I’M calm. I’ve had two weeks off, all the international stuff, time to empty my mind post the latest Palace debacle. I’ve had time to let the fury dissolve, time away (weekend in London, found out the place is actually pretty damn cool, saw Nicole Kidman live, all great, thanks). I’ve had that moment of panic, the one that most of us probably had, the moment where we realised that terror is now aimed at the twin loves of many of us, football and music, and that things are even less the same than they were previously.
I’m calm enough to think about it rationally, though, calm enough to realise that you can’t avoid talking about Paris in the context of everything else that we do, calm enough to realise that everything may seem fragile but that we need to carry on with all the fragile stuff because carrying on with the ordinary is important. Carrying on with the ordinary is vital. Of all the unimportant things, football is the most important and all that.
I’ve listened to the post-Palace early exit debates, read the comment pieces. I’ve listened to Rob and Robbo and Mike and Andy take differing sides on the disappointment dash, understanding (if not condoning) or condemning the ‘it’s 82 minutes, we’ve conceded, I’m off’ attitude.
Me personally? I thought it was disgusting. Thought it showed a lack of belief, lack of trust in the ability of the players and management to turn things round. Showed that, a week after we came back from an early setback to dismantle Chelsea, we still didn’t believe that we could do at home the very thing that we had already done away.
Home versus away, that’s going to be the crux. In a minute or two. I’ve listened to the argument that you can be so disappointed by something that the only natural reaction is to get up and go. And I kind of get it but…no. Just no. Don’t do it. Don’t leave early. Don’t leave anything early. It’s that attitude that means that I’ve sat through the entirety of Forrest sodding Gump so it definitely has its pitfalls. Guy Ritchie’s Rock’n’Rolla though? Walked out on that. There are limits.
Does that mean I’ve never left a game before the end? No. It doesn’t. I’ve done it a couple of times. In the eighties, a Cup replay against United. First game was at Goodison, replay at Maine Road. Kind of remember them scoring late on to kill the game off and we thought ‘we’re getting a kicking here’ so did one. Got back to the train, lay on the floor in the dark as the bricks were thrown. Think leaving early was justified on that one.
The game at Old Trafford where Sami was sent off after about 12 seconds? I was in the directors’ box — long story, don’t ask — with the understanding that I was keeping fairly quiet whatever happened. First goal, quietly upset. Second goal, muttering. Third goal, on my feet, pure loud Bootle invective. Fourth goal? Already on the escalator. (Tell you what, the new Main Stand? Better have escalators, bloody long walk up otherwise).
Wembley, FA Cup final against Chelsea, expensive ticket in among Chelsea fans — long story, don’t ask — final whistle goes, our lads look devastated, I think ‘sod yer, should have tried harder’ and I’m gone. I’m in a bitter mood and I’m taking it out on our lot underachieving and I’m off. Whistle’s blown, like, but I’m still thinking of this as early. There are Chelsea fans leaving with me, leaving before me. Because cup presentations are boring aren’t they? And there’s hardly any transport in London. Really don’t get that one.
And, as an aside, the family who were walking in front of me after the Palace game? Looked like tourists, looked like they were on a nice family day out, Mum and Dad consoling their young son who was in floods of tears, they stayed to the end. If you’re in tears and you’re still there, you win. Are you well enough to walk? Stay until the end. Other opinions are available.
So. The calmness and all that. I’d intended to start with the terrible admission that I’d never done an away league game. Then I remembered the United loss so we’ll caveat that to ‘I’ve never done an away league game anywhere other than a directors’ box’. Come on though, working every Saturday from 1980 through to 2014? I’ve got a bloody good excuse. Need to get to one though, looks a good day out that. Looks, from the outside, like the lads who spend all that cash do it with a reason. Looks like they do it to go and have a good time, enjoy themselves, enjoy the game, get behind the lads.
I don’t know, but I don’t think that the lad a few rows behind me who was screaming “TWENTY EIGHT MILLION FOR YOU, YOU FUCKING DONKEY BASTARD!” at Benteke was doing it as he waltzed through the Chelsea box. I don’t think that the constant muttering of “that Sturridge lad doesn’t want to play” is happening at United or at Villa or Spurs.
I don’t know all this, I’m making a leap, making an assumption but I think the negativity of 40,000 who scream at every mistake isn’t happening in the 3,000 who have had a drive and a laugh and maybe a bevy on the way and aren’t doing one 10 minutes early to get a bus because they’re in Norwich and those ten minutes don’t mean anything anyway. I don’t know this, not actually KNOW this but I believe it. I believe the away lads are there for the right reason. I believe the away lads are doing the whole supporting thing right.
I believe there’s less whinging and more singing. I believe there’s less criticism and more basic, honest to god, genuine support. Tell me I’m wrong if you like, I’m fine with being wrong, fill all the boxes below with the word knobhead but I believe in the lads who are doing the aways. I believe they’re having more fun than the rest of us.
And that’s why I’m calm. That’s why I’m calm about Manchester City. I fully believe that it’s easier for the lads in the red shirts if they’re away, if the only people claiming that they’re “fucking donkey bastards” are the opposition fans because they expect it from them and they don’t give a shit about them.
City fans claiming Daniel Sturridge is a lightweight who can’t be arsed? Arsed about that. Southampton fans ridiculing Adam Lallana for keeping possession? Arsed. Bluenoses maintaining against all evidence that Mamadou Sakho is clumsy? Again, arsed. They can deal with that, can deal with scorn and ridicule. From the others. Shouldn’t have to get it from us. Have I mentioned this before? Sure we’re going through old ground here.
Two weeks ago, I was concerned. I was worried. I thought that this would be the game when the whole selling Sterling saga would come back to bite us, could see him growing game by game, could see that hat-trick the other week and thought ‘he’s ready’. I read Aidy Ward’s comments about whether Raheem would celebrate if he scored against us and thought ‘the world thinks this is a done deal’.
And then, on Friday night, in a hotel bar in London, before everything happened, I watched Raheem Sterling play for England and I saw a catalogue of wrong choices and poor passes and culpability for Spain’s first goal (good job I looked up at that point, that passage originally read ‘poo passes’) by not having the awareness to provide for the overlapping left back and I thought, ‘still potential, still not the finished article, I’ll have Clyne against him, I’m having that.’ Nice cross for Rooney’s goal, like. Other than that though.
The City that started the season? I’d have been scared of them. The City that continued? Not so much. The City that played Newcastle? Not at all. That City we can take. A City where we hope that Aguero doesn’t win his battle for fitness. A Liverpool with a Daniel Sturridge who seems to be fit and raring to go? Even if it’s from the bench? A Liverpool with Sturridge and Benteke and Coutinho and Firmino on the same pitch at the same time running at the pale blue defence? I’m having that Liverpool.
A Liverpool away from home with unity and positivity behind them in the stands? I’m having that Liverpool. Having that Liverpool in a big way. That’s the Liverpool that took one look at a fourth-minute Chelsea goal and went ‘it doesn’t matter’ and made sure it didn’t because they believed and they had the backing of those who believed and, before it was even spoken, they had the manager’s credo of ‘we’ll make sure that nobody can leave early because anything could happen’ in their hearts.
The international break was the best thing that could happen to our season.
The fact that we return away from home, the fact that we return with a major test, that we play the league leaders with a nine-point gap that can be changed to only six, that we’ve had the chance to work on mindset and attitude on the inside of the club? That’s an opportunity. Win this and Jürgen and the boys can return to Anfield with a chance of sorting out our mentality, our attitude, our belief. We’re starting again, we’re doing this, we’re beating City.
I believe this. I’m calm.
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