By Fatman On The Lower Centenary, Issue 55, Winter 2002

So, I’m sitting there watching the Leeds game with an Evertonian, the camera focuses on Houllier several times through the first half, and the blue nose turns to me and says ‘He’s not that animate today, is he? I suppose that’s a reflection of the way the game is going’. At full time the reason is explained. It was brilliant the way the whole thing was underplayed, by the club, and probably with Houllier’s influence behind it. Make no mistake though, this was a very serious illness. God forbid what would have happened two days later in Kiev.

All the amateur sages came out of the woodwork, along with some of the Thicko’s. They dragged out Souness, who had by-pass surgery because of a congenital inherited condition i.e. high cholestorol in his blood. Nothing at all to do with what affected our current manager. Joe Kinnear and Barry Fry, who had heart attacks, probably brought on by their lifestyles. Again, nothing to do with what happened to our manager. One of the Sundays managed to find an ‘expert’, who stated that if the illness was related to his job, he should pack in straight away. Yeah, you’d like that wouldn’t you?

All the usual crap came out about the intolerable level of pressure that the modern day footballer and manager have to endure, just as the club announced that Thommo would be installed as the acting temporary manager. The worst drivel of the whole week came from an ex-player of ours, that the club may consider appointing Kenny Dalglish to take the pressure off Phil Thompson. Step forward Mark Lawrenson, proof positive that all the ability in the world doesn’t stop you from talking absolute shite. There was genuine concern about whether Thompson could deal with the media side of things, probably based around the misjudgment of the passion he shows from the touchline. People conveniently forgot that he spent a couple of years on the panel with the Sky Soccer Saturday programme. If ever restraint was required, surely it was needed whilst working with Rodney Marsh and Clive Allen.

It has since transpired that Houllier and Thompson are actually friends who share a deep passion for the game and exchange opinions with other very freely. This puts to bed the snidey remarks made by the media that the appointment of Thompson was only a sop to keep us scally Scousers happy about the appointment of our first foreign manager, der like.

There may have been a grain of truth to this, as the die hard romantics were resistant to the changes Houllier wanted to make to the blueprint laid down by Shankly. If you examine the ethos of both managers though, the things that both share is a passion in the belief that you get bollocks all if you are not prepared to work for it, and that you achieve nothing in reflecting on yesterdays glory.

One thing that has become apparent, and which has surely endeared Houllier to the last few doubters amongst our fans, is that he lives, breathes and eats everything to do with Liverpool Football Club. His workaholic lifestyle probably has contributed to his current condition and changes will definitely have to be made to enable him to return to work.

I still don’t accept though, that the pressure is any worse in professional football, particularly at Premiership level, as it is in my own job. In fact if you look at some of the rewards at that level, even for failure, it is quite astounding.

Stuart Gray was fired from Southampton, along with his assistant. The pay off? Reputedly £750,000. Joe Royle, who somehow manages to sound even more boring than David Pleat when he is commentating, got a half million pay off. Everton would probably have sacked Walter Smith by now, if not for the fact that they could not afford to pay him off. George Graham got over half a million from Tottenham, is doing some part time work as an analyst, and looks like the cat who got the cream. And remember, this is for a job that is essentially part time.

These are amounts of money that should set you up for the rest of your life and put you in a position where you never have to work again. But have you noticed the odd thing about it? The same useless bastards always manage to find their way in to work again!! Why do you think that Lineker, Hansen, Marsh and Venables aren’t arsed about managing football teams. Its because the money they are earning in that gentleman’s club they call television is of an astronomical amount as well.

There are pressures to being a football manager obviously, but they are different types depending on which club you happen to be managing at the time. Stuart Gray must be laughing his cock off. The expectation at Southampton is probably that he should keep them in the Premier League. He was given just three months to prove he could do that, and realistically that isn’t enough time, and now he is laughing all the way to the bank. He can sit back, wait for a coaching job somewhere else, and count the interest on his money.

The pressure on Houllier to succeed at Liverpool, likewise the pressure on Wenger, Ferguson and Ranieri is totally different. Certainly with the history of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manure, the expectations of the fans and the hierarchy at the clubs far outweighs that at other clubs. With Chelsea it’s slightly different, they have had a relatively successful last decade, but you do have the added burden of having Bates (Master?) as your chairman. Besides, the best description for Chelsea is that given by my fellow moaning arse, Steve Knight, according to him they are ‘nothing but Johnny Come Lately’s’.

Is it easier to manage Liverpool with their millions of pounds to spend, than say, Ipswich? The press certainly thought so following the Manager of the Year award going to George Burley. They thought it was harder for a man like Burley to manage a backwoods club like Ipswich, their justification being that Houllier had spent sixty million in assembling his side. NO, you sanctimonious pricks, it isn’t. The expectations of a board of directors are much higher at a club like Liverpool, never mind what the expectations of the fans are. Also, and as Houllier pointed out, he had recouped forty million of that money.

I believe Gerard will be back. Stronger, fitter and better than ever. He will be back because he loves it all. The footy, the people around it all, the fans and the so called pressure. For all us non celebs, pressure is getting up in the pissing rain to go to a full time job that we hate; to pay for a mortgage on a house, that is in a shit-hole of an area; to raise enough money to buy our kids overpriced trainers, that are pushed by overpaid footballers; to pay our every day bills; and to do it all without collapsing from exhaustion, or having a stroke before we reach retirement age.

In these days of saturation coverage of our national sport, where interest in the personal lives of our sporting hero’s sometimes outweigh the sporting side, its sad that people just can’t accept that sometimes you just get ill. It’s your bloody turn, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But putting it all down to pressure? Don’t make me laugh.