WELL, erm… it’s all gone to shit a bit, hasn’t it? A few weeks ago I was quivering with excitement writing this column, resisting the urge to just CTRL + V the words “IT’S ON!!!” until I reached the magic 1,500 mark. Who’s arsed about mad videos I’ve found on Twitter when the Reds are charging head first into a title challenge? By no means did I think the league was in the bag, but we were far and away the best team in the country, and I was as excited about going the match as I’ve ever been.

But now the wheels have fallen off. Bournemouth looked like some sort of a mad one-off at first, the kind of game that just happens sometimes when a home crowd gees itself up and your players just can’t resist strongly enough. But the West Ham result exacerbates our problems exponentially; we’re back to talking about the January transfer window in a desperate tone, the mad conspiracies about coaching behind the scenes have been dug back up again, and you’re left pondering how much better off we’d be if we hadn’t signed a goalkeeper with wrists made of Papier-mâché in the summer. We’re still doing very well in the grand scheme of things but the last couple of games have felt like a punch in the bollocks.

I’m writing this before Middlesbrough, and I’m not confident at all. Craig Hannan is in the office wondering if he’s overdone it on the winter-warming front by wearing two jumpers to the game, and he wants me to give him a mention. Hello, Craig.

I struggle to remember us winning at the Riverside in my lifetime. Also, it’s my birthday. We never win on my birthday. On the 14th of December, I’ve seen us lose at home to Aston Villa, draw with Portsmouth at Anfield, and two years ago we were beaten 3-0 at Old Trafford when Brad bloody Jones decided to dive the wrong way instead of saving shots (this was my 20th and I actually missed the match because I was taken to hospital in an ambulance with pneumonia; probably for the best, to be honest).

Please just win, for fuck’s sake.

Magic Mike Dean

I was worried about this game, too. I don’t like playing Everton when they’re on an awful run of form with a point to prove. I’m wary of a derby being played in among a glut of other tricky fixtures. And then I read this.

A Merseyside derby. On a Monday night. Just before Christmas. At Goodison. Refereed by one of the greatest showmen the game has ever seen. What a time to be alive.

Yes, the Gods have shone good fortune down from the skies on our glorious city this week, using their might to designate Mike ‘the Dean’ Dean as the man in charge of next week’s derby against Everton. Under normal circumstances, Dean isn’t permitted to officiate games involving either side; he was born and raised in Heswall on the Wirral which could lead to potential bias towards one of Liverpool or Everton.

But if both of them are playing each other, then there’s no issue. And so, we are presented with a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness a master of his art deliver a performance of glorious proportions. Mike Dean, or Deany, as I know him, loves a red card. And I mean he fucking *LOVES* a red card. He’s dished out three in 12 games in the Premier League already this season, and has brandished (a word you will never, ever, hear used in any other context) at least six yellows in over half of his games in 2016/17 so far.

If you’re a regular reader of this column you’ll be aware that we’ve already had an in-depth conversation about celebrity refs, and I declared my undying love for Mark Clattenburg. Unfortunately, Clatts hasn’t sorted us out to the same extent as he used to; he oversaw the draws with both West Ham and Southampton, so he’s in my bad books. I’m blanking his phone calls and I’ve bin bagged all his clothes and left them on the step outside the flat.

Deany is the ultimate. This is a man who awards penalties with a point of the arm so determined, so stern, so graceful, that you simply must admire him. He doesn’t hide his complete disdain for the folly and childishness displayed by many a top-flight footballer; Dean treats foul throws with the most nonchalant of eyerolls, he gives a fatigued shake of the head following clear dives, and combats dissenters with the melancholy sigh of an indifferent step dad left caring for three children who aren’t his on a weekend.

Simply put, whether we win, lose, or draw on Monday night, savour the moment. A chance like this may never come around again.

Yaya’s Ale Fail

Sorry. No. I’m not having that for a second, mate.

Yaya Toure has been done for drink driving, accepted the charge in court, but insists that he did not intend to consume alcohol at any point. Now, I’m not quite sure how you get pissed without purposefully drinking alcohol. I’m also not sure how you accidentally get pissed, don’t notice, and then decide to drive yourself home anyway, in spite of being patently inebriated.

Anyway, here are my theories about how Yaya could have got heavily on the ale without realising it:

1) He fell asleep at a party in a chair next to the fireplace. A can was tottering precariously on the edge of the mantelpiece, and was knocked onto its side by some drunken rapscallion who wasn’t looking where he was going. The can — which I imagine to be Skol — rolled towards the chair and its contents flowed over the crevice, and dripped slowly into the open mouth of the snoozing Toure.

2) He insisted on only drinking orange juice all night but someone’s pushy auntie — you know the type, one of them ones who shares memes about wine on Facebook all the time and who always goes too far at family functions and ends up having to be restrained from clawing her acrylic talons into one of her distant cousin’s faces, we’ll call her Ruth — well she had other ideas and insisted, nay, demanded he at least pop a bit of Smirnoff in there. Yaya honourably refused, but when he went for a quick slash she poured half the bottle in the tropicana carton on the table and he subsequently became overly merry. Fuck’s sake, Ruth.

3) He just necked a load of brandy and is lying about it.

Also, a little sidetone on this, I absolutely adore the geographical anomalies that football throws up. Here, you’ve got a man born and raised in the Ivory Coast, who has lived in Athens, Monaco, and Barcelona, getting himself arrested in Dagenham. Fucking Dagenham. You’re simply not getting such a geo-cultural melange in any other domain than football. This pleases me greatly.

Eight Vard Trick

Jamie Vardy slips slowly deeper into the bubbling comfort of his outdoor jacuzzi, plonked atop the decking at the top of his immense garden in the Leicestershire mansion that still doesn’t feel quite like home to him.

As he floats his mind drifts back to the heady days of May, when he was the most famous, most valuable, and most important player in the land, for what now feels like merely a fleeting moment in the grand history of the sport of football. His thoughts wander further towards the present, skirting past the Euros defeat to Iceland — a country where it is literally too cold to practice playing football for most of the year — and to the current Premier League season, in which his goalscoring has vastly diminished and Claudio Ranieri is starting to look increasingly like a care home patient who has gotten separated from the group on a day trip and has subsequently been mistaken for a football manager by some important people.

Maybe, life is resetting back to normal now.

He steps out and towels off, the water dribbling down his right arm, over that stupid fucking blue cast thing he’s always got on. He never takes it off. Not when he’s in the bath. Not when he goes to bed. Not when he’s emailing Brexit memes to his friends and family. Not when he’s shagging. Never.

He slowly slopes into the kitchen, with its innumerable cupboards, most of them still empty. The marble worktop is cold and unfamiliar to the touch. Next to the bread bin is a copy of the Daily Star, a crate of multicoloured bottles of WKD and a framed painting of dogs playing billiards, ready to be hung above his bed.

He doesn’t want this house, really. He doesn’t want this life. He misses the old days back at Stocksbridge when he trained once week and was paid enough to get straight out on the ale with the lads afterwards. When the cameras weren’t always there. When he could go to a casino and call people whatever the fuck he liked without fear of reprisal.

He yearns to be a nobody again. To walk down the street without the stares, without the endless selfie-hunters, without that creepy as fuck lookalike following him everywhere he goes. To live without the pressure.

He goes and sits to face the television, turning over from a Babestation Ten Minute Preview he left on earlier to Sky Sports News. His name is there again, up in lights. The eighth best player in the world.

Well done to Vardy, I say. It’s become an overly cliched narrative at this point, but to have outperformed the likes of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robert Lewandowski is a commendable achievement, even if it’s only for one single year.

Just a shame about that racist shit, I suppose.

Meeting Messi

It’s very rare that we delve into the heartwarming in Football, Bloody Football, I know, but I couldn’t really help it when I saw this.

That’s six-year-old Afghan, Murtaza Ahmadi, who you may remember a few months ago was pictured playing football in a blue-and-white striped plastic carrier bag with “Messi 10” scrawled on the back in marker pen. The picture went viral and the boy was tracked down so he could be a mascot and meet his hero.

This is what it’s all about, isn’t? Look at the little feller’s eyes as he looks up at Lionel Messi, here. Sheer, unbridled joy that has been conjured up by his love for simply kicking a sphere about the place. In among all the grown-up arguing about ticket prices, organising protests against club ownerships, and worrying about whether goalkeepers are good enough — which are all obviously extremely important — it’s nice to have a lovely reminder of how juvenile we all are at heart, and why we’re even bothered about all that stuff in the first place.

I’m 22 years of age and if I ever met Dirk Kuyt I’d be like this. Probably even worse. I’d grab on to him unexpectedly like a fucking venus fly trap and never let go. I’d be banned from entering within a 1,000 mile radius of his Rotterdam home.

And all because he kicked the soccer ball in the soccer net a few times for Liverpool.

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