Gerrard Ending Written But This Liverpool Team Won't Keep To Script
Can we do away with the Wimbledon ’88 talk to start with? Can we dismiss this ‘Crazy Gang vs The Culture Club’ nonsense that we’ve had to live with for twenty seven years?
The Wimbledon team of ’88 were not a band of plucky underdogs punching above their weight and taking on the giants of football and instilling terror at all levels. They were, quite simply, a bunch of thugs who went out with the intention of kicking anything that moved, or squeezing the testicles of far more talented footballers.
That Liverpool lost the ’88 final was more down to Liverpool than Wimbledon - see a trend starting already? Liverpool simply failed to turn up on the day, possibly the victims of their own arrogance and the assumption that all they had to do that day was to arrive in London and pick up the cup.
The game itself wasn’t as hinged on the saved penalty as it was the referee’s decision to pull back Peter Beardsley when clear on goal to equalise, for a foul that he’d quite happily ridden. The game wasn’t decided by Jones ‘terrorising’ Steve McMahon in the tunnel. McMahon had faced far harder. McMahon WAS far harder. We live in a world where Dave Beasant can be big enough to appear on Match of the Day and state that most of what was said about that team was rubbish, before Gary Lineker cut him off to maintain the media’s love affair with the myth.
Let’s lay the myth to rest.
All that said, and with an obvious dislike for that team, I wouldn’t wish what happened to the fans to happen to any of us. To have your team taken away? To become a moveable franchise? To have all true identity stripped? Disgusting. There is a need to remember that this Wimbledon, AFC Wimbledon, is not the team we lost to in ’88. That club lives in Milton Keynes. This one is a new soul, forged by the fans themselves, owned by the fans themselves. And credit to the fans on many, many levels on and from this cup tie night; from the vocal and passionate support that they give their team to the support shown for the Justice campaign.
Their team did them proud. A league two side on a (let’s be fair) league two pitch. These games are never easy. Ask Newcastle and Ronnie Radford. Playing from a position of arrogance again, we played at a training pace, moving the ball slowly around the back. We controlled the game and when we took the lead, assumed the inevitable would prove itself inevitable.
A Gerrard header. A rare thing. The captain proving his desire greater than every other player in the box to get beyond his man to nod home. The story was our number 8, in the week that he dominated the news, dominating the news again. Not through off field decisions but through the talent that we’re going to miss. The procession was about to begin.
So we stopped playing. Again. Yet again. We invited pressure. We allowed a team three leagues below us to threaten us. And, again, we succumbed to the kind of dead ball threat that we should deal with in our sleep. Mignolet comes, stops, comes, flaps, misses, the ball hits the bar and drops. And the least mobile man on the pitch, the least mobile man in the league, outwits our defenders to poke it home.
We go into the break level. We go into the break with only Henderson and Markovic carrying any real credit. We go into the break the weaker team. We emerge and manage to become worse. It’s darkly impressive. We have players in a Premier league team who appear to be completely out of their depth in the third tier of English football. And not in a ‘dropping down to this level’ sort of way, more in a ‘not good enough on this showing’ sort of way.
Let’s name names shall we? Manquillo being found out big style after an impressive start to the season, the recovery of Jon Flanagan can’t come soon enough. Mignolet. Obviously. An excellent save to keep us in the game notwithstanding, the man spreads terror in the heart of his own defence. The fact that we didn’t buy a keeper the very second that the window opened is bizarre and frightening. And, sadly, Lambert. Lambert should excel in this kind of game, he’s done the hard yards over the years, knows how lower leagues work. Again, he offered nothing. It’s sad to watch, he’s got his dream move and it’s horrible.
We were reduced to watching Akinfawa, a lad who supported Liverpool as a youngster and who I’d spent the first half deriding as a fat pub player who’d got lucky, not only scoring but performing Zidane pirouettes through our midfield. We had nothing. We couldn’t complain if we’d lost, if we’d embarrassed ourselves.
Instead, our captain steps up and hits one of those free kicks; one of those free kicks born of perfection and technique and the god-given talent that everybody claims he’s lost. Again, again, again, Steven Gerrard steps up, ignores the fact that the Wimbledon fans were deriding him for the moment that he slipped on a poor pitch and drags us through another game that we didn’t deserve to be dragged through.
The FA Cup final is on Gerrard’s 35th birthday. On the day of his final Liverpool game. The script is written for him but he’s going to need a few more lads in red shirts to step up if he’s going to make this one happen.