你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste
It has been a while.
This Sunday sees Manchester City face a fantastic team followed by a near-insufferable fanbase (and media?). At a ground with where City have suffered an intolerable period without victory, City will see no benefit in VAR, because like Old Trafford, home of The World’s Greatest Football Team TM, there are no video screens. So far, VAR and video refereeing across the Premier League has been a complete sensation and triumph over errors, giving not a single moment of controversy, some grounds without video screens may add to the scepticism that something dark and sinister is afoot…
Is it the fans or the media? They’ve won two Champions Leagues since 204/05. Domestically, the League Cup came thrice since the new millennium – and the FA Cup twice in that time, but many fans make it sound like their trophy cabinet is bursting with shiny stuff. There’s an inane sense of entitlement that even Man Utd’s fans could never have matched at their peak. And if you mention it, suddenly you’re jealous. There’s always an accusation that City fans are scared of Liverpool ‘being back where they belong’. Liverpool dominated the 1980s, fair play. I was born in 1982. By the time I had pubic hairs, Liverpool FC had faded away. If you get chance to get a word in between the accusations of City’s plastic fanbase and the empty seats, it is a minor miracle. But, on the other hand, there are many good, modest and honest fans.
Gerrard slipped, Suarez cried, the Scousers dream has… yeah there are chants. That’s football. It doesn’t mean City care too much for Liverpool. Our obsessive rivals are wallowing in midtable and so laughable in their improvement on managers, year on year, that Ole ‘he scored in ’99, don’t you know?’ is going to be offered the keys of freedom to the Etihad Stadium (car park). Maybe, if and when, Liverpool F.C. lift the Premier League trophy, then many clubs will lose their banter material. Many will have to eat a big baked humble pie. Rivalry is good for the game, but sometimes these new rivalries are driven by such a few people, that they make little sense. Unless of course some fans attack a team’s bus. I mean, that’s fair game, for being a bit wary of a team’s fanbase.
Not that you can say there is a conspiracy without being accused of conspiring to consider conspiracies as the norm. There certainly is a bias in the media, dominated often by former Liverpool and Man Utd stars of old. City pundits are out there, but certainly occupied few of the ‘slag City off as often as you can’ rolls, that say Danny Mills continues to enjoy.
The BBC’s football arm of propaganda includes Mark Lawrenson. His expertise and commentary are totally weighted towards his former club Liverpool FC. Thankfully Alan Hansen has been sent to a farm somewhere. The so called big 6 clubs of the Premier League always get a bias over the other 14, but many favour Liverpool FC, probably attached to what they grew up on, in a way like me still wanting to drink Vimto and eat Weetabix.
Stats will tell you anything, and if you’re selective enough. The Premier League big six? Well, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, of course. They’re the six ever-present Premier League clubs. The longest club that has appeared in the top flight? Wolves, Everton, Burnley or Aston Villa featured in 1888/89. Arsenal (last title win 2003–04) have an unbroken attendance to the top flight of English football stretching back to 1919/20. Aston Villa (last one 1980–81) have more top flight titles than City or Chelsea. Everton (last one 1986–87) have more than Aston Villa. There are 7 Premier League clubs that have never won a topflight title – each with wonderful histories and moments. Sheffield Utd boast their solo topflight title from 1897/98. There are clubs outside the topflight with equally wonderfully and less wonderful histories. Bury F.C. need saving. Football is unforgiving in its evolution and costly to maintain. The media need to balance their act, but populism in sport has always been the way. The likes of Leicester City, Leeds Utd, Portsmouth and Newcastle Utd, all have had ups and downs. They’re seen as lesser fashionable than say Liverpool FC, or Man Utd, whose titles and winners can be seen throughout sporting media, coaching and the wider world. There’s more demand for Dwight Yorke at a speaking event than say Terry Cooke. No disrespect intended. It is just more people would have seen Dwight than Terry at the moments that matter. Proper football fans care about more than numbers and titles.
On TV and in the newspapers (not counting The Sun because it is utter toilet paper), there’s a clear framing effect, based on the way something is presented to the media viewers or readers. On top of that the confirmation bias, shows examples and skips over other bits to favour the favourite. With everyone aware of a few great moments in recent years, played over and over again, then it could be said that Liverpool FC have benefitted from a clear availability heuristic. There are few scapegoats within the Liverpool FC hierarchy as Klopp has eliminated slippers like Gerrard and made the squad his own. Jonathan Pearce said once that Liverpool were Champions-elect – in January 2019. The season was long, and City just managed to edge the title into their favour by May, despite being 8 points adrift at one stage. Had Liverpool finished on 97 any other season, but the 2018/19 and 2017/18 seasons, they’d have won the Premier League. It was a fantastic title race.
I have no problem with Liverpool FC as a spectacle. They’re a great team to watch play. They like attacking and they have more than capable defenders. There is a fair bit of youth to their squad and from time to time a local lad breaks through and you hear the all familiar noise that upsets dogs and cats across Merseyside. Klopp, as manager, is pure entertainment – and he has a charisma to match. He can be modest, direct and funny. He often tells it how it is. I’m sure Klopp recognises some fans see the Premier League as moving from an ABU to an ABL (Anyone but Liverpool) – but he also respects the media enough to give them their soundbites and shiny stories. Perhaps, Pep Guardiola could have avoided saying that Mane is a diver. Let the papers find their own words.
Are Liverpool favoured by every neutral team? Well, Everton and Man Utd won’t be backing the red side of Anfield. Manchester City, neither. That does leave the other 16 Premer League clubs, 72 football league clubs and a whole host of non-league teams (such as City of Liverpool FC, who contended Liverpool FC’s attempts to copyright their city’s name). Of course, there are exceptions. Football fans can be fickle when it comes to backing teams that actually don’t concern them. I remember reading comments, about evacuating the whole of northern England if Liverpool were to win the Premier League. Banter was being fired left, right and centre. The sky blues of Manchester have edged Liverpool FC out of the title race twice in recent seasons. Liverpool FC’s pressure of not winning a top-flight title since Kenny Dalglish’s side lifted it in 1989/90 hasn’t helped. There is weight. There is expectation. Just as City ended 44 years without the top league crown in 2012, there is so much tension.
City’s record at Anfield is abysmal. To some extent it is the new Highbury or Old Trafford of the age. A place where City have failed to win for so many years. Over a decade, in fact. In 2003, City’s charges featured Nicolas Anelka and Distin, alongside Robbie Fowler for Kevin Keegan’s laser blue City. El-Hadji Diouf and Milan Baros featured for the home team. The soon to depart super Kevin Horlock shored up midfield alongside Ali Benarbia. Peter Schmeichel finished the game in goal, his penultimate game for the travelling Maine Road outfit. Anelka bagged both goals, winning the game against his former employers in the final added minute. The home support of 44,220 were treated to a gritty game that City just about edged.
Are Ederson and Davild Silva out? Maybe. That won’t be an excuse though. Whatever the outcome, I hope that the real fans, the real diehards and those who avoid the bitterness and pettiness come out on top, win, draw, or lose. For me Liverpool FC aren’t a true rival, they’re just someone we need to compete with. Even if Manchester and Liverpool are still pissing in the Manchester Ship Canal or sending kayaks up the Mersey for a laugh, the two cities aren’t that far apart, musically, socially and historically. It all beats going to London.
I appreciate Liverpool FC as a footballing team. We now live in an age where any good football team is branded as buying success or not achieving anything despite being a terrific squad. Appreciation of football doesn’t need to come with a discrediting comment. Jürgen Klopp’s brand of heavy metal football is solid and entertaining. There’s a hunger and desire to win at Anfield. City, as Champions of England, travel as underdogs but very much capable of springing a result. This Sunday’s game will be either one hell of a game for one team – or a dull 0-0 draw.
再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā