Being a football fan can be hard sometimes, you go through years of torment learning that no team – no matter how good – are unbeatable; and yet every defeat still hurts just as much. As a Liverpool fan I have been privileged to experience some amazing highs, but as much as that I have been fortunate enough to watch some amazing performances with a philosophy that is as much to entertain as it is to win.
The reason this is worth mentioning comes down to the previous weekend’s result in the FA Cup against Blackburn, a disappointing goalless draw against what on paper would seem to be an inferior opposition. This is not a breakdown of the match itself, I’m sure there are plenty of critical notes that have been made already detailing the side’s failings in breaking down such a resolute defensive structure, but the fact is that I’m proud of the attitude of the players and manager alike; not just for that game but their refusal to take the easy option and rely on shorter term tactics to gain easy wins. It is always going to be hard playing against a side who are happy to chase down the game, get bodies behind the ball, and play for a goalless draw with the hope of some good fortune to pull them through; congratulations are owed to Blackburn for a well rehearsed and effective display, but it pains me to hear people speaking of it as anything spectacular.
It was always going to be a tough ask for Blackburn to beat Liverpool at Anfield – especially from the form we are in – I don’t blame them for the tactics they employed but that doesn’t make their performance fantastic. It was a good result for the Championship side who have extended their time in the cup for a further game, but I always question the exaggeration some pundits place on a performance like that. If Blackburn turned out week after week against equally matched sides playing with a similar mindset to avoid defeat at all costs each time, they would eventually be be booed off the pitch by their own fans on a regular basis, and would be flirting with relegation. The performance was hard fought and earnt them a replay, but the fact some commentators seem to regard the Blackburn tactics as a stroke of genius possibly explains the continuous failings in the England national side.
Displays like that do nothing for the overall game; a lot of hard work is placed into one match with the long term success of the club sacrificed in the hope of a moment of good fortune. That’s what it would have taken for Blackburn to take victory over Liverpool, a moment of luck or a mistake, in a one off game nobody questions this type of thinking because if it fails nobody expected Blackburn to win anyway, but football isn’t a one off game. The success of Liverpool football club did not come off the back of individual performances, but a philosophy installed by the great Bill Shankly and continued by his successors. Sure the process of reestablishing such a philosophy can be tough for fans who want instant success, but the rewards can be immense with a little patience.
I don’t really like talking about other teams, that’s for their fans to make analysis from, but it does bring me back to the Liverpool philosophy that Brendan Rodgers has re-installed into the Liverpool team. I would far rather have a season like we did last year when every game we played in was a joy to watch than have the frustration of watching a Jose Mourinho side that fails to live up to expectations and wins games through ugly, defensive displays. I appreciate that winning is important, I’m not blind to the fact that victory is the aim of the game, but you can’t deny that football is about so much more than simply the result. How often do we as fans sit up at night and ponder the team selection for the following game? The instant that one game is over we’re immediately looking over the fixture list to see who is next. Football is as much about anticipation as it is about the moment, the excitement of watching the team arrive at the gates, discovering the starting line up and then rising from the seats as the familiar sounds of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is sung out across the ground by 40,000 fellow Reds.
Brendan Rodgers has re-installed a heart at the club, provided a pulse to which the Kop can beat emphatically; his philosophy also comes with its long term footballing merits, but there is more to it. We may have struggled at the start of the season, but I can honestly say I look forward to seeing every game, not just because my beloved Liverpool are playing but because I know I will be treated to an entertaining performance of high intensity and skillful play. Can Chelsea fans honestly say the same when they go to Stamford Bridge? It may not always be successful as the side looks to perfect the ideas of the manager, but you can’t deny that as the squad are becoming more accustomed to Rodgers’ style, the results are also becoming more consistent.
The fact is that at times, hard fought, defensive displays can grind out results; as Liverpool fans we will have to accept that many teams in the future will adopt a similar tactic in order to take something away from Anfield. But as the team become more experienced they will undoubtedly adapt to this type of performance more effectively. In this country there is a culture to celebrate the underdog and I don’t begrudge some of those sides with heir rewards for their hard work, but longevity of success and legacy comes from a philosophy to succeed not one to avoid defeat.
We are on the right road and it frequently disappoints me when so called experts praise tactics that undermine the game we love. England will not achieve anything against far superior national sides if we continue to relish such short term thinking. Luckily, Liverpool have Brendan Rodgers. I keep saying this but we have a very bright future ahead, a lot of very good young players and most importantly a philosophy that seeks to make us into a winning team not a bunch of also rans. There are still improvements to be made and maybe with a slight change in personnel we should have won the game rather than have to deal with an inconvenient replay, but the fact is we haven’t abandoned our style, the one that many years ago put Liverpool on the world stage, and the one that will, in time, return us to where we belong – the top.
by Ernie Fox