! [claps repeatedly as Stuart Downing leaves the room]
Narrator: It’s an insight into the mindset of how a true champion might operate. Brendan Rodgers has carefully crafted a fall guy at the club and then, in a brilliant piece of man-management, resurrected his career in a matter of minutes. Downing’s place, while never guaranteed, looks much more secure after a masterful goal against European giants Anzhi Mackhachkala which has earned him a reprieve in the eyes of the Manager. Perhaps this is the kick-start that might jettison Downing, a promising starlet yet to fulfil his true potential at Liverpool, back into regular first-team contention.
Brendan: That’s just a little glimpse into my methods, and what we’re trying to build here. What we’re trying to achieve. What we’re trying to fashion. What we’re trying to mould. I want my boys squabbling amongst themselves healthily. That’s competition. But I want them to feel valued, and I think you’ve just witnessed me valuing Stuart Downing. Stuart Downing will go into training today knowing that I don’t think Stuart Downing will let us down any more. He knows it, I know he knows it and, more importantly, Stuart Downing knows that I know it. And that knowledge is power, fundamentally. But caring power – not the power you see some managers like Alex Ferguson wielding, where players are afraid of making mistakes. What will that achieve in the long run? A team of winners? Or a team made crippled by fear? Not what I want. I don’t want a team of cripples. I don’t want my lads to go “Oh, I think I’ll try a Cruyff turn. Second thoughts, no I won’t, because if I do and I mess it up then Brendan Rodgers – top, top bloke though he is – might effin’ give it to me. I’ll play it safe. I’ll play the Allen pass”. No. I want my family of boys not to be scared of me. Not to be scared of trying new things with me. I want them to feel they can reach out to me, OK? To know I’ll be there to hold them when the going gets tough, and even when it doesn’t. OK? That’s how I do things. People at Swansea used to go “there’s madness to his methods”, and that was great. Not disrespectful, just a sort of nod that I play by my own rules, not the conventions. It was like a pun on the normal saying, and in many ways that’s how I see myself. I stray from the norm. I’m abnormal, if you like.
Narrator: In the dressing room, the talk appears to have had the desired effect, as Stuart Downing replays the conversation with club captain and champion of fair play, Steven Gerrard, while they ready themselves for an intense training session.
Downing: ….said I was no longer Stuart Mightletusdowning in his eyes.
Gerrard: er… well that’s obviously a good thing isn’t it? I mean, he’s… he never had to do that, like. He’s just done it to give you a boost, like. Not saying you don’t deserve it and that I think you’ll let us down like, because you won’t, but just saying that he could’ve kept the envelope til the end of the season and said ‘Stuart, you let us down, you’re off’, but he never. He obviously thinks you’ve got it, like. He obviously thinks you’re a part of the long term here.
Downing: Yeah, I suppose so. Just looking at the envelope, it’s not got my name on it. It was only written inside, on a piece of paper. How did he remember which envelope was the one with my name in it?
[Gerrard looks at the camera with pleading eyes and, almost imperceptibly, shakes his head at its operator]
Lucas: Your name was in one of the envelopes? Wow. That is… a surprise. I mean, I’d have thought Jordan might –
Gerrard: [whispered urgently] he’s coming. Shh!
Henderson: Alright lads – has Mr Rodgers said when he’s naming the team yet?
Gerrard: No, mate. The season’s still a bit of a way off yet, we’ll let you know once it’s started.
Henderson: Great, I’ll just nip out for a jog. Can’t wait, it seems like ages since I last played.
Gerrard: Yeah, we were just thinking that, too.
Narrator: Tommy “Thomo” Thompson is the club chef. As football becomes more scientific, and matches are won and lost by increasingly minuscule margins, top clubs look to harness every possible advantage they can to give them the edge over their opposition. Whereas in the past, a footballer’s pre-match meal was likely to be the British dish of “pie and chips” – a calorific, energy-dense savoury pastry filled with meat and gravy, served with a portion of French fries – nowadays it is far more likely to be something a bit more posh, like pasta, or salmon, or salmon pasta. Tommy has been head chef at Anfield for thirteen years, having previously worked in the catering industry at Archbishop Beck, a former local centre of educational excellence.
Tommy: Yeah, it’s a bit different. I used to just lash anything on a plate for them gobshites and tell them they could like it or lump it, but you can’t really do that with the likes of Suso and Sahin. They’re more used to Tarte au Gratin and that sort of stuff – you know, food with foreign names and that. If I served them egg and chips they’d only eat it if I wrote “pommes frites avec oeuvres” on the menu HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Do I eat the food? No, Christ no. Have you ever had carbonara? It’s like hot cream soup with bacon floating in it. I’d rather just have beans on toast. Alright, Luis? Luis? Alright, Luis, lad? Done your favourite today, lad. Luis? Just saying, I’ve done your favourite today. Just – just get us a couple of goals against The Bitters eh, lad? Luis? Never heard me. Yeah, but no – I don’t touch this, myself.
Narrator: Thomo is referring to the forthcoming derby match, which pits Liverpool against their traditionally inferior city rivals, Everton. Everton enter the game in slightly above-average form, having lost just once this season but with a far inferior change uniform which features much less colour than Liverpool’s. However, Liverpool have had something of a psychological hold over their rivals and have won more trophies than them and are just basically better than them, notwithstanding their current teams and the gulf in class between the two sides’ performances so far this season. It’s a massive game for Liverpool. A cup final without a cup. At stake – civic bragging rights, something the fans are desperate to hold on to.
[Cut to fans, walking the streets]
Fan 1: It’s Everton’s cup final, this. If they win it, they reckon they’ve had a successful season.
Fan 2: Yeah. It used to be the Friendly Derby until they started getting all bitter about the fact they’re shite.
Fan 1: Yeah. All they ever talk about is us. They sing about us when we’re not playing them and it’s just full of venom. They hate us. We’re not even arsed by them. When we beat them, we don’t even celebrate. We just clap politely, because we expect to win. It’s like Sunday following Saturday, it’s just the way of things. That’s not arrogance, like. It’s just the natural order.
Fan 2: And they go on and on and on about all the so-called miscarriages of justice they’ve had to suffer against us. You’d think there’d been loads. Fair enough, there was the Bryan Hamilton one in ’77, and Hansen’s handball in the ’84 League Cup Final. And that disallowed goal that went in off Hutchison’s arse. There was nothing wrong with that one, like. Funny. But that’s abarrr it.
Fan 1: And that one with Wayne Clarke when they had that goal disallowed at the Annie Road end, when Houghton scored and was miles offside. And that time when we played them in the league and FA Cup in 94 and Abblett flattened Cottee and Nevin in successive games, and they never got a penalty for either. And the one where Stevie Gee went through Naysmith and near split him in two and the ref never give it.
Fan 3: Shithouse that Naysmith, la. Ugly bastard. Oh, and remember Owen slicing through Weir as well? Funny that, la. Gerrard gets away with murder against them, too. Remember the one where Hibbert fouled him outside the area and he ran on a bit and then collapsed inside the box. Wasn’t even a foul, but he gets the pen and Clattenberg’s gonna book Hibbert and Gerrard goes, “ey’are, that’s a red, that”, and Clattenberg goes “yeah” and changes his mind and sends Hibbert off.
Fan 1: Sound, that. And when Suarez got that Rodwell bellend sent off for winning the ball with a clean tackle last season. That was funny, that. His face, he looked like he was about to start crying. He was going “I won the ball! I got the ball”, and he did.
Fan 2: But that’s abarrrr it, though. It’s all they ever talk about. And once there’s a decision that goes against them, all they do in the days and weeks that follow is moan about it on the internet and in the papers, and on the radio. That’s the difference between us and them. We don’t do stuff like that.
Fan 3: Par for the course for them bitter, shitty ground, no history bastards.
Narrator: Liverpool fans have long and lucid memories. They rarely forget a perceived slight against their club. Ahead of the derby, comments by Everton’s current manager, David Moyes, have irked a proportion of their fanbase and one Liverpool player in particular. Moyes, who has ginger hair and looks old, recently contacted several national newspapers unprompted and, muffling his voice by putting a handkerchief over the receiver and talking in a faux-French accent, accused Liverpool pin-up Luis Suarez of single-handedly destroying the moral fabric of football both in England and on a global basis. He also suggested Suarez condoned the activities of Jimmy Savile, and voted for the Conservatives on purpose. As kick-off approaches, Suarez appears unfazed by the allegations.
Suarez: Who is he? Who is this little man? Look into his face. He looks all pale, like a fantasy monster, with his big bulbous eyes and his crazy-mad hair. His voice, it is all like Ken Dalglish, which I did not understand. He is a talking idiot. I will score a hat-trick. I will throw myself at his feet with my first, and the second is for the fans. But just you wait until you see what I do for the third. I take my shirt off in front of him and offer him street fighting, if that’s what he wants. Just me and him in the boxing ring. I will punch his lights off. I will tweet his daughter suggestively. That’s what I will do, but only if I score three, which I will. Only then will I confront him like a man. Until then, I will dive to the floor if this is what he expects. That will sting him. Then comes the Suarez Slam. BLAM! Like a man.
Brendan: OK, Luis – let’s just concentrate on the task in hand. We all know why we’re here, and what we’ve got to do today. So just remember what we’ve talked about this week in training. The key to beating Everton is to get in really close behind them. Get really close. Hold them, come at them from behind. In tight – you don’t want them turning, you don’t want to see their faces. Get inside them, get in their shirts, up tight and close, no holds barred. They want this badly, but you want it – you NEED it – more. Don’t let them get away from you. In tight, all the time. Do it in twos if you have to, just make sure you’re on top of them and make sure they can’t move. Hard and fast, again and again, keep pounding, pounding, pounding. OK? They’re there for the taking. Let’s take them. Take them roughly. For yourselves, for your families. OK? OK! Let’s go, come on! Oh, hang on. Group hug first. Group hug, everyone. Where’s Jordan?
Gerrard: Er… not seen him, boss.
Brendan: Jesus, does he not know the season has started? OK, group hug. Everyone in together. And you, Raheem. Come stand by me, kid, that’s it. Nice and tight. That’s it. Nice and tight together. Now come ON, Liverpool! Come on, boys! [claps fervently]
[cut to montage of the derby match action]
Narrator: Goodison Park is a seething cauldron of volcanic hostility. The home fans are baying for the blood of Liverpool’s players. They will not be content with anything less than total destruction of the opposition players, their homes and their respective families. Liverpool players are openly booed and heckled, at times being put off their game. Yet against overwhelming odds and in completely unfavourable conditions, it is Liverpool who strike first – team heart-throb Luis Suarez fires across the Everton goal and the ball strikes the arse of an Everton defender and drops into the net. The away enclosure erupts like no other set of fans, and Suarez makes good on his threat, running 50 yards to throw himself in front of the Everton manager, whose cruel jibes clearly cut deeply. Minutes later, Sterling is cynically scythed to the ground as Everton struggle to make any impression other than a physical one on the game. From the resulting free kick, club captain Steven Gerrard’s peerless pass finds Luis Suarez, and the net ripples for a second time. Liverpool fans applaud appreciatively, whilst Suarez himself apologises to the now-rabid Everton fans for his occasional unsporting antics and jogs slowly to the half-way line.
With Liverpool bossing affairs majestically, it seems a case only of how many they will score. But completely against the run of play, goalkeeper Brad Jones, deputising for the regular Number One Pepe Reina, is threatened at knifepoint by an Everton player following a corner. In panic, Jones’ attempted clearance falls incredibly fortunately for an Everton player, who mis-kicks it towards goal. The ball deflects several times, mainly off objects thrown by spiteful Everton fans onto the pitch – including a car bumper, a fridge freezer and a small domestic safe – and nestles unfairly into Liverpool’s goal.
Despite the setback, Liverpool remain resolute. Time and again, Everton hog the ball and try to score. Time and again, Liverpool refuse to buckle, until they buckle again ten minutes later. Once again, a decision goes against Liverpool. Everton are incorrectly awarded a throw in – one of the most potent sources of goal assists in soccer. Whilst Liverpool players contest the decision, taking heed of the old adage to ignore the whistle and attempt to sway the official to change his mind by protesting vehemently, Everton players cynically continue to play football. One of their players kicks the ball hard. It hits another Everton player. His pass into the centre of the goalmouth is ignored by Liverpool players, who are still debating the appalling decision at the throw in. Another Everton player kicks the ball past Jones. Incredibly, the referee allows the goal to stand.
For the first time in the game, Liverpool are on the back foot. However, they defend heroically, like gladiators whose very lives, and the lives of those they cherish most dearly, depend upon it. In the face of overwhelming adversity, they hold out. Luis Suarez is the target of particularly brutal treatment time and again – first by a foolish Kevin Mirallas, who cynically places his left foot under Suarez’s in an attempt to get the striker cautioned and, later, by Slyvain Distin, who hatefully blocks Suarez’s attempted tackle with his Achilles tendon. Raheem Sterling is also targeted in similar fashion, with the referee first booking him and then almost sending him off for a straight-forward tackle, until club captain and spokesman of a generation Steven Gerrard steps in and corrects the decision for the errant official.
However, the show still has one final moment of madness to come. It is a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. Liverpool are the show’s Othello, let down only by placing their trust in the villainous Iago, played by the referee and officials. Everton are a kind Roderigo, mainly because they don’t fit the profile of any other character but we’re desperate to shoehorn in the enormity of the tragedy and only Shakespeare will do that.
Liverpool are awarded a free kick after an Everton player boots Steven Gerrard. Gerrard, the club captain and role model for a generation of Koppites, floats a delightful ball into the penalty area. Sebastian Cowartieyers heads the ball square, and Luis Suarez pounces to sweep home the winner in the last seconds of injury time. Justice is done, and Liverpool appear to have won the match in its dying moments. But the officials have other ideas and, in one of the most shocking and scandalous pieces of refereeing in the history of football, the goal is disallowed. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and the game ends tied at 2-2, but Brendan Rodgers isn’t one to dwell on the decision.
Brendan: No. No, no. I’m not one for tallying these things up, or keeping tabs on it, because these things have a habit of evening themselves out. But, you know, you’ve got Jonjo being sent off against Man United, that’s one. And of course the penalty in the same game, two. And then there’s Luis here, that’s three. And it’s decisions like these that, you know – they ultimately cost teams points, and managers their jobs. Suarez at Norwich, four. And like I say, I try not to tally these things up but at some stage – Suarez against Stoke, five – at some stage someone’s got to look at these things and say, you know – “hang on. This isn’t right. This isn’t fair. These guys are getting hammered week in, week out, and it’s” – the penalty and sending off at West Brom, six and seven – “it’s down to us to fix it”. And that’s all I’m asking. I’m just asking for games to be fixed back in our favour.
Joe Garston: A rubbish start is all but forgotten, despite early form that was quite often rotten. Four games on the bounce have been and gone, and not one opponent can say “we won”. Would have been nice to bury The Bitters, but a draw puts an end to the early-doors jitters. Performance irrelevant, results were what mattered. Draws and scabbed wins against sides we once twatted.