Anyone who experienced the monopolistic late 1970s and 1980s will recall how Liverpool’s dominance became a little tiresome, not least because of the crowing Koppites. It wasn’t that Liverpool played dull football, or even set a bad example, but it was how presumptious they all became on Merseyside. I especially recall walking to Fulham Broadway station, slightly triumphant, after Chelsea had beaten the European Cup holders 4-2 in the FA Cup. “No offence, mate, but conceding four goals to a team like Chelsea just isn’t on,” said one Scouser as we filed into the overcrowded tube station. From that moment, I developed disdain for our friends in the north.
That said, you couldn’t deny that the Liverpool of Bob Paisley were good for the game. And the 1987-88 team built by Kenny Dalglish was one of the finest post-war teams. But it all turned sour for Liverpool. We couldn’t beat them, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton and Tottenham couldn’t beat them, but in the end, off-pitch events toppled the club from its perch.
Heysel stadium 1985, closely followed by Hillsborough 1989 were both tragedies that will [rightly] never be forgotten. In some ways, they chipped away at the self-assuredness of Liverpool Football Club. In 1985, the behavior of Liverpool fans ended the club’s European dominance (only a year earlier they had won their fourth European Cup against Roma) and earned English clubs a five-year ban. In one evening, the European dynasty was almost wiped away, only revived, surprisingly, in Istanbul in 2005.
A year after Hillsborough, Liverpool won the title and as Dalglish walked away, the team he built aged and fell apart. This coincided with the public flotation of Manchester United, which brought many advantages to Liverpool’s northern rivals. The balance in power was shifting and no matter how many times they changed managers, mostly in pursuit of the “boot room culture” designed by Shankly and his protégés, Liverpool became a shadow of their former selves.
It has taken many years to remove the shadow left by the golden period that effectively started in 1964 and ended in 1990. Every Liverpool team, manager and player has had to live with the legacy left by the likes of Roger Hunt, Kevin Keegan, Dalglish, Ian Rush and John Barnes. Every new Liverpool fan has had to live-up to the mythology of the Kop. It’s been tough, especially as there was a reluctance to accept that the light had faded and that Liverpool had moved from a title-owning club to a top six contender. It didn’t help that the media continued to have a curious obsession with former Liverpool players – Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Jamie Carragher and Phil Thompson to name but a few.
But it has effectively been a generation since the Reds stood astride the game. It’s changing. Liverpool are coming up on the outside like an Aintree long-odds winner and are now in a two-horse race with Manchester City. And it’s all down to one man: Brendan Rodgers.
Once Liverpool had exhausted all options of installing a former Liverpool player – the return of Dalglish was a disaster – they made their most ambitious appointment yet in bringing Swansea’s Rodgers to the club. A young British manager, heavily influenced by European football, was a brave move and for a while, it looked to be back-firing. But he’s turned Liverpool into title challengers, playing the most exciting football seen at Anfield since Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge terrorized defences in 1988. Suddenly, Liverpool are the neutrals’ favourite, a compliment they have rarely enjoyed down the decades.
They deserve that accolade, because they are entertaining and goal-hungry. And Liverpool have rediscovered the joie de vivre. We all know that Luis Suarez is an excellent striker, but his behavior has often let him down. Rodgers seems to have curbed this and the Uruguayan’s rehabilitation is almost complete. Rodgers has also brought the best out of Daniel Sturridge and even Jordan Henderson has flourished. And then there’s Raheem Sterling, still very raw and young, who may become a key England player, if over-expectation doesn’t get the better of him.
If Liverpool’s young team keeps its nerve, and Manchester City suffer the sort of hiccup they are prone to, Rodgers’ team could be champions. They have six games remaining, two less than City, but if they are to emerge as winners, and perhaps kick-start a new golden era for the club, they will have to beat their nearest challengers, City and Chelsea.
Liverpool will host City (April 13) and Chelsea (April 27). These games will determine their immediate future. As for City, they have an easier run-in, so in many ways, the title could come down to the Liverpool v Manchester City game.
Would it be good for the game if Liverpool win the Premier? For a number of reasons, it would be a shot-in-the-arm. Why? Look at the way they play – 88 goals in 32 games. Secondly, this is not an Oligarch-backed club. It’s not Rochdale, but they don’t have the resources of some clubs. And thirdly, it’s a British manager, not a hired gun. There’s also players who can make a difference to the England set-up.
It makes for an interesting end to the Premier. It looked for a while that a rejuvenated Arsenal might finally end their barren run, but Arsene Wenger’s squad proved too shallow and their big investment lost his way. Then it was Mourinho’s “no chance” Chelsea, but they blew it by frittering away easy points. Now Liverpool are in the driving seat, but they have City’s games in hand to worry about. It may be beyond Rodgers’ men, but they may never get a better chance….