I have tried to block Saturday’s game from my mind, writes Jeff Gouding. I know it is a futile exercise but it is something I try to do after every poor result.
I hate defeats. I acknowledge that during a season they are inevitable but I despise them.
A reverse like the one Liverpool experienced at the weekend haunts my week. I shun the papers and steer clear of Sky Sports or ‘Match of The Day’. Places like Facebook and Twitter often become ‘no-go’ zones. Interestingly it’s not always ‘blue-noses’ I’m trying avoid. Instead it is often fellow Reds who inflict the most pain.
I grew up in an era when I would greet a Liverpool defeat with a kind of vaguely amused “what happened there?” feeling. It was a fairly rare occurrence back then so it was pretty easy to put it down to a ‘bad day at the office’. I may be romanticising a bit, but the point I’m making is in my youth I was following a machine that, most of the time, ran like clockwork. On the odd occasion the players would fail to keep time, the manager would just wind them up again and off they would go.
Of course even in our pomp there were embarrassing defeats. I remember a 0-4 drubbing to Coventry City that was met with total disbelief. To my recollection though there were no death threats issued to the players. Liverpool won the home fixture 5-0 and the delicate cosmological balance was restored. We knew vengeance would be ours, so we endured the abuse at school or work and patiently waited for our dish to be served cold.
I may be romanticising a bit, but the point I’m making is in my youth I was following a machine that, most of the time, ran like clockwork. On the odd occasion the players would fail to keep time, the manager would just wind them up again and off they would go. Of course even in our pomp there were embarrassing defeats. I remember a 0-4 drubbing to Coventry City that was met with total disbelief. To my recollection though there were no death threats issued to the players. Liverpool won the home fixture 5-0 and the delicate cosmological balance was restored.
I accept that today the philosophical approach is not so easy. Liverpool FC have turned so many corners in the last 25 years they’ve ended up back where they started. The wait for a team that can challenge for the title has driven most of us to the point of distraction. This is made worse by the fact that our bitterest rivals are outspending us and making the holy grail even harder to reach than ever before. While understanding this despair, I feel some of us have lost all perspective.
We now live in an era where football supporters study the game in far more detail than ever before. Player statistics are routinely quoted on forums and social media. My own son frequently surprises me with his ability to dissect a game in minute detail. We had ‘Statos’ when I was a kid, but they could recite squads and cup final dates and results. I genuinely don’t recall discussing how many interceptions Tommy Smith made in a game or the finer points of Ian Rush’s heat-map. I would have loved to have seen Craig Johnston’s though.
All this has made football more interesting and fans feel more involved in the game. We have debates about formations and of course we have heroes and villains when it comes to signings and squad players. At least this aspect of modern football culture is familiar to me. In the 80’s we had whipping boys too. I remember poor Ronny Whelan always being the scapegoat at one time. I used to moan when the manager didn’t play my favourite player back then and I remember personally rejoicing when Dalglish took the plunge and dropped Alan Kennedy and Phil Neal.
I did so because I could see they were coming to the end f their careers and change was needed in the form of Steve Nicol and Jim Beglin. I still regarded ‘Zico’ and ‘Barney Rubble’ as legends of the club. They won things, so maybe I cut them more slack than I would do today. Perhaps it’s harder to be patient for today’s Liverpool supporters. All of this is interesting fodder for discussion and I have no real problem with people venting their spleens in the pub after the game, or on phone-ins and social media. That’s not strictly true. It does get on my nerves, but I accept they have that right.
However, such an approach has contributed to a creeping negativity, in which fans form an opinion about a player or a manager and the dye becomes cast. I do it too, but if I don’t rate a player I desperately want him to prove me wrong. If I have doubts about a manager I hope they are misplaced. The problem is that some seem to embrace failure as evidence that they were right all along. It’s a horrible new phenomena, but I suppose I have to reluctantly accept that fans have the right to react that way if they want to.
I might cringe when I hear faint boos on The Kop at half-time just four games into a season; but who am I to criticise people for exercising their right to be modern football drones. In any case the majority of supporters on that famous stand gave the perfect response in the second half, by getting behind their team even at 2-0 down. Faith restored.
What I can never accept is people directing abuse and even threats towards players, whether online or at the game. It has been reported that Dejan Lovren has deactivated his Instagram account following abuse he received from Liverpool fans following the defeat to the Hammers. To be fair many have rallied to him on twitter and the player acknowledged as much in a tweet thanking ‘real supporters’. Sadly the one’s who attacked the player after the game are every bit as ‘real’ as those who find this behaviour abhorrent.
I was at the game on Saturday. It was horrible, embarrassing and humiliating. I was furious with the performance and deeply disappointed. I couldn’t work out what Lovren was thinking when his error led to ‘The Hammers’ second. Why didn’t he just play it safe? It was poor and very costly, but he was not alone in that game. It was a terrible team performance.
In the days since I have forced myself to unblock my memories and an image from the game has come back to me. As the West Ham players rejoiced on the Anfield turf, a forlorn looking Dejan Lovren trudged towards the edge of the eighteen yard box. His head bowed, the enormity of his mistake obvious to him. I didn’t feel any sympathy then. that would have been ridiculous. I just felt gutted that we now faced a mountain to climb if we were to salvage even a point from the game.
Now, with perspective I can see that the player was feeling exactly the same way. What’s more I can also remember Skrtel’s response. He didn’t lambaste his team-mate for his role in the goal. Instead he wandered over to him and gave him a pat on the back. I don’t know what he was thinking, but it was an obvious act of solidarity with his fellow defender. There was still a long way to go, so what’s the point in demoralising the lad any further. We win together and we lose together. Right? We never walk alone. Right?
The same is true of our season. It’s one defeat. There is a long way to go and there will be setbacks along the way. What’s the point in wallowing in despair now. Have your moan, kick the metaphorical cat and when you’ve got it out of your system get behind the team. If you don’t believe in them, if you think you’ve come up with a better system fine; but why not will them to prove you wrong and rejoice when they do.
If you don’t like this romantic rose-tinted view then here’s the science. Football is a team sport. It’s as much about psychology as it is about skill. We see this all the time in the FA cup. Teams who have no business being on the same pitch as their opponents sometimes pull off miracles. This despite being vastly inferior in skill to their opponents.
They are able to do this because they raise their level and work tirelessly as a team, often willed on by a larger crowd than usual who support the unconditionally. They are fighting for the reputation of their town and the people who live in it and in such heady atmospheres the impossible sometimes happens.
This is an unashamedly overly positive ‘rant’. You may find it pointless, tedious and naive, but I’ll justify it as an antidote to the overly negative and often insane negativity that grips the club at times.
There’s a song we sing that is about how to deal with setbacks and despair. We sing it in victory and in defeat. It may be an old show-tune commandeered in the sixties by Gerry Marsden, but I think we chose it as our anthem because such values of unity and solidarity even in the darkest of days appeals to something in the Liverpool psyche. Together we are stronger. To paraphrase a great man, that’s how I see football and it’s how I see life.