Fan's Eye View: A crack at the slack: No. 7 Chesterfield

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The Independent Online
IF THE slack-jowled media ex-pros and hacks weren't too busy wasting their middle-aged sweat writing the 'decline of Liverpool' story last week, they would have been dusting down the knackered cliches about the 'giant killers' and 'gallant cup battlers' as they generally do each September and January. As usual, they'd be missing the point.

Let's get this straight. Me and my mates went to Anfield for the crack, not for some romantic notion of 'Slaying the Mighty Reds'; to take the mick out of a falsely sanctified complacent institution called Liverpool Football Club, grown slack, bloated and greedy on too much success and too much money (or is that the Arsenal?). And boy, did we dip our bread.

It started when we got to our seats with a 'Best non-League ground in the country this', loud enough for the Scousers behind to hear, and didn't even stop when Mark Wright won his first header of the night five minutes from time.

Of course, our team's performance that evening constituted one huge wisecrack that went along the lines of tapping the Reds on the shoulder as they tried to go about their business on their own streets and saying, 'Excuse me, didn't you used to be Liverpool?'

My mate's 'Good side this Everton' (do I have to explain that my team play in blue?) tickled me far more than anything I've heard Ken Dodd release on a suffering world. And when Ronny Rosenthal slipped over spectacularly in the box with no Chesterfield defender within yards of him, we had to stand up and scream, 'Penalty, ref] Penalty]' for all the poor buggers on the away end who have been stitched up down the last 25 years by referees with no brains and less bottle.

If going to Rochdale or Hereford on a Saturday is our day at the factory, then a trip to Anfield is a night out at the pictures. It had nothing really to do with football. Football is when there is the possibility of pain and despair at the end of 90 minutes. I mean, what the hell. We could have lost 8-0 but we'd still have clapped off our team at the end and still had a great night singing, 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'.

The only connection with glory here was what a good performance would contribute to our improving League form. The real glory nights lie ahead in May if we can reap the rewards scoring four at Anfield ought to deliver to our confidence and composure. To bastardise a quote from Ian Branfoot when he was manager of Reading: 'It's easy to do it at Liverpool when you've nothing to lose, but can they do it at Halifax next week when there are coal heaps all over the place and it's pissing down with rain?'

There should be no problem with Steve Norris's confidence. At the end he was signing autographs for young Liverpool fans.

They stuffed Limassol 6-1 a fortnight ago, but according to a Liverpool steward a local Baptist church side beat the Cypriots 3-1 in a warm-up game the day before. So they're in decline, so what? Isn't 30 years at the top of the heap enough? Apparently not for their fans, whose past reputation for singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' has been recently engulfed by their spoiled whingeing and their racism. It's time they had to find out what supporting a football team is like for the rest of us.

John Peel, in words that have come back to haunt him, said last year: 'It's like Liverpool worrying about what Chesterfield are doing.' That hurt, and still does. Is this what we have become: a Division Two side of the 1940s now a metaphor for irrelevance, and terminally clapped-out football garbage?

Admittedly, following Chesterfield one can enjoy the quintessential 'fourth' Division experience as I did last season, scoffing pie, peas and gravy under a tea hut canopy at Rochdale while rain sheeted down on the players. Romantics would have had both teams playing out an abysmal 0-0 draw, but the quality in the Fourth ensured that we were treated to a 3-3 scoreline in a game studded with skill, guts and great goals.

Not that I'm complaining about our cup run. It's nine long years since we played a top side and we need this diversion and this publicity desperately, although the sight of our players in full colour on the back pages of the tabloids last week left me utterly dazed rather than exuberant. Like all basement clubs we know we can shin our way up football's tacky pole. We know we are only a rich chairman away.

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