I WAS going to write about the January transfer window this week, but as Monday rolled into Tuesday, I became progressively more underwhelmed by the prospect. Let’s face it — it’s all a bit boring and nothing much happens. Then Wednesday night and the thriller against Arsenal came along and I was compelled to write about something completely different.
Such was the enjoyment of a match that pulsated from start to finish; it made me think how seldom we now take real pleasure from the simple art form that is the game of football. Alongside that, I also thought how we’ve lost the knack of enjoying not just the spectacle, but how to throw ourselves into a match just as a supporter and not overanalyse, be the critic, be the know-all pundit.
The hour or so in the pub for us before the game is always a highlight. Our group don’t always talk football. It can be exhausting, especially when things aren’t going well, and we’d much prefer to catch up, have a laugh and let the match creep up on us; to be enjoyed when kick off approaches.
To an extent, Hicks and Gillett changed all that when our light-hearted chat gave way to talking about football finance. At the time, that was a necessity for those of us who cared about the future of our club and wanted to enlighten others.
Eventually, Liverpool FC was freed from those chains but the die was cast and in the place of the economics talk (although under FSG this has never really gone away) came the new-fangled conversations in which everyone competes to be the biggest tactical expert.
Being proved right about the manager became a thing under Rafa Benitez (I give you rotation and zonal marking) and has continued ever since.
If that’s not enough, being the first to write off and lay into a new signing is a seemingly requisite credibility statement attesting to your understanding of the game. Think about Wednesday night’s heroes. Roberto Firmino. Written off. Joe Allen. Written off.
Our pre-match chat on Wednesday touched on a bygone era when Liverpool fans flocked to Anfield in the largest numbers when a star player (for the opposition!) was in town.
The old-timers of the 1950s and 1960s queued up an extra hour to see Stanley Matthews, Tommy Lawton, The Preston Plumber Tom Finney, and George Best.
If they weren’t playing at Anfield they would venture to see them at Goodison.
A little more recently, a friend’s old dad told me how much he was looking forward to watching Gianfranco Zola grace Anfield for Chelsea — though he spoiled his splendidly neutral appreciation by labelling him “fucking shite” after the game.
Back to Wednesday night. That first half was brilliant entertainment.
I haven’t waxed as lyrical over Jürgen Klopp as the 99 per cent of Liverpudlians who fixate over his every word at the “presser” and his every move on the touchline.
Why, you might ask?
Well because the football under Jürgen at Anfield has been drab in the extreme. There has been plenty of talk about gegenpressing but little in the way of excitement.
Many will point to an inherited squad lacking in quality, and rightly cite the inconvenience of a string of injuries. There are mitigating circumstances.
Against Arsenal though, in those opening salvos, out came these same players, some on one leg, to produce a vibrant, high-tempo style of football, with slick passing and movement that wobbled top- of-the-table Arsenal.
It was entertaining, attacking football at its best and it had the ground rocking. Firmino was outstanding. A poached opening goal that befuddled a statuesque Petr Cech, an obvious infusion of confidence, a sublime second that just oozed class, and lots of clever touches and running at the heart of Liverpool’s fluent play.
Did we spend half-time marvelling at the spectacle; perhaps reassessing Firmino’s fairly palpable talent?
No, we talked about Mignolet’s contract.
Obviously, we did that in the context of his dubious attempts at keeping out Arsenal’s two goals, but there was chat of an extension to “protect the asset” and whether a new deal is sanctioned by Ian Ayre, FSG and/or the transfer committee.
One wag (me) suggested it might actually be the manager having a different opinion to the fans on the maligned goalkeeper, even if the reality is that it’s a mere ruse ahead of a sale in the summer.
We preferred to talk about the negative and the complex and ignore the marvellous football we had just witnessed; of a Liverpool team — at Anfield — looking more like the Klopp vision we’ve been promised.
We competed to be experts on the matter, while heartily disagreeing with everyone else’s opinion.
Quite frankly, we ruined our own half-time, when a simple “fucking boss half that” and a quick pint would have done the trick.
Much of our appreciation and love of the game itself has been knocked out of us by the media and wall-to-wall coverage that gives us too much football.
We’ve been force fed into thinking we’re all bloody experts.
Resale value, sell-on clauses, release clauses, pre-contract agreements, net spends, Moneyball and managers’ news conferences analysed for nuance and content that doesn’t exist like speeches at party conferences.
I’ve got a theory that all this bollocks was introduced to appeal to new fans whose first love is actually business — to facilitate them sounding knowledgeable and not look daft, when their understanding and appreciation of the sport, and its simple principles, is rudimentary at best.
We’ve had the arse bored off us with the tactical stuff, too.
False nines, third men running, space between the lines, front foot football, high pressing, low blocks.
No-one talks about shooting, tackling, passing, or volleys and headers.
We fixate over systems and set-up, and ignore the traditional importance of form, fitness and confidence. We seldom make allowances for players and prefer to label them all “shite”. We have become arch-critic first, supporter second. Our tribal supporting instincts are still there but they’ve been buried under the weight of other people’s opinion and our perceived need for ripostes to those ideas.
While we’ve been busy thinking up clever things to say or copy, we’ve stopped coming up with the songs. Firmino — three syllables. Nothing. If I was him, I’d be seriously pissed off.
Joe Allen – another three syllables — more of the nothing. Instead we trot out that plaintive, Liiiiiiiiiiiverpool chant that masks our lack of imagination.
No-one has the balls to make a fool of themselves and give it a go. We’re all culpable — frightened of looking stupid (heaven forbid for chanting a footballer’s name to give him a boost) in front of our peers. If we ever get really good again under Klopp and someone gets a league title winner for us, are we going to bother singing his name?
There was much to admire about both Liverpool and Arsenal on Wednesday.
As the sleet lashed down and the pitch became increasingly heavy, there was no let up in the pace and intensity of the game. There was no questioning the commitment and character of all the players on the pitch as bodies were laid on the line, but the quality of football never suffered.
Really enjoyable stuff before the inevitable dissection which spits out possession and territory stats and pass completion percentages.
While Liverpool showed their most sustained attacking football of the season, it was hard not to approve of The Gunners’ intricate one-touch passing and movement.
I came away reinforced with my idea that Arsene Wenger is a genius of a manager who sticks to his football principles, not because he’s vain or stubborn (new footie words for managers) but because he wants to win football matches.
The same Arsene Wenger has been written off for what seems like a decade by pundits and fans alike. What the hell do we know? It would be good for football if Arsenal can sustain their run and end up as Champions. Then Wenger can legitimately have a pop back and put his detractors back in their Piers Morgan head-shaped box.
For all my admiration of Wenger and Arsenal, my Liverpool instincts rightly took over in the final quarter.
“Where’s your European Cups?” shut the gloating Londoners up a bit when they crowed loudly and annoyingly at 3-2. Chant of the night.
Allen’s superb volley at the end meant more than just a point.
At the end of great game which could be enjoyed for its equal aesthetic and visceral worth, Allen’s goal ruined those Arsenal fans’ trip home.
There weren’t too many tactical complaints about a 6 foot 3 inch loanee centre half running amok up front when that equaliser went in. Instead, there was a little bit of tribalistic vengeance for Andrei Arshavin and that 4-4 draw when Arsenal took a perverse pleasure in derailing a better Liverpool back in 2009.
All in all an evening to be savoured, without the need for over-analysis; without us needing to tie ourselves in knots over the limitations of certain players or whether it was 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1. A reminder that we can still enjoy the game for what it is, support the team and have a jolly good night out.
I’m looking forward to Sunday already.
Great stuff. I’ve needed to read something like that for a while.
Boss that take a bow.
Let’s all make a vow of not talking bollox but talk about the game the thing you came to watch and enjoy.
Don’t listen to the sh# te spouted by sky bt bbc so called experts. Make your own mind up. Then you will notice how the imposter around you is going all Arry on you as he can’t form his own opinion.
I would heartily endorse your sentiments re the tactical genii spouting clap trap they barely understand. Some of the scribes at TAW are among the worst and invariably endorsed by the nodding dogs
I haven’t forgotten how to enjoy football. It’s just that Liverpool are largely rubbish now so I don’t enjoy it.
Well that was all very nice. But I’ve not got time for this I’ve gotta get on football manager and tweet a load of German footballers’ names that no body has ever heard of. Then go on about Ilori being the second coming. Yes the same professional athlete who rolled his socks down and gave up the fight like a crying child being made to play football in the rain.
This piece captures exactly what football should be – yet 3 comments in and bitching has begun.
Sorry, but anyone who writes off Joe Allen (sideways passes? yeah, there’s a no-look one to Jordan Ibe. how bout that curler in to Sturridge, lad?) loses all credibility, attesting to your lack of understanding of the game. Try to watch some things on the pitch that don’t directly involve the ball.
The wee little man is boss.
I agree, whilst he may not be the best player i the world, he is undoubtedly a very tidy, very good footballer, and he is always 100% committed.
‘Creating space’ for others by running blindly into space, when you don’t want, or expect the ball, despite screaming at them to give it to you, and taking a defender with you. There’s lots of stuff that no-one sees or appreciates these days. I swear some people don’t even understand it when you’re actually playing alongside them. Mind you, the way i played football, that’s hardly surprising :)
And the award goes to……….Mike Nevin!
If I had the wherewithal I’d print out 40 odd thousand copies of this piece and distribute them myself on Sunday.
Spot on that.
Think this is what Klopp is all about as well.
Enjoy the moments as it´s supposed to be fun.
It’s only the middle of January but we already have the TAW Commentary of the Year in this great piece. There are bits in it that have needed saying for a long time. Thank you, Mike.
Someone posted a photo of Rafa sitting among the fans Wednesday night. It captured the face of an older man seated in the row directly in front of Rafa. The look on the man’s face said it all — angry, bitter, critical, definitely not enjoying himself. As I looked at it for a long minute I thought, “I’d give anything to have the rare privilege that jaded old guy has and doesn’t appreciate.” I try to avoid judging a book by its cover, but it was hard this time. We can try to make all the excuses anyone will tolerate listening to, but the attitude represented in that old guy’s face is largely what is ruining our Club.
Perfect. I’m a football fan because I like actual football, the bit where the ball moves around the pitch.
Klopp is a perfect reminder of this, it’s quite simple really.
Nice one Mike.
Great article – right on the money!!!
Bring on the songs!!!!
Good read .. Agreed on most points. Not all the football under Klopp has been drab in the extreme…. City, Chelsea, Southampton away :)
Is it that surprising that people didn’t forget the bigger, more long term picture at half time and simply talk about the Firmino strike ?
Years of mismanagement from club owner to goalkeeper coach aren’t forgotten in 45 minutes.
And Klopp’s not all about the fun. You don’t get that upset about a throw in if its all about the fun stuff.
No use crying and moaning over spilt milk. Somebody still needs to mop it up. Jürgen made it clear from his first press conference that he intends to write a new story at Liverpool Football Club. Choose your side — persist in pulling the old rubbish out of the bin and rehashing it, or get on board with a fresh attitude and help to create the Liverpool of the future.
Very hard to ignore the fact that we’ve given up a lead twice before half time against a very good team, with the same old defensive problems again. Frustration and disappointment more than anything else I guess overshadowing what was a very good game of football.
Neil, I take Umbrage.
I am constantly shouting “Shoot the fucking ball” at our false nine – whose release clause is enormous – when he receives a ball on a platter at the top of the six and instead of just dinking it in, takes a dribble and tries to slot it back to our left half-wingback – who’s faster than anyone over 10 meters, but only wins 10% of his attacking dribbles, and 2% of his aerial duels – attacking edge of the diamond formation, who then attempts to put in a cross for our center forward – whose release clause we paid a fortune to trigger – to try and head it in from point blank range. Don’t lump me in with the “Nouveau Overanalati” that are so en vogue on the Terrace these days. Unfair comparison mate, unfair.
Best article on football I’ve read in a while (anywhere). Seriously. Nice one, Mike.
I like how you’ve had the decency to admit your own culpability, too. (Hell, probably the majority of us have got a bit stuck in this rut if we’re honest.) And as such, I’d like you (the plural you, as in the TAW crew en masse) to maybe learn from the message of this article and apply it a bit more in the podcasts and what-not.
As Klopp says, we either wait for the moment or we create the moment. Let’s build some good memories!
Pressing up the field we’re going to win
Every fucking ball we’re conquering
All the mighty reds
Walk around our heads
Shankly had it, Paisley had it, Jurgen has it too
Glory, joy and respect, Jurgen Klopp
Maybe because we were used to success and magnanimous in the rare loss, but i remember being on the Kop when we gave a prolonged ovation to Gordon Banks -and chanted his name after he played an absolute blinder against us.
Great article. Found myself nodding my head to most of it.
But I have to agree with DMC above. Liverpool have been crap for a long time, and it accounts for the lack of enjoyment and ease with which we occupy (read: obsess) ourselves with secondary things.
During 13/14, I enjoyed it all, including the over analysis. Couldn’t get enough of everything.
When Liverpool wins, we all win … in every way.
Three months into Klopp’s reign there is enough good to believe that the years ahead could be very enjoyable for us. We’ll enjoy the game and the over analysis, too.
This is the biggest this of all the thisis.
Incredible piece indeed. The analyses, so many of them, in game too! Fans just need to ease up a bit. Let’s be a little positive.
However patchy our form is, I don’t ever get so worked up or nervous as I get with Liverpool. That feeling is for everything. The wins, the draws, the losses…
We’ve had bad management issues before, but jurgen is a breath of fresh air. Get on with it, get on the bandwagon, and look forward to better football from the mighty reds, game after game. YNWA
Great article … no compensation for the Arsenal 4-4 (still in mourning for that season) but sweet all the same
Excellent piece Mike. Something I’ve been considering for a long time. I’m as guilty as anyone else – I probably haven’t had a run of sustained enjoyment from football since spring 2014. Too easy to let in the fear and negativity.
If you’re a mainly armchair bound fan like me, here’s a tip for improving your experience of the game – stick it on mute or find a stream with just crowd noise. I did this with the Exeter match the other week and it was surprisingly good – all of a sudden the majority of the cynicism and hot air disappeared and I was left watching a game with my own thoughts.
Great article i really enjoyed it. Keep it up! Love the David Bowie touch.
Just another Liverpool blog. Please support thank you.
Boss that. Well done. Now…. Lets get a podcast dedicated to coming up with new songs! Unleash them at the next home game! YNWA!
We probably have the most suited manager in world football.
It’s bad enough to try to understand and worry about team performances etc than also have to become an expert in football finances.
As an aside, United didn’t rob us or get lucky. They took their chances. If we’d been as clinical we would have battered them on the scoreboard as well as on the pitch.
Can’t wait to see our team develop under Klopp.
Great article, spurred me to comment for the first time… Quite the tonic after the result on Sunday…
Have bookmarked it as I suspect I may need to go back to it from time to time in the future when the post game analysis annoys me than the results..