As the saying goes, ‘football is a funny old game’. I am old enough(just) to remember Liverpool’s domination from the mid 70’s to the late 80’s. It was the time to be decked out in Adidas Trim Trabbs, Gazelles and Samba.
It was a time of cockiness, swaggering superiority and of immense pride when pulling on your LFC top in those heady, early days of the lads holiday in Ibiza.
Identity was everything. We were Scousers, we were football experts, you’ll never beat us so don’t even try.
This tribe mentality was epitomised by humour, cheekiness and toughness . There was no one out there that could touch us.
At this time I was a decent runner and one of my team-mates at Liverpool Harriers was the Son of Jimmy McGregor the then-Utd physio.
Alistair, the Son, was of course Unietd through and through. He was also a great lad and I enjoyed his company. He was a Manc but in all honesty as a teenager I wasn’t really to aware what that meant, or was supposed to mean. At that time to our delight he never had anything to shout about as we dominated English football. Quietly he would sit there on the coach trips up and down the country as we chanted about our success and pull his leg over their lack of it and especially their obsessive desire to reclaim the title that we took for granted. The title that was ours. Sound familiar?
Now this ‘banter’ (I know. Any self respecting Scouser hates the word) was harmless. He laughed but then again there was not a lot more that he could do could he? I just thought that he was another football fan that accepted our superiority.
Now in my innocence I believed that this good natured rivalry was the norm. There was no social media, in fact there was not a lot of media. So you could never sense the hatred that was out there.
I was still young and wet behind the ears when I witnessed first hand the inflatable ‘Shankly ’81’ skeleton in the Anfield Rd end and the barrage of paper aeroplanes flying about the Kop.
Jesus! I didn’t realise we hated them this much? I didn’t realise they hated us that much! I also didn’t realise that other fans could also have a sense of identity and dare I say it defiance and toughness regardless of how tasteless it appeared.
This tribalism descended towards all out warfare with no mediation in site.We hated them and they hated us. That was that. Put it in your DNA. This rivalry has no Good Friday Agreement. Perfectly normal people, many in well respected positions and occupations were often happy to disclose how much they despised one another.
Utd by now also had a tough talking, galvanizing Scot in charge who had made it his life mission to put them back to where he believed they belonged. They also had an ambitious, shrewd and ruthless board who realised that to reach the pinnacle meant bringing down Liverpool and sadly we didn’t see it coming. We had become complacent.
Now most great sportspeople and sports teams need a rival. McEnroe needed Borg. Coe needed Ovett. Hagler, Hearns, Duran and Leonard all needed each other. I even recall Evander Holyfield telling a reporter that whilst Tyson was incarcerated his own career felt worthless. There was no one to aim at or take delight in beating. Liverpool didn’t see United rearming, or if they did they didn’t take it seriously.
Their domination began by chasing us down and it was only in the midst of this chasing did we begin to battle back. Whether it was too late remains to be seen but the change in the balance of power brought back the fight, the resistance. Houllier brought a few smiles back, not to mention an impressive 6 trophies all before his meltdown. Rafa and Kenny brought the defiance back. The awful Hodgson experiment was a debacle and the BR publicity machine left a few of us a bit uneasy but now, just maybe we have a galvanising influence that can bring back that cheekiness, toughness and swagger and what we crave, the dominance.
Now. If Utd hadn’t had dominated so much. Where would we be now? Would we have got Klopp? Who knows. I believe in fate and sometimes it doesn’t happen overnight.
In my opinion Liverpool need Utd and they need us. We both play in red. We both come from the North West. We have both had triumphs and tragedies and we both understand that football needs to be played a certain way and we have had the mutual heroes who have played it that way. Heroes that still get what it means to pull on that jersey and what that jersey means to us, the supporter.
Argue with an Evertonian and its game on with the wind ups and laughs. ‘Yea ok lad, whatever’. Argue with a Manc and you need to be on your mettle because they can quote success.
The sad thing however is that over the last few years these arguments have involved the tragedies that have befallen the clubs, not the point scoring on trophies won etc. It used to leave me with a great sense of sadness thinking back to when I asked Alistair about how many years had it been since you won anything and then, sitting in a crowd listening to fans seeing who could be the cruelest. Humour was dying.
But lets forget about that bit.
Utd fear Liverpool becoming once again the dominant force in England (Ferguson has actually reiterated this of late) and Liverpool fear Utd continuing where they left off under Ferguson and hence the melting pot simmers. There will never be a truce.
Similarity breeds contempt and this is what drives the rivalry. We need each other. For me the season would lose its appeal if they were nowhere to be seen. I could take them being crap but I don’t think I could take them being anywhere other than in the premier league.
The week before we play them my nerves are on edge. Its a mixture of excitement that we may beat them and dread that they may do us. We need to be the ones planting the flag, not fighting for it back.
As a Liverpool supporter I do not want a manager or players who cozy up to Utd ala Hodgson. For God’s sake man, you sat next and joked with Fergie! We need our tribe and our leaders to understand what it means to beat them, on how it shapes the following week and I’m sure their die hard fans feels the same.
I feel that not only have Utd failed to adequately replace Ferguson but in not having players such as Scholes, Neville and Giggs coming through, players that knew what it meant to beat Liverpool they will continue to ‘struggle’ as with LVG and it appears Jose as they just don’t have that vibe. Its becoming one game amongst many.
Liverpool on the other hand are now playing under a leader that gets it. They have players who are buying in. Players who want to fight for the club’s reputation. Look at Coutinho’s reaction after the recent 0-0 draw at Anfield. He was devastated.
So maybe the cyclical nature of football is finally swaying back towards us, the true Reds and maybe, just maybe they are now going to have to play catch up to us again. Who knows. I’ll never like them. I’ll never want to be like them but I’ll always respect what they as a club have done and just like Muhammad Ali acknowledged Ken Norton following his shock win over the champ by stating that he had taught him a lesson and made him sit up and realise there’s work to be done Utd will always keep us on our toes.
Written by @redwazza1