A Spanish Inquisition

So, the pattern of tense, tight games decided by a solitary goal, or a referee’s indecision, has been broken. I was expecting a draw, hoping for 1-0 to Chelsea. Even in my wildest dreams I was not expecting 4-1. Nor was anyone else, certainly not The Liverpool Echo, who are splendidly redefining the term ‘gutter press’. Here is a snippet from Thursday’s Echo, faithfully reproduced on Liverpool FC’s official site.

Mourinho had the nerve to accuse Liverpool of being a ‘direct’ team during the post match interviews.

This from a man who plays the Ivory Coast’s version of John Fashanu in his forward line, and whose instruction to his full-backs goes no further than get it, launch it, and on no account go into the opponent’s half.

Chelsea’s return on Sunday will be relished even more by The Kop after what we saw last night.

Far from arriving as favourites, there’s a growing expectation they can be beaten and Liverpool are just the club to show the rest of the country how it’s done.

The champions really aren’t that good [emphasis added].

Okay, hindsight is a wonderful thing but I’m not sure any mere mortal could resist the temptation given this amount of ammunition. “The Ivory Coast’s version of John Fashanu” had a hand in all four goals, produced sublime skill to set up the crucial second goal, was voted Man of the Match by a Toxteth mile and even had the decency to remove the hapless Hyypia from his pocket and return him safely to the Liverpool bench after 71 minutes. John Fashanu? Do me a favour.

Del Horno, a full back, set up the third goal with a peach of pass, from inside Liverpool’s half. Did anyone see either of Liverpool’s full backs in Chelsea territory? I also doubt very much that anyone on the Kop was relishing Chelsea’s return during a second half of increasing discomfort for the European Champions. If this was Liverpool’s idea of giving encouragement to the rest of the country (who nominated Liverpool to represent everyone else anyway?) then they did a great job on Chelsea’s behalf. Thanks lads.

All easy targets of course, the Liverpool Echo is presumably written with the emotional needs of the Liverpool public in mind. The enemy must be flayed and ridiculed even if it doesn’t always make total sense. I do understand that. But there are limits. The statement “The Champions really aren’t that good” defies belief.

Let’s try a few facts. Chelsea are unbeaten in the League for 37 games. During those 37 games they have won 31 and drawn six. That would be 99 points, and they still have a game to go to complete the full, season length of 38. Theoretically a 100 point plus ‘season’. That really is rubbish isn’t it? I mean fancy dropping 12 whole points over an entire season, dear me, I’m surprised they weren’t relegated. Shocking. Record points, record clean sheets, record goal difference, record number of victories, fewest goals conceded. Total dross eh?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a pop at Liverpool per se, I’m just pointing out how far from reality some of the reporting of recent games has strayed. Just how much of this very petty bickering between Chelsea and Liverpool has been stoked up by such one-eyed nonsense from the press? Quite a lot I’d say. Then there was even more bilge from the Liverpool Echo yesterday. You’d think after Thursday’s effort they might have been more circumspect. Not a bit of it.

“After a week spewing bile, the law of averages dictated Jose Mourinho would say something sensible. … [S]ympathy for The Kop, who having endured the highly unlikable [sic] antics of Chelsea’s players and manager for 180 minutes, had no option but to stay put and suffer this torture in order to applaud their own side off. … Drogba, appropriately, did the donkey work again and the exceed-ingly average Joe Cole continued his improbable, prolific goalscoring run against Benitez’s side.”

Let’s see, another dig at Drogba, a dig at Cole — if he was average what was Alonso? A dig at the Chelsea players en masse. A dig at Mourinho for his bile spewing week. That is the statement that takes the chocolate digestive for me. Chelsea had pretty much kept quiet. There was considerable noise from some quarters though.

Paraphrasing Anfield: Chelsea were afraid, Chelsea were a long ball team, Chelsea had no dignity, Chelsea would be put in their place, Chelsea wouldn’t even qualify for the Champions League, Chelsea’s weaknesses would be laid bare, Chelsea were boring, Liverpool had sussed Mourinho’s limited tactical ability, Liverpool knew how to beat Chelsea. Liverpool in fact would crush Chelsea and the whole world would rejoice, kiss babies and throw flowers in the air. All you need is love. Baby.

The main quote coming out of Stamford Bridge, on the other hand, was from Frank Lampard who (rather soberly and not in the spirit of mutual loathing at all; do buck up Frank) said he rated Crouch and that the giant striker was worthy of an England place. You tell me who spewed the bile? And then Benitez had the unmitigated cheek to say “He [Mourinho] knows a lot about other teams. I prefer to talk only about my team.” Really Rafa? And which part of this magnanimous philosophy does “They’re afraid of us” fit into?

For the benefit of the Liverpool Echo lots of teams have fans who start singing when their team is staring at a heavy defeat. Chelsea had 20 years of it, trust me, I saw most of the games. For instance, non stop chanting at Forest when we were 7-0 down. God that was horrible, and yet strangely beautiful. No not really. It was just horrible. The whole away end bellowing “We’re going to score in a minute” when we were 5-0 down at Anfield some years back. Then Vialli did score and we started taunting the Kop with “1-5, 1-5, 1-5”. There are zillions of other examples, from many other teams.

I have to ask, with the exception of two very tragic games, how difficult has it been to be a Liverpool fan over the last 20 or 30 years? What was a bad season? Coming second? Only winning one cup? Not quite managing the treble? Dalglish only scoring twenty-five? Poor lambs.

What the Echo, and its Funnymen, spectacularly fails to understand is that it is comparatively easy to support a big, successful team. Chelsea were absolute rubbish for huge periods between 1973 and 1997. And I do mean utter toilet. We got thumped at home regularly, and by far worse teams than the reigning Champions let me assure you. Liverpool lose 4-1 at home for the first time since 1969 and the fans sing a short song at the end to show some defiance. This makes them the best fans in the world and deserving of sympathy?

Liverpool fans just don’t know what it’s like to take a beating at home. They’ve had it too easy. Wait till they consistently lose games at home, by horrible scores, for a decade or two, to rubbish teams. Get done over by Scarborough and Rochdale on a few wet Wednesdays and see if they’re still walking alone through that lot. Losing one game to the title holders is a doddle, believe me.

To be fair Anfield was impressively loud when Liverpool equalised, reminding me of the avalanche of noise in the San Siro when Bierhoff scored against Vialli’s Chelsea. Ear splitting. Whole stadium rocked. Great stuff. However noise from the home fans was more notable for it’s absence after Chelsea regained the lead. I don’t mean to be dismissive of Liverpool, my ire is aimed more toward the Liverpool Echo. Fans are biased and so they should be, but you expect the media to retain a small degree of objectivity. Not the Liverpool Echo with its Orwellian simplicity. Blue legs bad, red legs good. Dislike us by all means, hate us if you want but at least recognise Chelsea are a half decent team.

The irony is that for all the bleating and finger pointing both teams play a very similar system. Benitez and Mourinho, despite polar differences in their personalities, share almost exactly the same approach to football. I was surprised at Benitez to be honest, bully boy, boaster type sound bites are not usually his style. And much as I love Jose, it is way, way past time for him to let go of the defeat last season. It’s done, it’s dusted, who cares if the bloody ball crossed the line? Liverpool won the Champions League and fair play to them. I suspect if Jose had been able to say that a few weeks ago a lot of the petty bickering might have been avoided.

However respect is a two way street and if the Liverpool Echo is anything to go by then it isn’t only Chelsea who can be accused of lacking dignity. Or of being so far up their own arse they can no longer see real daylight. The Champions really aren’t that good? When I stop laughing I must get myself a subscription. Get myself a subscription. Is there an Echo in here?