It’s October 2006 and I’m stood outside of an Irish bar in Bordeaux. This is the wine capital of the world and I’m here with about twenty of my mates outside of a ramshackle Irish bar because they sell John Smiths. I have been outvoted. I shake my head sadly and make a promise to myself that I’ll drink something nice during the course of my stay but for the time being I stick to imbibing something I can buy a small number of metres from my own front door.
A little later as our group fragments, I stroll back to the hotel with my mate Steve and reflect that it’s been a great day already despite an early start and my mates preferring gallons of brown gloop in a pub instead of something that tastes nice in such a magnificent city. To add to the flight, the bonhomie, the odd footy flying around the place and a possibly ill-advised visit from Vladimir Smicer (he learned something about the joys of an ‘affectionate Scouse headlock’ that day) we still had the match to come.
Steve wrinkled his nose and snorted at this and in his broad Lancastrian brogue imparted “The game? The game gets in the way.”
As we get older and our responsibilities and overdrafts increase it becomes more difficult to have occasions like these. It’s not very often that you get to spend time with so many mates in so short of period and the prospect of drinking with mine seemed far preferable to a minor Champions’ League group game. Mates or Momo? We can’t stand together anymore – we’ll be dotted around the stadium in ones and twos. So I agreed with him and frowned at the inconvenience of tram rides (I think it was a tram), tickets and trying to find our way back afterwards. It shouldn’t do but it all seemed like a bit of a chore. Plus this pint was going down a treat.
Contrast this with your first game. No chance of sleep the night before, wishing time would hurry up and then slow down as you dragged every morsel of experience from what was, for me, a dour one nil defeat. The idea of going back to see your mates instead of standing in the cold would seem preposterous. Sod them. I’m at the match. Watching Liverpool. Liverpool, for Christ sake. Only age and experience can erode that fascination.
Where did that joy go? Well, it hasn’t gone entirely. Cup finals, the walk across to the park to the derby and big, big games still make you want to get in early and soak up the experience and anticipation rather than the booze but as you get decades of games under your belt a little of the magic wears away. There’s still the odd leap of joy, seeing the pitch for the first time does it for me, but not every game is like St Etienne. There’s a hell of a lot of ‘Bolton at homes’ in there.
Not every season is like 2009/2001/1988/1979/1977 either and as the club stares up at our rivals rather than down at them with a feeling more akin to 1993 than those more salubrious years it becomes increasingly difficult to leap from the sheets and get to the ground with the vigour of old. Yes, we all love Liverpool. Yes, we all love going to the match but…
Let’s throw in the added strain of pressure. I didn’t go to the Chelsea 2005 but managed to get a ticket in 2007. As I stood on the Kop with my heart leaping around my ribcage and vocal chords tearing by nth degrees I wondered why I chose to put myself through this extended bout of torture. An hour or so later, Pepe and Dirk reminded me why but it is a strange pastime – to pay through the nose to have your central nervous system shredded and often go home with such a sense of bitter disappointment that your only two days off of the week are inexorably ruined. If you’re like me, that is. Obviously all was well that night but think back to Man U in the Cup in ’99. So near, so far, so why put yourself through it? Where was the enjoyment there? Are we all masochists? Yes. Yes, we are. Great, isn’t it?
See, it’s just part of the job. I’ve long believed that football isn’t a spectator sport. It’s interactive. I felt that if I stopped singing for as much as one bar at that Chelsea game we would concede and go out. There was noise to be added to and I had to do my shift. That was my job, not to idly and objectively watch the match. The two main elements in play here are that, principally, the noise supports one side and intimidates the other and I have to be involved there while the other is that I’m quite stupid.
We’re not going to be involved in games like that for a while so it’s back to dull home games, frowning at Downing and glancing around the ground trying to work out what that Warrior slogan means. Rise up (but keep your seats) indeed. Once the game’s over we can get back to seeing our mates and moaning about the events of the last two hours. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Nah. let’s get back to what it used to be. More humour please. More enjoyment.
During Kenny’s half season we played Newcastle at home. Joey Barton, alternatively cheered (for his Hillsborough support) and booed (for being Joey Barton), took a corner at the Kop/Kemlyn end. He placed the ball outside the quadrant and was shouted down by a few of us in that area. He grimaced and picked the ball up, placing it even further away at a comic distance. The Kop grew outraged and shouted louder with a few added expletives but were cowed when Barton laughed and gave a gesture that he was just taking the piss before putting it in the right position. The Kop applauded. I loved that. A bit of player/fan interaction and a laugh. Suddenly the game wasn’t so serious. Suddenly it was fun. Okay, it didn’t last but it’s moments like that when you realise that the game shouldn’t just be about tension, fear and staring out the manager when he needs to make a sub. I’m afraid that I do do that.
I don’t expect Liverpool to win the League this year. I don’t expect us to win the Cups. I don’t expect a finish any higher than sixth. I expect a pretty bland year with few peaks and troughs. This isn’t a lowering of expectation as such or acceptance of mediocrity. I know where we are. I just get very pissed off when people try to persuade me that we’re coming on in leaps and bounds when the evidence suggests otherwise. I also get pissed off when we make silly mistakes or find ourselves in a panto (Suarez) as it takes time and energy out of the very desire to be successful. I’m tired of Liverpool fighting fires of their own making. I’m also tired of worrying about it every day.
So, I’m going to have a season off. I’m going to go to the match and watch the game as an amused spectator without having my soul wrung through a wringer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to leaping around the streets of Anfield performing Danny Kaye kicks at defeats but I’m not going to let them get to me either. I’m going to enjoy myself. Half time at the Blackpool home game was the very opposite of what I’d like to achieve. That was my one moment of ‘if I left now, would it be so bad’. I didn’t leave. Again, I am stupid.
I’m still going to harbour resentment to certain people involved at the club but they’re barely at the ground anyway. Defeats hurt less after they sacked Kenny and, to be honest, the Liverpool that sits in my heart isn’t the same as the one that sits in L4 of on high in Boston but I’m tired of the arguments that never get anywhere. The P.R about progress and the whole Suarez/ground development/we need to compete/Joe Allen is the new Matthaus/get behind him/get Rafa back/uberScouse/wools/why does your tea come with a tea bag in the Main Stand but is powdered in the Kop debates (though I’m not backing down on that last one). This season I’m going to look at the pitch and not the ephemera. I can always write about that later but the actual day belongs to the game.
Liverpool aren’t exactly a gigglefest these days. Gone are the days of dogs on pitches etc but there’s always Colin Pascoe wearing shorts in Arctic temperatures and pretending that he’s not shivering. I like inane things like that. It’s good to see some of the lads wearing ridiculous hairdos just for our entertainment too. They’re doing their bit.
I’ll still bitch and moan here but from now on I’ll try to enjoy the whole match day, not just two thirds of it. Care to join me?