James Lawton: Throw a match just to spite United? Nothing is further from the spirit of Shankly
Saturday 01 May 2010
Having endured such a brutal season, Liverpool fans are probably entitled to a little dispensation for psychological trauma. Even so, this hardly dilutes the dispiriting meaning of a debate that has been growing for some time on Merseyside.
It is one that makes a mockery of a well-earned reputation for humour of a high quality, generosity and a wry collective understanding of how football works.
You could call it a controversy or a difference of opinion but for anyone who remembers what Anfield, and especially the Kop, used to represent, betrayal is a word that comes more sharply to mind.
How else to react to the view of a dismayingly large section of the Liverpool support that it would be better if their side folded against Chelsea tomorrow rather than give aid and comfort to the title hopes of Manchester United?
This, it is being argued on a daily basis on the city's radio phone-ins and in the pages of local newspapers, would deny United the chance to move beyond Liverpool and claim a 19th and record English title.
It would, we are told, make the summer a little more bearable. A season of gut-wrenching under-achievement after the high hopes of last spring could be wiped away, free of the awful fact that it was the one in which United finally climbed to the mountain top of English football.
Apparently even the faint possibility of Liverpool lurching into the fourth Champions League place, and rescuing mere failure from the jaws of catastrophe, is insufficient reason to assist United. You might want to imagine this is just a bout of Scouse gallows humour but the sheer volume of its expression is suggesting otherwise.
Indeed, it is saying that in the matter of the mutual hatred that exists between large numbers of Liverpool and United fans we may have finally arrived at a sporting Doomsday.
No, of course this doesn't exactly come out of a clear blue sky. In 1995 some Liverpool fans came to blows over the question of whether their team should gently subside before the Blackburn contenders of their old hero Kenny Dalglish and thus deny United, who needed three points at West Ham to land the title. That day the solution might have been authored by Solomon. Liverpool beat Blackburn but United could only draw at Upton Park.
More recently, of course, the degeneration of spirit has been progressively sinister. When United's Alan Smith broke his leg at Anfield there was much mirth from some of the home fans – and obstruction to the ambulance rushing him to hospital. The reward for reporting this – and a disgusting scene when some fans standing at the memorial to the fallen of Hillsborough turned to United fans filing past with police escort and started yelling, "Munich, Munich" – was to be lectured by one academic on the healthy dynamics of working-class life.
It is tragic when you think of the raw charm that used to rule the Anfield terraces. The young Bobby Charlton, already an Old Trafford star, used to drive there for night matches from his home in Cheshire and, if he always knew he was in for a night of considerable mockery, it was no hardship beside the thrill of being in so vibrant a place. It was also one that was quick to acknowledge the merit of all opposition. The late Leeds United manager, Don Revie, carried to his dying day the memory of how Anfield saluted his brilliant but much reviled team's first title win.
You can't remake such days and such a philosophy but many certainly heard an echo when, as a doomed Liverpool prepared to enter extra time in their Europa Cup semi-final on Thursday night, it was announced that Fulham had already made it through to the final. When the cheers thundered around the ground, one veteran Anfield denizen turned to his companion and said, "That's just like the old days, isn't it?"
An echo of what, though? Perhaps it was of a time when it was easier to admire than to hate, when giving credit to any opponent, not just one who had passed your hate test, was as natural as sipping your Bovril. When the need to win was important but it didn't have to eat up your soul.
Yes, of course, it has been a disenchanting season for Liverpool, not one to provoke an overwhelming sense of well-being and confidence. If Rafa Benitez does go to Juventus he will leave a team nowhere near the land of promise that his early work, and phenomenal Champions League coup, suggested was so accessible. But of course it will simply redouble his insistence that Liverpool fight it out with the champions-elect. Who could want for less?
None of this is to mention the memory of Bill Shankly. We know how he would have reacted to his team throwing a game merely to spite Manchester United. "Jesus Christ, it's an abomination," he would have said. Be sure, too, it would have been by way of the merest opening gambit.
Mayweather keeps the pot boiling for Pacquiao feast
Floyd Mayweather Jnr against Shane Mosley in Las Vegas this weekend is still another reminder that professional boxing will always have the capacity to rise above the worst of its hype and chicanery.
It is, though, still plainly no more than a robust hors d'oeuvre before the main course which will stay on the slow cooker until November.
When Mayweather beats Mosley the clamour for him to face Manny Pacquiao will be both irresistible and hugely profitable. It is also true the first casualty will be the implacable stands of Mayweather and Pacquiao on the "drug issue", which supposedly earlier this year pushed back a fight which is vital to our understanding of who, pound for pound, is the best fighter on earth.
Pacquiao insists he will offer his urine but not his blood in doping tests before the fight. Mayweather declares he is locked into a moral issue. Meanwhile, boxing, God bless it if he can, counts up the profits on two mega-fights rather than one.
The Sweet Science is right to be licking its lips.
Mourinho is a sideshow, not the main attraction
Praise for the striking achievement of Jose Mourinho has surely reached its limits with the suggestion that he has become a spectator sport all on his own.
No, he hasn't. He has an ability to motivate his teams well beyond the sum of their talent. Unquestionably, his impact is almost as huge as his ego, as we saw when his Internazionale slammed the bolted door on the European champions, Barcelona, this week. But, really, would we take Mourinho and his football before the chance to see Barcelona produce the best of their ability? No, I didn't think so.
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