By Patrick John

THIS is likely to get me battered in Bowdon, clattered in Collyhurst and walloped in Whalley Range.

But here goes anyway – I’m a Manchester United fan and (stick with it) I really haven’t got a problem with Liverpool.

There, I’ve said it. Huge club, some fine players, and a fantastic history. Not a problem at all. The thing is, you see, I’m a grown-up now. And, apart from being able to eat childish breakfast cereals to my heart’s content, the best thing about being a grown-up is being able to enjoy football without getting all twisted up with hate.

So, yes, of course I want United to win when we play Liverpool. But I want them to win when we play anybody. It doesn’t mean I have to hate them. I can want my team to win and still respect the opposition – Christ, I have to put up with Barcelona, don’t I?

(I should add a caveat here that I don’t always feel the same about Arsenal, but that is more to do with their manager than any in-built animosity for the idea of Arsenal per se. Their double-winning team of 1970-71 was only the second really good club team to enter my consciousness. I just have a problem with their sanctimonious, disingenuous arse of a manager. Nothing to do with Arsenal. Same thing goes for Crawley Town and Rotherham United as it happens.)

So I love Manchester United, but I love football too. It seems a reasonable approach to me, and if you don’t like it, well, you can stick it where Roy Keane told Mick McCarthy to stick it. (Another digression if I may: how do you do that anyway? Great player, Keano, but quite, quite mad, you know.)

But I’m here not to talk about Arsenal or Barcelona, or even Crawley Town or Rotherham United, I’m here to talk about Liverpool. You lot will know all of this already – depending on your date of birth anyway – but I thought you should know that I know it too. And, as I’ve said, I’m a United fan.

It actually started with the 1966 World Cup, some 18 months before my United-mad uncle first took me to Old Trafford (January 20, 1968, United 4 Sheffield Wednesday 2; Best (2), Charlton, Kidd – that’ll do me, I thought, after a couple of years watching CPD Porthmadog in the Welsh league).

For some reason, known only to my six-year-old self, I was taken with the fact that Roger Hunt wore 21 on his back. Further investigation – not sure how, as Shoot! magazine didn’t start until 1969 – led me to discover that, as well as being England’s No.21, he was also a fantastic striker for Liverpool. And that led to Ian St John, Ian Callaghan and his bonkers international career, and the mountainous Ron Yeats. Tommy Lawrence also sticks lumpenly in the recesses of my memory.

As a teenager in the 1970s – which, whatever you might hear, was completely brilliant by the way – we moved on first to Emlyn Hughes and Kevin Keegan. Who could not love Emlyn? Son of a Welsh rugby league international, but as fist-pumpingly, sinew-stretchingly committed whether in the red of Liverpool, the white of England or even the old gold of Wolves. Judgment of Keegan should not be coloured by his gaffe-strewn managerial career but, anyway, he went off to SV Hamburg and then came Kenny.

It shouldn’t matter who you support – even United – it is impossible not to include Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish somewhere fairly high up on the list of the best British players of all time. I’ve no idea how you are supposed to rate one player as better than another at that level but suffice to say that in my lifetime he would be on a very short shortlist with Best, Law, Baxter, Gascoigne and Neville (yes, yes, I’m joking about that last one).

Dalglish, of course, was the heart of the finest vintage. You’ll know it far better than me, but a couple of morsels stand out. Ian Rush goes without saying, and was there a more complete midfield player than Graeme Souness? With sublime passing allied to ferocious tackling, you could hardly ask for more and, again, his managerial record should not tarnish the memory. I’m not sure he could act, though, and there’s a parallel here – I may be a shameless Shameless fan, but there has never been a better television drama than Boys From The Blackstuff.

Nor should I overlook the defence. Alan Hansen, when not wearing a Scotland shirt, is arguably the best British defender I have seen, and his partnership with Mark Lawrenson was at least as good as my favourite pair, Roy McFarland (born Liverpool) and Colin Todd in Derby County’s heyday.

(A final tangent: how much better would England have been in the 1980s had the Lancastrian Lawrenson and Stoke Newington-born David O’Leary played for the land of their birth? Mind you, I wouldn’t have wanted O’Leary to go on and manage them…)

Of course, it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped since – made worse, I’m sure, by my lot’s success – and the whole Spice Boys debacle was hardly befitting of the club. Stan Collymore was a terrific player, though, for all his difficulties, and I should hastily add, before his dad starts spinning in his grave, that I would never call Nigel Clough a Spice Boy.

I can hardly mock the American ownership debacle either, can I? It was possible to have some sympathy as you languished under Hicks and Gillett, but you’ve probably got a case now for arguing that your American owners are better than ours.

So there we have it. I’m still a United fan to the core, but I have some respect.

Funny thing is, I’ll probably still get leathered in Litherland, hammered in Huyton and twatted in Toxteth. As someone (sorry, Sir someone) once said: Football eh? Bloody hell!