Liverpool fan Steven Kelly on the bitter rivalry he despises but can never shake loose...
You should all run out and buy a book called We’re Everywhere, Us.
It’s by a bunch of Liverpool fans that got to write a chapter each about the club’s matches all season. You can tell the kind of year it was by the fact everyone wrote about anything but the actual game in question.
That’s the point though: the football itself isn’t the key thing more often than not. A lot of football fans of any persuasion have a rough time of it between August and May, and only the likes of Liverpool can call two semi-finals and a challenge for a top-four spot “rough”.
It helps if you’re a Liverpool fan obviously but it needn’t hinder your reading pleasure if you’re not.
I was asked to write a section by the book’s compilers, Karl Coppack and Sachin Nakrani.
Karl had written almost continuously for my fanzine Through the Wind & Rain so I was obligated even if I wasn’t already flattered.
I felt I’d drawn the short straw when the games were assigned though.
A couple of other contributors told me I was lucky to get Man U at home, but it didn’t feel like it.
For me only the Everton games do I dread more.
Sure, Chelsea and Man City have the firepower to hand you your arse on a plate – turns out it was going to be Stoke City all along – but United always have a ‘knack’ of making you feel battered, bruised and less than what you are.
It can’t be easily brushed off by the shift of power over 20 years ago and it’s not even a modern phenomenon.
They were always doing this to us.
Other writers in the book had in the past written eloquently about Mancunians and their “mill town jealousy” but I’d never really felt that way. I liked Manchester. I liked Mancunians. It would be fair to say the feeling wasn’t mutual, but so what?
As long as football wasn’t discussed you were sound. In one of those dystopian novels I’m surprised there’s never a ban on the game as it has the nasty habit of creating discord and mayhem where none previously existed. It does keep people from manning the barricades, I suppose.
I’ve stood at some of these matches with jaw slumped at some of the gobshite tennis that goes on between both armies and occasionally weep for humanity.
Aeroplane crashes. Men women and children packed like sardines and crushed to death, with their families subjected to the criminal oppression of the State. A medical practitioner on a psychotic quest to lethally inject as many pensioners as he could.
Not funny, right? No cause for celebration, surely? Guess again. All rubber-stamped by football rivalry.
It made the revelling in unemployment, crime, accusations of widespread incestuous union and players’ painful injuries tame by comparison, but what the hell? Lob it into the pot, like a dickhead grenade, and see what happens.
The desperate need for a good bath afterwards, more often than not.
Of course it only happens twice a year so there are many who enjoy the visceral thrill of a time-machine trip to the good old days, always remembering you don’t want it for a steady diet.
The towns aren’t close enough to be pals and not far away enough to be indifferent about each other. The clubs are easily the most successful in the land too.
United always had that massive sense of entitlement post-Busby that wasn’t being greased by Docherty and co and they had to sit back and watch a succession of Liverpool teams sweep all before them both at home and abroad.
I mean seriously: just because you won lots of matches 20 years ago you think you’re entitled to keep doing it and get all vitriolic with those who are successful in your place? You’d never catch a Liverpool fan doing that.
Times are getting weird, though. It’s starting to look like Liverpool will never return to even a diluted variation of the glory days while United are suppressing a fume or two while their neighbours (the club they’re supposed to have a rivalry with) manoeuvre into pole position with their plastic petrodollar triumph-of-sorts.
The last time this fixture felt so second-hand, Liverpool won it with a penalty from Danny Murphy. It was a Saturday, with a three o’clock kick-off. You don’t forget things like that, because (a) we won and (b) television wasn’t remotely bothered in the outcome.
So two bald men fighting over a comb, then? You’d be a fool to think so. It will be as snarling and intense as it ever was. You can pretend to be too cool for any of it and yet the day has a nasty habit of sucking you in, transforming mild-mannered Jekylls into slobbering Hydes of bile and spittle. The game that the editors of We’re Everywhere Us asked me to write up was no exception.
The players kicked lumps out of each other, the United fans sang about murderers (but didn’t mean Hillsborough obviously, that would be tacky) Steven Gerrard ran on and then ran straight back off again, the Kop a powerless corpus of seething resentment.
And United won. The spoils, perhaps skimpy at best, were still theirs.
When Liverpool do win at Old Trafford the title bid it often generates grinds to a woebegone, trophyless halt. United will then mock Liverpool fans for their team not winning the title for a quarter of a century. You’d never catch us doing that… I’d say the boot was on the other foot now but I’m not so sure we ever wore it. As the Reds made the title their own personal property in the 1980s they didn’t win a league game against United for over six years.
As we were constantly dazzled by silverware, what United did shouldn’t have mattered. It did. Turn on your TV to watch United in the Champions League, and all they’ll be singing about is us. Rum blighter, Johnny Football Fan.
The rest of the country thinks we’re just as bad as each other. They’re wrong, of course. Whatever happens today we’ll have to go through the same farrago of indecency again in January, probably in perpetuity. Liverpool’s new defender Joe Gomez has already had his welcome to the jungle, receiving dog’s abuse on Twitter for being nice to Wayne Rooney about his England something or other, I don’t know. I don’t really pay attention to anything United people do.
We’re Everywhere, Us: Liverpool’s 2014/15 Season Told Through the Stories of Fans and Foes, compiled by Sachin Nakrani and Karl Coppack, foreword by John Barnes, is published by Pitch Publishing
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