Resistance Is Useless
By The Boy Wonder
From Issue 50, Winter 2001
I suppose I should put in a disclaimer round about now. It singles me out amongst my fellow Englishmen, but I genuinely love the French. Without understanding 99.9% of it, they speak the most beautiful language in the world. Flick about on the MW of your radio, eavesdrop on a French station and then try it with a German one. The difference is stark, like comparing a kiss on the cheek to a punch on the nose. Their capital city pisses all over ours; it is so beautiful that it can even (albeit temporarily) make you forget that your team has just humiliated itself and you by losing it’s biggest game of the season 0-3 and going out with a whimper instead of a bang.
Their Art is among the greatest of all time, and museums and galleries are full to bursting point with the evidence. Their contribution to Literature has been immense, from Dumas to Belloc, Flaubert to Proust. The French hold Cinema, rightly, in the highest possible regard and kept it at the forefront of the arts when America was quite happy to reduce it to materialistic sludge. The number of classic films they’ve made in their own country runs into the hundreds. Their football teams play with the flair and attack that the world wants to see, often playing with verve and suffering from comparisons to the overrated Brazilians. As a Liverpool fan it hurts to say it, but Case Souness McDermott and Kennedy can only be usurped by one midfield in the battle for the greatest; Giresse, Tigana, Platini and Fernandez. The people have an endearing Bolshie streak, which has long since been squeezed out of the British. When they go out on strike, they stay out on strike. When they protest, you know about it!
With the occupation of France during both world wars, it has often been the English way to stereotype the French as cowards who will not fight. This is a terrible slur on the brave men and women of the Resistance, but it is still part of the English mindset. As for football, there doesn’t seem to be anything too cowardly about Eric Cantona or Patrick Vieira, while the Arsenal team managed by Wenger has been one of the bravest and occasionally savage in recent seasons.
I suppose all the above is really my ‘covering note’ for any subsequent accusations of Francophobia, but I have got to come right out and say it. Under Gerard Houllier, Liverpool have lost all their stomach for a fight. It seems strange to say it, I know, especially after the battling display at Old Trafford, but don’t forget that we were winning that game and simply held onto the lead. The true test of a side’s battling qualities is in adversity, when we’re behind.
I’m writing this after the almost inevitable defeat at Crystal Palace. The extreme sloth of TTW&R’s editor (file the speed of issue 49’s arrival under ‘Miracle’ – sorry, Steve!) will no doubt see this printed, if at all, after a run of games where we have turned defeat into victory. It still won’t alter the fact that this is the next step of Houllier’s development as a manager. We must start turning around such games, or we will be known forever as a ‘fair weather’ team.
It is 14 months since Liverpool came from behind to win a league game. And that was at home; 1 down to relegation threatened Sheffield Wednesday (keep dropping, scum), Sami nodded in a corner to level the match and Super Danny hooked in the second. Gerrard’s first ever goal, and still his best despite some recent classics, settled the ship and Thommo scored another beaut. 4-1 in a game that we were we losing. That was the last time it happened. Ironic, perhaps, that Thommo should score in that game. Here was a player that you could rely on in a scrap. The players he left behind have not been so resilient, to say the least.
So far this season, we’ve got a point against Sunderland and a scrappy win over Liberec in games we were losing. Since Sheffield Wednesday were turned over by the Reds – hopefully the last time we’ll ever have to face the murdering bastards again – The Reds have lost to Spurs, Blackburn, Chelsea, Leicester, Bradford, Arsenal, Chelsea, Leeds, Spurs, Newcastle, Ipswich, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace. The pattern has become alarming but irrefutable: if we’re getting beat, we’ll stay beaten.
It’s not as if we can blame it on a lack of time to recover. In virtually all of the above matches, there was plenty of the game left to recover the deficit but we never did. In ten of them, we had more than 45 minutes of football to catch up. The Leeds defeat emphasises the problem of Liverpool’s almost bully-like side. We were winning 2-0, 2-1 and 3-2. Each time, Leeds were brave enough and resilient enough to hit back. Once the score went to 4-3, that was the end of the scoring. Not only that, but the Reds had created chance after chance throughout the game and squandered most of them. Once we were behind, the chances dried up and Leeds ambled to their victory. They had shown guts and determination. Despite being outplayed for 70% of the match, they deserved their win.
As a confirmed Houllier cynic (see ‘Lost in Transition’, #45), this could be misconstrued by some as clutching at straws, massaging the figures to make it look as if Gerard isn’t doing the business. Obviously, I beg to differ. Since that article, I have come to see a lot of endearing qualities in ‘The Frenchman’. We all write/speak from the heart, and my heart at the time told me that he would fail. With certain reservations (his transfer record, for one), I can now say that the Reds are moving along the right lines. We just differ about the speed of movement, and the team’s numerous failures to bounce back from adversity must be addressed. There is simply no ignoring the matter.
Let’s take a recent season as proof. A particular favourite of mine, the Fowler/Collymore blitz season of 1995/96. If the current 12-month Liverpool record of one extra league point gained from matches being lost had applied then, we would not have come third but tenth. Four places below Everton, if you want to get even more worried about it! When you consider that third nowadays gets you into the lucrative but vacuous Champions League, you can see how resilience becomes extremely important. Losing to Man U – drew 2-2. Losing to Southampton twice – won 3-1 and drew 1-1. Losing to Arsenal – won 3-1. Losing to Chelsea (twice) – drew 2-2. Losing to Forest by two goals – won 4-2. Losing at Wednesday – drew 1-1. Losing to Wimbledon – drew 2-2. Losing to Newcastle – won an extraordinary game 4-3. Getting beat at Goodison – Fowler wiped the smiles off their faces and we drew 1-1. Four wins and six draws which, in the current climate, would have been 9 defeats and 1 draw. Don’t tell me this isn’t a vital part of the equation.
In fact, it’s worth mentioning that a little apology is due to Roy Evans and the much-maligned Spice Boys. There is a strange mythology taking hold of Anfield that Houllier has introduced grit, bottle, the right stuff – in fact, everything that Roy lacked or was never able to instil in his team(s). The ‘facts’ (those bothersome little tykes!) don’t bear this out, I’m afraid. In his first full season, Liverpool often prized open the jaws of defeat and knocked its bloody teeth out. Even in a game like Blackburn, where a lot of the fans themselves didn’t want us to win. Liverpool won 5 and draw 3 of the league games they were losing that season. Another 18 points which the current side would have let slip.
Even Graeme Souness had his moments. True, work-rate and fight were about the only qualities that had survived his transition from player to manager. The skill, the class, the slick passing, the ferocious shooting – none of that was passed on to his protégés, sadly. However, the 1992 FA Cup triumph was founded on the kind of grit that marked The Beast as the greatest Liverpool captain of all. The Reds were losing to Bristol Rovers, Ipswich and Pompey (when we were down to ten men and the manager was about to go into hospital) before finally beating a poor Sunderland team in the final. In case readers think I’m trying to pull a fast one, ask yourself a question; what do you think would happen to the current side if they went 3 down to Man U in twenty minutes? And if your answer was “we’d draw 3-3, obviously”, then get somebody to give you a good slap.
Of course, the new team may well learn to rally against the odds and start turning defeat into victory. The all-purpose and (for Houllier) massively convenient “period of transition” perhaps comes into play here. The year before they ended a 26-year wait for the title, United lost 3 games in a week during the run-in – one against already-relegated West Ham, who in a wonderfully insane quote from Ferguson had “tried too hard”. Liverpool lost three in a week when Gerard was given the job to himself, but it would be an idiot who tried to suggest that we hadn’t made significant improvements since.
Is the manager also on a learning curve? He has made plenty of errors, and perhaps this fair weather attitude in matches is a direct result of his own caution and pessimism – filed, by a cynic like myself, under the heading “job preservation”. Houllier seems intent on playing down any optimism at the club whatsoever, just in case it undermines his position and creates unreasonably ambitious targets. There was almost a sense of relief that we hadn’t come third last season. You got the feeling that the manager was quite happy to play down the progress that had been made thus far. From seventh to fourth in a year? Why, that would mean with another rise of three places this season we’d be………we’d be………
Complete bollocks, of course. Liverpool were never going to win this championship, and supporters hell bent on taking the most optimistic of outlooks really did need to be reigned in somewhat, but………what if the players are taking all this stuff on board, too? Confidence plays a major part in football, and I’ve often wondered if Houllier’s public caution was not solely confined to the press room but was also seeping into the dressing room. After a titanic win at Old Trafford and the mauling of Arsenal, expectation was at fever pitch. It’s only natural that the manager would want to get that under control, but he seems to have completely punctured the confidence that those two outstanding victories should have brought. Is it just possible that, as soon as the Middlesbrough game became more difficult at 0-1, heads dropped as though the players themselves were thinking “he’s right, we’re not good enough”?
In the stats that I’ve been using (pouring over record books is a total obsession with me) it’s only fair to point out one advantage of Houllier’s over Evans; that Liverpool are in fact finding themselves a goal down less often, thus negating to a degree the need to fight back. After all, if we were winning every game my particular bugbear would have no relevance whatsoever would it? It’s a bit like the craving for clean sheets. If we can score 3 or 4 ourselves, who honestly gives a shit? But we’re not winning every game, are we? Far from it, in fact. This season alone has seen a lot of points dropped in games that we’ve been winning. Two at Southampton, two at West Ham, three at Leeds, three at Spurs – there’s ten points that could have put us right in the championship race that Houllier keeps telling us we’ve no part in. Our inability to make every lead count brings our inability to equalise into a much sharper focus.
It has to be said that this isn’t a fault that our much-detested rivals suffer from. Who, like me, was absolutely panic-stricken at the end of the Old Trafford game that the bastards were going to ‘do’ us again? Judging by the close-ups of the away section on Sky Sports that day, almost everyone. It was an agonising half an hour or so, because we knew that if anyone could break down our massed defence it was ‘them’. The greatest season in their history was founded on such comebacks, as we know to our great cost. A season that may have brought them nothing instead brought them everything.
Go through it; in the FA Cup, they were losing to us with a minute to go. In the semi final, they were facing Arsenal with ten men and facing a penalty in injury time with the score 1-1. In the league, on the final day, when the Kop was full of Gooners (or sad twats, as I’d call them) Man U were losing to Spurs while Arsenal were winning their last game. In Europe, they were 2 down away to Juventus (another night of Kop realignment) and were 1 down to Bayern with a minute to go. United won all of those games. That season was an object lesson in fighting for your club, until the whistle blows. That they turned a season of no trophies into a season with 3 was hard to take. That they had done it with a resilience and a spirit that once typified the greatest teams of OUR club was almost too much to bear.
We simply cannot ignore the importance of this current failing. Fourteen months without such a comeback would suggest that this is not something to be taken lightly, or a freak occurrence, and since we have already missed Champions League qualification by two points in this Millennium it would be the height of folly to pretend it’s not important. What is the solution? Perhaps if the manager stopped playing down and started building up, that would be a start. Perhaps the fans need to play their part. Odd, since we usually make a lot of noise on our travels, but the grumbling becomes louder when the opposition takes control. That’s the moment when everyone connected with the club has to stand up and be counted.
The man at the helm has to lead by example. Almost any team can play well when things are going their way, but it takes men of true quality to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and then overcome them. Here are some very, very late football results:
1960 European Cup final: Eintracht 1 Real Madrid 0
1966 World Cup final: England 0 West Germany 1
1976 League ‘decider’: Wolves 1 Liverpool 0
1976 UEFA Cup final 1st leg: Liverpool 0 Bruges 2
1977 European Cup qf: Liverpool 1 St Etienne 1 (agg 1-2)
1983 League Cup final: Manchester United 1 Liverpool 0
1986 FA Cup qf: Watford 1 Liverpool 0
1986 FA Cup final: Everton 1 Liverpool 0
1990 FA Cup semi final: Liverpool 3 Crystal Palace 2
1992 FA Cup semi final: Portsmouth 1 Liverpool 0
1996, “game of the century”: Liverpool 1 Newcastle 2
Winners make history – the losers just make excuses.