Advent Calendar - Day 21. Coventry City 1 Liverpool 6 (Six), 5th May 1990
Posted by Yorkykopite on December 22, 2015, 12:48:43 PM
Coventry City 1 Liverpool 6
As most people will know this was the last time the Reds were crowned Champions. It was a long time ago, not many years after the end of the English Civil War. Anyone who saw it live, like me, is now in their mid 90s.
We’d won the league title the week before I think and Coventry away was the party. Blazing hot it was, cricket weather really, and I remember thinking that the Liverpool team probably wouldn’t be putting in much of an effort. We were famous for that in those days. Once the title was won the Redmen tended to go missing. Usually this was for a good reason – minds and bodies being focused on the superior task of a European or FA Cup Final – but sometimes it was just plain idleness. Wasn’t it Sir Bob’s last season when we’d wrapped the league up by March only to see the best team in Europe “go on holiday” and collect about 3 points from their last dreary 10 games? Football was too easy for Liverpool back then.
So it was with some misgivings I set off for Highfield Road. The unusual heat and brilliant sunshine seemed guaranteed to sap the match of any remaining meaning. But off I went, ticketless as usual.
It was great drinking weather though. And when I got to Coventry (coming from the south) it was clear that the party was going to be huge. The city was decked in red. After sinking a couple of pints I thought I’d better make my way to the ground. The match wasn’t all-ticket but the Liverpool end apparently was.
Do folks remember the old Highfield Road ground? There were so many cages and partitioning fences in the open terrace behind the goal that it looked more like Checkpoint Charlie than a sporting arena. I gained admission to the ‘home’ end, which was one of the cages next to the ‘away’ end. Within 10 minutes it was clear that this was no ‘home’ end at all. A good 90 per cent of the spectators had Liverpool scarves on and very soon the cage was festooned in Liverpool banners. The coppers realised what had happened and started to herd the few wretched Coventry supporters out of the terrace altogether and into the main stand.
They remained severely outnumbered though. By 10 to 3 we had three sides of the ground. The travelling support wasn’t quite on the scale of Wolves ‘76 (nor was the atmosphere remotely comparable), but it was still very impressive. As became the ritual at Highfield Road the Liverpool supporters started using the floodlight pylons as extra terracing.
I look at the forward line today and I think “Jesus”. Rush, Barnes, Beardsley and, the man of the hour, Ronny Rosenthal. Before the game began the travelling support was repeatedly, repetitiously even, singing Rosenthal’s name (very wittily, given his Jewish origins, to ‘Hava Nagila’). Younger fans might be puzzled by that. Ronny, after all, doesn’t really belong on the same podium of brilliance as the other three players.
Yet Rosenthal had won us the league. We were stuttering before he arrived on loan from Standard Liege of Belgium sometime in the late winter. And this man, who ran like a horse, his head being pulled by imaginary reins, had given the team the equivalent of an adrenaline shot. Was he cup-tied or something against Palace in the notorious semi? He must have been I guess, otherwise we’d have won.
Ronny had scored in virtually ever game he’d played. A few weeks before I’d seen him bag a ‘perfect’ hat-trick v Charlton at Selhurst Park and a week after that seen him bulldoze his way through the Southampton defence to score his first goal in front of a disbelieving Kop. Southampton’s players were simply bouncing off his equine body and stride. They’d have been better off getting hold of a whip, putting a saddle on his back, and trying to tame him a bit. The trouble was, every time Ronny scored Standard Liege put up his price. The wanted tuppence ha’penny when he first arrived on loan. By the Coventry game they were asking for a million (that’s about 200 billion in today’s money).
So, “Ronny, Oh Ronny, Ronny, Oh Ronny, Ronny, Oh, Ronny Rosenthal. Hey!” What a blast. Three sides of the ground doing that!
In truth he turned out to be worth tuppence ha’penny, but I’ll forgive Ronny anything. He did
win us the league that year.
Coventry started well. In fact they scored in the first minute. Yes, I thought, we are on holiday. Not that it mattered much. The singing was relentless anyway and the score seemed immaterial.
And then the game changed. Rushy hit a left-footer from miles out and – as every single shot that Ian Rush ever hit – it found its way to the back of the net. John Barnes then scored twice in about 30 seconds and suddenly we were coasting. If I say that Peter Beardsley began running things you’ll know what I mean. When the little fella seized control of a game it immediately became an art exhibit and therefore Highfield Road was transformed into the Guggenheim. I’ve seen some wonderful players do their stuff for Liverpool over the years – Keegan, Heighway, Kenny, Johnny Barnes, Stevie, Xabi, Suarez, Dirk Kuyt – but no one yet to match the artistry of Peter Beardsley.
In the second half Rosenthal galloped on to a through ball and slotted in the fourth. Then Digger got his hat-trick (and 28th of the season – from the frigging wing!). And, of course, Ronny helped himself to a second. I think there were still 20 minutes left on the clock after we went 6 – 1 up. Then
the players went on holiday. I think even Jan Molby got out of his deckchair and treated us to a limpid 5-minute cameo. He was still carrying his ice cream though.
At the end the Coventry manager, John Sillett, took some stick from his own fans for saying he enjoyed Liverpool’s display and could watch them forever. The rest of the country, however, knew exactly what he meant.
I got home, and I remember sitting in the garden, in all the sunshine, with a can of ale and thinking that football would be like this for the rest of my life. Liverpool were simply too brilliantly permanent to be knocked off top spot. Yes, we could be challenged occasionally. Contenders came and went – from Leeds, to Derby, to Forest, to the Toffees, to Arsenal – but the institution was too big and those in charge knew too much to ever be subdued for long.
In truth, perhaps, the cracks had begun to appear that season. In fact we’d opened an inglorious period – still going – of being unable to defend set pieces. By rights we should all have been looking forward to a trip to Wembley the following Saturday to meet Man United but for some catastrophic defending against Crystal Palace’s aerial assault in the semi at Villa Park. Still, at the time, that problem looked solvable.
I suppose I must have finished that can of ale, collected my girlfriend (who couldn’t care less about football) and gone into the night for a meal or the pictures or something. Another season over. Another predictable revolution in the cycle of my footballing life.
I’ve never toasted the champions since.
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