RAWK Advent Calendar 2014 #2 - Neil Mellor vs Arsenal, Nov 2004
Posted by Hellrazor on November 25, 2014, 04:41:11 PM
At the end of a storm
Liverpool's first season under Rafa Benitez will always (and rightly so) be remembered for it being the year Liverpool defeated Ac Milan to win their 5th European cup.
Those of us old enough to remember the season though will know it like the back of our hand, and I doubt many reading this donít know, but for those that were too young or simply forgot, it wasnít always plain sailing. Benitez sailed HMS Liverpool through some choppy waters. It was typical of a first season one comes to expect from a new manager. Times a changing, new players and a new manager take time to bed down and Benitez and Liverpool were no different. For every magical night under Benitez that season there was a hangover in the league. The season in a lot of ways made sense, new manager as I said, takes time to get his vision implemented.
Then again it made no sense when Liverpool triumphed in Europe one minute and then went and lost to someone like Crystal Palace next time out. In Europe we looked world class, in the league we were very inconsistent, it was difficult to keep track of it all and emotions ranged from one extreme to the other.
I remember my own personal life was strained, some of it was my own doing, some of it was just crazy. I worked about 60 hours a week, I drove 400 miles a week in a tiny little ford fiesta that remarkably never broke down, I had two jobs, both were crap. I was on a football team and well that was a pile of shit too.
Monday - Friday in the office, people just moaning at you on the phone all day because they feel like it, their life is shit so it's all your fault and if you cough whilst on the phone theyíll complain about you, listening to pensioners drone on the phone repeating the same thing for an hour and when I did get off the phone I had the pleasure of listening to two women in the office whinge at each other all day and then both running off crying.
Tuesdays and Thursdays. Finish work, dash home, get changed and go to work again, deliver take aways to top up the wage and help pay the bills, listening to a manager roar abuse at you in front of customers yet if you so much as coughed it was all your fault and you were out of order, turn up twice a week wrecked and get given out to for saying hello (really that actually happened). fuck that.
Monday and Wednesday- go training with the team, travel further than anyone, drop people to and from training and then listen to them abuse you all night. Listen to people whinge on about commitment then watch them no show a week's training because it was too cold or they were too tired to walk down the road to train as they had a long hard day on the dole. Bust your hole to get from work to training and only 6 players show up.
Saturday, listen to people whinge at you because you hoofed the ball clear, every goal is your fault and then drive 120 miles to see your Mrs before heading home Sunday and then start all over again.
Shortly before Liverpool played Arsenal the Gunners had lost a long unbeaten record in the league, a defeat at Manchester United was Arsenal's first for some 18 months, spanning 49 matches which also included the previous seasons Premiership title, a title they had won without actually losing a game. The match was to take place Sunday at Anfield at the end of November, not long before this I had actually attended a home match with Crystal Palace, it ended 3-2 to Liverpool with Milan Baros scoring a hat-trick. It was a well-earned weekend away for me considering what I had just explained above.
No sooner was I back then I was just thrown back in the shit again, I had a fall out with my parents, the details of which I won't go in to but I didnít speak to them for several weeks after, work in the office was the same shit of listening to one bitch whinge at another for having a cup of tea or some other heinous crime, then go into the chipper, yay I love getting given out to for saying hello and when all thatís done I can trudge around in the rain training listening to everyone tell me I'm a shit footballer because I got beat for a header by some 8ft3 centre forward last game out.
The Saturday before the Arsenal game I vividly remember a few things, one was doing a bet on Harry Kewell for first goal, as we headed off to play a team a couple of divisions ahead of us in the cup. We had played this team not so long before this day in another competition and got beat 6-1. 2 or 3-1 might have been a fair reflection and one of their lads actually came over to us after saying so which actually meant a lot. We were a young team in our first season and we were learning. I was one of the oldest players and I was only 21, I was the only one that could drive too which meant packing all the gear into my car and running around like a mad man to get the team to games. I was actually confident we could give this lot a game. I did require a good warm up because of a groin injury that had bugged me for the best part of a year, however no sooner had I started it than I was ordered to drop some lad home as Anto the resident gobshite of the team had turned up with one boot!!!!!
By the time I got back I'd no time to do a warm up as it was less than 5 mins to kick off. The game kicked off with me right back, I will claim to this day that I played well, despite that at half time we were 4-0 down. Our left back is a lad I still get the odd game with in a 5 a side and he still plays for a team but that day was the worst I ever saw him play, 3 goals came from a long ball over the top which centre backs could only respond to by falling over, the other was our keeper dropping a ball under no pressure. Our strikers couldnít have touched the ball more than twice each all half, and I remember at least 3 times two of our midfielders went to kick the ball and completely missed it. Indeed our central midfield captain roared to one striker to drop back and help out midfield and which point he was told to "fuck off".
Needless to say at half time the gaffer was absolutely livid, half time usually only lasted 5 minutes in this league. I remember thinking "lets fucking give this our best shot, you never know". I thought to myself "you know what, we can still do this". As I was walking back on ready to go the manager pulls me aside. I thought he was going to switch me to centre back or ask me to get forward more. But oh no
"me? ? ? ? ? ?
I could name 8 players that should have been hooked before me that day. I had enough, I was fucked if I'm gonna give up every free minute I have for this shit, to drop people everywhere and not take any petrol money, to bust myself in training with an injury all season to then get taken off at half time with no word of an explanation, the previous game I played and actually ditched my Mrs on her birthday for it. I was sick of it all, I was sick of being blamed for everything. There was a bunch of water bottles next to the manager as he walked off and I volleyed them full force in his direction. Within 5 minutes I had changed out of my kit and had my bag packed and tracksuit on, not one person had come within 10 foot of me to explain why I was brought off. I'm fucked if I'm staying here another 40 minutes to give lifts so I got in my car and left them to sort out their own ways home, sick of being used for lifts. No one stopped me. no one even bothered to try, before I had even left pitch side a ball went down the wing I'd been defending. Cross goal 5-0, I was actually delighted. I was very close to cheering. Fuck yous I'm off to see me Mrs, excuse the pun but I've better things to do on Saturdays.
The next day Liverpool hosted Arsenal and I headed into Belfast, this was as I mentioned an Arsenal team that hadnít lost one game en-route to the league title the previous season. Since 1998 they had won 3 leagues and 3 FA cups, they played exhilarating football, long banishing the boring boring Arsenal chants. Liverpool themselves had been labelled boring the previous few years under Gerard Houllier but with Rafa Benitez here now we tried to create something as solid as a Houllier side only with more flair up top.
Liverpool did start off fairly well, Steven Gerrard was denied a penalty in the third minute, and we continued to probe until a cross field ball from Steve Finnan was knocked down by Harry Kewell into the path of the onrushing Gerrard. Neil Mellor's run made space for Gerrard to tee up Xabi Alonso who rifled a 20 yard shot smack bang into the top corner, one of the best goals of the season. 1-0 and fully deserved, a great way to end the first half. The second continued in the same vein. I can remember Florent Sinama Pongolle making a fool out of two Arsenal players in the corner shimmying one way and going the other showing them who is boss. Just before the hour mark Arsenal hit a sucker punch with an outstanding team goal as Robert Pires and Thierry Henry played in Patrick Vieira who chipped the ball over the onrushing Chris Kirkland for an undeserved albeit brilliant equalizer.
I began to recall the previous tales above, family, jobs, football and Liverpool all giving me shit, I remembered Arsenal's unbeaten season when they came to Anfield, got played off the pitch for most of the game yet won 2-1, they were going to do it again werenít they? Just my luck. We did continue to play extremely well but I had that sinking feeling so much so that 3 minutes into injury time when Chris Kirkland took a free kick from deep in our own half almost by the corner flag I actually wanted him to waste time, I'd take a draw.
This was the moment everything that went against me got repaid with interest. Ever remember back to the future? Biff the bully constantly picked on Marty's loser dad in the 60s, who constantly took shit thrown at him, never fought back until the prom night he summoned everything to land a peach of a left hook on the bully boy and knock him for 6 to save his future wife. Well something like that happened here. An absolute haymkaker if ever you saw one.
Kirkland's free kicked went long, Harry Kewell competed for it but was hauled to the deck by I think Sol Campbell, the pub I was in was up in arms for a free kick to be given but in stepped Neil Mellor. Liverpool's number 33 had banged in goals for years in the reserves and was finally getting a big chance upfront in light of injuries, one thing Mellor would no doubt have been taught growing up was "play the whistle".
Some 25 yards from goal, and not arsed wanting a free kick, Mellor suddenly launched a thunderous half volley goal bound and from the second it left his boot it was only going one place. It was placed perfectly as Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann was too far over the other side of his goal to get across. The ball flew majestically into the bottom corner and all the weeks of being pissed off were let go, arms up, screaming wildly, jumping 10 feet in the air, the Mrs looked at me as if to say "errr I donít know you". Arsenal stood dejected, Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell looked to the sky, the game was up. Replays showed the goal from every angle as I continued to cheer on like I'd just won the lotto, the storm clouds dispersed and there was the golden sky, replays had no sooner finished than the final whistle went.
Liverpool had won it at the death but to use the word stole would be an injustice, late goals are always lucky but if you ever you made your own luck then this was it, it was nothing we didnít deserve, it was nothing I didnít deserve. Mellor's goal suddenly made me remember that maybe we didnít live in such a bad world, well until I had to go to work or go back training that was but that could wait until another day. It was a good day to be a Liverpool fan, it was a good day to be me again but best of all it was undoubtedly the day of all days for Neil Mellor.
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