IT’S funny how you go through phases with other teams and their people and their grounds. Our away game destinations seem to be getting more testing each passing year, in terms of both distance and frequency. I’ve always broken aways down into three categories, travel wise: easy ones (Burnley, Manchester), all-dayers (the Midlands) and stay over jobs (London, the North East, the South Coast). Nowadays they’re all the fucking latter. Six London trips (if you count Watford), Southampton, Bournemouth, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Hull and Swansea. The team are getting planes to these destinations. I’m sitting in traffic queues on the M6.
You can’t do all of these missions. I’ve had a good go but it’s hard to achieve. It takes it out of you, on many levels. Swansea though, I’ve stuck with. I’ve generally given them the benefit of the doubt. I think subconsciously I’ve always felt I owed it to the Welsh. A great set of lads, as they say.
To Swansea, again, we’ll trek this Saturday. In the still of night we’ll depart Liverpool homes, bleary eyed but primed. Liverpool Football club are on the move again and nobody’s getting left behind. We can’t leave the Reds to win this one on their own. They need us. They need me.
5am starts aren’t de rigueur but thanks to the toffs at Sky we’ve been given a 12.30pm kick-off for an away trip to Mars. You know what I mean.
I’ve been asked to video diary this impending adventure by the Anfield Wrap elders. It’ll be like an episode of that getting coffee in cars show with Jerry Seinfeld, only with less coffee and more booze, crisps, stopping for pisses and McDonald’s stops.
Every trip has its own flavour and tone. It’s about the type of journey, it’s about the place you’re going to, but mainly it’s about the company you keep. You tend to get the best of people in this context. There’s common cause, and the prime activity is pretty pure and child-like. You’re going to watch the best spectacle you could choose to watch and you’re doing it with other kids your own age, and you’re allowed all the things that are bad for you in abundance. No one is stopping you doing anything. Nothing is holding you back. In this universe we are all — as Roxette once observed — magic friends.
With each passing year I’ve been taking more children on away ventures with me. My children, I need to add. They’re great away trip mates. They’re largely compliant to my peccadillos and agendas for starters. They’re also hugely appreciative of the poor dietary regime that I impose. Additionally, they anchor you to the main purpose of the enterprise. The football. It can get lost in the wash at times, for lots of away goers. Not me and my lads. It’s always about Liverpool FC and the winning. The trip down is obviously always the best, but for the return journey to match its exuberance it needs to be preceded by the three points.
The best partner crime in any away for me, ultimately, is the designated driver. The lad who takes one for the team. The appropriate adult. The carer. I tried being this character for the Burnley jaunt recently. It didn’t suit me. I wasn’t very good at it.
For this weekend’s adventure I’m being piloted by an old and very good mate, who we shall refer to as ‘Blue Paul’. He’s known as Blue Paul because he actually supports the Everton Blues. I might start saying that it’s because he’s prone to risqué gags in front of clergy and visiting Japanese business delegations, though. That would require less qualification than having to explain why an Evertonian has got himself roped into a Liverpool FC away trip.
Whenever I introduce Blue Paul to Reds, he’s always quick to explain that he’s one of the nice ones. That he doesn’t actually hate the Reds. Paul likes to give the impression that he is a throwback to some lost age where allegedly fellas would go to Anfield and Goodison on alternate weekends. It’s a forgotten world. Paul is the last survivor. Like the Loch Ness monster or something like that.
I know in truth that Paul isn’t really one of the nice ones (they’re a myth). He hates us secretly, but it amuses him that we can’t tell. I’m onto you Paul. I’m onto you.
Paul and me have travelled the length and breadth of this sceptred isle, and down the years we’ve regaled each other with all the stories we have in our vaults, several times over. When others join our trips, he’ll tell the tale of the hilarious day that he closed a car boot on my head in Norwich. I’ll remind him that he once fell completely inside a purple wheelie bin, whilst trying to retrieve a vital document. He recalls the rib he broke in doing this, I’ll conjure the image of his two legs sticking out of the top of a bin as the young people of Norris Green looked on.
Paul’s a true friend. You realise that they are fewer than you once estimated as you get on. The Red/Blue divide is no gulf for us. He’ll even let me speculate and enthuse about the Reds. And I’m up and running. I’m going to be telling him just how great we are right now. How we’re getting better by the week. He’ll smirk, remembering Newcastle last season. That was a wake up call on the back of a mini renaissance.
This time feels different. Maybe it always does. No, this time it is different. I’m starting this season from the day we took Barcelona apart at Wembley (I’m excluding the B team’s loss at Mainz the following day) in the greatest pre-season friendly story ever told. Add to that we’ve played six in the league and two in the League Cup. That’s a nine game body of work, in which Liverpool have won seven.
Among our victims we can claim the mighty Barca, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and champions Leicester. All with only one outing at our Anfield home. Walk around all this for a moment. Take on board the manner of the victories. When we got off to nice starts in 08/09 and in 13/14, we were putting points on the board, but not the goals, the dominance, the level of performance.
Hull fell last weekend. Five to one. They were the acid test. They were our historic bogey man incarnate. The minnow you face when you’re on a roll, who frustrates, shocks and humbles you. The mithering little cunt that reminds you that you’re mortal.
We devoured Hull. Ate them whole. Left no part of them unhumiliated. The win completed our set. Some will say Swansea away still needs confidently navigating before we can claim invincibility, mind. They beat a weakened Liverpool last season. Liverpool have failed to win at too many bottom 10 grounds in the recent past. We’ve already lost at Burnley this term. There is a demon there still to exorcise.
Without European football, Jürgen Klopp has enjoyed another full week to work on his plan for Swansea. To rest his walking wounded. Aside from Dejan Lovren, returning to displace able deputy Ragnar Klavan, it’s hard to see where the manager makes a case for any changes to the side that so ruthlessly dispatched Hull.
Emre Can, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi will have to kick their heels for another week, and Klopp will have to manage them becoming unavoidably restless. For now we need only talk of nice problems to have. This Liverpool squad doesn’t just have depth, it has real interchangeability.
Swansea are in transition, tipped for disaster, but showing signs of life. They were far from destroyed by an otherwise irresistible Manchester City, last week. It will be fascinating to see if Liverpool FC make shorter or harder work of them, again on their own patch. My confidence is almost as sky high as the floating Reds. I’m not anticipating problems. Let the title talk continue unabated, into the international break and beyond.
The Swan slaying Red 11:
Karius; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Coutinho, Mane, Firmino.