I’M sitting in row one of the paddock against Wigan. Row one. All I’m going to see are legs and the camber of the pitch. But I’m going to hear everything.
I’ve been in row one of the paddock once before. It was versus Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 – Liverpool won 1-0. I remember three things from the game: Heskey spending ninety minutes essentially chasing his own flick-ons, especially in the last twenty; how manly and beautiful Anders Frisk was, and, most of all, the noise. The relentless noise, cascading down the stands – anxious, urgent, passionate support. Watching that game from that vantage point I remember thinking “Jesus Christ, I couldn’t play football in this.” I’d want to play centre mid – get as far away from that noise as possible. My legs would be jelly and I’d be terrified of making mistakes.
That’s always stayed with me and I often think about mistakes made by Liverpool players in that noise. It’s a wonder there aren’t more of them. My favourite ever mistake is John Arne Riise’s against Chelsea. John Arne Riise’s mistake is a crown jewel of a mistake. It has everything.
Within five minutes of it going in, it was funny. I think of it now and it gets me through days. No matter how low the ebb, no matter how grinding the office job, you will never, in front of 40,000 people making that noise, in front of a worldwide television audience, you will never cock up in as glorious and as defining a manner.
John Arne Riise, I wanna know-oh-oh-oh-oh how you scored that goal.
Well we know how he scored that goal. It had been coming for what felt like years. Suddenly, everything made sense. Like a Stewart Lee stand up set that’s shaggy dogged all over the place but suddenly crystalises itself in one line, John Arne Riise clicked into place. Everything about it was perfect. It emphasised every on-pitch limitation and stupidity that John Arne Riise had been showcasing for years of respectable, undeniable, unstinting effort in Liverpool’s cause; limitations and stupidities that were becoming clearer as Liverpool got better. It came after naked photos in texts, coach fights with John Carew, golf clubbing with Craig Bellamy. It came after he went through that weird run of going down with seemingly non-existent elbow injuries in the first ten minutes. John Arne Riise was clearly a dope. A committed dope, to some a loveable one, but a dope nonetheless.
It even happened after he came on as substitute for an injured Fabio Aurelio and ran around lost for half an hour as though all football came as a shock to him, as though his legs were jelly and he was terrified of making mistakes. For years the Riise story had seemed to be going nowhere, it had marvelous cul-de-sacs, deserved highs and frustrating lows but it was petering out into nothing. His own goal was damnation and redemption simultaneously.
It was pure. It was football. It was, is and always will be funny. Lee Dixon’s was funny. Peter Enckleman’s was funny. There is a litany of splendid own goals. None of them, though, had John Arne Riise’s back story and his European Cup Semi-final stage.
The reason I know so much about John Arne Riise’s catalogue of errors, oddnesses and all round shortcomings is that I was part of the noise cascading down upon him for approximately two years leading up to that goal. He used to drive me to distraction. I was very much on his back and only his own goal got me off it. What more could be done or said? What was the point of kicking the man when he was down?
That’s why, in the game of criticizing the crowd – something we often indulge in when on The Anfield Wrap podcast – who can throw the first stone? Firstly, let’s be clear, certainly not people who aren’t there. They can never have a word to say about how the people handing fifty quid over the gate comport themselves. We’ve almost all, surely, sat quietly in the odd week, barely bothering with You’ll Never Walk Alone for a wide variety of reasons, mostly hangovers in my case. We’ve all had players who have done our heads in. We’ve all had John Arne Riises. We’ve all had our axes to grind and all had our own “YOU” shouts (“Do something, YOU” is the most damning shout at the game. There’s no coming back from “YOU” as Stewart Downing is currently learning the hard way, just as his predecessor in the coveted number 19 shirt, RyBabz learnt before him. SMH. SMH.) We’ve all panicked outrageously and needlessly.
All we can do, I think, all of us going, is try and see it all as a lot more fun. We seemed to be at that point this season against Manchester City. City felt like fun for the first time in a long time. The last day of the window nonsense, a poor performance against Arsenal and then an emotional defeat to United, undermined by poor refereeing, knocked that sideways, all understandably. The question marks over FSG haven’t helped, nor has the seemingly never ending nonsense around Suarez (most of which isn’t his fault). And this is just this season! We’ve gone through so much as a football support in just the time since John Arne Riise put through his own net.
Football should be taken seriously. But not nerve-shreddingly, keeping you up at night seriously as it has been too much of the time since John Arne Riise got his Sandy Brown on. Lots of that is most definitely not our fault. Look at Hicks and Gilett, Purslow and Ayre for that on one hand; our love for Dalglish and Benitez (and in some [basket] cases, our hate for the latter) on the other. The results this season haven’t helped either but we can choose to be over-wrought and we can choose not to be. We can choose to enjoy going the game and watching Liverpool or we can see it as a cross to bear. Right now our collective football conversation seems far too serious, far too knife-edge, too impacted upon by what’s gone before whether good or bad. Too many wounds remain wide open and we’re so vigilant for fresh wounds we react like the sleep deprived. Everything seems far too urgent and desperate and we transmit that to the players on the half day off, every other Saturday and to one another in the days between those games.
So I’m going to be on the front row of the paddock and going to be stunned as all players are going to move it mind-blowingly quickly from my view. They are all, on both sides, going to be good players and, simultaneously, they are all going to make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. I need to remember this. I’m going to hear everything that’s transmitted to them. I don’t want to walk out a bag of nerves. I’m determined to enjoy it – I put a lot of time, energy and money into matters relating to football. You all do too. It’s got to be, at least in part, a laugh. Because if it isn’t, then what’s the point?
I appreciate the irony and intention in the post, but it wasn’t funny. Like really not funny.
Without it, we’d have went to the bridge 1-0 up, defended, probably got an away goal, and been through to the third CL final in 36 months. We’d have won number 6. Rafa would have been rendered unsackable. H&G would have kept their promises, or at worst sold a much more valuable club to much righer investors, we’d have kept our no 1 ranking in europe, and confidence would have carried the team through for a while. We would not have fallen out of the CL places, Rafa would not have been sacked, Purslow would never have existed. Hodgson would never have got near the fucking place, and neither would Downing, Adam, Carroll or Joke Hole. We’d have continued spending the CL money wisely, been self sufficient, still been a regular fixture in the top 4 (if not top 2), and all would have been well with the world.
That goal fucked everything. It was the start of the end. Even in jest, even to make a disparate point, NEVER say that goal was funny. It killed our club.
Woah, that’s an awful lot of conjecture stemming from just one og. Laying the blame for Purslow and Hodgson having anything to do with LFC all at the foot of JAR’s door is a bit mental (why did we only start using acronyms for people’s names when Villas Boas came to the country – so much lost time).
Of course it was mortifying at the time, but in hindsight it was a fitting conclusion to Riise’s story as a Liverpool player. It was either that or a left-footed piledriver going top bin but fate poked us in the eye with the shitty end of the stick on that occasion (whenever I find myself bemoaning our luck I catch myself and think back to that still seemingly impossible, Shevshenko double-save in extra time). Riise would have scored the early winner to Benitez’s first cup final as Reds boss had it not been for the captain’s noggin; funny how things work out. No promises on whether we would have beaten United in The Final to End All Others either. A loss would have been the sickener of all sickeners.
I WAS going to question this article as a rallying cry for optimism when on the pod last week the use of the word ‘sack’ was actually used following the Newcastle game. Was. But then I thought back to the atmosphere of Wigan at home last season and how my disappointment in the turgid footballing performance paled in comparison with my disappointment in some of the attitudes of the more jaded matchgoers, then I totally understood exactly what Neil was getting at here. How he quite managed a comparison between such a stupid footballer and such a clever comedian and for it to make so much sense is anyone’s guess. My head’s mashed with it, to be honest.
If people want to retcon our need for another center forward at least as cover but ideally someone y’know, good to play in tandem to Suarez like Torres was supposed to a la Suarez/Cavani or Villa/Torres for their respective national sides (it took us 2 years to bring in Suarez after Keane scooted so the wait’s no surprise) just because Suarez is carrying us with his current purple patch, then fine. It’s a means to an end and I’m all for short-term positivity prevailing for the good of getting behind our young manager and young players at home games.
Best thing about being on Row 1 of the paddock is you get to go batshit crazy to celebrate our goals without scraping your shins on the seat in front.
not sure i’ve come round to laughing @ JAR’s own goal yet, in fact i’m getting a bit vexed just thinking about it again
Brilliant article Neil. As football supporters (and LFC supporters especially) we often lose sight of the forest for the trees. For our own sanity we need to learn to keep things in perspective. With that said I’ll still be a bag of nerves on Saturday…..
Great article! But I’m still dreading kick off. With so few home wins in 2012, every game at Anfield is a bag of nerves
Great article. As fans, we always get wrapped up in the moment and it does get difficult to see mistakes objectively. Home support should be completely biased and unwavering. The players need to know we have their back through thick and thin. This support translates into more confident players on the pitch who are willing to push the limits (from which mistakes are born) in pursuit of LFC glory.
We are better team than the table currently suggests and as fans we need to support our current crop of players (and Joe “fantastically undercooked” Cole) as much as they need it. Other teams in this league have their own problems and there is no reason why we can’t be in the mix for 4th spot come end of season – lets have some ambition and not write ourselves off too early. This will only come about if players, staff and fans are committed to the cause and support each other fully.
Go you Reds and goodluck for Wigan.
That goal was just like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape, you were rooting for him but knew it was inevitable somehow he would never have a happy ending.
The fates were against us that night, just as last seaon the Mancys had defeat shoved into the jaws of victory when Man City had that dramatic last second goal that won them the League.
I’ve been a Red for nearly 60 years I can honestly say the depths have never been as low as highs have been high, (Hysel and Hillsborough excluded).
Football can test your mental health as your hilarious artical exposes, but I have to agree with Nigel on the subject matter you’ve chosen – that own goal was arguably the death knoll. It’s good stuff though, keep em coming!
Clicking that link was the first time that I’ve ever brought myself to watch it again. And you know what, it was a bit funny.
Great article Neil.
That goal was the last straw for poor JAR. I think using the right foot simply for standing on could be forgiven when the left could launch exocets at times. But when you head into your own net because you have no confidence in your right peg, when a pub league player could use his right to clear, the writing is definitely on the wall.
I agree the intensity of our relationship with the club appears to be spiralling upwards, and showing no sign of easing off. In fact could we go back to even those days, when we didn’t have to scrutinise every single decision by the manager, when the manager’s future was more than 3 bad or indifferent results from being on the lips of the support? I’m not sure…we need some kind of break from this that’s for sure, and short of a Qatari prince, that’s not looking likely. More likely a dodgy Asian businessman knowing our luck.
Nigel’s reply IS funny
Enrique has defo got a Riise moment in him. You might get to relive it again soon Neil. Another lunatic left back who prefers to do 360s instead of using his right foot.
Kick it with your right it head it in?
*kick it with your right or head it in.
It was subsequently discovered – by a researcher at Stanford University I think – that 93.5% of Liverpool fans world-wide said to themselves “own goal” when Riise came on for Aurelio. You’re right Neil. That goal had been a long time comin’.
Credit where it’s due…let’s not forget that other left-back howler from Djimi. Iconic in it’s own way.
Thanks for that!
The only silver lining if you like from Riise’s own goal is that it prevented the nightmare scenario of playing the Mancs in a Champion League Final.
I know it would be great to win such a game but the thought of losing to them for me outweighs it every time
That is one game I never want to see in my lifetime unless we are League champions and shit hot at the time.