The Greatest Scapegoats
By Jimmy Conway
From Issue 49, Winter 2000
Laziness. If there’s one thing I can’t stand on a football pitch, it laziness. It doesn’t matter if it’s Buckley Hill playing fields on a Sunday morning or Anfield (4 Ever!) on a Saturday afternoon. Players who aren’t arsed get me down. It’s bad enough when you know that one of your less-than-agile-at-the-best-of-times teammates is suffering from a Stella Artois overdose the night before. Even then, he’ll still get a mouthful when he refuses to run onto the defence-splitting through ball you’ve just played to him on a dodgy divot-covered ‘pitch’ – but when the professionals do it, my blood boils.
To us mere mortals, they are out there doing exactly what we have always dreamed of doing AND GETTING PAID FOR THE PRIVILEGE! The greed, I can handle. It’s human nature to want more; sex, money, episodes of The Invaders. I don’t like it, but I understand it. But laziness? Non! So I’ve no problem if players get stick for not trying or for hiding during a match. You’ve got to admit that this happens less and less nowadays. Fans just wouldn’t stand for it, and can you blame them? The likes of Rodney Marsh, Duncan McKenzie and Peter Osgood would be slaughtered today, and rightly so.
What I don’t understand is the continuing bizarre ritual of the secretly nominated scapegoat. Yes, that poor sod who tries his best and never gets the praise when things go well but always gets the stick when things go wrong. If we are one down to Sparta Shitsville or whoever, he feels the full force of the baying hordes when it’s obvious to a blind man that he is nothing like the worst player on the pitch.
We’ve always been justifiably lauded down the years for our sportsmanship, with a warm welcome for the visiting goalkeeper (one KKK-affiliated Albino excluded!) and genuine affection for returning ex-players, yet there seems to have been a trend here that emerged during the mid-80’s: “when the shit hits the fan, the fans hit ****” (insert the name of the player that the fans think is a shit!).
Ronnie Whelan was a great player. There isn’t even an argument about this. He could pass, shoot, score, tackle, read a game. He could even make a side part look good. It’s been mentioned in the fanzine before that, during the glorious Eighties, he was not a particular favourite. On the truly rare occasions when he played badly, Ronnie would be given some stick. Because it had happened so rarely, it was more blatant and more shocking. People used to say he was only a big-game player. Bollocks. I remember attending a home game in the early 80’s at an age (5 or 6) that prevents me from remembering the opposition. It was 0-0 and a pass from Ronnie was misplaced. The volley of abuse hurled at him made a big impression on me at the time. Taking my Drumstick lollipop (mmmmm) out of my mouth for a moment, I turned to my Uncle George and asked “What does fucking crap mean? Why are they shouting at Ronnie Whelan?” His short but nail-on-the-head reply was “Because they’re thick”.
It was the first time I’d noticed this, but it certainly wasn’t going to be the last. Ronnie had to move alongside Steve McMahon in central midfield for people to truly appreciate how good he was. If he’d played against the cockney binmen in ’88, Vinnie Jones would have been stretchered off minutes after clattering McMahon, and Ronnie would have been whistling inconspicuously in a completely different part of the pitch – an old Souness trick. We’d also have won our second Double. He did start to lose it during the Suness years (who didn’t?), but by then there were plenty of other players to make you rub your eyes in disbelief.
In comparison, Steve Staunton is certainly not a great player, but he never hid and always gave 100%. True, his 100% was about 25% of everybody else’s, but I prefer to recall the game against Forest in the ‘replayed’ 1989 semi final. He didn’t put a foot wrong, although people can be forgiven for not remembering football events from that particular time. His hat trick against Wigan? I was hardly his biggest fan, but the stick he took made me cringe. Even when we were pissing games, one mistake from Peg Leg was enough to trigger a Kop Groanfest. Similarly, when the chips were down it was probably his fault. He once played like Ron Yeats (against Valencia, now performing miracles in the Champions League) and his fist-shaking attitude epitomised his pride in pulling on the shirt. He wasn’t a bad goalie, either! We could have done with him at Stamford Bridge.
Gary Ablett ended up where he belonged. He could look quite classy at centre half – especially alongside Tanner! He knew he was a scapegoat, and the moaners drained his confidence like vampires draw blood. He went from promising Reds youngster to Pit Regular – that’s a fall and a half, that. A proper Scouser who was a victim of our growing anger with our demise. By the time he left, he was a poor shadow of the player who had shone throughout 88/89.
The Suness Era saw Liverpool open up a ‘goat farm! The Kop was spoilt for choice. Saunders got a lot of stick, as did the fella who ended up in London’s Burning. Stewart, I think his name was. Stig was a joke almost from the start, but at times he was given needless amounts of abuse. Yes, he was shite – but who wasn’t in that team? Even previous ‘untouchables’ like Grobbelaar, Barnes and Rushie came in for some flak. Some was deserved, some not. Anyway, by the time of Loverpool we already had a legitimate target in Suness.
When Roy took over, it wasn’t long before Phil Badd was in the spotlight. He couldn’t trap a dead bear but he wasn’t that bad a defender. The 3-5-2 ‘Ring of Steel’ (as one newspaper once described it, I kid you not!) certainly didn’t help him but more often than not he had to pay for Blunt Razor’s positional shortcomings. Scales was a good defender, but couldn’t run for two yards with the ball at his feet so I used to feel quite sorry for Phil when he was criticised for the same flaw. He gave 100% (sometimes it was – 100 rather than plus) and sometimes you’d think he was about to control the ball when the roar of a disgruntled Kop would clearly unnerve him and he’d fluff it. Nice one, lads.
Phil soon gave way to Jamie Redknapp and John Barnes, the one-time promising starlet and the greatest English player of the 80’s. I might be a hypocrite here because I’ve often slagged Redknapp – but never at the match. Like the editor I wouldn’t lick him if he was glazed in honey, but the only times I ever cursed him was when he quite clearly wasn’t interested. Barnes had this horrible habit of slowing the game right down and not running at all. It was sad to see a true Great reduced to this, and I think the decision to drop him from the Paris St Germain second leg had more to do with the fans than Evans. “These people” could get it right sometimes.
Perhaps the most highlighted case was the treatment dished out to Fowler. Previously adored, Robbie had an awful time when his form (and his arse) dipped. I couldn’t believe how the World’s Greatest Striker could stroll about like he was walking the dog. Some performances stunk like the Bullens Road bogs, but he wasn’t alone. The abuse clearly affected him, the papers made the most of it and word on the grapevine was that Fowler couldn’t believe the scale of the criticism. He definitely needed a kick up his (by now) ample backside, but how quickly people had forgotten – his age, as well as his goals. I think he got disillusioned with us, and worse was to come with Le Saux and the bastard bluenose taxi drivers with fuck all better to do than start drug rumours. I think the guilt on the Kop came through when his name began to be sung louder than ever.
In more recent times, poor old Matteo had to carry the can for inept team performances. Dom was versatile, with good control, but couldn’t head a water balloon. He was definitely better on the left and not in the centre of defence. I felt sorry for him because he was a local(ish) lad and loved the club. I remember Ince barracking him for not getting on the end of a hospital pass and Dom just visibly wilted. Great captaincy there, fuckwit. He was superb against the Mancs in the 2-2 and I’d hoped that would be a springboard for him. A year as a makeshift left back might have changed things, but fans still weren’t satisfied and Ziege has seen him off completely. I for one will miss Matteo’s commitment and his weirdo running style.
It still happens today. I couldn’t believe the stick Danny Murphy got during the Sunderland game. Houllier’s substitution was negative, but why take that out on Murphy? This is a lad, don’t forget, who passed on a move to another Premiership team to fight for his place – this after being cast into the wilderness by Smiling Assassin Evans. He’s still only 22, and was being played out of position against hit and hope opponents. The lad behind me called him a “brainless twat” even before he got on the pitch – get behind the team, slaphead. Just how good was Murphy at Pride Park, alongside McAllister, in his proper position?
Soon forgotten at the Leicester game, mind. Danny seemed caught cold by the game, barracked for his first mistake and continued making them. Once he
managed to “do a Cole” with that air shot, his embarrassment was complete. Not a great performance clearly, but why is Danny the new scapegoat? Because Heskey is scoring now? It’s a bit shitty, and anyone who questions the lad’s commitment should have watched him in the Champion Reserves last season. Watch his goal celebrations on the tacky club video (someone bought it for me, honest!) – he’s a true Liverpool fan and I would love it, just love it, if he formed the future central midfield with Gerrard and proved all those moaning bastards wrong.
I can hardly wait for the next in a long line of sacrificial lambs. We used to be the best supporters in the world, but that halo is slipping big time and could be gone forever if we allow the Scapegoat culture to thrive.
One player missing from Jimmy’s article is Sammy Lee – and not just during his playing days, either. Part of the whole ‘scapegoat’ problem is fans’ inability to communicate displeasure about the manager’s selections in any other way – a factor that Evans couldn’t (wouldn’t?) grasp during the various Berger fiascos.
One of the saddest days at Anfield was when Sammy’s number was held up for a substitution during 84/85, and the whole ground stood in unison to cheer. Sadly, it wasn’t in appreciation of his efforts. That he had been a Hero of Rome only months before didn’t seem to count for much. That’s worth bearing in mind, whenever anyone wants to give lectures about how shallow modern-day/ ‘out of town’ supporters are.