THOSE of you familiar with my work on The Anfield Wrap so far, and there probably aren’t many of you out there, might recollect my most recent piece on Liverpool Football Club’s moribund experience with the dreaded black away kit.
Now I’m probably too early on in my career to become restricted by niches, but alas, it has been too long since I vented my frustrations with this club on a keyboard. This time, it’s Monday Night Football.
I can’t be the only one, and ‘Death by Black Away Kit’ reflected this somewhat, who’s noticed that Liverpool are, to put it bluntly, fucking awful when they play on a Monday night.
(I was going to make a point of not referring to Monday Night Football as ‘MNF’ – because that’s what they want you to do – but it really is a bloody hassle to type out, and so Sky have won. Again. Bastards.)
There’s a general problem that the Premier League should address, because MNF has never added anything to the overall draw of the league. It’s simply a place for Gary Neville to air his annoyingly well-researched, articulate and nuanced analysis.
If anything MNF is a bloody nuisance. Not to mention the complications that it inflicts on long-suffering actual football supporters. The fact that they plump up with the cash, only to be rewarded with absolute drivel is even more of a travesty
The Monday night games this season have been spectacularly dull and dreary; apathy reigns from the stands and transmits itself into lethargy on the pitch. The intensity that comes with a midweek fixture, be it domestic or European, is just not there.
Football acts as a release from the strains and stresses of the real world, but on a Monday night with the working week ahead it rarely translates. It’s a disease that afflicts the entire league but no club quite so violently (Sunderland aside, whose winless Monday night streak stretches back to 2002) as Liverpool, whose record on MNF is abysmal, even during its séjour to Setanta.
2004 and the beginning of the Rafalution seems the most logical place to begin pooling the MNF archive:
20.9.2004 – Man United 2-1 Liverpool
21.1.2008 – Liverpool 2-2 Aston Villa
1.12.2008 – Liverpool 0-0 West Ham
19.1.2009 – Liverpool 1-1 Everton
24.8.2009 – Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa
9.11.2009 – Liverpool 2-2 Birmingham
8.3.2010 – Wigan 1-0 Liverpool
15.3.2010 – Liverpool 4-1 Portsmouth
19.4.2010 – Liverpool 3-0 West Ham
23.8.2010 – Man City 3-0 Liverpool
6.12.2010 – Liverpool 3-0 Aston Villa
11.4.2011 – Liverpool 3-0 Man City
9.5.2011 – Fulham 2-5 Liverpool
5.12.2011 – Fulham 1-0 Liverpool
6.2.2012 – Liverpool 0-0 Tottenham
11.2.2013 – Liverpool 0-2 West Brom
P 16 W 5 D 5 L 6
All five MNF victories came in the space of a 13 month period stretching across three managerial reigns; the back-end of Benitez with uncharacteristically comfortable wins against despondent opposition, a rare thumping victory for Roy Hodgson and the halcyon days of Dalglish’s second coming, which culminated in a balmy evening on the banks of the River Thames.
Aside from that golden, anomalous period, MNF has brought nothing but bleak dreariness to Anfield.This season’s 2-0 reversal to West Brom encapsulated all those that had come before it.
Intriguingly though, MNF has been the scene for a number of season-defining matches for the club.
The 2008-9 season suffered two ignominious MNF catastrophes, and two laborious home draws, the second so damaging as it came against Everton. The Premier League title was lost by four points, and the four points that were dropped in this pair of fixtures were indicative of Liverpool’s failure to dominate at Anfield that season.
The 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa in August 2009 left a rare sensation; a second defeat in the opening three round of fixtures, and the sudden realisation that the team was in serious decline.
Skip forward a year and the 3-0 hammering at Manchester City, a game in which Liverpool earned a shattering 35% of possession; Daniel Agger at left-back, David Ngog partnering Fernando Torres up front and the humiliating sight of Milan Jovanovic roaming the left-hand touchline – this was Hodgeball.
But then just nine months later, Liverpool fans were salivating over an iconic Maxi Rodriguez hat-trick as a rampant and rejuvenated squad dismantled Fulham. This was it; this was the focal point of Dalglish’s second coming. Alas, this was the zenith of the Return of the King, as a system that built around the interplay of Luis Suarez, Raul Meireles, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi was cynically abandoned.
Those days have long since drawn to a close. A visit to Craven Cottage just seven months later defined the travails suffered during Dalglish’s full season in charge; Jay Spearing’s sending off, compounded by a late Clint Dempsey winner, intensified the recent loss of Lucas for the rest of that season.
There followed a bore draw at Anfield against Spurs, which bore subplots that had little to do with the football on the pitch; Luis Suarez’s return from an eight-game ban, his subsequent eye gouge on Scott Parker and, of course, The Anfield Cat.
A tame defeat to West Brom in February brought the club’s MNF hardships into sharper focus and the reality that, if it had been any other kick off time Liverpool would probably have won. It was lacklustre, static and uninspiring. It had Jonjo Shelvey. It reeked of MNF woes.
MNF certainly appears to be a question of psychology – but then again, Liverpool are just as capable of losing at 3 o’clock on a Saturday (West Brom away, Southampton away) as any time of day at the weekend.
More to the point – MNF is fallacious and anti-football. The fact Liverpool don’t turn up on Mondays is just an extra weapon to beat it with. Given its place at the beginning of the working week it is the utter antithesis to what is, essentially, a traditional leisure-bound weekend activity.
But, driven as the game is by external forces, the likelihood of driving out a weekly evening game is, though a sane and well thought out proposition, ultimately overly idealistic and fanciful. So how about Friday Night Football?
In the lower leagues Friday night games are a regular occurrence, whilst on the continent they are often utilised as a way of keeping a Champions League club fresh before a mid-week fixture. The FA should have the performance of their leading clubs in Europe at the forefront of their minds – Portugal’s recent overtaking of Italy in the coefficients demonstrates the dangers of complacency in this regard – but that would require the FA to be logical, flexible and supportive.
It suits all parties – the Premier League could not only appease their TV and sponsorship masters, but actually profit more. Fans would, with the prospect of the entire weekend in front of them, let loose their vocal chords and shelve their inhibitions, a liberation that could well transmit itself into the performance on the pitch.
The last Friday night league game Liverpool played was the 3-1 victory over Newcastle in December 2011 (a result of the quirks of the commercialised Christmas calendar) and by all accounts it was a raucous occasion.
Fears from the establishment would manifest themselves; but they are more illusory than tangible. And just think of rocking up into Liverpool city centre after a thumping 3-0 win on a Friday night. Conversely, imagine drowning your sorrows after a more realistically imaginable turgid 0-0 stalemate. More ‘TGIF’ than, ‘Happy Mondays’.
Let this be the death knell of MNF. Let FNF be the future.