I’m a broken man.
I wasn’t nervous before West Ham. I honestly wasn’t. In my head I’ve allocated different percentages of nerves to different games and I had West Ham at 10% panic. No (or little) sweat. Yes, there’s the Carroll factor and the Big Sam (TM) dislike of all things Liverpool but we can still see them off. This isn’t a gimme, merely a light wrestle before logic prevails. We do not fall apart at West Ham United.
They’re an odd side. I’m not embarrassed to admit a sneaky regard for them. If I were a Londoner I’d probably support them as they tick the necessary boxes. They’re working class, they keep the ball on the deck and have a song about facing cruel fate with optimism and brotherhood. What they make of their porn peddling owner and their aerial bombardier, Biggles Allardyce, of a manager I don’t know. It all seems such an unfortunate loss of ideals.
No, I wasn’t worried about this one. I’m not worried about Chelsea (40%) either as I think I know what to expect there. They’ll defend and hit us on the counter but I think we can get around that. Teams have tried that all season and I think Jose will have enough chutzpah to suggest that it might be different for them but it won’t be. No, I’m not worried about Chelsea.
City (240%) is the final, Norwich (10%) should be a gimme but Palace (90%) scare the hell out of me. They were one of the worst teams I’ve seen in years at Anfield this season but that counts for nothing now. I celebrated their win at Cardiff as much as they did. Ole, I could care less. I hope that helps.
But come the end of today’s game I was a broken man. A pale river of sweat cascaded down my back as I was hugged by strangers but for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t hug back. I had nothing left to give. Spent. Have you seen those wildlife documentaries of animals being slowly eaten by predators? Their eyes remain open, wide and terrible. They can’t conceive as to what’s going on so they freeze. That was me during Kolo’s back header.
The great thing about watching Liverpool play this season is the sheer variety of tactics. I’ve no idea what the formation’s going to be, who’ll play where and how we’ll get to the next three points but we always seem to get there. I had Lucas to start, possibly for Coutinho with Gerrard sitting next to him in a 4-2-3-1. Nope. I’ve given up trying to work it out. It’s just shirts now.
Last week we had Swarming Liverpool but this one was the War of Attrition Liverpool. It was horrible, grotesque. I love games like this, ordinarily, but only when it hasn’t got something massive on it. A Tuesday in November, something like that. I like a bullying, grinding game where desire means more than strategies but I’d have taken a nice day out instead. We fought and fought and fought. We won. Again.
Their goal didn’t help. I was one of hundreds pointing to the linesman to our left and then snapping back our heads to roar ‘If you’d come off you f___ing line once in a while we wouldn’t be here’ to Mignolet. It was never a goal but I was infuriated by just about everything at that point. When Henderson pointed at the enormous screen and the poltroon chose to pull his head away to avoid eye contact with it I finally lost it. His actions spoke of ‘I don’t want to look. If I’m wrong I don’t want to know.’
At half time West Ham announced that they would show the half time highlights on those same big screens. What a cavalcade of beauty that produced. A shot going out for a goalkick. Someone winning a tackle. Gerrard’s pen and then the West Ham goa…No! They didn’t show it! They didn’t show their own goal! No further questions, your Honour.
The second half. It was all I could do to get onto to the pitch and hug Lucas like a returning hero. I love him like a brother. It was Gerrard’s day but the Brazilian provided balm to my aching soul. Calm me down, Lucas. For God sake, calm me down.
Then the winner. It didn’t look like a pen at the time but it does on second viewing. Actually, I don’t care. We won 1-0 as far as I’m concerned. Thanks.
I didn’t see this pen despite being just nine rows back. People had kids on shoulders and were clambering onto their seats. I could make out Gerrard through a maze of arms and shoulders but saw his reaction as he hit it. That was enough.
Come the final whistle I didn’t have any celebration in me. I gave the pitch a weak smile and waited for my internal organs to reassemble themselves. Seven days earlier I’d left the ground and headed off to the podcast. I felt sorry for those who had to do it last night. I would have just gibbered and wibbled – ultimately descending into just vowels.
We went to the pub. My mates seemed fine and got on with everyday matchday conversations – tuna (always the tuna), the worst thing you’ve eaten at an away game (rooster testicles in Debrecen) and who was the worst ever West Ham keeper. Not me though. I shook and reeled with only the sticky floor holding me upright. This is killing me.
But this is what we’re all in it for. If it were easy we’d get bored and try something else. This all adds to the moment when we’re through it all. Yesterday, we reached 74 points. Man United, the Champions of England, can only get 72 if they win all of their games. No one in the pub was arsed at this fact. We want bigger now.
Not for Liverpool though. They’re going about their business. During the warm up yesterday, Steven Gerrard smacked a training ball hard into a lad’s head in the front row. It was a beauty. The captain instantly put his hand up in a gesture of contrition but the fact that he was also grinning his head off at the time made a funny incident even funnier. When he had another shot he trotted over and gave the lad both a handshake and his training bib. The smile never left his face. There wasn’t the slightest look of concern about the game from he or the other players. They’d passed the worry onto some of us instead. Good. I’ll take that on for you, lads. Christ.
I’m still nervous now and it’s only City next. Only.
I’m a broken man but despite the shaking, mumbling and yips I can’t get nine letters out of my head.
Great, isn’t it?
Pics: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda