THEY’RE all afraid of us now, Reds.
Chelsea might be top of the league, but there’s only one team in the land that they’re all scared of. One team’s name that fans around the country are dreading when flicking through their teams’ fixture lists. Talking to each other over their Christmas dinners about how much they love our manager and how, for the first time in a generation, this team looks like it’s got everything.
I have a vivid memory etched in my mind that, for me, represents the Alex Ferguson era at Manchester United. It was a game in which United were being held to a draw, the lads they were playing working their socks off to control things, putting their manager’s pre-match plans in place, keeping hold of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and all the others. “Not much longer now,” they all think as they look into each other’s eyes and urge each other on. The ball goes out for a throw-in. The referee signals that a substitution is about to be made and all eyes turn towards the bench. The TV camera views the situation from behind the touchline, showing the backs of the players coming on and capturing the faces of the opposition players at the same time.
It was Roy Keane and David Beckham being brought on with minutes to go. The look of absolute dejection and despair on the faces of the opposition at the sight of these two massive lads coming on to the pitch was palpable. The slow realisation that they’ve put everything into this game so far and now have to deal with these two bastards as well. It said everything about United during that era. You think you’ve beaten us? You think you’ve got a draw? You think it’s only 10 minutes to go?
It’s going to be the longest 10 minutes of your entire life.
I said a few months ago the one thing missing from this Liverpool team, that I was waiting to see, was a game in which it was tight and we’re drawing with minutes to go, but we keep playing, keep moving the ball, keep making them follow our runs and stay switched on. A game in which we just wear them out then score in the dying minutes to take the points.
I had the same feeling last night that we all used to have watching those great United sides. More importantly, inside Goodison, thousands of Evertonians were having the exact same feeling. I turned to Ben Johnson on about the 80th minute and commented on how quiet their fans were. It was as if they were all just holding their collective breath, waiting for that moment, that inevitable moment when these Red shite bastards do what they always do. The mad thing is that we don’t always do it. We’ve had more bad luck than good in our last few visits to Goodison, but our Blue brethren have convinced themselves this always happens, so half the battle was won before we started.
When Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can appeared on the touchline in the 82nd minute, the inevitability of what was to come was reflected in the Old Lady showing her considerable age rather than the rocking that she is so infamous for on these nights under the lights. After all, there are only so many nights you can rock before you start getting old.
I was fortunate enough to have a ticket for the game, but less fortunate to be sitting right next to the barrier between our supporters and the home crowd in the Lower Bullens. For those of you who have never been to Goodison, or who have never experienced a gaggle of Evertonians (I’m not sure what you’d call a large group of them, but gaggle seems to be the nicest word I can think of right now) in the same place at the same time, it’s very difficult to explain what they’re like. The one word that comes closest to summing them up is “angry”.
There were a few young lads in their crowd not far from us who were smiling and trying to enjoy themselves, but the environment around them wasn’t having any fun at all. Anger etched on every face. Middle-aged fellas doing Scrappy-Doo impressions being held back by stewards as they threatened to jump the fence and take on 3,000 Liverpool fans. I often think the stewards would be better off telling them to go for it. Just jump the fence, mate. Those last 25 years of working in an office eating pies and cake will have prepared you for having a big fight, don’t worry about it. I actually wanted to have a word with the young lads and urge them to do something else with their time before the anger seeps into their veins and ruins their lives as well. It might be too late for some of the older ones, but the young ones could still be saved.
– Here is The Pink our immediate post-match reaction to the win over Everton, free this week as part of the TAW Christmas Hamper.
When Sturridge and Can came on and, later, when the fourth official showed eight minutes of stoppage time would be played, the anger had dissipated and been replaced by silence. I commented during the frantic first half-hour of the match that the problem with anger is that it’s really difficult to maintain. I’d urge you to have a go to demonstrate how difficult it is, but it’s not something I want to encourage so we’ll just have to picture it in our heads. Think about the last time you were really, really angry. Not a bit annoyed or pissed off, but really angry. Then think of how much you had to tense every muscle in your body to be that angry and think how hard that would be to do for half an hour. We were knackered last night after celebrating Sadio Mane’s goal for five minutes, so I don’t think I’ve got it in me to maintain the levels of muscle tension that anger requires. Fair play to the Blues for getting to the half-hour mark, I suppose.
This isn’t about them, though, this is about us. This is about the feeling we should all have after last night that we should carry forward for the next five months. If you weren’t already on board with enjoying this season as a title charge I want to have a word with you. With you specifically. If there’s any noise or other distraction around you right now move to somewhere a bit quieter where you can focus. Tell your husband, wife or boss that you just need a couple of minutes and you’ll finish that report or those dishes later, there’s something important that you need to do first.
I want you to ask yourself why you’re not on board yet. Don’t just dismiss the feeling, actually stop and think about it. Is it because you’re scared that it will happen again, that we’ll come so close and not actually win the league, or is it because you don’t think these lads and this manager are good enough to do it? I can’t imagine it being the latter after last night, so I’m assuming it’s the former. If it is, read that paragraph above about Evertonians again and remember that they weren’t always like this. They used to dream. They used to sing songs of joy about their players and think that they could win trophies. They were half of the biggest footballing city on the planet. And what happened? Slowly, over 21 years, they’ve allowed their dreams to fade. They’ve allowed people like David Moyes to convince them that just beating us, just scrapping around mid-table or just winning loads of throw-ins is all they need to feed their souls. But I’ve seen what that can do. I’ve been inside the beast and I’ve looked into their eyes and I’ve seen the hopelessness and the sadness. As the steward next to me said, in reply to Johno asking “why are they so angry?”, it’s “because it’s the only emotion they’ve got left”.
If you’re not on board with this glorious journey you might as well go and support Everton. We’ll do a fan exchange and I’ll set up a charity to rescue those young lads I saw last night who still had joy in their eyes, despite everything else going on around them. They’d love to be on this side of the fence, so if you’re not up for it you might be better off swapping with them. It’d be better for everyone. But what I really think you should do is give yourself the gift of belief and joy and dreams for Christmas. Forget all the heartbreak of those other years. They only existed to bring us to this point. They served their purpose. They made sure we had a captain who’s had a go at winning the league and has the scars and the experience that you can only collect through being so heart-breakingly close to winning it. They made sure we have a little magician who knows what it takes to score big goals in big games, to win big matches. They made sure that we’ve got the experience we need as supporters, knowing that lining the streets with flags, scarves and banners and lighting the air with red flares does inspire the players, even in these modern, cynical times.
Look at the faces of the players last night as they approached our supporters. Look at the delirium in the faces of those of us who were lucky enough to be there. Close your eyes and feel the warmth course through your veins as you think about watching Danny’s shot hit the post and Sadio anticipate the rebound. Bouncing around your living room or the pub as the ball nestles in the net. That feeling is what this is all about. These moments are what we’re all in it for. This manager, these players, our crowd, these wins. Sturridge coming back from injury ready to win a derby. Little Phil having a winter break ready for the title run-in. Gino Wijnaldum being the hardest lad you’ve ever seen in your life. Ragnar Klavan being the best centre-back in Europe without telling anyone.
Ultimately, only one team can win the league. Why can’t that team be ours? We’ve got something the others don’t have — we’ve got us. We’ve got hopes and dreams and songs about the joys of being a football supporter. We still remember what it’s like to win and we want it more than the others. We will bounce and sing and scream more than them. So what if we don’t win it? We’ll still have had last night. We’ll still have the next five months of hoping and dreaming, of loving being football supporters, of getting away from the worries of life and enjoying ourselves. Of singing “Oh Mane, Mane” over and over and over again while he waves nonchalantly and gives a nod of his head that says he’s got it all under control.
They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, and they’re right. But what they don’t tell you is that even if you have loved and lost, never give up on love. Never give up on hopes and dreams and singing and dancing. Never grow up. Never let what’s happened to most Evertonians happen to you.
Come and join us on the journey. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.
Merry Christmas everyone.
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