WHEN I was younger I used to love the moment at the start of the second half when the opposition goalkeeper ran towards The Kop, The Kop applauded him and he’d applaud back. It struck me as a moment of real sportsmanship, a signal that Liverpool fans were indeed the most knowledgeable in the game. I’d chuckle when some unsuspecting goalkeeper, who didn’t know about the tradition, would fail to applaud The Kop back and then get roundly booed.
I also used to appreciate how Anfield would welcome back former players, applauding them onto or off the pitch depending on whether they were in the opposition’s starting 11. Players we felt had ‘betrayed’ us were never given such respect, of course, but those who we considered to have been good servants, the likes of Peter Crouch or Steve Staunton, were shown love and admiration for what they’d done at the club.
As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve begun to question the intelligence of these quirks of life at Anfield. On more than one occasion I’ve witnessed goalkeepers come to Anfield and give Man of the Match performances when the week before and the week after they’ve seemed incapable of catching a cold, let alone a football. I’m sure at one point or another we’ve all said, “Why do these shite ‘keepers always play like Gianluigi Buffon against us?”
I’m not sure, but perhaps it’s because we applaud them into position like it’s a testimonial. Having heard all about what an intimidating place Anfield can be to play when The Kop is in full voice, they must wonder what all the fuss is about when they get a better reception from our crowd than they do for their own. As anyone who has read my stuff or listened to me on a podcast will know, I’m not the biggest Simon Mignolet fan in the world. But even I think it’s a bit odd that David De Gea gets more love from the crowd than our own first-choice shot-stopper.
Traditions can be wonderful things. The idea that Liverpool fans are some of the most knowledgeable in the game is a nice one to embrace, and no doubt came about because of things like applauding the goalkeeper. But if we actually want to win football matches we might do well to make the opposition’s number one shit themselves rather than feel like they can get out their pyjamas and a cuddly toy.
As for applauding former players, that’s about as stupid an idea as those players refusing to celebrate. They don’t play for us any more. With the exception of what is becoming a smaller and smaller group of people still playing the game, they likely won’t have even won anything for us. Why are we clapping them off or on as if they’re Kenny Dalglish popping back for a friendly appearance?
On Sunday the majority of Anfield applauded Christian Benteke off the field. He’d scored two goals against us and won the opposition the game and we were clapping him off like seals trying to earn some fish. The Belgian’s two goals for Crystal Palace meant that he’s scored more goals at Anfield as a visiting player than he did as our number nine. Think about that. He spent a season as a Liverpool player and only managed to net four times more there than you or I have.
When Rafa Benitez brought his Newcastle side to Anfield at the end of last season The Kop sang his name. Now don’t get me wrong, Rafa achieved more for Liverpool as a manager in my adult lifetime than anyone else I’ve seen in the dugout. I’m not suggesting we should have been calling him a ‘fat Spanish waiter’. After all, enough of our own fans did that we when he was actually the boss. But shouldn’t we have saved our adulation for after the final whistle? What did it say to the Newcastle players that we were so full of admiration for their boss? Doesn’t exactly offer them the terrifying wall of sound they might have been expecting, does it?
One of the most cringeworthy moments for me as a Liverpool fan in recent times was the way the crowd reacted to Real Madrid’s appearance at Anfield in the Champions League group stage. Many supporters criticised Brendan Rodgers for his team selection when we went to the Bernabéu for the return fixture, with the manager choosing to rotate the squad around and rest the likes of Steven Gerrard. The criticism was fair, but goodness me was it also a little bit hypocritical. Vast portions of the Anfield crowd were in awe of the Spanish giants, applauding them off the pitch and generally making them feel welcome.
What happened to us all being a bunch of gnarly bastards? I’m not saying we should be ripping chairs up and throwing them on the pitch, but the opposite of that isn’t offering welcome drinks and canapés. Referees aren’t arsed about giving decisions against us because they don’t feel fear rolling down on them from the terraces. Opposition players knock the ball around with consummate ease as one of their number was applauded into position by The Kop, or had their name sung as the match was going on. That’s not the behaviour of a support base that wants the away team to feel like it’s going to be a horrible, long day playing in front of a bunch of angry sods.
Former players and managers know the club well and know the support base, too. If we don’t applaud them until after the end of the match they’re not going to be crying into their training bibs. They’ll know it’s because we want to win. Benteke has precisely no loyalty to Liverpool. He didn’t play well for us, nor did he get treated particularly well by either of the men that managed him. He didn’t travel back to London on Sunday thinking, “Wasn’t that lovely, that they applauded me off? Maybe I won’t try so hard to score against them next season.” He doesn’t care.
When I was younger I thought applauding the goalkeeper was a sign of our class as supporters. Now I wonder whether it’s a sign of how soft our underbelly is. Goalkeepers shouldn’t think of their experience in front of The Kop as part of a lovely day out and former players shouldn’t look forward to a trip back to Anfield as a chance to gain some adulation they probably didn’t get when they were actually wearing red. Just because something’s a tradition doesn’t mean it’s right.
We’ve got two home games left to help us get into the Champions League. Let’s bring the bastard back.