THE FOURTH AGE - ABOUT TIME TOO? - The Anfield Wrap

A week may be a long time in politics, but at Liverpool FC it feels like a geological age.

Can it really only be seven days since Kenny Dalglish was dismissed? Somehow the sheer volume of rumours, counter-rumours, outright lies and wild stabs in the dark seem to have stretched the space-time continuum.

If this goes on much longer we’ll all be feeling as prematurely old, racked with rheumatism, gout and concerns about leaving a nest egg when we’re gone as Maxi Rodriguez.

And yet a week, even two weeks, isn’t actually that long when it comes to making a large number of key appointments and effectively rebooting an entire project.

Balancing the conflicting personalities and playing ideologies of a number of senior figures expected to influence things on the football pitch is a tricky business.

Add to that the need to bring in a large number of operational staff and you have the stuff of administrative nightmare. HR consultants across Merseyside must have cleaned out every service station business card machine within a ten-mile radius.

Meanwhile, we’re left reading the runes, parsing every mundane sentence in ‘news’ stories which are themselves based on oblique references in other stories and tweets, which then turn in to more tweets until the whole thing becomes sentient and it turns out what we believe is reality is just a cheese dream Harry Redknapp had in 1964.

The reason I’m all for this (apart from the Redknapp stuff) is just how momentous this point in our history feels.

I’d go as far as to say this is the most important decision – or series of decisions – since December 1959, when the board were so determined to do their business in private that they insisted applications be taken in person to the club’s registered office rather than sent by post, for fear of interception.

In the end they offered the job to a man who’d turned the club down after interview eight years previously. This time, Bill Shankly took the job.

There are many ways of slicing up Liverpool Football Club’s history, but I would argue Shankly ushered in a third age.

For four years from 1892 there was prehistory, of course, but only in 1896 did the club begin to find its identity. The appointment of the visionary Tom Watson would bring a league title in 1901, but more importantly a return from subsequent relegation to a triumphant championship in 1906.

This second title win triggered the construction of the Kop and Kemlyn Road stands, transforming Anfield for ever and laying the foundations for all that was to follow.

Between Watson’s departure (his death being essentially an extreme form of mutual consent) and 1959 there was a second age, but one frequently without shape or definition.

The brilliant David Ashworth won a league title in the early twenties, then mysteriously left for bottom club Oldham with Liverpool months from repeating the feat.

George Kay was manager for 15 war-disrupted years but claimed a single league title. By the time Shankly arrived the club was effectively in a 44-year slump, with the cult status of individual players (Elisha Scott and Billy Liddell foremost among them) reflecting a lack of effective leadership as much as their own ability and charisma.

Let’s call this second age the lost years, during which the club was seen intermittently as a genuine threat, a sleeping giant or a bastion of conservatism and mediocrity, characterised by an almost comical inability to claim the fabled first FA Cup which would only arrive in 1965.

Shankly’s era had more in common with Watson’s, based as it was on collective effort under a charismatic leader.

Unlike the Watson age, Shankly’s has run and run, notwithstanding boardroom reshuffles, managerial changes and of course dreadful tragedy along the way.

Even when the club has seemed to make a clean break, the ghosts of 1959 have lingered. Much was made, when Gerard Houllier was appointed, of his time spent on the Kop in the late 1960s. Being a leading figure in the European game was not enough – a golden thread back to Shankly had to be established.

In 2004 came the possibility of concrete change, with the appointment of Rafa Benitez. But the very thing that so endeared him to the club’s fans – his passion for Liverpool’s heritage – also served to prevent the clean break a 13-year run without a league title suggested was necessary.

So now, with that figure standing at 21 years and counting, we find ourselves on the brink of a genuine new age, a moment of clarity which feels increasingly necessary.

The Augean stables are all but swept clean, offering a fresh start and a chance to embrace modernity rather than be held tight by our past.

Not that we should forget what has been done by the great managers and players who’ve made the club special.

This isn’t a call for a Clough-at-Leeds-esque medal-binning session. We should not forget or ignore what’s gone before, but learn from it.

In 1959 the club took a calculated risk and embraced change, as it had in 1896. A failure to grasp the nettle in the intervening period left Liverpool rudderless and ever further from its central purpose – to win.

A clean slate, a host of new faces with new ideas. That seems to be FSG’s plan, and it’s undeniably ambitious. It could also be exciting.

Fair-minded fans will naturally reserve judgement until the owners deliver something tangible (not least some movement on the stadium development), but for better or worse, the future’s here and it might not take no for an answer this time.