Liverpool's Underdog Status Is Bull****, But Fair Play To Them
The Premier League title race is shaping up to finish in movie-script style.
A once-derided individual reawakens a sleeping giant by reconnecting with the club’s DNA to mastermind a late surge to the title after a period of exile.
Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool have served up some of the season’s most exciting football. Rodgers, mocked not so long ago as a footballing David Brent for his pronouncements, has brought his side to the brink of a first league title in 24 years by combining the talents of a naturally gifted but troublesome superstar with apparently more workaday individuals. He has done what coaches used to do – moulded the parts he had into a far greater whole.
There’s much to admire about what Liverpool have done already this season. As a fan of another club I’m not supposed to say that, but as someone whose passion for Spurs has always run alongside an appreciation of the bigger picture, I can and I do. In fact, I heartily endorse what the excellent Dispatches From a Football Sofa blog argues eloquently here about not feeling the need to define my own support by the intensity of my hatred for others.
But, attractive as the unfolding Liverpool narrative may appear – especially from the permanent loop of Spurs-supporting limbo I inhabit – the plotlines don’t hold together. For a start, this ‘connecting with the club’s DNA business’ doesn’t hold true. When I were a lad, back in the day when we had to make do with Shoot league ladders rather than this new-fangled FIFA PlayStation malarkey, Liverpool were the all-conquering Red machine. Loved by the media. Raved about by their annoyingly cocky fans. And consequently despised by everyone else.
What’s more, they were bloody boring. Liverpool’s success was built on grinding out results. The mythmakers reach for the memories of the swashbuckling Kenny Dalglish far quicker than for the vision of Alan Hansen snuffing out opposition verve. For Hansen, every goal is a needless mistake rather than an achievement created, a vision that lives on in the dying embers of Match of the Day. A Liverpool-supporting mate still argues that Glenn Hoddle wasn’t all that, which tells you all you need to know.
Telly also made us hate Liverpool. They were on it all the time, back in the day when football wasn’t on all the time. Norwich even had a fanzine called Liverpool Are On The Telly Again. And, of course, being a Londoner, I hated Liverpool because ‘Cockneys’ (which I was, apparently, despite being a suburban boy) didn’t like Scousers. Or Mancs. None of us liked the other, but actually we were all pretty similar bar the accents. And we were all insufferably smug whenever we were on top.
I’ve actually always quite liked Liverpool, for many of the same reasons I’ve always quite liked Manchester United: proper teams with proper fans who stick by them even in the bad times. Like Spurs. That sneaking admiration for the red Mancs and the red Scouse also has the added advantage of winding up the Scousers and the Mancs. And the Cockneys. That’s the pleasure of football.
So despite the fact that I wouldn’t mind at all if Liverpool won the title – it’s preferable to the other options and, let’s face it, Spurs are nowhere near – it still feels strange. A mass of contradictions. The underdogs who I grew up seeing on top. The anti-establishment otherness of supporters backing a major global brand owned by a multinational billionaire. Football eh. Bloody hell.
Martin Cloake is a journalist and author who writes about football, the football business and football culture when he’s not doing the day job writing about other stuff. That other stuff has included finance, politics, music, celebrity and real life stories – and fruit and veg. His most challenging commission was delivering a 5,000-word epic on potatoes. Sadly, this is no longer available. But his books, in ebook and paperback form, plus some rather handsome hardbacks, are available direct from his website.