Scousers All

Posted by Byrnee on May 14, 2005, 03:59:16 PM

    In the 18th Century the port of Liverpool suddenly became incredibly busy. With the Black Plague and the Great Fire ravaging London, England needed a new port. Liverpool’s proximity with the Atlantic, and thus the New World, made it an ideal choice. Trade passing through the port of Liverpool was varied, the city often deemed as the ’Gateway to the Empire’.  Throughout the 18th Century strong trade ties linked Liverpool with the West Indies, North America, Africa and Europe.  By the 19th Century trade with India and China was also important.

    Soon the port became a dock that was the first of England many immigrants saw with families of Welsh, Scottish, Scandinavian, Dutch, Germans and Poles all making their home here. A massive influx of Immigrant Irish (in huge numbers due to problems in Ireland such as the potato famine of the 1840s) also moved to the City. So many that some still refer to Liverpool as ‘the Capital of Ireland’. Trading links with China also brought a large Chinese Community to the city. In fact Liverpool has the oldest ‘China Town’ in Europe.

    Liverpool has always been a welcoming city – one that positively welcomed strangers from foreign shores. Astonishing really, that this famous port, in many ways, led the way for the nation to accept immigrants from such an early age. As such, today the City is a vibrant mix of nationalities, from all over the world.
    It would be pithy and ignorant to suggest, of course, that any person of any race that moved to our city immediately looked upon Liverpool as their home – there will always be – from certain quarters – racism and xenophobia. However, the City has a reputation as one of the most welcoming in the country, a City whose people often seem more like those from a small town than a large, bustling port.

    So to our fair football club - A club that famously was comprised of a team of ten Scots under Shankly and since then continued a tradition of mixing local lads with those from outside of England and the UK.
    It was in 1980 that we finally gave a debut to a black player. Howard Gayle played intermittently for about half a season, climaxing in a memorable European Cup Final performance. He soon moved on though and it wasn't until 1987 that another Black player got his chance. Thankfully, for those who weren’t willing to accept a black player pulling on the famous red shirt, Digger (John Barnes) won even the most sceptical of fans over with his dazzling skills and exceptional talent.

    Our (arguably) most impressive side comprised a team of players that reflected its City: players from all over the British Isles - not just Liverpool, not just England. During the 80’s we had the aforementioned England international Barnes, but we had a side including Dalglish, Whelan, Houghton, Nicol, Hansen, Rush not to mention foreigners Grobbelaar & Molby. Of course Liverpool have always had strong Scandinavian links too – we haven’t had a side without a Scandinavian player for a couple of decades now.

    Throughout our successful decades in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s we have always had a strong contingent of English internationals though. From Ray Clemence and Kevin Keegan to Peter Beardsley. Even in recent history we’ve had the likes of Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen to the present day heroes – Scouse duo Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

    And so onto our management: Liverpool broke tradition in 1998 by employing a new manager that not only hadn’t been educated through the famous bootroom but wasn’t even born in the UK.

    Gerard Houllier arrived in a blaze of confusion – WHO-ULLIER? Read the headline to at least one tabloid. We had followed the Arsenal’s lead in employing an experienced Frenchman to run the club. Considering Wenger’s success, along with the boom in French football (the world cup, Zidane et al) this seemed a bold and positive move. Houllier spoke excellent English and appeasing fans that doubted the wisdom of bringing a foreigner in a manager was the fact that Gerard had actually been a teacher on Merseyside some years earlier. He spoke of the Liverpool way, the style of play, and the new era for our great club.

    He quickly set about bringing the club up to the professional standards that a top Premier League side demands. He ridded the club of the worrying booze culture and signed an astonishing 8 players in his first summer in charge from fields as afar as Finland, the Czech Republic and Cameroon – as well as, somewhat inevitably, France.

    These players were mainly unknowns, but amongst the crop he found a few genuine gems. Henchoz and Hyypia were amongst the best central defensive partnerships in Europe for the following few seasons, Dietmar Hamann, the only ‘star’ signing proved his class and importance to us early on – though not flashy, whenever he was not playing, we seemed to lose.

    Gerard still wanted an English backbone to his side – players that understood the values of Liverpool FC. Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen, Redknapp, Fowler and Gerrard, a player that Houllier handpicked from the Academy. There is an element of reason here – it makes sense that a team playing in an English league, with primarily British fans has some local or at least British players. But it does not mean the only way a team can be successful in the English Premier League is to have them packed to the brim with Englishmen. Look at Bolton this year: plenty of foreigners – most of them near retirement but all with enough ‘bite’ to stand up to a team of Robbie Savages and Roy Keanes (note the irony – neither are Englishmen).

    But we had foreigners aplenty here at Anfield, all the way up to management – and it worked – for a while. The treble season brought glory back to the red side of Stanley Park. A Red Revolution was underway – what next? The Premiership? The Champions League?

    Not quite. Gerard’s reign was soon on a slippery slope. The team he had shaped was faltering. Many problems were laid at the door of foreigners – They don’t have the bite, the physicality or the mental toughness to succeed in the English game. Why weren’t the good Academy youngsters getting a chance? Particularly when some on the pitch – Diao, Cheyrou, Diouf, Biscan and Traore looked nowhere near good enough. Gerard himself said that if there were good enough kids in the Academy, they’d be playing. Hardly a ringing endorsement of our youth side, but a fair point nonetheless.

    Too many times the old chestnut of ‘greedy mercenaries’ and ‘apathetic foreigners’ rears its ugly head in order to explain problems within a team. Xenophobic fans and media spectators are all too happy to denounce the woes of the game as a result of the influx of foreign players, with not enough heart for our high standards on this little island.  There’s that word again – xenophobia – in particular from certain sections of the media: Yes Jeff Powell, I’m talking to you.

    It seems that with the merest hint of talent any young English lad’s name is mentioned in connection with national side. (Ironically these same experts then chastise Eriksson for giving debuts to all and sundry! Between a rock & a hard place? No wonder Eriksson looks so skinny).

    Yet whenever a foreigner is brought to these shores, unless they are an established international, the media dredge up the old stories about young lads not getting a chance, worrying for the future of the English game and National side. Why? lets run through the oft-mentioned attacks on foreigners:

    Loyalty? – ah that old classic – Because British footballers are the bastion of all that is good and true in the game! Ferdinand, Barmby, Smith, Rooney, Campbell. You can understand the logic with a lot of the moves – Campbell certainly won’t look back with regret on leaving Spurs for the Gunners – his practically bare trophy mantle would soon be decorated with a Championship and FA Cup medal. Yet it still breaks the heart of a fan to see a beloved player, one of ‘your own’ ply his trade elsewhere. Leeds fans must have their hearts just about shattered now.

    Diving? Obviously an imported problem; Look to Pires, Van Nistelrooy. But wait, lets not forget that famous faller Franny Lee. Nor should we look any further than young Michael Owen, as Glenn Hoddle (another English legend) admitted he would want a player to go down in the box if they had the chance to win a penalty. Owen duly obliged. Ah, that old British spirit of fair play.

    Drug Taking? Mutu, Maradonna, Stam, Davids and of course our very own ‘modern Bobby Moore’ Rio Ferdinand? Ooh careful, he didn’t test positive – he simply chose not to test!!!

    Greed? Hmm, that trait of those not born within these isles – because again players like Rio, Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham are worth every penny of their weekly wage. Not to mention the not-at-all-overpaid Bowyer, Savage, etc.

    No Aggression or Grit? Agreed, some foreigners are a bit lightweight. But so are many British players! Besides, do we really want more of that Bowyer and Dyer spirit to set a good example for the kids? Or Rooney foul tirades against a referee? That's passion though, apparently.

    The point is clear; whilst we as a team and city are generally welcoming of foreigners, there are still those who will cry foul at the next link to another Spaniard joining the tricky Reds.

    Well remember the legacy. We seem to have become a nation obsessed with patriotism and birthplace, but we have to accept that we’ll never see a side with 11 Scousers. We’ll probably never see a side with 11 Englishmen.

    Arsenal fielded a side without a single British player in the squad for a match this season. They were castigated from all quarters. Including former Gooner Paul Merson – yes, he of the drink, drugs and gambling problems - another fine example of the standard of English player we adore in this country. Forgetting the injured Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell, mainstays in their first XI, why was this such a crime?

    Was the team a mishmash of overpaid, over hyped and over here foreigners? Or was it a superb side filled to the brim with creativity and talent? A side that promised a great game of football the way it should be played –passing and movement? Over hyped? Look no further than pretty much any player from these shores – You’d think we’d an England XI of Pele’s the way the media portray them at times.

    If you can afford the very best of English talent - a team with Gerrard, Lampard, Owen, Rooney, Ferdinand and Campbell, maybe you’ll be successful here and abroad, maybe not. The English team have hardly been blazing their way to glory have they? (Oh, sorry - that’ll be the fault of the Swede).

    Either way, you’d have to be a billionaire to afford the overpriced Englishmen. And there is one: the media can cream themselves over Chelsea if they wish, for the wonderful sight of fat Frank, Terry, Bridge and Cole on the same side. They can dream and drool about Chelsea further enhancing their squad with our captain, and Rio and Ashley Cole. However they’d do well to remember that the opportunity to build such a side has only been granted by the whim of a RUSSIAN billionaire.

    Recent UEFA rule changes have suggested a requirement of 6 players being ‘home grown’ by 2007 (and eight by 2008) in order to enter the Champions League. The big clubs will inevitably finds ways around this rule and we will be no exception. Based on the rulings UEFA suggest for example, Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Anthony Le Tallec will be considered home grown.

    UEFA would do well to ignore the clamouring of self-important trumped up rent-a-quotes like PFA Boss Gordon Taylor and Jeff Powell. Those who cry about the death of the English game would do well to note the current England side: One of the strongest National sides that we have had in decades. With the influx of foreigners, these kids have had to fight harder to get a place in the first XI and even harder to retain that place. They’ve had to learn new skills and have picked up on technical abilities these ‘foreign mercenaries’ show in training every day.

    Besides, I’d rather watch Arsenal with Henry and Bergkamp, Pires AND Cole match up against a Liverpool with Cisse and Alonso, Garcia AND Carragher than watch a dull, hard fought ‘typically’ British’ cup tie any day.

    English players progress is hardly being impeded. Carragher is the classic example: He’s played in numerous positions, under three (including Eriksson) foreign managers, now he is finally looked on by most a world-class central defender. Do you think he suffered playing alongside Hyypia and Henchoz? Watching Pellegrino in training? Would he have been better off being back up for Ruddock and Babb- two more Brits with an attitude to football and Liverpool FC that stank?

    Despite the media agenda to find a suitable British manager for the Anfield hot-seat (funny that they weren't arsed about Chelsea employed the Portugese Mourinho)- with Allardyce and Curbishley being the apparent front runners, I welcomed Benitez’s arrival as many of us did thanks to his track record. He had no links to the club except for a wonderful story about how LFC’s generosity had helped his assistant Pako Ayesteran’s village team years earlier (the seeds we sow). His English was good, if hesitant – possibly more due to the fear of the British media standing by eagerly waiting to rip his words apart rather than any lack of fluency.

    I welcomed the arrival of Garcia, Alonso, Morientes and Cisse. All players of undoubted talent, plying their trade here. The only advantage in my eyes if you buy British over foreign is the knowledge that they have a better chance of fitting in: They only have to adapt to a new team, not a new league as well.

    Well little Luis has been invaluable this season, particularly in the European Cup. Djibril is definitely an adopted Scouser after his geeing up of the crowd during the Chelsea game at Anfield  - a moment of humour during a tense 96 minutes! Xabi has been pure class; from the moment he came here right to his return from injury. An immensely popular buy, he is a perfect example of the type of foreigner we are looking for. Dedicated, ambitious and skilful. He is a young international, a hot prospect and he’s chosen to take a massive risk coming here. In truth, he has the world at his feet, how nice he’s chosen to be here at Anfield.

    Here’s to many more following in their footsteps. Spaniards, Frenchmen, Europeans, South Americans, I really don’t care. If they’re good enough to pull on the red shirt, they’re one of us. Scouser, Liverpudlian, call it what you will. They’re part of our team.

    As our ancestors did, let’s give them a welcome they deserve – not chastise them for not being born within spitting distance of the Mersey.

David Byrne 2005

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