It never ceases to amaze how a successful, threatening Liverpool can wind up the English football public. Walking away from Selhurst Park on Monday night there was a familiar ring to the bleats of Crystal Palace fans and their apparent injustice over decisions, despite the Reds largely controlling the game.
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If Roy Hodgson’s view that Mohammed Salah’s winning of a crucial first half spot-kick was entirely predictable, given his uneasy relationship with Liverpool and its supporters, then so too were Eagles all-too-easy “cheat” jibes readily reprised from the days when Luis Suarez was our king but the Premier League’s villain in chief.
Liverpool are a threat again and you can reach out and touch the fear. When Reds from Merseyside to Melbourne argue “it’s going to be our year” the ridicule pours out from all-comers. However, with Jurgen Klopp’s charges now firmly ensconced as clear second favourites to Manchester City, there’s a real sense that mockery is founded in a genuine concern the Reds might finally reassume a position on that once-lofty perch.
Klopp’s arrival staved off resentment towards Liverpool, especially while his efforts were merely clawing us from the wreckage of Brendan Rodgers’ final twelve months. His booming laugh and touchline excess were seen as a breath of fresh air, akin to a younger Jose Mourinho being taken to pundits’ hearts with his rent-a-quote appeal when first rocking up at Chelsea.
But even the neutrals and those responsible for filling column inches soon tire of outspoken managers and if Klopp isn’t quite the surly presence Mourinho has become, his steely-eyed straight-batting of questions that bore him has somewhat cooled the press love-in. Indicatively, his very public war of words with Sergio Ramos in the Kiev aftermath has been portrayed and reported with more than a hint of sour grapes.
More to the point, Liverpool’s run to last season’s Champions League Final put them firmly back on in the box marked “to be taken seriously”. Even Evertonians, perennially caught up in their dismay, professed to a liking of “your manager”, when Klopp first arrived on Merseyside, but the spring’s growing Liverpool triumphalism soon put paid to that.
T’was ever thus. The nature of football rivalry is rightly steeped in bias. And whenever Liverpool have copped for disdain and downright jealousy, mangers and players – and fans too – have used it to intelligent advantage. Circle the wagons!
In the 1970s and 1980s, we lapped up the “Red Machine” label afforded to us by the media. We took it as an inverted motivational compliment even if the nuance was that Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley’s Reds were more functional than brilliant.
Spurs fans were welcome to the flair of Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles, the Gooners to Charlie Nicholas, and Manchester United to Gordon Hill and Jesper Olsen. Decorative players they might have been, but the under-heralded Souness, Case, Kennedy, McDermott and co were the ones who cornered the medals. Bar the odd cup fluke, it was the Kop and not the Shelf, North Bank or Stretford End who saw the glint of silverware.
Liverpool FC – and its people – retains some of that latent hostility, much of it fostered on thousands of ruined childhoods all over the country while the Reds reigned supreme. “Sign on with no hope in your hearts” was the best they could muster in response. Londoners mocked with heartless “Loadsamoney” chants while waving notes in the air. The supreme irony was the Scousers were significantly better turned out, leaders of the line in fashion stakes and more continental in their attire, attitudes and beliefs than those rival fans starved of European adventure.
Anti-Liverpool sentiment still dies hard. In many cases it has been passed down a generation or two. The prospect of another dominant Liverpool epoch for some will be too much to bear and we’re big enough for one league title or one more European Cup to be the thing that bursts the dam.
Let them mock; let them whistle and jeer when we sing You’ll Never Walk Alone. Where’s your anthem boys and girls?
And let them sing “Sign on….” all they want. We know it’s because you’re scared.