BRENDAN O'BRIEN: Reds’ Melbourne experience ‘a real tear-jerker’

This isn’t an easy write for a guy who, as a kid, dreamed of playing in front of the Stretford End, but as the start to another Premier League season approaches it brings with it the realisation that there would be no better script than for Liverpool to return to the summit of the game.

It is a bombshell that finally exploded on this one-time Manchester United fanatic earlier this week when scenes from Liverpool’s pre-season tour to Australia rippled far beyond the usual stagnant pond that is such meaningless fare and came courtesy of events off the pitch rather than on it.

Brendan Rodgers’ side were about to face Melbourne Victory at the famous MCG on Wednesday when 95,000 supporters began to serenade the English side with one of the most memorable versions of the club’s unofficial anthem, a song that must surely resonate with anyone who has a soul regardless of club affiliation. “I want to put on record a huge thank you to the people of Melbourne and Australia. The You’ll Never Walk Alone at the beginning was a real tear-jerker,” Rodgers said.

You didn’t have to be a Red to appreciate the harmony and the seas of scarves. You never did. My late godfather Tom O’Reilly was a lifelong Evertonian but the tune that began life as a number in a Rogers and Hammerstein musical before going viral with Gerry and the Pacemakers was as much a side of ‘Twomey’ as his lovely golf swing or glasses and the mind flits back now seven years to the night in Old Trafford when United and Celtic came together to celebrate Roy Keane’s testimonial.

Almost half the Theatre of Dreams was occupied by fans of the Glasgow giants that night, come to pay homage to the Corkonian who graced Paradise only at the fag end of an illustrious career and, oh, how they belted out that glorious tune. The home fans didn’t take too kindly, of course. The boos and hisses from the other sides of the ground were as synchronised as any football ditty ever was but the hairs on this observer’s neck stood parade-ground straight and it remains 15 years into a journalism career blissfully sprinkled with memorable moments as one of the most magical.

Rarely, if ever, has a sheet of music so eloquently stood for what a club is about or, at least, how it sees itself and how it would dearly love others to see it. Unfortunately, it is a tune that becomes more relevant with each passing season with its lyrics about dreams being tossed and blown describing perfectly the spiral in fortunes that has been the club’s fate for most of the last 20 years.

In fact, the more time passes since their heyday the more ludicrous those great days seem: that a rundown, post-industrial and in so many ways troubled city could give life to a side that dominated a country and a continent with a style of football that bewitched and beguiled and with a collection of mostly British and Irish footballers to boot.

You could always hate Liverpool. Many of us unlucky or unintelligent enough to hitch our hopes and dreams to lesser sides in the 1970s and 1980s loathed them for their ubiquity and their fans for their preening confidence, but to some of us there was always a begrudging respect and acceptance that the chief source of our dislike stemmed from the fact that here was a club that simply did good things better than our lot time and time again.

They don’t do that so much anymore. The ructions of the Hicks and Gillett ownership era, the fruitless search for a new stadium for Anfield or further afield and the distasteful rancour that arose from the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra affair have undoubtedly lessened the club in the eyes of most impartial beholders but not nearly so much as their struggles on the park itself.

The temptation is to write them off as another Huddersfield Town, Wolves or Blackpool: a former giant that has fallen on hard times and one for whom the harsh economics of a game that loads the odds of success in the favour of clubs who inhabit larger ‘markets’ hardly bode well for a repeat of its glory days.

But then you think of that tradition and that fanbase and you find yourself thinking what a story it would be if Liverpool could thumb their noses at all that and re-emerge as a viable contender in an environment seemingly reserved for sides like United who have just recently stitched the words ‘Football Club’ back onto their crest or the expensive playthings that are Chelsea and Manchester City.


email: brendan.obrien@examiner.ie Twitter: @Rackob


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