I SAW TONY EVANS two nights ago. Pint in Cask. You know the drill – loads of talking, mostly done quickly.
I tried to explain my issues around Suarez going. I don’t think I was doing it very well. He said I was too concerned about entertainment. Winning, he said, was entertainment.
I agree with him entirely about this. Winning is entertainment. At the core of my football watching soul is an ideal season which goes:
P38 W38 F39 A1.
Thirty seven 1-0 wins with the other being two hotly disputed injury time penalties when 1-0 down at Goodison. Imagine the fume. It’d be a fume that would last a season, last a lifetime. Liverpool brutal, the opposition bowed. That is what I always wanted. That is what I will want again.
To win is everything. To win and win and win. I’d like us to end football. Have them say Liverpool have done it so brutally and brilliantly, there’s no point any more. Liverpool have won the football with so much depressing regularity we might as well not bother. There is nothing other than victory. The Liverpool Way I most recognise is a Scouse boot stamping on the face of humanity forever. All I want is for Liverpool to be built up so they would have to submit. Give in.
That was my ideal. Endless Liverpudlian domination at home and abroad.
By 2010, specifically 23rd August 2010, I thought that dream, that ideal was finished for at the very least a decade if not even more. I thought that was that. Collective submission to our will was so far away and it would need the fairest of winds to reach it. FSG coming in was a step. But a small step. A baby step.
In the slipstream of FSG’s arrival was endless talk from so many including, especially, our own supporters about projects, about timescales, about visions. Loads of people like me, possibly even including me, wrote loads of articles on websites like this one the essence of which was that Rome wasn’t built in a day and accept that we would have to be patient, accept that progress wasn’t linear, accept, accept, accept.
The setting of this compulsory acceptance was the end of Benitez, back end of Dalglish, entirety of Hodgson, start of Rodgers. Accept and you’ll see. One step at a time. One small step at a time. One small, stuttering baby step at a time.
Anfield was dark then. We like to think of Anfield as ablaze but those days were dark and dank. There were spots in the darkness but the gloom would always return. It would always pull you back. Unlucky defeats, a shortage of momentum, so many meaningless games whose negative outcomes rendered them all the more meaningless. Dark, dank and drab. We went to endless football matches short of quality, shorn of vitality. Meaningless games with the occasional chink of daylight – the league cup win, FA Cup semi final, Spurs at home 2010. Moments within the gloom.
And then this season gone Luis Suarez lit and fired a flamethrower in the darkness which had been consuming us. He decided he wasn’t having it. He just wasn’t having it.
There had been hints of it and his brilliance was undeniable. Those chinks in the darkness were so often Luis Suarez orientated. 3-0 against United for instance. Suarez briefly relieving the gloom before we all succumbed to it again, wondering about the direction of travel, being assured about the importance of small steps while watching too much dank, drab, pointless football. I barely remember a thing about the home Merseyside Derby in 2013, for instance.
The last day I felt that darkness wasn’t Chelsea at home. That was a defeat in a tight game. It wasn’t even Hull away. That was a defeat when we were in the shake up. The last day I felt the darkness was Southampton at home. The last league game before Suarez’s ban expired and Suarez came back and decided he wasn’t having the darkness. Instead he was going to be the best player in the world. The best player you’ve seen in your life. He was going to carry and inspire a team almost every week between Sunderland away and Spurs away. He exploded all over this football team. It was superhuman. Hyperhuman. It was everything you’ve ever wanted. It was everything we needed; he was a bolt of lightning thumping life into Frankenstein, he was McNulty on the stoop, he was Love To Love You Baby by Donna Summer. Luis Suarez really, truly happened and nothing was going to be the same again.
This wasn’t the processes the well meaning and greybearded wanted to impose. Not gradual improvement to the sweet relief of the grave. He was this riot. This pyro. This party. He set himself and his team on fire so the stands didn’t need flares any more. They were redundant – how could they shine brighter than this?
He captained this side to its definitive performance, away at Tottenham Hotspur. It was a team in his image. Rambunctious, endless, exhausting. He was the shortcut up the mountain. He was giant strides, not baby steps. He built Rome in a day. This wasn’t a one man team but it was a team hewn in one man’s image.
He was about winning. All about winning. Not entertaining, winning. At Southampton away when Liverpool were 0-2 ahead he threw his head at a lad’s knee ninety yards from his own goal in order to stop a break from developing. Whatever it takes. Win. It was every type of winning. Win through tripping a man with your head. Win through headers, win through volleys, win through blamming it against an opponent. Whatever it takes. Win. Find new ways to provoke handballs like Shane Warne looking for an LBW. Beat men, get into their head, anticipate their every weakness, their every inadequacy. Whatever it takes. Win. He made everyone around him be about winning. Always be winning.
I said to Tony I’d never seen anyone want to win more. He paused and said “Souness.” He might be right. Where Souness is concerned Tony normally is. But that’s what it takes – the man who may well be Liverpool’s greatest ever captain to match the will of Luis Suarez. And just as with Souness it isn’t about him alone, that’d be the wrong impression to take from any of this. It was as much the impact he had on everyone else. He told his teammates, his supporters that anything, absolutely anything is possible. Watch what I do. We can achieve together. It’d be profoundly wrong to underplay the role of a manager who let him be – who helped him be – the best possible version of himself, not least when we’ve just seen another manager create the circumstances where he is the worst. It’d be wrong to do that and it’d be misguided to think that same man can’t come up with solutions going forward. Brendan Rodgers is very, very good at the football managing.
But more than anyone Suarez beat back the darkness. Suarez realigned everything.
Now I no longer want F39 A1. For one more year I want F136 A64. I want chaos and mischief, football as incendiary device not as steamroller. Headers from the edge of the box. Volleys from the halfway line. Not because it entertains me but because of what it means to me. What it says to the world, a world that is still that bit unsure about Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool. I want to scream it out. We’re madder than you can conceive of. We’re not submitting to convention; convention can damn well submit to us. We’re Liverpool Football Club and you know what you can do with your two nil home wins.
I reject two nil home wins. I spurn them. He realigned everything.
I don’t want him to go because even if this daft ban is upheld, I know that if Liverpool is dark in October it won’t be in November. He won’t stand for it. I don’t want the darkness back. Even now it swirls around us. Can we spend the money his sale would raise well enough? Can we capitalise? Can we kick on? What does this say about us? The old questions return. We were coalesced into something the second half of last year. We were a mass. We were an army, a red wave. Now though – the post match singing, dancing, laughing are all under threat from the dreaded, dark questions. The rock hard certainties of 13/14 drift away. Four weeks ago I was trying to guess when the league would be won. Now I’m looking at Arsenal (ARSENAL!) concerned.
I don’t want him to go because he is our cheat. Not a cheat (though like most great players he is that as well), but our cheat. Our thing which means we can skip the process, skip the journey. He can accelerate us to our destination. If he goes can that still happen? Or do the greybearded win?
I don’t want him to go because it feels unnatural. The job is two thirds complete. We’re mid cycle and suddenly everything changes. I want him there at the end if the end is in sight and I am convinced it is. I want him vanquishing Europe’s finest under the lights, in front of The Kop. But it now feels like everything is up in the air. There’s no clear replacement. There’s no clear solution. More good players but a poorer first eleven? Possibly. Probably.
Me and Tony and Adam and Sarah (who were with us) kept talking and talking. You know the drill. The subject got on to favourite football songs. Tony’s starts “They all laugh at us…” They did laugh at us. They had said our days were numbered. They had counted us out and the so-called sages were counting and reveling in the months and years it would take to get counted back in again. They’d reckoned without Luis Suarez. Now it looks like we will have to reckon without him and this makes me worried.
More than anything though it simply makes me sad. There could be loads of wisdom in it. We could get more points, be able to compete on every front, we could even get someone who doesn’t bite people. Luis Suarez doesn’t make me feel proud. But he has made me feel more alive than any footballer ever has. This isn’t about entertainment. It’s about feeling berserk and unhinged and unbridled and seeing everybody else is like that too. It’s about feeling the impossible is possible and anything could happen next.
We’ll see now if that is Brendan Rodgers’s Tricky Reds or if it was Luis Suarez or if it was a bit of both. Probably the latter. Almost everything is. But it’s another question to answer when all I wanted from 2014/15 was more of the same from 2013/14 but harder.
I just don’t want everything that was taken away from us.
No backward steps. Please. Please.