Bend...But Never Break

Posted by E2K on January 7, 2012, 03:52:56 PM

Dion Fanning, one of the few mainstream journalists that I have any time for, once said of the Roy Hodgson era at Liverpool that “those who believe that Hodgson’s dismissal demonstrates a fundamental shift in Liverpool’s relationship with their manager forget that his appointment was the fundamental shift. Liverpool had never sought middle England’s approval before and those who delighted in the success of a friend never paid attention to the muted sounds of disapproval on Merseyside. Hodgson was the wrong appointment, not an appointment that didn’t get time. There was not a fundamental shift in Liverpool supporters’ relationship with their manager. Roy Hodgson was not their manager. He was Sky’s manager, the establishment’s manager, the English FA’s manager.” This, I think, is a pretty good summation of some of the fundamental reasons why Hodgson was destined to fail at Anfield. Results, naturally, were key as well, but there were also many other factors at play. Liverpool F.C. is not a straightforward, open-and-shut book of football club. Never has been, never will be. The same is true of the city of Liverpool itself. Those who have enjoyed success at Anfield are the ones who understood this. It has been pointed out that the banners and flags on the Kop tend to reference managers (Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish, Houllier, Benítez) rather than players. There’s a reason. Values such as loyalty, inner-strength, leadership, hard work and commitment are the ones we hold most dearly, and it is our managers who have historically exhibited these ideals most vividly.

It is why we have the Shankly and Paisley Gates, and why there is a statue of a manager rather than a player outside Anfield. It is also why the faces of Graeme Souness and Roy Hodgson will never sit alongside their aforementioned counterparts on the Kop, not simply because they failed to win much but because they clearly never understood us. Souness called his decision to sell a story to a certain newspaper on the third anniversary of Hillsborough a mistake. That’s not all it was. It was also a fundamental failure to understand the club and its community. Hodgson’s myriad of gaffes over his six months in charge, meanwhile, had us all wondering if he had even the slightest clue of who we are. One listen to You’ll Never Walk Alone would have told him immediately. A great man once defined it like this: “when you’re in a fog you stick together because that way you don’t get lost. If there’s a secret to us, that’s it”. That’s Liverpool F.C. in a nutshell. Agreeing with Alex Ferguson that your star striker is a cheat does not compute. Now think of “middle England”. Think of “the establishment”. Ask yourself what they have ever done for this club. Ask yourself who it was that threw those deplorable accusations around in the aftermath of Hillsborough, who it was that hounded our best manager in 20 years out of a job, who it was that were happy to sit by and watch as £300m worth of debt was heaped upon the club to the point where administration (and probable relegation) beckoned in favour of blaming the manager and the players, who it was that has heaped derision on us for our support of Luis Suárez who (I could say plenty more about it) wasn’t given anything approaching a fair hearing? Who is it that always invites us to “get over” Hillsborough, told us that Istanbul was a fluke, told us that we needed a British manager like Roy, are now telling us that Kenny Dalglish is losing it (it started with James Lawton and Patrick Barclay at the beginning of November, maybe earlier, it has gone into overdrive in the last week)? Do any of these examples sound like those entities have the best interests of this club at heart?

There has been much (correct) talk of reconciliation on this site over the past few days, of how the club should reach out to the media, to community groups, even to Manchester United in the hope that we can all understand and trust each other that little bit more. I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment, but we must be careful. It needs to be done, but it needs to be done on our terms because a Liverpool F.C. that prostrates itself in front of “middle England” or “the establishment” and simply bows to their wishes is incompatible with the one that I have loved for two decades, the one that started out for me as just a football team that had some of my favourite players on it (Barnes, Beardsley, Aldridge, Rush) and grew into something infinitely more meaningful than that. It’s incompatible with what I know about the city of Liverpool too, a community that has fought its corner more times than I can count.

Consider who you’re talking about here. A media that includes tabloids like The S*n, Daily Mirror, Daily Mail and individuals like David Maddock, Oliver Holt, Martin Lipton, Martin Samuel, Henry Winter, James Lawton, Patrick Barclay and others. A media that includes Talksport and Sky. A football establishment that includes the FA, Alex Ferguson and his cabal of lackeys known as the LMA, Gordon Taylor. Reconciliation across the board with people like that? I have to think that’s impossible without fundamentally changing who we are. We certainly won’t be met halfway, that’s for sure. Already Ferguson has apparently dismissed the idea of talks between the two clubs. Meanwhile, the press have appeared arrogantly unwilling to cede the moral high ground to which they scurried on 20 December.  Obviously the likes of Kick It Out, FARE and others should continue to be embraced, but that’s just it – continue to be embraced. People are acting as though the work done by the club in the past in the fight against racism suddenly counts for nothing. I understand why the likes of Herman Ouseley and Piara Powar (and individuals likes Paul McGrath and Jason Roberts) are so outspoken on this issue. I’m a white man who lives in his own country, a predominantly white one. I’m lucky in that I have never had to deal with racism or discrimination of any kind and I feel 100% empathy with anyone who has. Yet some of their comments have been damaging to this whole process, especially for men in their position. They talk about the responsibilities of Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish, but what about theirs?

If we accept that it behoves the club to reach out, build bridges, talk to the media more, become more intimate with the FA and everything else, then do we have to do all the work? Does the media hysteria seen in the last couple of weeks (which has generally included only one side of the story and been framed with headlines of “RACIST”) and the poor investigation carried out by the FA’s Commission in the first place not hurt this process too? Liverpool F.C. feels aggrieved – anyone who reads the FA Commission report with an open mind will see why – so is it really all on the club to just swallow that, go to the FA, say we’re sorry that our statement said anything bad about you, please forgive us, then go back to Anfield and wait for the next incident that screws the club (e.g. how many other players, besides Mascherano and Torres, were punished because of the Respect Campaign, and was Suárez’s recent one-game ban for an obscene gesture consistent with Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole’s previous ban of no games for the same offence?), or should the FA instead realise that one of their clubs is unhappy and reach out too in the spirit of reconciliation, realising that a process where the “guilty” have no right to appeal the verdict, only the severity of the punishment, is inherently wrong? Should individuals like Maddock and entities like the Daily Mirror and others not realise, hey, maybe we’re being a bit too hard on the club, maybe that headline of “RACIST” was out of order and we should go to them and apologise rather than burying some half-arsed excuse deep within our website?

If this is all on the club, then we either fundamentally change who we are or this process of reconciliation is doomed from the start. By all means we should bend, but no way should we break. At times like this, you need someone to lead the way. You need what I spoke about back in the first paragraph of this piece - leadership, strength. Nothing illustrates to me that we have the right man at the helm in Kenny Dalglish more than the level of vitriol which has been thrown in his direction over the past week by those aforementioned entities of “middle England” and “the establishment,” two entities who have not been friendly to the club historically. One particularly repugnant piece even reminded the reader that “Dalglish is not a racist. Nobody should be allowed to believe that he is”. Who the fuck suggested he was?! These entities, the ones that we’re charged with reaching out to, want Dalglish gone, maybe replaced with Roy Hodgson again (if he’d still have us, maybe if we beg?) or maybe Martin O’Neill (whose return to management, Henry Winter recently told us, “has been greeted with street parties, certainly a Fleet Street party”). They want us to be nice and compliant, and that’s all they want. There is no meeting us halfway on this, and we need to remember that. It is ultimately on the club and its hierarchy to decide how they go about dealing with these people from here on out, but one thing is for sure, none of them like that Dalglish and the club have not gone grovelling to them, begging forgiveness like some beaten-down housewife apologising for causing her husband to hit her. As supporters, our job is easier. All we need to do is ask “who do we trust,” remember that Liverpool have “never sought middle England’s approval before,” and keep in mind that nobody understands who we are (city and club) more than Kenny Dalglish.

And then support.

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