Football: Babby should never Kop the blame again

Alan Edge longs for the return of a sadly-missed Anfield tradition
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The Independent Online
I'LL TELL you what's bugging a lot of Liverpudlians about the defeat at Old Trafford on Sunday. Strange as it may seem, it's got nothing to do with the savage twist of fate which robbed us of victory at the death. It's not even that it was United who provided it. No, quite simply, it's the fact that Phil Babb was suspended and missed the game. I'm not joking. What it meant was there was nobody upon whom they could heap all the blame. Normally they just rant and rave at poor old Babby for everything that goes wrong. Surely, you've all seen a copy of the script, by now.

"What a sitter Fowler missed!"

"Yeah, but it wasn't his fault, was it? Didn't you see the way Babb was stood on the half-way line as Robbie was about to shoot? Enough to put anybody off."

"Yeah, I noticed that too. Scratching his head wasn't he?"

"Yeah. The pillock. Cost us the game, that scratch."

And that is usually that. Robbie off the hook. Scapegoat confirmed. Everyone appeased. Still spiritually wrecked, mind. But appeased, none the less.

So, what about Sunday, then? Who was to blame in the absence of Babby? Who is destined to touch for the scapegoat role, this time?

Well, if you ask me, I say nobody, no one at all. Not Gerard for failing to bring on McManaman to help us procure vital possession. Not our apparent death wish after half-time to give the ball away repeatedly to a red shirt. Not even the referee for his David Copperfield illusion of a foul by Redknapp which turned the whole game on its head. Not even that piece of nonsense.

You see, I believe it's time for a radical departure from all this recrimination business. Let's get back to the good old bad old days, I say. Those times when a cram-packed Kop could take defeat with wit and humour.

We didn't need scapegoats back then. We took it all on the chin. Take Babby, for a kick-off. Years ago, the guy would have been transformed into a folk hero. We'd have unfurled a banner which read: "Babby made the Swiss roll over laughing, tripped over the Frogs' legs and now he's munching a Spanish Omelette". The same with the opposition. We'd have made sure that, where due, we would lavish them with praise and applause. Especially if they had deserved their victory over us. Like United did.

Because, let's face it, they did. No matter how valiantly Liverpool fought. No matter that, for huge chunks of the game, they were at least the equals of United. No matter that Jamie Carragher proved himself to be as good as any central defender in the Premier- ship or that, with Rigobert Song alongside him and playing a 4-4-2 system with Macca roving in midfield, we could yet sneak that title. The simple fact is, on this occasion, United, great FA Cup side that they are, showed the sort of never-say-die spirit Liverpool used to display (and, encouragingly, are showing signs of again). In the final analysis, that will to win meant United deserved their good fortune.

Now it hurts me to write that previous sentence. The point is, though, I'm simply following my football education. That, you see, is the way the Kop of years ago would have seen it. To have given credit where it was due no matter how much it hurt. That was simply the way they did it. Such occasions have passed into Anfield folklore. Chelsea in 1966, Ferencvaros in 1968, Leeds in 1969, Red Star in 1973, right up to Arsenal in 1989. Boy, were we all sick after those defeats. Massive stakes, crushing defeats. It made no difference. The Kop would always rise above the disappointment, even the loss of a League title, to cheer their opponents with a rare magnanimity.

And do you know what? Each time we did so, we all felt enriched. It was like having a good cry. A means of unburdening yourself. Even though you felt completely dispirited, there was still a stirring sense of pride which seemed to sustain you until the next time.

In fact, this little nostalgia trip is making me feel a bit that way right now about Sunday's defeat. I just wish to God, though, it could have been against anybody else other than those bastards.

Alan Edge is the author of Faith of Our Fathers, Football as a Religion.

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