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Friday, 11 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #5: Liverpool 1988-90

Rob might delight in bullying him for it, but friend of Magic Spongers Alex Bingle really does love Liverpool. They did used to be quite good, after all...

Sometimes, I sit racking my brains as to why I love football. Why does the result of one football team starkly determine my general mood for the following week? Almost a fortnight ago, for example, I sat there scratching my head after Liverpool’s dire showing at West Ham. After all, we have looked rather good in recent weeks, with a certain style to our play that reminds me why I love football in the first place. Football, though, has a funny way of turning my normal calm composure into an angry tirade of expletives. I was screaming at Kenny Dalglish (well, the television) to substitute Steven Gerrard, who was woeful. All the good work of the last few weeks undone in 90 minutes and there was me shouting at the two people voted Liverpool’s greatest ever players because Scott Parker was running rings around them.

So I spent all last week completely uninspired. I knew which team I wanted to discuss for this series and could happily scrawl about for hours, but I knew it would be completely inane bitter ramblings about how good things used to be. On Sunday, however, the Premier League served up another arse-over-tit spectacle at Anfield to finally engage my memory bank.

Shamefully, I must admit that my first live football experience was at Old Trafford, watching a poor Manchester United team lose 1-0 to Coventry in the 1988-89 league campaign. This experience was more for the benefit of my elder brother who unfortunately, to this day, still supports the wrong team. I can’t tell you much about that day except that it obviously did nothing for me.

My first memory of starting to follow my team, Liverpool, was not long after though. Back in the day, when Super Sundays meant a double bill of Sharky and George, I remember going into our living room where my Dad was watching a top flight football game on terrestrial television. I’ve got a feeling Liverpool were playing Aston Villa that day. I was mesmerised by one player in particular and his ability to run at – and past – players had me gripped. I couldn’t understand why they passed the ball to anyone else, he was THAT good.

I think my Dad knew he had finally connected with me. He was definitely onto a winner when he got tickets for Man United versus Liverpool at Old Trafford not long after for my brother’s birthday, and the Liverpool team again featured that marauding winger. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting John Barnes twice in my life, although both times he was a little larger than the svelte figure he cut that day as he tore through United.

In the end, Ronnie Whelan felt so sorry for United that he decided to do them a favour by lobbing his own keeper from 30 yards (it may not have been that far out, but it was quite spectacular as own goals go). To this day, I still have a small figure of John Barnes (granted he is in his England kit from 1990) by my bedside and I could happily say that no other sportsman has ever had me quite as much in awe as he did in his heyday. Though it wasn’t just Barnes – the whole atmosphere of the Anfield club had me in its grip.

The first game of the 1989-90 season at Anfield is a particularly vivid example. Liverpool put Crystal Palace to the sword 9-0 (Nicol, McMahon, Rush, Gillespie, Beardsley, Aldridge, Barnes, Hysen and Nicol again – yes, I actually remember the scorers and the order in which they scored). At 5-0, Liverpool won a penalty and Peter Beardsley offered to be substituted in order for his soon-departing colleague John Aldridge to come on and score a goal on his last appearance for the club. At the end of the game, Aldridge threw his boots and shirt into the crowd. How generous of him, I thought, before asking my dad “Will he get them back before the next game?”.

Despite all that, the day etched firmly in my memory as the day Liverpool FC firmly took over my life – the memory evoked by Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Anfield in 2011 – was a hot day in September in 1990. It’s funny how things come around, but victory over Man United last Sunday has already drawn many parallels in the press with the very day I first visited Anfield at the age of 7. The last time King Kenny defeated Sir Alex and the last time a Liverpool player scored a hat-trick against United. The last time Liverpool so comfortably dominated their rivals for 90 minutes.

Beardsley’s hat trick that day was a tad more impressive than Kuyt’s, given that all of his goals were scored from a greater distance than five yards. But, like Kuyt’s, they were all served up on a big juicy platter for him. It’s too early to compare Kenny’s current crop of players to the team from 1990 and I would be a fool to do so, but the tactics used that day were uncannily familiar. Ronnie Whelan sat in front of an untroubled defence marshalling the midfield, breaking up anything that came near him. The running from midfield of Steve McMahon – his pace, touch and link-up play was simply immense and got him into positions the United midfield could not pick up. No surprise, then, that he set up the first two goals.

Beardsley himself was untouchable, maybe even forgotten by a defence more concerned with stopping Rush, whose movement into the channels was opening up space for his strike partner and the likes of McMahon and Houghton to run into. Barnes himself played a more disciplined role by his standards and in comparison to the previous season’s display of technique, guile and speed at Old Trafford. He sprayed the ball around the park with all the ease of Jan Molby and still managed to pick up a goal himself just before half time.

With 10 minutes remaining and 3-0 up, I remember Anfield singing to Bruce Grobbelaar, who had been a happy spectator throughout and was absent-mindedly sunbathing in front of the travelling support: “Brucie! What’s the score? Brucie, Brucie, what’s the score?!” He started counting to three on his right glove, just as Houghton played a quick free-kick for Beardsley to lob over a distraught Les Sealey and clinch his hat-trick in front of the adoring Kop. Grobbelaar, ever the comedian, realised he had got the score wrong and recounted on four fingers for the United fans’ pleasure. He might like to be remembered for his erratic style of goalkeeping and for being an incredible shot-stopper with an agility that was second to none. But among all football fans, Grobbelaar will also always be recalled for the clown-like personality and life he brought to the football pitch.

I could wax lyrical all day about the individual abilities of Rush, Barnes, McMahon, Grobbelaar, Whelan, Nicol, Gillespie, Houghton, Beardsley and Molby. In my somewhat biased and rose-tinted opinion, they could play football together like no team I have seen since. When I think about that day at Anfield in September 1990, I get a little misty eyed. I’ve been lucky enough to see the likes of Fowler, McManaman, Owen, Gerrard, Carragher, Reina and Torres who were and are all exceptional footballers that I have worshipped in one form or another.

Unfortunately, none of them have been part of such a successful, football-playing team that on their day, could have demolished any other team in Europe. Were it not for the European ban on English teams, Kenny Dalglish would surely already have a few European Cups on his managerial CV, but unfortunately it was not to be. Following Sunday’s performance though, I can spend a while being nostalgic and slightly deluded in believing we can, just maybe, be as good as the team that made me fall in love with football in the first place.

1 comment:

  1. My little brother used to love Liverpool at this time, which was a bit odd, as he had previously loved Crystal Palace and then went on to love Gillingham. Crazy kid!