The Liquidator – football’s reggae classic

BEFORE EVERY game at Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion, the pre-match ritual involves a tune that evokes memories of football from a bygone age. The reggae tune, “The Liquidator”, turned up at stadiums in the late 1960s and has remained part of the scene at both Stamford Bridge and the Hawthorns ever since.

It also reminds us of the skinhead era, those shaven-headed characters in Dr Marten’s boots, braces and Ben Sherman shirts. Reggae was popular with this community and the Liquidator was quickly taken to their hearts.

Released by Trojan Records, the reggae specialist, “The Liquidator” by the Harry J All Stars sneaked into the top 10 in the UK singles charts and stubbornly hung around for some time, rising and falling all the time. By the end of 1969, it had been absorbed into the soundtrack on the terraces. The opening bass line is very distinctive, and invariably welcomed with a cheer. Itwas also used on the Staples Singers’ hit “I’ll take you there”. As well as Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion, Wycombe Wanderers. Northampton Town, Wolves and St. Johnstone also like a bit of Harry J’s All Stars.

But what of Harry J and his All Stars? Harry was Harry Zephaniah Johnson, who was born in July 1945 in Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica. He was better known as a record producer and also owned the Harry J Studio in Jamaica. Bob Marley recorded some of his early records at the studio. Harry J is credited with producing what many consider to be the first reggae hit single, “No more heartaches” by the Beltones.

With the modern football age very glossy and somewhat superficial at times, it is a remarkable feat that the tune has remained part of fan culture. Certainly, there is something very reassuring about hearing it at Stamford Bridge. It is always raises a smile, especially those that remember watching the likes of Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke and John Hollins running out of the tunnel after it had been played by the two chaps that used to run the pre-match entertainment (Pete Owen and Dave Scott).

Interestingly, the club songs from that era and even earlier in history have stood the test of time. Leeds United are still “marching on together” and West Ham will forever be “blowing bubbles”. Chelsea’s colour is always blue. Other clubs have adopted pop songs and show tunes, such as Liverpool’s “You’ll never walk alone”. And now we are hearing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”, which seems to have come out of nowhere. It could be worse!

The virus has slowed the management treadmill

THE PANDEMIC may be having an unexpected impact on the football management sector in that fewer managers have been sacked so far in 2020-21. With the Premier League at the halfway stage, only one manager, West Bromwich Albion’s Slaven Bilic, has departed in a mid-season taxi. There will surely be more to come, but the Premier is not alone, the axe has not swung as often in Italy and Spain.

Successful managers are a rare, sought-after commodity, hence they command high wages. There is a group of “hired gun” bosses who know that wherever they get hired, they have a good chance of winning something as they will have the budget and expectations to match their enormous salary. Equally, they know their time at any club will be relatively brief and that if the curtain falls, it invariably comes mid-contract when compensation is due. Little wonder you never hear much in the way of gossip about the clubs with a revolving door policy  – a hefty cheque and a non-disclosure agreement makes sure of that.

Over the past 10 years, the club with the most loyalty to their manager is arguably Burnley. They’ve only had two in that time and their average number of games per manager is 227. Arsenal and Manchester United have higher averages if you include the exceptional and extraordinary careers of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Without these legendary figures, Arsenal’s average is 61 and United’s 104 (versus 456 and 383), but given Burnley have not won a major prize since 1960, the stability they have from keeping faith with their manager is very impressive.

Manchester City (206), Liverpool (141), Everton (140), Tottenham (132) and Brighton (110) are among the least trigger-happy when it comes to firing managers. Crystal Palace have the lowest games per manager with just 52. Chelsea’s average is just over 70.

Only half of current Premier League managers have won major silverware in their careers with just seven lifting a big prize over the past five years, no matter where they have been employed.

Over the past decade, club management’s really big names have been Pep Guardiola, Max Allegri, Antonio Conte, Jürgen Klopp, Laurent Blanc and Zinedine Zidane. Then there’s José Mourinho, Thomas Tuchel, Luis Enrigue, Carlo Ancelotti and Ernesto Valverde. There’s an alarming lack of British managers among the elite, Sir Alex Ferguson left the party in 2013 and only Brendan Rodgers has won serious pots when he was at Celtic. At present half of Premier League clubs have British managers, but only one club among the “big six”, Chelsea, has a UK-born boss.

Football management has been a clique for a long time and breaking into the gang is tough. Gradually, though, new talent is coming through and lesser-known names are starting to become household figures in the game across Europe. Unai Emery was one such manager who had considerable success at Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain before joining Arsenal. It didn’t work out at the Emirates and Emery is back in Spain with Villareal, but he’s young enough to have another stab at one of the elite clubs.

Thomas Tuchel was another of the so-called new breed. He was at Dortmund with Klopp and succeeded his mentor in 2015. Tuchel later replaced Emery at PSG but was recently shown the door after two league titles, one Coupe de France and one Coupe de la Ligue, as well as a UEFA Champions League final in 2020. Tuchel also had the best win percentage in Ligue 1 history, a very notable 75.6%. PSG is one of a handful of clubs where even success can be rewarded with the sack!

Tuchel, very much his own man, had a difficult relationship with the PSG management and it would appear his comment on German TV, “I feel more like a politician in sport than a coach”, proved to be the final straw. PSG have gone for Mauricio Pochettino, another name that was often thrown around when a top job became available. 

Clubs like PSG, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal don’t often go for coaches with little in the way of a track record of tangible success, but that’s what they’ve done. Pochettino, Frank Lampard, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mikel Arteta were all appointed with no major trophies on their CV, although Solskjaer won two Norwegian league titles and a Norwegian Cup with Molde. Arteta has the FA Cup now, but the others are still making their name in management. Pochettino, who has made a predictably good start in Paris, desperately needs a trophy to enhance his credentials. He should get that elusive bauble this season.

Some managers have excellent credentials, but their success is long buried in the past. Marcelo Bielsa, for example, last won a club honour in 1998, while Roy Hodgson’s last major bauble came in 2001. Nuno Espirito Santo has seen plenty of highs, but his most recent important medal was in 2009 at Porto. Carlo Ancelotti and José Mourinho, both enjoying decent seasons in 2020-21, haven’t had to polish their trophies since 2017.

One stellar name waiting in the wings and wondering who will twitch first is Max Allegri, who has been on a sabbatical since leaving Juventus in 2019. Allegri has won six league titles over the past decade, a record he shares with Pep Guardiola. He is undoubtedly watching what happens at Arsenal, Chelsea, maybe even Manchester United over the coming months. There are also a number of clubs across continental Europe who would welcome the calm and intelligent former Juventus manager. 

Julian Nagelsmann is another coveted and much-discussed figure. Still only 33, you get the impression the wunderkind of German football management is on a learning curve that will eventually lead to the biggest jobs in football. That will surely include a stint outside of Germany, but he has time on his hands, and has yet to win anything as a coach.

The one thing that comes with being part of the top manager’s club is constant rumours about your next move, be it speculative reporting or strategic leaks by intermediaries. As we have seen with the likes of Solskjaer, Arteta and more recently, Lampard, the outlook changes by the game. Some newspapers are very quick to write the epitaph for managers still in their job, claiming that their current employer is already speaking to his replacement. Nothing is sacred, it would seem.

Photo: PA Images

Premier League Opening Weekend: Tough on new boys and rusty defenders

WELL IT’S back and although some of the big hitters have yet to kick-off, it’s clear that the song remains the same for some football people.

All three newly-promoted teams were beaten, two comfortably and one pushing the reigning champions to the limit. It doesn’t bode well for teams like Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, but there’s plenty of time for things to come right. Leeds United, however, who returned to the Premier as an almost popular club, exposed Liverpool’s defence – with a surprisingly over-confident Virgil van Dijk – and added to the Marcelo Bielsa legend.

The Argentinian coach, who has become a cult figure in the past couple of years, even though very few people had heard of him before he was hired by Leeds, has developed a style at Elland Road that will be greastly admired. But will it be successful? There have been well-liked promoted teams, but invariably, they have been relegated at the first attempt. Leeds, defensively, left a lot to be desired, but on this opening weekend, so too did Fulham, Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion. In fact, in all the pre-season punditry, the amount of experts talking about defensive weaknesses was astonishing. Have the top clubs all forgotten how to defend?

Liverpool looked a bit rusty, although the freshly-shorn Mo Salah was on form. But Liverpool only scored one goal from open play (they all count) and had to thank the penalty spot for their victory. Opinions vary about Liverpool’s defence of the title, possibly because Klopp’s style is intensive and energy-sapping, but without the presence of the Anfield crowd, they may be affected by the sterility of behind-closed-doors more than most. Manchester City, for one opponent, may feel rather relieved!

Arsenal started the campaign impressively, but Fulham looked as though they had picked up from where they left off at the end of 2018-19. As usual, the Cottagers played some pretty football, but they were simply not good enough against an Arsenal side that certainly looked better than a year ago. Mikel Arteta is another much-hyped manager, but this season will be his real test, a full year in charge with the added burden of expectation. Nevertheless, while the club has Aubameyang, he has a chance to succeed.

As for Fulham, it is hard to see anything other than a season of struggle. They haven’t been over-zealous in the market this time, so perhaps they will observe what they have and make improvements when they know how their current squad compares to the rest of the division. They do have Aleksandar Mitrović, the best playground bully in the business. West Bromwich, equipped with new bar code shirts, also let in three goals at home on their return to the Premier and they may have a similar year to Fulham on the evidence of their defeat against Midlands rivals Leicester City.

Arsenal’s neighbours, Tottenham, looked woeful and lacking in motivation against Everton. José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti are also in their first full campaigns, but you get the feeling the latter may well have a better season than Mourinho. Ancelotti must be the most celebrated coach to take the job at Goodison, but has he got the resources to give Everton what they are looking for? If he cannot make improvements, who can?

Everton have bought well – that’s been said a few times over the past few years – and a lot will be expected of James Rodriguez, who looked very nippy on his debut. A cracking goal by Dominic Calvert-Lewin settled the game and Everton, for long periods were promising. Tottenham rarely looked like it was all or nothing and will doubtless be in for extra training. The treadmill is already spinning fast.


Photo: PA