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
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
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
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
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