In February 1987 Liverpool played an everyday bog standard home game with Southampton. As with many Liverpool/Soton games it didn’t have much to recommend it. Peter Shilton was in goal so the game was automatically relegated to an undercard as the Kop preferred to remind the England goalkeeper of his back seat shenanigans of yesteryear rather than watch the game. He accepted it wisely by ignoring the ‘Tina’ songs that had dogged him through the years (if that’s the term I want).
The attendance that day was 33,133 which pleased me immensely. There simply aren’t enough palindromic attendances these days. Anyway, we won this pretty turgid encounter 1-0 thanks to a John Aldridge header. He didn’t score in the 33rd minute. Sometimes God is never that kind.
The other thing I can recall from this game is the reception Aldo received as the teams trotted out onto the pitch. It was his home debut and, although many were unconvinced that he would adequately replace Ian Rush, there was an extra buzz in the air that this fixture very rarely generated. Home debuts for strikers are great things. Get an early goal and you’re halfway there.
Obviously Aldo being a local lad meant a great deal to the crowd and his lower league CV made everyone like him a little more. Anfield loves a trier and if he’s a native Scouser and has a throwback moustache he’s already nestling into our hearts.
Aldo ran straight to the Kop and gave it the full hands above head handclap with a grin that would have shamed Liberace. He then picked up the nearest warm-up ball to charitably boot into the crowd as a ‘hello’. He missed. Instead, he thumped it into the roof of the Kop goal and everyone laughed. He then did that thing where you point and go ‘aaah’, as people did before that goalkeeper ‘You’re shit, aaaah’ goal kick thing, as if he meant it and the joke was on us. We laughed again and he got a song before his Anfield career had kicked off. We liked John Aldridge from that moment.
No, it was more than that. We shared a joke with him. He was likeable. That was us down there, wearing those bollock freezing shorts. He was ‘one of us’. We had an affinity. He was a lad from Liverpool who wanted to stand on the Kop on the days when he wasn’t playing in front of it and every time we won a penalty his name would ring out while he tied his bootlaces (something he always did before taking a pen). Now let’s be fair about this. The fact that Aldo went onto score sixty goals in two seasons and break records certainly helped the bonhomie that descended from the stands but overall his birthplace, attitude and Scouseness helped. When it was time for him to leave the club he threw all that he owned into the Kop after his final spot kick in the 9-0 v Palace. Something that, say, Gary Gillespie didn’t do.
It’s not just a Scouse thing either. Dirk’s debut was magnificent and he quickly won over the crowd. Some players would settle in to a game and take a few early touches to get used to the surface and the pace of the ball. Not Dirk. When he came on for his debut at home to West Ham he resembled a toy car that had been wound up and held before being released to smash into a skirting board. He sprinted onto the pitch and battered the ball into the hoardings at the Anfield Road end mid stride. He also didn’t smile once, which I liked. It was just what he did. A few minutes later we won a free kick and he took it without consulting his team mates. The agenda was set. Hard work, Dirkrate if you will, and the overwhelming urge to score in the next ten seconds no matter where he was on the pitch. We took to him immediately.
You can lose that affinity too. How many Kopites refer to Mascherano as ‘Tommy’ these days?
It’s a sad old song, I know, but relationships between individual players and the crowd are rare these days. We’ve taken Coutinho to our hearts and given him a song (thankfully having resisted anything based on ‘Sussudio’) but it’s not a two way thing yet. The little fella looks a little confused when he sees rows of middle aged men singing his name from behind clouds of smoke. Carragher had it, of course, and Gerrard along with Reina to some extent. In fact my happiest memory of Pepe was at Stamford Bridge in the Alonso 1-0 win when he bollocked the away end for releasing the ball too soon for a goal kick. He wanted to waste as much time as possible and felt we weren’t doing our bit. A link between the two, see.
Then there’s Suarez.
It’s easy for any player to pay lip service to the fans. The usual ‘they were my boyhood team’ line has become a comedy cliché now particularly since Robbie Keane seems to have had the longest and varied boyhood in Christendom and a nod to the ‘amazing’ fans is always the second bullet point in a post victory interview even though the evidence occasionally points to the opposite but Luis Suarez has more reason than most to praise the club and fans. He certainly cannot complain about a lack of support. The whole Evra row was unpleasant throughout and a lot of people (well alright, me) tacitly supported him purely because he was a Liverpool player and gave him the benefit of the doubt, particularly as the accusation changed several times throughout 2012. I’m not saying that Suarez was guilty as such, the jury’s still out for me personally, but the backing he received was impressive, stoical, vocal and possibly ill-advised. The crowd stood up for him and the brickbats that flew at us during ‘Klanfield’ etc were swiped away with a bored arm. We back our own. We’ve got a song about it.
For his part Luis returned the compliment. In fact he thanked everybody.
“I want to say thanks for the great support that the Liverpool fans have given me in these last days. I would like to say thanks again to fans of Ajax for what [they] did today. As you know I am Uruguayan, and I defend the selection team, so I want to say thanks too [sic] the fans, players and managers of Nacional for their great support today! A million THANKS for everybody!”
Aw, that’s nice. Everyone else can sod off. We have a symbiotic relationship with the players and when we back our men, we back to the point of zealotry.
Maybe that’s a Scouse thing too. We can slag off the city worse than most people. That’s allowed. If an outsider makes the same point…well, it’s not going to end well.
We revel in it too. Sing anti-Suarez songs and we’ll sing louder. Half the time it isn’t about Suarez at all. It’s about us. Sometimes we just want to remind the opposition whose fans they’re facing today even if the lads on the pitch aren’t especially intimidating.
One bite later and it had all changed. True, there was the odd incredible defence (‘What exactly constitutes a bite?’) but his goose was thoroughly cooked this time. A ten game ban is ridiculous compared to both his and Terry’s ban for a far greater crime but what the hell did he expect? A fair trial? Jesus, even Lionel Hutz could have prosecuted this one and, even though the length of this ban was not his decision you can’t have a quarter of a season off just because you gave away a penalty and fancied a sulk. You can fuck off United, the FA, the press and Ollie Holt as much as you like but don’t do it to us. He’ll still get a cheer when he comes back as we’re quick to forgive but most will agree that the bite was idiotic thing to do. Funny, obviously, but stupid.
When he comes back?
It’s up in the air at the moment but it’s not looking good. Yes, there are differences between the translations of his interviews with the Uruguayan media but we’re still waiting for a ‘after what I’ve put them through, of course I’m bloody staying’ quote. If anyone deserves support from a player it’s us. Yes, we’re not looking likely to break into the Champions League just yet and yes, he’s young and yes, the Madrid move would only happen once in his career but come on! A little love back this way wouldn’t go amiss. I’m not asking for him to stand with us at Villa Park next month with some pyro smuggled into his trackie top but…well, we’ve more than stood up for him.
Today a legend retires from football. I've been lucky to play with him. Thank you very much for everything 'CARRA'. pic.twitter.com/JQxZ6EXRj3
— Luis Suarez (@LuisSuarez9) May 19, 2013
Maybe it’s the premise that’s wrong. Just because we treat our better players like Gods it doesn’t necessarily follow that they have to do the same to us. I quite like Assou Ekotu’s statement a while back about how football was just a job and he was in it for the money. There was something almost laudable about his honesty. You sing my name, we have some good times but I’ll fuck off when I want. Cheers. We’re not brothers.
Luis Suarez isn’t the boyhood Kopite that John Aldridge was. No one expects him to be. He also plays in a mid-table side that isn’t going to win the League or Champions League any time soon. I’m fine with him leaving. If he’d stood up and said ‘Thanks lads, but it’s time to go’ he’d go with some grace and thanks. On the pitch he’s been a fantastic asset to this club but to moan about the press and then try to get a move via the, erm, press is a selfish and uncaring act to those who took a fair amount of abuse for standing by their man. People leave clubs all the time but, as Leo McGarry says in the West Wing ‘there’s a way to be a person.’ Issuing ‘come and get me’ pleas from the other side of the world is disappointing particularly when his reasons for leaving are perfectly understandable. There’s no need to be so, well, cowardly.
Heroes can fall too. Torres and Owen could talk to him about that. Those men should have had monthly mosaics such was the love they inspired but our hand was spat on. Indeed, when Owen came back for the first time a frowning journalist said ‘these Liverpool fans must have short memories after what Owen did for the club.’ No, we don’t. We have excellent memories and slights are remembered. Suarez may not experience the same enmity should he go but its telling that Dirk, a much lesser player, would probably receive a noisier welcome upon his return than Luis, particularly if he stays in the country.
Maybe it’s our fault. Maybe we should just accept that one avenue of pleasure has been forever closed down and the men on the field, once Reina and Gerrard go, will be mere employees and shirt fillers. Maybe that romance has gone now. I really hope not. We like our heroes at this club, our paragons. Let’s hope that one day we can have a laugh with one of our players rather than an empty song and a weak smile by return.