There’s tension in the air at the moment. Liverpool fans everywhere will be holding their collective breath over United’s next nine league games in the hope that they’ll shoot themselves in the foot in only the most catastrophic fashion. Imagine the nightmare if they won just one more title – United’s core fans down in London wouldn’t let it lie. They’d have the bragging rights and you wouldn’t hear the end of it.
And who could blame them? We’ve done it for long enough, and they’ve been waiting for that day ever since Fergie promised to ‘knock Liverpool off their f****** perch’. On a diplomatic level, you’d have to hold your hands up, acknowledge that Liverpool FC hasn’t been good enough to stop them over the last twenty years and that United have had the drive to win crucial games by one stinky, shitty, sloppy goal in the ninetieth minute.
But the appalling, stroppy attitude of Sir Alex over the last month hasn’t altered in the slightest since perchgate. Sullen and dismissive of the media after we beat them 3 – 1 on Sunday, Ferguson ordered his players not to address journalists of any nature, and an honest Twitter assessment from Rio Ferdinand mysteriously disappeared almost as soon as it was posted straight after the game.
Sir Alex’s personal vendetta against Liverpool has become such an obsession that he decided to blank fans across the country because of one miserable performance. Did Kenny do that when we were knocked out of the cup at the hands of United on his first game back in charge when things were at their lowest, even with a terrible penalty decision thrown in for good measure? Not at all. With only the toughest media scrutiny – some of it very personal in the form of whether he was still able to effectively manage in the game – he appeared with a simple message. To do what was best for Liverpool Football Club and help as best he could in its hour of need.
The drive for 19 titles has been for nothing other than personal reasons, and for the chance to stick two fingers up across the Mersey. Don’t get me wrong – I’d hate to see United overtake our league record more than anyone, and was so happy to see the boys put up such an immense fight at the weekend to seriously dent their confidence and blow the title race open again.
The point I’m making is that all of Liverpool’s 18 titles will be remembered as being won in ‘the Liverpool way’, with great football, sportsmanship and a quiet dignity that, until Tom and George, saw everything being resolved in-house should a problem ever arise.
And should United win another title, all 19 – in my eyes – will have been won in ‘the Manchester way’, with the most recent defeat at Anfield crystallising Sir Alex’s reign. The way that says ‘we didn’t win and a decision didn’t go our way, so we’re not going to talk to you. We’re going to lock ourselves away and not speak to anyone until everyone acknowledges how upset we are and we get our own way’.
There are other examples, too. Trading pizzas with Wenger, refusing to have anything to do with the BBC and even kicking a boot toward the head of his own players. Each one of those 19 titles will have some kind of negative connotation latched alongside it throughout history, simply for the single-minded ambition of becoming the best and having the pleasure of saying so.
The competition has been fierce and the rivalry all the better for it. But Ferguson’s awful attitude and spoilt nature has filtered down to the players and all connected to the club. What divine right exactly does Manchester have to 19 titles, as Ferguson’s demeanour suggests? The same with Liverpool, we don’t have any divine right to be the best simply because of our history. But the way both clubs goes about things has guaranteed that each title – no matter how many have been or will be won – will be remembered in totally contrasting ways.
You have to respect Ferguson’s drive as much as you have to loathe his personality. No matter how much you dress up Sunday’s decision to ignore the media, it’s effectively a snub to fans of all clubs who pay astronomical sums of money for a day out at the match. I’m not really a fan of Ferdinand either, but it was so refreshing to see an honest assessment coming from Old Trafford’s direction.
Even when Mourinho of all people lost here with Chelsea all those years ago thanks to the ‘Garcia phantom goal’ (which deffo did cross the line, honest!), he still came out and faced the cameras, even though it was probably the last thing in the world he wanted to do.
To suggest United didn’t come out and talk to the media in protest at refereeing decisions that haven’t gone the club’s way is nothing short of atrocious, especially considering Rooney’s challenge on Wigan’s McCarthy was the kind of thing you’d see on the MMA circuit. Yes, David Luiz should have been sent off for a second yellow last week and Carragher should have probably seen red at the weekend. But so should Rafael. And “the best English right back of his generation” Gary Neville was lucky to stay on the pitch earlier this year after a challenge on Dorrans – his last game before retiring.
These things happen and even themselves out over the season, and if Ferguson still gets arsey about it after more than 20 years in the game then he needs to have a serious word with himself. I find it too coincidental that this media blackout happened at Anfield, when the majority recognised that Liverpool had the momentum and United might have been on the end of a drubbing. It stinks of spite and sour grapes, something that will taint his reign long after he’s retired.
Which is why, though I don’t want to see United overtake us in the title stakes, I won’t be too hurt at the end of the day. Everyone across the country sounded Ferguson and his ‘mind games’ out a long time ago. Liverpool is the club everyone wants to go to for warmth, football knowledge and a sense of community. Something that’s incredibly hard to find in the increasingly corporate Theatre of Dreams. Despite our troubles Liverpool is still recognised as the most popular club in England and has an international fan-base like no other. Why? Because of our inclusive, welcoming nature and our ability to win friends through sheer spirit and togetherness.
Liverpool is the Rocky to United’s Tommy Gunn. A witty Dalglish retort will always carry more power and punch than a Ferguson barb or some of his preposterous bluster. Title number 19? You can have it. Because now that we have some of our class and dignity back at the top – both in a management and board perspective – I’m convinced we’ll be miles ahead again in no time at all.