AFTER recording yesterday’s episode of The Coach Home, I had a chat with big Blue Dave Downie about Everton’s League Cup tie against Middlesbrough tonight. He was desperate to get up there, but couldn’t find a ticket for love nor money. The Toffees have an allocation of 4,900 for a midweek cup game 142 miles away and spares are as rare as a Rob Jones goal.
It’s a big game for Everton. A cup quarter-final. The club which has been champions of the England nine times, and FA Cup winners five, haven’t won a trophy for 20 years. Goodison has turned into a trophy-free zone, and they are well aware of this — and not just because Liverpool fans make a song and dance of it every time we go to Goodison. In fact, one year we took a cake.
Liverpool fans aren’t the only ones to point out that Everton’s trophy cabinet is more sparse than the Main Stand during stoppage time. Even EasyJet are making digs at them now.
Oh how we laughed. But should we? The Liverpool trophy polishers have hardly been overworked themselves in recent times. Since our last FA Cup win in 2006, Liverpool have only won one League Cup, under Kenny Dalglish in 2012. That’s almost 10 years with just the one trophy to count on. Not a lot for a big club really, is it?
The period since our last league title is often called a “barren” one, but that isn’t really the case. Sure, the 90s were rubbish, especially considering the decade that came before. After our last league title in 1989-90, Liverpool won just one League Cup and one FA Cup for the rest of the decade.
But 2001 to 2006? I’m not having that wasn’t brilliant. A period when Liverpool won two FA Cups, two League Cups, one UEFA cup and a big massive shiny European Cup that we got to keep forever. A period when we had loyalty cards for bars and hotels in Cardiff, and passports with stamps to Istanbul, Dortmund, Barcelona, Rome and more. A period when Liverpool fans had as much fun as anyone in the world, even with the league title missing.
This period of success was kick started by a League Cup win against Birmingham City.
Who knows how 2001 would have ended up had Liverpool lost that shoot-out? Maybe it all would have turned out fine. But winning is a habit that Liverpool struggled to shift in that time, no matter how many of those big games they went down in. Cardiff certainly felt like home; a place where we, on the whole at least, won games of football.
Making Wembley feel the same should be an aim for the club now. Making Liverpool a club that wins things a priority. The earlier the better for Jürgen Klopp. The League Cup may not be the biggest trophy, both literally and metaphorically, but it is the first in the season you can win. It can lay down a marker. We might have been messing about for a while, but we’re now a club that wins things. Remember how good this feels? And we’re only in February. Let’s carry on and have some more.
Jose Mourinho has won two League Cups as Chelsea manager. His side won the title both years. He’s a manager who more than most understands the importance of a feeling around a football club. A man who was able to turn Chelsea from a rich club to a winning one. Win hard and win early. Let everyone feel how it feels. Make everyone start to expect it, but know how hard you have to work to achieve it.
I understand the argument about focusing on the league, that freshness is important. But league titles rarely come out of nowhere. In 2013-14, had we won it, it would have been an anomaly.
When Manchester United broke their “barren” period of 26 years without a league title, they did so the year after winning the League Cup, two years after winning the Cup Winner’ Cup and three years after winning the FA Cup. They slowly got into a winning habit. Players trusted each other more. Closer bonds were formed.
A big club can only go so long without winning trophies before you are in danger of that habit drifting away. Arsenal recognised this two years ago and Wenger took the FA Cup much more seriously, winning the last two tournaments having not even qualified for the final in the eight years before, and having seen a weakened team go out at home to Blackburn Rovers the previous year.
The wins took pressure off the manager, and gave people belief that they could act as a springboard to greater things. They may not. Arsenal might just finish third or fourth again. But they spoke confidently at the start of the season of being title challengers. In the same way a League Cup win this season for Liverpool might not mean we are dancing round St George’s Hall in May.
But it might give us the belief that even if we can’t get over the line this time, we are getting closer.
And, besides, it all gets you out of the house.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo